Sunday, May 26, 2013

"Quantum Leap" head writer coming to Chicago as part of Ray Bradbury Festival




By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Ray Bradbury's influence was far and wide.

From June 7-9, Otherworld Theatre will present The Ray Bradbury Festival at Strawdog Theatre's Hudgens Hall, 3829 N. Broadway St., Chicago. More information is at www.OtherWorldTheatre.org.

Deborah Pratt, the co-executive producer and head writer of the beloved show "Quantum Leap," will be part of a panel discussion on "Ray Bradbury: The Man and the Legacy." She will also be speaking at 11 a.m. June 1 in Room 7 at the Whole Life Expo at the Schaumburg Convention Center, 1551 North Thoreau Drive, Schaumburg. More information is at www.wholelifeexpo.com.

I had the chance to talk to Pratt about Bradbury and how he shaped her career.



Q - Great to talk to you. You will be part of a panel discussion on Ray Bradbury. What kind of impact did Ray Bradbury have on you and your career? What do you think his legacy is?
He fired my readers' imagination.  His writing and choice of words always made me feel I was right there in the word he’d created for me.
The characters were my friend or my enemy. The danger was real and the people on the page I cared about, needed me to keep reading to make sure they were okay.
It’s a quality I strive for whenever I put thoughts onto a page/screen. I ask the Socratic questions of  “who, what, where, when and why” and seek the answers in the characters and in the world I’m creating.
How can I make this world as real as textured as I can so the reader discovers too late they have been drawn inside so deep, they never want to come out.
Q - What do you think a science fiction novel should accomplish?
An odyssey of the mind.  I consider myself a fantasy writer first, something Mr. Bradbury often said, (Well, other than “Fahrenheit 451.”) I think the writer should take the reader into the created world of place, time, people and things.
Make us feel, care and visualize with every word; ever blade of grass, taste, sight, sound and feeling externally and internally.

Q - What do you try to accomplish through your books?
All of the above and perhaps the inspiration to have the reader ask themselves the question “What if?”  I think Ray did that brilliantly is “Fahrenheit 451." He took a possible future world and played it out asking, what would you do if you found yourself here? 

He allowed the mind of the reader to make the leap of what life in a repressed society would be like and question themselves morally. I think the Vision Quest  begs the question morally as well as spiritually.

Q - Of course, you were the co-executive producer and lead writer of "Quantum Leap," a show that is still beloved to this day. Did you think when you were working on the show that it would have such an impact?
I don’t believe anyone creates and writes with that thought in mind. You do the best writing with the most truth, heart and feeling you can and hope that someone out there is moved by what you have offered.
Q - What were your goals for the show?
To stay on the air. They moved us six times in the five years we were on.  
To do the best show we could produce in the time and with the money we had. To have a great time and enjoy the wonderful people we were blessed to work with.
Q - What do you think Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell brought to their roles?
Everything: charm, humor, pathos, warmth, humanity and drama. Scott was a hunk/hottie, the ladies loved and the men wanted for their best friend.
He could do anything we asked and more and Dean was a seasoned performer who always gave a 100 percent - and he was seriously cute and amazingly kind and nice. They both were.
Q - Do you think the show would have been as popular without them?
Not at all. They had great chemistry and made my work as a writer and a producer a blessing to go to work every day.  
We had a great staff and an amazing crew and when it all came together we were a wonderful show. Many people say we changed TV and by doing so changed, not just the U.S., but the world. Thanks to syndication, "Quantum Leap" is finding new audiences every day and its legacy lives on.


Q - One of the episodes that you wrote, "The Color of Truth," received a Lillian Gish award. What was your inspiration in writing the episode? Do you consider it one of your favorite episodes of the show?
I was reading through several "LIFE" magazines from the early '50s, and found a story about an elderly black man who worked for an elderly white woman in the segregated south.  
He would cook and clean and drive her around their small southern town and every day he would make her lunch and everyday they would eat at separate tables. I looked at the picture of them at their separate tables; she in the dining room and he in the kitchen and all I saw was two lonely people trapped by the norms of 1953.  
Norms that dictated this invisible wall that had to be there to keep them from a simple act of human kindness.  So I asked myself, what if a man from today {Sam Becket) was in that position. 
He was from 40 years in the future, long after civil rights had awakened America. He taught her that humanity was more important that the safety of past rules and ritual.  
And when the hospital wouldn’t take the little black girl and Miss Melly made them that moment for me was a salute to …. Who discovered blood plasma and died because a white hospital, who was using his transfusion technology, wouldn’t admit him.
That was the beauty of "Quantum Leap." We could comment on history from a present day perspective and we got to teach someone from the past the lessons of the present. 
I remember the movie “Driving Miss Daisy” came out after “The Color of Truth” aired and as beautiful as the film was and as wonderful as the performances were, I think “The Color of Truth” said and did more to share a very emotional lesson about the power of one person standing up against what’s wrong for what’s right, especially when it goes against everything we are taught.
I think that no matter what we are taught, in our hearts, in our DNA, we know what is right and good.  And it’s those who have the courage to stand up and fight for good will affect change. 

Q - Your daughter, Troian Bellisario, guest starred on "Quantum Leap" and now is on the hit show "Pretty Little Liars." What advice have you given her in her acting career? 
She did an episode I wrote called “Another Mother” and Dean Stockwell, who’d been a child star, told me not to make her work through her childhood. I honored that and let Troian find her way to the stage and screen herself.
I loved her with open arms and answered her questions when she had them. Rehearsed with her when she wanted my direction.
Filmed her when she needed audition tapes and let her know without question, that if she gave a thousand percent each time she stepped in to the lights; on stage or screen or life, she would succeed as long as she believed in herself and trusted without question that I and all who love her, believed her.  
She knows I always have her back.

Q - You've done so many things over the years. Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?
The "Vision Quest” series is my passion piece.  It’s my sci fi fantasy of an empowered humanity and a better world. I am creating it into a massive, transmedia event including more books, films, TV, persistent worlds and numerous, interactive games.
I believe it’s ahead of its time and its finding its way.
I’m working on a new novel, book two of “Age of Eve." I’m co-writing (my first co-creation since "Quantum Leap"), a trilogy of books with a wonderful writer named Lynn Isenberg called “The Field Paradox."
We are close to finishing the first book and a draft of screenplay.
I am close to directing a small film I wrote called “Heartswear” and that would mean a great deal to me. And as far as dream projects go…I would like to write a one woman show for myself and go back to the stage.
I have always liked working in front of audience. Fingers crossed.