William Gibson Interview
by Giuseppe Salza
[This interview will be included in the book “Net-Surfers” (tentative title) by Giuseppe Salza, to be published by “Theoria Edizioni” in Italy in Spring 1995]
CANNES. William Gibson was in Cannes in May 1994 to promote the filming of “Johnny Mnemonic”, a $26 million science fiction movie based on his short story, and starring megastar Keanu Reeves as the main character. Directed by the concept artist (and Gibson’s pal) Robert Longo – with a few music video and TV credits, but for the first time in charge of a feature, the film also stars Ice-T, Dolph Lundgren, Takeshi Kitano (of the cult “Sonatine”), Udo Kier, Henry Rollins and Dina Meyer. William Gibson also wrote the screenplay of his original story, which was published in the anthology “Burning Chrome”. “Johnny Mnemonic” goes into wide release in current 1995.
In this interview, William Gibson talks at length about “Johnny Mnemonic”, movies, SF, net culture and issues.
What are your initial impressions on how “Johnny Mnemonic” is turning out ?
I have just seen the pre-assembled 10-minute show reel. I think it is fantastic! It felt very good seeing the universe of “Johnny Mnemonic” taking a life on its own. If it had been different, I wouldn’t probably be here. But it can be safe to say that “Johnny Mnemonic” has been the optimal screen experience so far.
Robert (Longo, the film director) and I kind of had a mutual experience with it. We first tried to make a screen adaptation of “Johnny Mnemonic” back in 1989, so we started pitching it around film companies, asking for money. Didn’t work out. We realized afterwards that our major mistake was asking too little money. Our aim back then was to make a little art movie, we figured that we would need less than 2 million dollars. Jean-Luc Godard’s “Alphaville” was our main inspiration back then. We should have asked more money.
We went through several script drafts and stages. It became very painful pursuing the project. If it were just for me, I would have given up long ago. It was really Robert’s faith and persistence in getting this film done that made it possible.
Have you written any film scripts before, besides this and the ill- fated drafts for “Alien3”?
Yeah, I have done a couple of screen adaptations that never got made. One was “Burning Chrome” (ED.Kathryn Bigelow was involved in it for a while) and the other was “Neuro-Hotel”.
What happened ?
I don’t really feel like talking about them. Let’s just say that these projects have been… developed to death. It was getting more and more frustrating, and I didn’t like that.
Have you ever been involved in any other movie or TV project before that ?
I was gonna write a story for the “Max Headroom” series, but the network pulled the plug. My friend John Shirley did a couple of scripts for them. He’s the one who convinced me I should have written one, too.
The only thing which was left of your script for “Alien3” was the prisoners with the bar code tattooed on the back of their necks. What do you think in retrospect of this misadventure ?
My script for “Alien3” was kind of Tarkovskian. Vincent Ward (ED.the director of “The Navigator”) came late to the project (ED.after a number of other directors had been unsuccessfully approached), but I think he got the true meaning of my story. It would have been fun if he stayed on. (ED.he eventually quit. “Alien3” was finally directed by David Fincher)
You seem very detached from your previous experiences in movies. “Johnny Mnemonic”, on the other hand, seems very personal to you. Why is that ?
I wrote the original story in 1980. I think it was perhaps the second piece of fiction I ever wrote in my life. It held up very good after all these years. “Johnny” was a start for many creative processes: it was in fact the root source of “Neuromancer” and “Count Zero”. It is only fair that the first script of mine that goes into production should come from that, from my early career.
The world of “Johnny Mnemonic” takes for granted the Berlusconi completion process, I mean the media baron becoming one of the Country’s leaders. I think the distinction between politicians and media is gonna disappear. It already has, in effect. It is very sad.
It’s like saying that the theories you imagined in your science fiction stories are becoming real…
Yeah, but people shouldn’t look at science fiction like they look at “real” fiction. They shouldn’t expect that this is what the future is gonna look like. We (ED. science fiction writers) are sort of charlatans: we come up with a few ideas and we make a living out of that.
When I wrote “Neuromancer”, I would have never imagined AIDS and the collapse of the USSR. We never get the future right. I always thought that USSR was this big winter bear that would always exist. And look at what happened. In 1993 I wrote an afterword for the Hungarian version of “Neuromancer”. I wrote that nothing lives forever, and that it’s time that the winds of democracy blow over the East. But now, after the arrival of people like Zhirinowsky, I have second thoughts again and I fear for them.