Chat Transcript

This is the chat session held by SCIFI.COM with the Director of Dune, John Harrison. It has been slightly edited to make it easier to read.

Moderator: Hi everybody, I'm Patrizia DiLucchio your moderator this evening. Certainly few events in science fiction are as anticipated as SCI FI's forthcoming mini-series adapated from Frank Herberts classic novel DUNE. Tonight we're thrilled to welcome as our guest the writer/director of DUNE John Harrison. Mr Harrison is well known to fans of both television and the big screen for his work on Tales from the Crypt, Earth2, Profiler, Back to the Future, and Superman. Mr. Harrison has won awards both at home and abroad as a writer and director including recognition from the Writers Guild Guild of America, and the Houston Film Festival. Before we begin, a quick reminder. This chat is "moderated." If you have a question for our guest please send it to me "Moderator" as a private message. Welcome Mr. Harrison. Let's begin with an easy one (grin.) As a writer just how daunting is it to try to adapt a genre masterwork like Dune to the screen?
johnharrison: It was incredibly difficult. But because the material is rich. The difficulty was in deciding how to get it all in.

Moderator: <NewPacifica1> to <Moderator>: Hi Mr. Harrison, thank you for chatting with us. You worked with actor Clancy Brown on Earth 2 and Donor Unknown, any plans to work with him again?
johnharrison: Yes. I would work with Clancy any time, anywhere. He happens to be a very good friend of mine and at one point we discussed doing Dune together. But for a variety of reasons.. schedules, timing... we couldn't make it work. But Clancy is huge fan of Dune, and I will definitely be working with him agian.

Moderator: <Crusade-Tom> to <Moderator>: What format did you shoot "Dune" on? (35mm film? Spherical or anamorphic? 4:3 or 16:9?) <jkenny> to <Moderator>: What single element of the book did you find most difficult to transpose to the small screen?
johnharrison: We shot Dune on 35mm univisium. Which is a system that Vittorio Storaro invented. Which for those of you in the technical know is a three-perf film system... formatted 16:9, and our framings were all designed for that widescreen theatrical format. And I'm excited to tell everybody that the SCI FI Channel is going to air Dune in the widescreen 16:9 format. As to the book, the internal monologues of the characters. There is a great deal of interior thought that the characters engage in. And there are many elements of story and plot and character. That are revealed in those interior monologues. I did not want to use voiceover or narration and so the trick was to find ways of externalizing those thoughts into conversations and dialogue that was most difficult.

Moderator: <Fulci> to <Moderator>: How would you describe your experience working with George A. Romero? Also, you are a superb film composer. My favorite is your Day of the Dead soundtrack. Will it ever be released to cd? Thanks.
johnharrison: Thanks to the wonderful compliment. In comparison to Graeme Revell, who is doing the Dune score, I'm pretty much an amateur. I consider Romero to be one of my mentors, I was his assistant director for many years. And I learned an incredible amount from him. He also happens to be one of my very good friends and a wonderful human being. And I'm always bringing my stuff to him for advice and comment, and we keep looking for ways to work together again, which I would love. As to the CD. Every so often someone calls me trying to put that out on CD. It's a matter of rights. I would love to see it happen. There several bootlegs out there, but at the moment I can't say there is any legitimate CD available. (Maybe from Japan.)

Moderator: <Gega> to <Moderator>: Just of general interest, is the mini series solely on the first book, Dune, or does it spill into the other books (namely the second, Dune Messiah)?
johnharrison: The miniseries is based only on the first book. And I designed it to reflect the three books within the first book. So Night 1 pretty much reflects the first part of Dune, Night 2 the second part, Night 3 the third part (Dune is a 3 night miniseries).

Moderator: The costumes look great. Are we going to get a chance to see them in person, like at a CON? <jkenny> to <Moderator>: Did tSFC give you a free hand in crafting the script?
johnharrison: Yes...plans are underway. We hope to have a display at the World Science Fiction Convention. Oops... That was two questions. Sorry! As to the script, I have a very good relationship with SFC. They liked the design that I brought to them. They were very creative collaborators. I would say overall they were very supportive of the Dune I wanted to tell. Which I believe is a very faithful adaptation of the book. I had no interest in redesigning the book or excerpting the book from my own point of view.

Moderator: <gharboe> to <Moderator>: What aspect of the novel is the series going to focus on? Polical intrigue, fx-heavy action, character development or what?
johnharrison: All of the above to one degree or another. Because without any one of those, it wouldn't be Dune. However, I think the center of this adaptation is the epic journey of Paul Atreides from his boyhood to enlightenment. And the terrible consequences of that odyssey.

Moderator: <dune-fan1> to <Moderator>: How much did the 1985 movie play into your mind in your approach to writing and directing the new series?
johnharrison: Not at all. I felt that it would be a disservice to mimic what David Lynch had done and... it would be an insult to David Lynch to simply echo his own version of the same story. This Dune is substantially different in every single way.

Moderator: <AlleyGator> to <Moderator>: Do you see yourself creating any other scifi films in the near future? Maybe some other Science Fiction Classics that you would like to see on the big screen?
johnharrison: Difficult to say. It would have to be material that I had a personal affection for, and it would have to have the support from the producers to be done right, as we had with Dune.

Moderator: <gharboe> to <Moderator>: Who will play the roles of Thufir Hawat and Duncan Idaho? Are these major or minor parts in the series?
johnharrison: They are very important in the first night of the series. Thufir is played by a very famous Czech theater actor named Jan Vlasic And Idaho is played by a wonderful Irish actor, James Watson. Both of them are terrific. And they are significant in the story, as they are in the book.

Moderator: John, how long did it take you to come up with a script for Dune that satisfied you?
johnharrison: Once I got the story adaptation down, which took a few months, the first draft of the script took about 4-1/2 months from there. Then I did a set of revisions, and that was another couple of months. All in all, it took me about a year. That was to adapt the script into the screenplay that we shot. Of course, once we started prepping, I had to do some minor rewrites to accomodate produciton situations.

Moderator: Many people in the audience are asking what role Princess Irulan will play in the mini-series?
johnharrison: This is one of the adapations that I made from the book. I have enlarged her role from that which is in the book to make her a more signifcant player. But, I believe, totally consistent with her character as it plays out over the rest of the Dune novels. So instead of simply being the narrator or the historian, I have taken Herbert's own descriptions and characterizations and extrapolated them into a character that is more visible in this version of Dune. And I found a brilliant young British actress to play the role, Julie Cox, who has all the qualities of intelligence, duty, political savvy and independence that make Irulan a memorable character. Because Irulan is so signifcant at the end of Dune in terms of what she represents: the opportunity for Paul to resolve his conflict with the emperor, I felt her character could easily stand the enlargement without violating anything Herbert had created and I think it adds a dimension to the feminine trilogy of characters who are ultimately so critcal to the Mua'dib's character.

Moderator: <Crusade-Tom> to <Moderator>: How is Paul's prescience dealt with in the mini-series?
johnharrison: Throughout the miniseries Paul has visions that I hope will be metaphorical and symbolic for those fans who know what he's trying to do and what he's trying to see I think these visions will be signifcant and understandable. As in the book, the visions are both exciting and frightening to Paul, and I think they represent a great element of his struggle as a character.

Moderator: <Zoggy-Budec> to <Moderator>: Irulan's role has ben enhanced for the sake of the series, can viewers expect other enhancements?
johnharrison: I don't know whether you'd call it an enhancement, but one of the things I was determined to do was bring to life the cultural atmostphere of the Fremen sietch communities and so I hope that the society of Fremen sietches is rich and provocative. I was guided by things Herbert said and described and I elaborated upon them. Other characters are not what I would say "enhanced" -- that is to say, they don't behave or do things that are not in the book -- but as with any novel translated to the screen there's a certain amount of interpretation that goes on and so some characters may not be exactly what a particular reader might have in mind...or then again, they might. But the point is, I tried to be faithful to the essence of every character Herbert created, even if I had to make certain changes for narrative structure.

Moderator: <Riddley> to <Moderator>: can you tell us abou the technique you used for the glowing fremen eyes? how happy are you with it, and how representative are the photos we've seen in the "stills" gallery on the site?
johnharrison: To be honest, it was a very difficult process I would have loved to have more time for experimentation but I think in the end the choice we made will be completely consistent with the book. The photographs are only partially complete. We are currently using all of the techniques we have at our disposal in post production to make them as startling and compelling as possible.

Moderator: <Crusade-Tom> to <Moderator>: How do you present the spice Melange, given the anti-drug atmosphere in the United States at the moment?
johnharrison: I don't treat the spice as a drug to get high on. I treat the spice sometimes as a sacrament, for expample, among the Fremen I treat it as a source of enhanced awareness and wisdom and as Herbert describes in its commercial application, a medicinal to better health and longevity. So it is not treated as a drug simply to get high, it is treated as an element in the universe that is used for its mystical properties. Having said all that, I'm taking my cue from Herbert himself I didn't make these choices to be politically correct, nor did I try to make any comment about drug use one way or the other.

Moderator: <Mad-City-Man> to <Moderator>: Will there be a 'the making of' show of Dune? I think this would be a great idea.
johnharrison: I do too, and there will be :-) We have hours and hours of behind-the-scenes footage which will be available at least on the DVD vesions of the miniseries when they are released in the meantime, I'm not sure what the network has planned. Discussions are ongoing. We have great inerviews with the actors. We have great footage of the sets being designed and built, of the special FX being created. We have some funny bloopers of outtakes, and hopefully that will be available in some format or another one day.

Moderator: <gharboe> to <Moderator>: Will the series feature any occult elements? The website talks about Bene Gesserit witchcraft and magic spice.
johnharrison: Occult is kind of a strange word. The "weirding way" will of course be featured. Paul's prescient abilities and the Bene Gesserit use of the "voice" -- all of these will definitley be in the series.

Moderator: <MAGICFLEA> to <Moderator>: To <johnharrison> Did writers such as George Lucas and other famous scfi promoters help influence any key aspects of Dune's appeal?
johnharrison: I guess I would think that George Lucas would acknowlege Herbert's contribution to the epic quality of the genre. And while Star Wars has had more commercial success and more broad-based exposure than Dune, I believe anyone who would study both Star Wars and Dune would have to acknowledge the small debt that Star Wars owes to Dune.

Moderator: <Jocko> to <Moderator>: Exactly *when* in December will the mini-series be aired?
johnharrison: At the moment is scheduled to be on the air Dec, 3, 4 and 5.

Moderator: <Earth2Kim> to <Moderator>: I consider "Survival of the Fittest" to be one of Earth 2's finest and most dramatic episodes. Were you planning to work on more episodes of that flavor for the second season which was not to be? I should noted that we have many Earth2 fans here tonight :)
johnharrison: Yes. And thank you so much because that's one of my favorite episodes too. I wrote that specifically for Clancy, and I had the wonderful support of my producers to try the Roshomon-like story structure, which was unusual for TV at the time. I'm very proud of that episode. At one point I was slated to be one of the executive producer writer/directors on the next season of Earth 2, and we had many great plans to do stories with that kind of character and drama but unfortunately it was not to be.

Moderator: In the series, will the Voice have special attributes to it, or will people just respond abnormally to it?
johnharrison: No, the Voice was still have special attributes. It will be clear that the Bene Gesserit para bindu training enables Jessica, Paul, and the Reverend Mother to alter the tone and impact of their vocal quality so as to influence those who hear it.

Moderator: Many people are asking variations on this one... <DellCry> to <Moderator>: If the first series does well, are there plans for doing the remaining books?
johnharrison: The short answers is "yes" but I can't be more detailed at the moment because everything is in a very preliminary talking stage. I would love to see the series continue because there are story points and clues and prophecies that are platformed in this miniseries that herald things to come in the Dune mythology.

Moderator: <ThomasH> to <Moderator>: In the beging of Dune. Paul is a small boy. Will you use child for this role or use the same (adult) Paul as seen in the pictures?
johnharrison: Alec Newman plays Paul throughout the miniseires... as a teenager, and then as the leader of the Fremen. I was incredibly lucky to have an actor of Alec's talents, who could change himself from a privileged, self-indulgent teen-aged prince to a desert-hardened grown man and what made it all the more startling was that we shot the miniseries out of order and so Alec had to play his older Paul first, and then play the younger Paul later. It's extremely difficult to do his character growth in reverese and in my estimation he pulled it off flawllessly I should say that we play Paul a bit older than the book, but not by much. And, again, it's completely consistent with the essence of Herbert's character.

Moderator: GA...for those who don't know...really isn't the State of Georgia...It means "Go Ahead" In the series, how will the body shields be portrayed?
johnharrison: It's difficult to describe with words. The will be not at all with the cubist architecture that David Lynch used. Briefly... they will be invisible for the most part, until engaged by an attack. For example, a knife thrust. If you recall, the shields are not used much in the interior of the book, because in the desert shields call worms. But there will be an exampel of body shilelds in the early part of the story. And then, of course, the city shield over Arrakeen will be evident at the end, before Paul attacks.

Moderator: John, our hour has rushed by! So many questions, so littel time! As a final thought, when we watch the series in December do you hope we take something away from it besides a rollicking good time? Did Herbert have a message for us?
johnharrison: I can do a few more questions... let me tackle this one first. That's a *great* question. And it's not one that you can answer very easily :-) Yes, of course I hope everyone takes something away from it that is more than just ride, because like any good drama, there are themes and subtexts that are there for the taking. The ecological themes are all there. The themese of fanaticism and hero worship are all there. Political corruption is there too. And I think maybe more now than when it was written, the interconnected universe that Herbert created is more applicable now. This Dune is a very complex story. Paul is not a simple hero. And I hope that the story is provocative as well as entertaining.

Moderator: <MarylandJKoba> to <Moderator>: You've talked about the roles of Jessica and Irulan, but I'm curious about Alia. In the Lynch version, she was an annoying little brat.
johnharrison: Chuckle. For many in the Fremen sietch communities, she was an annoying little brat too :-) Alia is not an easy charcter, but I like Alia beause she had no choice in what she was. The actress that we have playing Alia is sympathetic because of what has happened to her, but she's also quite scary.

Moderator: <DellCry> to <Moderator>: in the book, Paul was terrified of his destiny. In the other movie, he embraced the role eagerly. How does the new project tackle this?
johnharrison: Paul is definitely afraid of his destiny. He is wracked with a great amount of self-doubt and indecisiveness, especially as the climax approaches and he knows what it means if he succeeds. Which is why I say that Paul is a complex character. It's not just about getting revenge for what happened to his father and defeating a corrupt emperor. Paul realizes that what he is about to let loose across the universe is terrible and awesome.

Moderator: Many people are wondering how you portray and depict the Guild Navigators?
johnharrison: I must say that you will have to watch to find out. However I will say that, as in the book, they are an evolved species. TEASE! I would like to think they are a little bit more accessible and interesting than the creatures in Lynch's movie. I admit it... I'm a tease :-) I will give a couple of clues: Part of their evolution involves their ability to ingest the spice to a degree that no other human can. And that means existing in a spice-saturated environment that has caused their phsical mutations. Most specifically, in the areas of their lungs. And I'll leave it at that :-)

Moderator: <gharboe> to <Moderator>: The book gets pretty gory at times (the arena fight, for instance). Have you needed to tone it down?
johnharrison:'s pretty brutal. It is not graphic for the sake of being graphic, however. Whatever violence there is, is completely justified by story and character.

Moderator: So much for the reruns on PAX TV :( <feyd> to <Moderator>: Did you play up the scene in which Shadout Mapes gives Jessica the crysknife?
johnharrison: Another tease: Speaking of PAX TV, while we're not trying to be gratiutous... We have not shied away from the violence or the sensuality (sex) of the book. Some people may be surprised. In terms fo the crysknife: no. I made a choice to emphasize other moments of their relationship.

Moderator: <Crusade-Tom> to <Moderator>: What will the sandworms be like?
johnharrison: Spectacular. Terrifying. Huge. Loud.

Moderator: <DellCry> to <Moderator>: did you get introduced to Dune originally from the books or was the Lynch movie your first exposure?
johnharrison: The books. I read them when I was a teenager. In fact, Dune and Asimov's Foundation trilogy were seminal books in my appreciation of the genre.

Moderator: <LADuneFan> to <Moderator>: Another question: What concepts guided the design of the frigates the Great Houses travel in?
johnharrison: The Heighliner was designed by the production designer, Kreka. He interpreted the descriptions that Herbert used in the book. They are not spherical but are massive, complex machines that are turly awesome. They are hard to describe in words. But they are really wonderful.

Moderator: John, as a seasoned pro of course you can probably write or direct any material passed your way -- but do you think carrying that teenaged fascination with and love for Dune made the workload easier when you tackled the series?
johnharrison: Undoubtedly. In fact, I fined that the projects that I love the most are ones that I have loved for a long time. And I think that that also goes for the other people that were involved in this project. William Hurt, Vittoria Storaro, the producers Richard Rubinstein and Mitchell Galin, we all loved this book when we were younger, and in the cast of William and Vittorio, they each almost got involved with earlier incarnations. So it is a project we all wanted to do, because of loving it for so long. It's like a dream come true. I think I have time for two more questions, then my typist has to run.

Moderator: <gharboe> to <Moderator>: Could you tell us something about the DVD release you mentioned earlier? Definite or just a possibility? When can we expect to see them?
johnharrison: At the moment, an international version seems definite. It will be longer and have extra added attractions. At the moment, a domestic release is uncertain.

Moderator: This seems appropriate... Having lived with Dune for so long... which of the many characters do you find that you honestly like the most, and of course why? :)
johnharrison: The answer has to be: Paul. It's a difficult question to answer because the beauty of this book is that there are so many wondefully drawn characters, and I was lucky enough to have exceptional actors to bring them to life. But the answer has to be Paul, because the journey that Paul goes through is the journey I think we can all identify with, even if not in the extreme. He is complex, he is honest, he is loyal, he is afraid, he loves passionately, he hurts deeply and he has incredible courage and intelligence. He's completely fascinating. And that's the end of my answer :-)

Moderator: John -- you've been a wonderful guest. We genuinely appreciate the time you spent with us. And of course we hope that SCI FI will gently encourage you to come back before Dec 3rd, 4th, and 5th. On behave of the audience with their --literally -- hundreds of questions. Thanks again! And good night.
johnharrison: Finally, all I would say is that it's been a difficult but extremely rewarding production...very special for me. Worth every bit of the three years I've invested in it. And while it's not perfect, and while it may not be exactly the vision everyone has of the world of Dune I think it's a faithful and honest adaptation of the book, and I really hope everybody gets into it. It's worth staying on the ride from beginning to end. Thanks for your time, and goodnight everybody. Great questions. I really enjoyed it.

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