Read the full transcript from BAFTA A Life in Pictures: Sir Ridley Scott
Francine Stock: Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. Sir Ridley Scott is a director of unparalleled scale and scope; the creator of cinematic worlds from outer space to ancient Rome, from the Napoleonic wars to the dystopia of Blade Runner. Let us before he comes on just briefly remind ourselves of his life in pictures.
Ridley Scott: Full house.
FS: Full house.
RS: That’s good.
FS: Welcome to your life in pictures. Now unusually for a life in pictures, we’re actually going to start with some of your advertising work, because you have made no fewer than how many commercials?
RS: You lose count, but roughly about 2,000 I think. The company, over the years, has made a lot more because many directors or contributors… But I think it’s harder to make that many commercials today, because in those days it was the infancy of television advertising, so I could do three a week, which was fantastic.
FS: I’m interested because obviously you were at the Royal College of Art where there wasn’t film training as such, but once you went into making commercials—there are certain… Alan Parker and Hugh Hudson, and—
Is he here?
FS: So you came out of that. I mean, was there very much a sense—they’re so sophisticated, those commercials, even from that early age, and they’re so, they’re so cinematic. Was there a sense, did you have a sense do you think collectively that it was time to make advertising, to bring into people’s homes some of the values of cinema?
RS: Well the big company then was Charles—James Garrett, and he had a very good guy in there named Dick Lester, anybody remember who that was? Beatles, Hard Days Night, the best of the three musketeers. He was a very good filmmaker and he was also a good commercial director. His sleekness, and that’s a compliment, the way he made movies applied to commercials. So I noticed him, and then because it was really infancy, of course anything that’s new everybody wants to make it creative and it was very creative. And so I think it was about not putting anyone’s nose out of joint, I think there was some of the best copywriting then. Alan Parker was probably the most successful copywriter in England at nineteen. So don’t believe him about this socialist stuff, he’s actually—born on the cobbles, yeah, sure Alan.
FS: So there was that sense. You were making a number of commercials a week, even.
RS: Yeah, well it was a brand new thing. I relate it to, you know, there’s been a digital explosion here: all of digital media and social networks and all that kind of thing started quite suddenly. I mean really kicking in, Netflix kicking in, talking about the last two years. Then the gradual growth of digital art, I’m sure some people disagree with me, probably slid in on a fast ramp over less than eight years. And therefore the world of the digital empires were far, far wealthier and greater than we were as commercial advertising.
But commercial advertising in those days suddenly—I’ll give you an example, the BBC—I’ll talk about money. I was earning seventy-five pounds a week after tax taking care of a live show called Softly, Softly. One day somebody said to me, “You want to do a commercial.” I said, “Yeah,” so I went and snuck down there on BBC time, so I was moonlighting, and at the end of the day I got paid 100 pounds. So I said, “there’s something seriously wrong here,” so I went into advertising.
FS: Well we’ve got a little compilation, so maybe we should look at those first of all and then maybe we can talk a bit more about this.
RS: Yeah. Oh, I’ll add that some of these commercials are forty years old, forty-five years old, so we try to keep them as good as we can. They’re about to be climbed back into, resurrected, so forgive some of the fuzziness. And I selected only six, it gives you a broad stroke of what we did, but I think it’s real storytelling, so here you go.
FS: Great. Let’s see the clip, please.
RS: Worth saying that Steve didn’t like the commercial because it didn’t show the computer, and so Woz said, “What’s the matter, the money?” He said, “no, no.” So they made the agency pay for that one minute on the Super Bowl, which cost in those days, for one it was about a million dollars, now it’s about four. And the rest was history because he cleared his stock in two weeks and from that moment on Steve believed in advertising, so…
FS: But it was that idea that you could make it as big and cinematic, even if people were going to see it on a small screen.
RS: To be honest, it’s never on paper. It’s a script, it’s a piece of paper, and I take it and I interpret it. And so if you’re a director in this room, it’s all about interpretation. And you can take it and make it as small or big as you want, and I was blessed with having been to two very good art schools, so I can, you know, really draw. And so I would work out film on paper. So I would sit there by myself, working on what I could do with this single sheet, and I wanted to have—to ring the bell on 1984 I wanted to have the whole audience would people sitting there with shaved heads. And because I couldn’t afford—there’s no visual effects in eighties films, by the way, because they didn’t exist, so the reel jet is eight feet off the ground. So these kids, I figured there’s a bunch of guys who were National Front, so…
All that lot are National Front. I gave them breakfast, lunch and dinner; they were as good as gold.
The only thing I said is, “when this hammer hits that screen, I want you to go, ‘uhhhh.’” And they did.
FS: But at that stage I mean, you were obviously thinking about—well you were still making adverts by the time you’d made The Duellists, your first feature film.
RS: Well you can tell: There’s a punch, an impact and power. I knew I had that impact and punch, partly because I was a designer, I could draw, and therefore I was blessed with a good eye. Blessed with an eye, and if I could see the film before it got made, so by the time I decided at thirty-eight, gee whiz I hadn’t made a film yet, so I started to evolve something which was national—what do you call it? Public domain. Joseph Conrad had a short story called The Duellists, it was going to be a sketch for his large book that he was going to do about the Napoleonic era, and so we got that, secured it, and by then I could afford to pay for a screenwriter. So I got it written and then I took it to David Putnam, now Lord Putnam, and we made the movie.
Making the movie, at the end of it, was very enjoyable and dead easy and so I wanted to go again. And uh, Puttnam was a great guiding person for me through the whole process. I think David’s probably one of the best producers I’ve ever worked with.
FS: But presumably because you’d made these advertising films that you knew about deadlines and budgets and all of those things that sometimes people find very difficult with their first feature?
RS: Yeah, I mean, when you do commercials and you have your own office by then—our offices were in New York and London by then. I know that on that second hand is a dollar sign or a sterling sign, and as you go over it’s your problem. So once you’re past six o’clock with an agency it’s all in your hands dude. So it’s up to you to get through on time and make sure the agency are happy, will walk away with a view to coming back for more later. That’s the key, that’s how I kept so busy because I was pretty well on time, pretty good with that—it was a learning curve. I wasn’t initially; my brother Tony was a disaster, he’d go in at three o’clock in the morning. I used to have to turn to him and go, “what are you doing?” But I learned from, you know—speed, budgeting, speed, budgeting. Film school never teaches you that you’ve got a budget, you’ve got to get there on time otherwise you’re going to get replaced. That’s it.
FS: So with The Duellists, a story that goes, that runs through the Napoleonic wars, it’s quite a long time frame, in fact, but much of the story is told through the landscape, isn’t it?
RS: Yeah. Well I chose the place in France, there was no tax rebate then, so we chose—that whole film’s done for about $800,000 and you’ll see a bit of it in a minute. The place I looked at was a place in the Dordogne called Sarlat, and when you go into France in those days they would say, “you want to make a movie? You’ve got to go to the mayor. He says, “Sex film? No. Brigitte Bardot? No.”
“Michael Winner? No. OK.”
Seriously. So we went on the Friday, and on the Monday morning I had to go into the mayor and he said, “but this is a remarkable. These two men, Dupont, er, Fournier and Feraud, and…” he said, “these are two local men who lived in Sarlat.” So he showed me the record that these two guys had started off as equal ranking in the Napoleonic army, and if one moved above the rank of the other he couldn’t challenge him to a duel until they’d equalised. So that took them through this story of craziness right through to at the end of the film, when they couldn’t actually remember what the original argument was about, which to me was a marvellous metaphor for war.
FS: The clip we’re going to see is from very near the beginning, actually. So the duellists are Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel, we’re only going to see Harvey Keitel in this particular one, but if you could show the clip please, thanks.
RS: If you wave around a yard of steel, that’s what happens. So Harvey hadn’t duelled, fought with a sword ever. So that shows what a great artist Harvey is, because he just got… We had about eight, nine days rehearsal with swords, there’s no buttons on that so even blunt it’s dangerous but Harvey just is a great physical actor. I think his opposition, I think it was Alec Guinness’ son.
FS: Oh really?
RS: Yeah, yeah.
FS: Because it is a story that unfolds, each time they meet each of the fights reveals so much about character as well, doesn’t it?
RS: Yeah, well they—I originally cast Michael York and Oliver Reed. Both great swordsmen, right? Now Oliver’s gone, but Oli was a great swordsman and so was Michael York—if you remember Zeffirelli’s—
FS: Romeo and Juliet? Oh no.
RS: Romeo and Juliet? Michael plays Banquo. Is that right? No.
FS: Not in Romeo and Juliet, he’s—
RS: Come on guys, jeez
And he is a great swordsman. And uh, I was playing Michael as the bad guy, I always saw Michael playing the bad guy more often, and Oli, ironically, was going to play the good guy, so it won’t matter now because it’s too long ago… So I went to Paramount and they said, “No, no, no. You’ve got three guys here, you get two of these three we’ll give you $800,00.” So I had to go out like a hitman, and top of the list was Harvey Keitel, and Keith Carradine was the third one. And I went and met Harvey in New York, who had read the script, he said, “Come in,” and he said, “you’ve got to be kidding me. You want me to play this, what are you out of your bloody mind?” And I then went to New York for three weeks and I kept going at him and he finally gave in.
Keith was already in from the start, but to play two Americans as two French tsars was definitely, you know, testing the water. But I think it worked very well.
FS: It worked extremely well, and it was very well regarded critically. It wasn’t a huge commercial success, though. I mean, was that—
RS: Seven theatres, it opened in seven theatres in America. And… but it won the Grand Jury prize at Cannes. Now to mention a name that will be very unpopular, had Harvey Weinstein—at that point he would have known what to do with small films because Harvey, whatever else Harvey is, was very good at actually taking small subjects and really knowing how to market them. He had a great eye for that.
So Paramount had forgotten I’d made the movie, so when I arrived in LA I was staying in this cheap motel, and I called them up and they said, “Who?” I said, “Ridley Scott.” They said, “With what in mind?” and I said, “The film The Duellists.” And they said, “What?” and I heard a lot of this whispering in the background, then I heard [pats], and then I heard, “Ridley, how are you?” They’d forgotten we’d made it. They’d actually forgotten we’d made it. So that was my introduction to Hollywood.
FS: But from then on, you then wanted to do something—you know, did you have particular ideas about how you wanted to go after that?
RS: No, I ironically was really a glutton for punishment. I was going to go and make Tristan and Isolde because—talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous—because in those days people just don’t want to see that kind of thing, and yet I did. I’d watched all of Bergman, all of Kurosawa, and the film I remember was a great film by Bresson—Buñuel or Bresson—called Lancelot du Lac.
FS: It’s Bresson.
RS: Ok right. Lancelot du Lac, it’s actually a pretty good version of Tristan and Isolde, you know, and I was going to do that. And David said, “Um, there’s a film running at the Chinese on Saturday, opening night, opening day. I’ve got some seats downstairs, a bit near the front. It’s a film this guy called George Lucas has made.” So I go in the Chinese and of course it’s Star Wars and I sit there and I’ve never felt such audience participation. This theatre was positively rumbling and I sat thinking, ‘what am I doing going off to make another art film? I’d better get into the real business.’
So I decided not to make it and I think David was a bit pissed off because he thought I was going to… And after, ironically after six weeks, I go back to commercials, thank God for commercials, and after six weeks I suddenly got a script on my desk called Alien. Now the rest is kind of history.
FS: But to what extent were you with your art background involved in the whole look of Alien right from the start?
RS: Are you kidding? Totally, darling. Because the—the power of a storyboard. I went and met Laddie, and Laddie said, “four point two,” and I had no idea because I’d just quadrupled my budget on The Duellists, so I was like, “Wow that’s a lot of money.”
So here’s another key—when you go into Hollywood, if you ever go into Hollywood, don’t sit in a room and come with a bunch of notes about the screenplay. That’s fatal. You’ll turn a golf film into a development deal and then it’ll gradually water down and disappear out the window. So I went there and I was savvy enough to say—“Any comments about the—“ “Nope, fantastic.” “Any comments?” “Nope.” “You wanna—“ “I just can’t wait to do it.” So I was on board within about twenty-two hours.
I went back to London and sat for the next three weeks waiting for contracts and god knows what, and I storyboarded the film—which I still have today. It’s about this thick, and I brought the boards back to LA and the budget went from four point two to eight point five. That’s the punching power of a storyboard. It’s all there, everything.
So I always board, always board, always board. And I used to hand boards out to—there are some very skilled storyboard guys, but I spend so much time on what I want that frankly I may as well do it myself. So now I’ve decided to draw it myself. It’s faster. So the board for Black Hawk Down is like this thick. And you do a little bit of it each time—I’m a great—I sketch, when I’m on the telephone I’m drawing boards. So gradually the boards build like that. So I’ve already shot the film in my head on paper before I get there. So when I’m on set I don’t even have a script. I just say, “Right, camera—there’s four cameras, one, two, three, four.” And you’ve got to know the geometry to know where it’s going to be useful. But that said, because of that I need the best cameramen. Don’t make no mistake, I need great cameramen.
FS: And you already knew some of them—through the advertising world, that work, had you—
RS: Oh yeah. Derek Vanlint was the first on Alien, imagine that. He was the first. And Frank Tidy was a rostrum cameraman on The Duellists. But he discovered—in commercials, I used to use Frank in a lot of commercials, did almost 200 commercials with Frank, and did 200 commercials with Derek. And Frank had discovered from America this north light. When I was at BBC I did a couple of shows for BBC as a director and they would always have these lights, inkydinks and god knows what, and you’d sit in a room and the room was always brighter than the exterior—it always looked completely unreal. So when I started doing commercials I sat one lunchtime and I said, “Lunch?” and as the lights went off, I went, “Stop. Stop right there.” The cameraman—Arthur Ibbotsen, anyone remember Arthur Ibbotsen? No? Jeez. Arthur Ibbosten came in and I said, “Listen, that’s how I want to light this room.” He said, “But if I do that, it’ll never televise.” I said, “I’ll take the risk on that,” and that’s where it began. I kind of invented a new look at a television commercial level that suddenly became kind of beautiful and real, not—the best of the best at that point was Keith Yure with corner lights and top soft lights that he learned from Irving Penn. I’m talking about people you’ve never even heard of, right?
FS: I haven’t.
RS: But these are major people. Anyone know who Irving Penn was?
RS: You buy that little cigarette and the ashtray’s now worth a million dollars. Photograph. Seriously
FS: Well let’s see the clip now from Alien.
RS: Jerry Goldsmith’s music—fantastic.
Now that was economy. There was no walking shots because we didn’t have that set to do that. And I discovered—I fell in love with an old TV. Well in those days the pixel monitor, I figured if Ash, Ian Holm, is watching the monitor—I didn’t realise of course that monitor’s in those days were 14k and will not have lines, but I thought the lines were great because my model was only four feet across and my landscape was pretty bad. So I took a small camera and walked with the tails of this thing, walked around and put the model at the back and then took that footage and transposed it onto a TV screen, filmed the TV screen and cut it in. So that makes for a cheap walk, OK?
And I just utilised all the dialogue the actors had inside their helmets, because we hadn’t quite worked out how not to suffocate in those helmets at that point, so half of them were suffocating.
So it was great, still works. So when you go from that outside cut to the silence of the corridor, then you know you’re really in trouble.
FS: But it is, I mean it is a very early example of using that kind of mixed media thing, which of course has been imitated over and over again. And Goldsmith’s score, really scary space as opposed to futuristic, exciting space—
RS: Yeah he’s brilliant. And Jerry was—I did two with Jerry. Jerry did the original Planet of the Apes and lots of great stuff, but then he did for me Alien and a thing I did with Legend, with a twenty year-old Tom Cruise. It was a kind of a fairy story and he did the score for that, which he did exactly what I wanted but the film was seen as a bit too sweet—it was a fairy story. In fact, it was twenty-seven years too soon because Beauty and the Beat right now is what I just did then. So to Jerry I said, “Jerry, dude, your score is a bit sweet for the United States.” He used to go brick red, he said, “What do you mean?”
He’d go brick red and he had a shock of white hair so it made the brick red somehow even worse. Then I said, he said, “Who’s going to do the score for the United States?” So I said there’s this band called Tangerine Dream—it was a bit like, was it Margaret Rose who said, “A handbag?!” He said, “Tangerine Dream?!” So I went into Berlin and I did with Tangerine Dream all the music in three weeks. Ironically they both worked, but Jerry’s was the one that really was designed.
FS: And I mean the other thing, I suppose, about Alien was the fact that the whole film of the Nostromo, of the ship and the crew being kind of—they were workers, they weren’t sort of space elite were they? And all of that was all completely fresh and new.
RS: Yeah, well if you can classify Sigourney as a worker. Yes, in fact we decided to go with a counterpoint to Star Wars, which I thought—Lucas’ first Star Wars was absolutely seminal, blew me away, but in a funny kind of way he had done a great kind of space fairy story with the darkness of Darth Vader—it was a great thing to do, and the princess and the prince and all that stuff and the wild man who’s Harrison Ford. We were truck drivers in space, fundamentally, and off that you had Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton, a sort of double act below decks. And they give it that working class problem. I thought they were pretty funny, yeah.
FS: So were you tempted to stay with that kind of genre after Alien?
FS: Were you tempted to stay with kind of space, action, mystery, whatever, after Alien?
RS: No, no. I was—yeah I was going to do—off Alien I was going to do Dune. I sat with a good writer called Rudy Wurlitzer, he did a good script I think, with Dino De Laurentiis. Then something happened—I lost my older brother at that point and that completely threw me into a loop and so I went into this spin for a bit and dropped Dune, which Dino was very graceful about. And I waited until I’d—when I was mixing Alien, Michael Dealy had come to me with a script called Blade Runner—actually, called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. And then I went back to Michael, that small film grew in my mind because Hampton Francher had written a very nice play, a three act version of a hunter and a quarry, and the quarry who was an android was taken and kept in his apartment and sort of like Stockholm Syndrome she had fallen in love with him, he had fallen in love with her, but it never actually evolved outside the apartment.
So I met Hampton, loved Hampton, and from that—I’ve never spent so much time, I think I spent four months, five months, six months, every day with Hampton and Michael, evolving. Because I said, if we can make—we can’t call them androids, we can’t call them robots, we’ve got to think of something else. You can’t call it the title; we’ve got to think of something else. And gradually, we gradually found the title but the evolution was—if you’re proposing a world that has such high technical capability, if you’re creating human beings, I want to see what the outside looks like. So when he goes out that door I want to go with him. So it went vroom, like that. So I applied my design thing, got a great guy called Syd Mead and production designer, a very nice man called Larry Paul, and we started to evolve the city.
And the next problem is where do I do it? So I even flew to Hong Kong, couldn’t afford to do it there—I would have done it in Hong Kong in a heartbeat, couldn’t do it in Hong Kong, couldn’t afford to. There was a city in France that was modern, but they’d done something there before, it was not right. I ended up in the backlot. It was then the—it was the Columbia-Warner backlot at that point. So we built the set, yeah. We only went out of the studio once, went downtown in LA on the million-dollar theatre area where I used the Bradbury building, but that was about it.
FS: I mean that has lasted incredibly well in terms of—
RS: Sure has. But I got murdered at the time, absolutely killed. In my office in LA I have a framed original four page article by Pauline Kael, anyone remember Pauline Kael?
RS: Who devastated the film in four pages. I never met her, never even met her. She wrote for this New Yorker kind of posh magazine and oh my God, it even got personal. And from that moment I never, ever read my own press after that, but I framed the article and always kept it, saying how wrong you can be, darling.
FS: That’s right. Well quite. I mean especially in the year when we’ve seen…
RS: Yeah I was right after all. Expensive at the time, she nearly killed the movie. It didn’t survive for almost, let me see, it survived only by accident by coming out of a box where—there were one or two fans at the Santa Monica Film Festival, who wanted to run Blade Runner in the festival, so they called up Warners—and I’m sure Warners will forgive me if there’s anyone from Warners in here—they’d lost the bloody negative.
And so suddenly in a haste ripped this cut out of a drawer, shipped it down to Santa Monica. They ran it, it was a cutting copy with a bit of Jerry Goldsmith’s music on and little bit of Vangelis. This was a preview print, can you believe it? There was no voiceover, none of that silly nonsense flying into the mountains at the end. It was a film noir. In those days they’d say, “What is a film noir?” And I’d say, “Well it’s a kind of French,” and they’d say, “We don’t want that,” so we had to find a good place for them to end up in the mountains or something. So I had to put the mountain sequence in and when you think about that it makes no sense—why do you live in that city if they’ve got mountains like that?
Too late. I’m now dealing with a lot of ‘duh’-s I’m telling you. My favourite word is now ‘duh,’ and people get very offended.
Gee whiz. OK.
FS: Well the next clip we’re going to see is actually going on quite a long way, but so different from Alien and indeed from Blade Runner. We’re going to watch Thelma and Louise, which is 1981. Now here you’re taking on the big American road movie but you’re changing it in the first obvious way that it’s two women. But in terms of the landscape, in terms of the way that you’re shooting it, I mean what did you have in mind there?
RS: I mean I’m a camera operator so I shot and operate all of these. So Alien was all one camera, Duellists was all one camera, Thelma and Louise is one camera. I didn’t start multi-camera until—the idea of video has since become very sophisticated. In my tent now, if I’ve got six cameras I’ll have six monitors. I mean not like this, like that. So I can sit there and literally cut the scene as I’m shooting it and that’s how you can do a cut in seventy-two days as opposed to 172 days. And what was your question, my brain’s gone?
FS: It was actually about the landscape, because the clip we’re going to see is really big. We’re going to see big vistas.
RS: In short, I read it as an odyssey, and I read it as a comedy. And Callie said, “Comedy? This is serious.” And I said, “If I do it serious,” which I could easily make it serious, you’re going to cut off half your audience. Half the men in America will hate this movie because they’re not ready for it yet. if I make it comedic, everyone’s going to kind of enjoy it more and forgive the righteousness of the females. I’ve never had a problem with—I’ve done a lot of films with women who are the lead: Sigourney, these two—the gals, people forget about GI Jane—she did all of that herself, and those one-armed push-ups are real, dude. And so, and then I always cast very strong women. Michelle Williams is a girl, a woman against Getty, and so on, so forth.
FS: But the casting of these two, this particular combination of these two actors… How much time do you take over casting? Do you have a particular way of doing it, or?
RS: I was going to produce it, because it was sent to my office then outside through Callie—sorry, David Fincher, sorry. She was the receptionist at David Fincher’s office and every day David would walk through and she’d say, “David I have a script for you—“ and David would go, “Yeah, yeah, later.” And one morning she said, “David, I got my film picked up,” and he went, “With who?” And she said, “Ridley Scott,” and he went…
So, sorry, so—and by the way I think Fincher’s brilliant so I can afford to tell jokes about that. It may not be true but I was told that afterwards. But you have to make an odyssey splendid, so it had to be magnificent and splendid because in essence it was the last journey and you’re heading towards that last journey and you cannot let that car explode, you’ve got to freeze it where it was. Because it’s a continuation of what they want because the alternative would have been prison or the electric chair.
FS: Well let’s see Thelma and Louise and a youngster who will become more famous later on. Let’s see that clip now.
FS: That kind of chemistry that you can see between Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon just in those driving shots. I mean, did you have to try a lot of actors before you could come up with that?
RS: No. I saw—I was going to produce it, so I interviewed directors and most of the directors said, “I’ve got a problem with the women.” And I said, “Well that’s the whole point of the script, dude.” And so I was then interviewing, one day, Michelle Pfeiffer, who was a bit too busy, but she said, “I want to meet anyway.” And she said at the end of the meeting, “Why don’t you come to your senses and you do it?” And so I went, “uhhhh,” and that’s what I did.
Geena had been pursuing this role; she knew it was there, she knew it was for her. I met with Geena, she was absolutely charming, and once I had Geena then getting Susan was pretty straightforward. And the rest followed through—Geena suggested Chris, who was the guy standing there with his pizza. She said, “Who’s my husband going to be?” I said, “I don’t know.” She said, “You’ve got to meet this guy, you’ll love him.” So I met him, he had me in fits of laughter right through the whole meeting. She was going to marry him and a week before the wedding she just couldn’t do it. That was almost two years prior. So he was absolutely mortified when I called him and said, “Hey Geena wants to do the film.” He said, “Really?”
FS: But he did it.
RS: Of course. And that’s Harvey Keitel again. Half the problem of Chris getting through scenes with Harvey was Harvey couldn’t stop breaking down with laughter. He’d say, “I’m sorry, sorry, sorry, this guy’s got to stop looking at me.”
FS: We’re going to move towards talking about Black Hawk Down, but before we do—I wonder, when you describe the detail and the control you have, and actually you sitting in your chair looking at the various monitors… I always had this idea of you as someone kind of marshalling some great military operation. And you like all of that, don’t you? You like having hundreds of people…
RS: Well no, no. I’m very budget conscious, so I only have anyone I need there, but when you do Black Hawk, if I didn’t have eleven cameras I’d still be shooting. And that’s—Kingdom of Heaven, there’d be six cameras and we’d still be shooting if we didn’t do that. So they’re big, huge cameras. When you build Jerusalem, or you’re going on Black Hawk and you’re taking over a village called Salé and you’re employing 2000 locals every day, dressing them, feeding them, etc. So you’ve now got four black hawks and four night birds and you’ve got 125 rangers in there as insurance for the birds and I have to ask the kind of Morocco to write to the Pentagon to invite them in so that there’s no upheaval in all the Arab states saying, “What are you doing bringing Americans in here?” So we had to do all that before we get there, so by the time I arrived the encampment for the extras, which could be 2000, would be four hundred nylon tents and there would be breakfast areas, breakfast, lunch, dinner. And you know, that’d be 500,000—five—
FS: Five thousand—
RS: Oh no, five hundred. And on Kingdom there would be almost 800 people.
FS: And that—you see some people would find all that so worrying, the scale of that.
RS: You evolve, you get there. I learned early on—I got all my worrying out the way on commercials, because it was my wallet, so I’d walk in there really prepared, knowing what I had to get to, and allow for the discussion with the agencies throughout the day. And you know if the agency was complying with what you want it went like lightning. If you got a tricky copywriter it could go on all day, you wouldn’t shoot until two o’clock. So I want to shoot myself and him by lunchtime. So when I do a film I’m shooting by 8:45 in the morning. You better be, otherwise you’re never going to catch up. I’m like a sergeant major. First AD and crew and we are the best, the best.
FS: Have you worked with the same kind of… on the whole—
RS: I try to keep it quite—because I tend to do—I just counted, in seventeen years I’ve done fifteen films. So for the thirty-five years, I’m heading for the thirtieth movie. But there’s almost 200 productions in television and things like that. So that only works if you’ve got great people, yeah, yeah.
FS: So you were producing on Thelma and Louise and from then on you’ve done a lot of producing, too. How do you decide between the ones you’re going to direct and the ones you’re going to produce.
RS: I learned early on you don’t—you rarely get a script that lands on your desk like Alien. And everything else was fundamentally not that great, or sometimes marginal. So I realised and I got a development deal with a studio early on, so I was always evolving and developing material—big films and small films.
Did a teeny film called Matchstick Men with the gentleman last night who got his award for Three Billboards and, with him and Nic Cage. And that to me—the ideal thing to me is to do a big film and while I’m in post I’m already planning a small one and while I’m mixing and finishing the big one I’m already planning the next big one. It’s not as difficult as it sounds.
FS: I’m sure it is, I’m sure it is, actually. Well let’s have a look now at the result of some of all that planning, which is from Black Hawk Down.
FS: Now you say when you’re doing the storyboards, and even when you’re watching filming and you’re watching on the monitors, you’re editing. When it comes to a sequence like that or something where pace is very important, presumably still in the edit you’re going back and looking at it again?
RS: Oh yeah. I need great people around me. Everything I do I’m putting the pressure on all of them, so the point of reliance, I can see I’ve got the very best costume designer in the business down there, Janty Yates. I need them to say… I’ll have the meetings and we’ll be planning and evolving, bringing them in quite early and therefore that said I also need great editors.
Because the way I function, I’ve learned over the years—this is a good point—if you sit in the edit room every night you’ll drive yourself a bit crazy because if you’ve planned it properly you should deliver your film, not your film your material—see rushes by all means, whatever he or she has got say, “what are you cutting today, can I see it?” and they show you—keep your distance. Watching a film is like nine lives of a cat, and every time you see it it’s like telling the joke once, twice it’s still funny, third time less funny, fourth time you start unpicking it. By nine you realise you think you’ve fucked up. So you can’t do that. So I now shoot, turn up, see the rushes, see what’s in hand for the day, leave it. So by the time I get to the end of the movie and we wrap, I see a director’s cut, well the editor’s cut really, but kind of my cut within about two weeks as opposed to about six, seven weeks, two months.
And so I’m looking at that, and I keep my distance because when I run it I’m in a room with—I never even write anything down because if you write something down you put your head down, you’re missing the energy of the film. So I usually have an assistant sit in and I say, “there, there, there, there.” And at the end of it they will have notes that they’ll put down and they’ll say “there’s a scene and…” and you’ll talk and the editor will sit in there. So I become the most valuable asset to the editor who listens to what I think and then have a discussion about it, or even a debate about whether I’m right or wrong. And at the end of it you come together like that. And your next screening is when you get all that down and then you look at it again—don’t sit in the editing room.
The same thing goes for the mix. Never sit in the mixing theatre. When they’ve mixed a scene or mixed a reel they’ll call you going, “Listen to this,” because if you sit in the room you’ll just get louder and louder and louder because your ear closes down and you think, ‘it’s not loud. Is it loud enough?’ And when I walk in that all stays fresh.
FS: And do you believe in test screenings?
RS: I am pathologically against any test screenings.
I’ve had two test screenings for what were massive openings—Hannibal Lecter hadn’t been done for ten years and I did a film called Hannibal. I read the book and I think my lawyer at the time said, “Are you kidding? You can’t do a film where somebody cuts the top of his head off and feeds his own fucking brain.” And I said, “Watch this space,” so we did and he fed Ray Liotta his brain.
So I thought it was a darkly, very purple operatic tale of Hannibal Lecter in Florence, you can’t beat that. And I’ve lost the point, what was the question?
FS: Test screening.
RS: Test screening. So I said no test screening, we wouldn’t test screen. We had a February, two day, non-holiday, fifty-two million dollar opening weekend. Jodie should have done the movie. Um, the next one was Black Hawk Down, I wouldn’t test it and that was a fifty-four million dollar opening weekend. Most of the people who went were women, and I don’t think it was just to watch the guys. I think it was what was happening in America at the time because they’d just blown down the Twin Towers.
So Joe Ross said to me, I was in New York and I could smell what’s left of the Twin Towers, it’s in the air, and Joe Ross said to me, “What are you going to do?” And I said, “I think we should run the film.” I think we ran the film in February as well, and we were shocked at the action because it’s showing what these guys are doing for us.
FS: So when it came around to Gladiator and the idea of the sort of sword and sandals epic. Which people had thought was actually kind of long buried.
RS: A lot of tittering.
FS: A lot of tittering.
RS: Rid’s going to do a sword and sandals, he, he, he.
Beavis and Butthead.
FS: Yes, why would you do that?
RS: Because I knew what to do. Because Walter Parks, who was running Dreamworks at the time, he said, “Listen, OK. I think I’ve got something for you will you come and see me?” So I went and saw him and I said, “Let me read the script,” and he said, “Nah, it’s not a good script.” He said—and he had a beautiful reproduction, it was quite big, and he rolled it on the desk, and it was a great painter, a 1920s French painter—or was he late nineteenth century?—called Gérôme. Gérôme? And he rolled it out and it was an almost photographic, beautiful painting, which I think the big original is in Texas somewhere in some big museum. And it’s entitled For Those About to Die and what you see is the section of the arena in Rome with a guy who’s leaning over with his thumb down, who’s clearly probably Nero—blackened face and he looks apoplectic. And on the ground there’s a slave who’d been fighting an Antobati who’s a partly armoured warrior—the guy’s got a tuner fork that’ll kill you. He netted him and he’s looking up for permission to kill. And I went, “I’ll do it.” And Walt said “Really?” And from that moment we just did it.
FS: But of course it was that moment where all of a sudden you could have computer rendering of enormous spaces—
RS: Yeah you have a—I knew exactly what I—because I could suddenly see what it could be. Roman armies could be normal like France in the mud or Germany in the mud, armour in the mud. Catapults like the guns of the First World War, a trench like the First World War. And that’s how it started to evolve. And all those German hooligans were guys from Glasgow University. That guy going, “who’s that man in the hood,” he’s Scottish, not German.
FS: But it did mean you could put, you could have a great big forum, you could have thousands and thousands of Romans cheering. I mean was that ever slightly—I mean, obviously it gave you the capacity to do it, but the fact that it was getting to the stage where you could almost do anything with computers, was that ever worrying?
RS: Well it was the first time I ever worked with a company called MPC. And MPC are—I think it was the first, but maybe they did a bit of Black Hawk. The only thing on Black Hawk—all the flying stuff is all real, landing on the high street, that stuff is all real. The actors I just strapped on the outside and said, “Don’t fall, OK?”
Eric Bana was sitting there going right across the seat. So yeah it’s…
FS: So then it changes when you get to Gladiator suddenly you have got crowds who are not there.
RS: I could only afford—there’s an arithmetic: If you’ve got more than 400 people in the morning you’re already getting to the edge really, you’re already getting them there at three AM, four AM, to dress them to be ready for five, by eight or nine. So it’s pointless having more than 400 to dress, you’ll never get ready.
So now MPC can tile—so for instance there’s a big shot where there’s a pan like that, and that’s digitally recorded and memorised so I’ll start tiling the crowd. So I’ve got 500 guys here and you see what I’m doing, I’m tiling the bathroom here with troops. So at the end of it you’ve got 15,000 troops sitting in the arena in Malta. On a daily basis I’d have maybe 1,000 Maltese because chucking on, you know, robes like that and no make up and standing them up on the gods is easy. So you could have more people: chuck them up there, move them about and tile them. Section by section you reshoot it with a recorded digital memory.
FS: Well let’s have a look at an example of some of that from Gladiator.
RS: He nearly killed his own men. That happens a lot in battle, you can shoot and kill somebody you didn’t mean to. So he turns on his own sergeant and nearly kills him—small detail.
FS: That is an example of how you’re using, at that stage, what kind of are very state of the art cameras and bringing quite a contemporary feel to the sword and sandal fight, as it were.
RS: Well, real. It’s all real, if you get it real there’s a chance it’s going to be strong. That was probably about eight cameras that whole thing because once you set that lot going you place your cameras and your camera crews and your tracks, and even if they get seen or glimpsed you can remove them digitally and not only that you dress your camera crew in insignificant clothing, even Roman gear—I put an operator with a helmet on. Seriously, because I saw him and ruined the shot—it’d cost me seventy grand to take him out—I just stuck a helmet on him.
FS: And are you fascinated by the innovations in technology, I mean do you find out about stuff all the time?
RS: Yeah I mean you have to. I mean yeah, yeah. It took a while to grasp. I think I was one of the last—I think myself and Steven were the last to use celluloid. He didn’t want to leave celluloid and I was always like, “I’ll never go to digital, I’ll never go to digital.” And suddenly I’ll never go back to celluloid, ever.
Because once you get a print, now you’ve got ten, fifteen thousand theatres. When you were grading it was a nightmare because when you’re doing runs in the lab bath, if it went in early in the morning by the time you did it in the afternoon the bath was a bit not quite right, overused and therefore it would affect the print. So you had to check, on the run of thousands you had to check every 100th print, you had to check it to make sure it’s there. Digital you just press a button and it’s all the same.
FS: But with the whole question of what you can do with computers now and what you can do sort of virtually—the whole question of computers and computer-generated images—is it ever tempting? Because anything is possible, pretty much now…
RS: Yeah. I wish there was a computer that could write great screenplays.
FS: Well that is the problem.
RS: That is the hardest thing to do. if I get it written, making the movie is dead easy, really. It’s enjoyable and if it’s really big it’s kind of challenging so you’re looking at your semantics, you’re looking at your plan and what you’re going to cook with on a daily basis. And that’s when it’s really enjoyable. When it’s not on paper it’s a nightmare. Nightmare. You’d be amazed how many films start without being on paper.
FS: So do you know when you start to read a screenplay—what is the thing that makes the handful of ones interesting enough that you’d like to pursue?
RS: You know you get used to spotting writers. I can tell in half a page if I’m in good hands. Usually it begins—any writers in the room?—with what you call your characters. Because you call your character Rodney, I can switch off then.
So the names are very important. Name I go hmm, half a paragraph, mm-hmm. If I’m getting to page twenty I’m going to perspire because I’m hoping he or she does not drop the ball. I’m thinking ‘holy moly this could be it.’ And then page seventy they drop the ball and never recover, and then I decide to climb in and advise and help resurrect. Writing is the most powerful thing in the business. I mean I can write but not the like writers I can hire. For me to write a script is a waste of my year when I can actually delegate having two or three things written for me with better writers than I.
FS: So why did you return, did you want to return to Alien? Because obviously other people had taken it on after the first one.
RS: Well I’ve always got an eye on the home run and…
I realised I should not have stepped out of sequels. I was asked to do sequels before and I said no, and I should have done more sequels. I think because I literally created Alien, after four plus Alien vs. Predator it was kind of put to bed and I thought what a pity because the old beast has more in him, or the dilemma of having such a creature where it should evolve is still there, it’s wide open. That’s why it’s been remarkable, not so much Star Wars, you know, and I’m not the biggest fan of this thing but I take my hat off to the incredible staying power of Star Trek. Unbelievable. I mean I remember watching as a kid black and white versions with, what’s his name?, the guy who played Captain Kirk then. He’s still alive…
FS: William Shatner.
RS: Who? William Shatner, yes. Then, even when I was watching TV in Stockton on Tees, I was thinking ‘who’s that guy?’ and it was William Shatner who’s making the most of a very bad set and terrible tights and the show was fantastic. And so Star Wars, same thing. So I thought Alien really should have that same element of franchise, so I came back in saying we can find a new beginning with Prometheus and later we’ll follow it with Covenant because you should be going off into a new world.
Now when you do Prometheus I said “I think the old beast is tired,” and what we learned out of Prometheus from ground zero to where it got to was really good. We made that for $103 million, not $203 million. A good price. So we did very, very well to justify going again. But the report was—and if I’m going to get into this was the business I’m going to start paying attention to the report of what was missing—and they’re saying “why didn’t it do 600?” It did mere 450, that’s pretty good, you work it out. “Why didn’t it do six, 800.” Because it didn’t have the alien in there and the chest burst was the most familiar thing. And I felt it was kind of worn out, so we came back into it with Covenant and reinvested in that process. We did well, but not as well as Prometheus.
So I think you’re already evolving into the next evolution of where you go without the alien. You’ve got to invent another form of alien, so is an AI called David, Fassbender, you see—there’s a lot behind where you can go and where they’re going to, and I think the great thing about… I had a meeting last week, funnily enough, with NASA and JPL, Jet Propulsion Laboratory—because I’d done The Martian so I got to know them very, very well—and they were talking… Alien twenty, thirty years ago I was in the planetarium where we were running the film, there’s a kind of premiere. There’s a guy, anyone remember who Carl Sagan was?
RS: So Carl Sagan was there plus champagne, and he said “You’ll never see aliens in my lifetime or yours,” and I said, “Lighten up Carl, it’s only a movie,” and he said, “Oh yes, of course.” Now we know there are many elements out there, entities out there with probable, almost certain life forms. They’ve just discovered four which are almost exact replicas of Earth. Fortunately they’re about, I don’t know, I think about twenty light years away so it’s unlikely we’ll ever see that. But they exist for sure, for sure.
FS: Well let’s see your realisation of it in the clip from Prometheus, please.
That whole idea—you’re fascinated by AI are you, generally?
RS: Well I think, as you think about it over time—I’m not agnostic, I’m not religious in that sense, but I always felt if you look at the universe and go outside it’s ridiculous to think that we’re it. It’s such an arrogance it’s ludicrous. And therefore it’s almost bound to be that outside we are—I think Hawking said for sure, he said, “Hopefully they won’t visit us before we visit them,” because if they visit us they are way, way ahead of us and therefore for us to try and retaliate on any level would be completely ludicrous.
So that said I think—Stanley Kubrick came up with a great idea that I completely believe is kind of accurate. In 2001, he had a monolith of this great black thing spinning through space, which if you like was kind of like the entity of knowledge. So one morning he’s by this little watering hole God knows where and there’s a few animals trying to fight over the water and squabble, and one morning an ape or a chimpanzee wakes up and sees this black monolith and touches it. By touching it he is investing in the first big idea, because the next thing he picks up is a thighbone off an animal they’ve eaten and beats the crap out of an anteater. So he uses it as a weapon first, throws it in the air you’ve got the best cut in history to the future.
So I always think you look back over the years and think about, how many people—much over the years was “he’s a genius.” People in America say, “he’s awesome, he’s a genius,” and I say, “No, slow down. Mozart was a genius, he’s still played every hour of the day globally, Mozart. Bach follows, then Leonardo da Vinci. Then maybe Picasso but I start to hesitate on that one.” And then I go back and think Neanderthal, walking around just about up on all fours. Got enough to have a family, clearly, the wife and the children. The litter. Now he’s standing in a wilderness and he’s sheltering because there’s this apocalyptic storm that we don’t know, we’ve never experienced it. He sees a lightning bolt strike a tree, the tree collapses and falls on a deer that’s sheltering beneath it, killing the deer. The deer is burnt by the burning branch and the Neanderthal smells meat, goes over, touches burning meat, goes ow, and licks his finger and meat tastes good cooked. When it cools off picks up the burning branch and the deer, carries it back to the cave. In the cave now you have warmth and you have the family now feed on the cooked deer. After dinner, here’s the big one, after dinner he takes a piece of charcoal because in the side of this is white where it had a fire before, on the wall he starts to draw what he saw today. Have you ever seen the drawings?
FS: I saw some of the—
RS: They’re shocking. Picasso saw that and went, “they’ve done everything.” And the drawings are a shocking representation of memory and art. So suddenly you have art. What provoked that Neanderthal to pick that up and what gave him the capability of drawing that on the wall? So I think people get gifted—am I sounding crazy?—I think Mozart was especially… What quirk of birth—Mozart wrote his first concerto when he was, was it six? So he’s way ahead of us, dude. I think people get—I think there are gifts people get handed out, by whom and what?
FS: We’re going to rush on now quickly because we are running somewhat out of time. But we’re going to go on to if you like the other side of space, which is the very sort of practical side, which is Matt Damon on Mars, keeping it very real even though it’s that bit ahead of what we can imagine.
RS: 2021 they’ll be doing this.
FS: 2021? That’s incredible.
RS: 2021, yes.
FS: Let’s see the clip.
RS: By the way, we copied Tesla’s rocket. That was his rocket.
RS: Yeah we got the drawings somehow. He hasn’t said anything yet.
FS: I hope the polythene bits don’t come off his in the same way. So we’ve got—we’ll have time for a few questions in just a moment but I think you wanted to show a little clip of your very last film, well your very last film so far, though you’re obviously already preparing for the next one. So this is All the Money in the World where obviously you had to make a cast change.
FS: At the very last moment.
FS: I have heard from somebody that you swung into, amazingly when you knew you had to do this, had to replace Kevin Spacey, that actually you swung into action and almost seemed to be relishing the challenge. I mean that sort of thing would really depress most people.
RS: It took me twenty minutes. Well you know I was a bit pissed, actually. If Kevin had said, “Dude I’m sorry about this but that’s the way it is.” And I’d have said, “Fine but I’m going to replace you.” Instead I haven’t heard from him or anybody representing him since that point. So I gave him twenty minutes and then I said I can get another man if I fly to New York tonight and meet with him, I’m convinced I can get him. So once I had him and we knew the dates and the locations were avail, everyone was avail, we were shooting in nine days. So the biggest thing, really the biggest challenge was for our guy to learn twenty-two scenes, which he did. And I absolutely was thrilled to work with him. I’ve always admired him and never found a role that actually was right for him actually when he was available. But he’s one of the greats.
FS: He is, he’s terrific. But I mean just working out how it was practical to do that…
RS: You know, I can make it sound really difficult but it’s not. You know if you’ve got a professional team like mine. I said, “Right are you there, are you available Tuesday? We’re shooting Tuesday.” And everything good vroom and the engine starts and I’ve got a very good man looking after me called Mark Hoffam who rallies the troops in a big way, gets on avail, availabilities. Locations have got to be available first, ironically, and Lord Salsbury wouldn’t let me go into his house until such and such—so I had to put it off until then. And then all the other actors had to be available, they just happened to be, thank God, and we just picked it up. Thank God. And then as I was shooting them, today, I can shoot on location and feed into the editing room in London.
FS: And that’s all possible because of—
FS: OK, let’s see the clip from All the Money in the World.
RS: That looked a little soft, was that a little soft?
RS: It’ll do.
FS: OK time for some questions from the audience please. We’ve got some roving microphones I think. There’s one roving down there and one there. And a hand up straight away down here. Thank you, and there’s one in the middle at the back. OK, go.
Q: Hi Ridley. One of the things I like about you a lot is you’re very straight—straight-talking Hollywood, no nonsense. Kind of like the Miles Davis of filmmaking, just straight in. And I just wondered even now when you’ve been talking to us you’ve been teaching kind of how to do this, do you have mentors, mentees, people that you mentor? How do you, as a producer and director—
RS: Not really. In the days I wanted to get started as a director I didn’t know how and in those days the film would run with all the credits at the front and I’d look at that thinking, ‘art director, OK I could probably do art direction because I went to art school so I’m going to head towards art director.’ A director, I had no idea what they did, how they got there. There was no evolution, there was no Beaconsfield at that point, at the Royal College of Art there was no film school. But the film school started two years after I left, so it was find your own way. I went to Royal College, which I thought was going to be the great learning curve, but when I got there I just found 400% competition. And when I got there, they’re not going to like this but it’s true, I wasn’t taught anything there. You’re thrown in the deep end with a lot of really good people. Maybe that was the intention because you look around at the competition and you better survive. It was a learning curve of what the world’s really about at that point.
FS: And do you in turn, do you actually, do you mentor?
RS: No, I would live in the National Film Theatre, because in those days I’d have a student ticket and you could take in a bottle of beer in a backpack. And I would actually sit and watch all the Ingmar Bergman films, all the Kurosawa movies, everything that came out. I was living in—is it the Southbank? Yeah. And it was excellent, I lived in there. Fantastic: bag of crisps and a beer.
FS: What do you think when you see younger people come along now? What do you think about the level of training they’re getting?
RS: Oh well there are a lot of them now. And I think everyone thinks the job’s going to be jolly good fun, nightclubs and champagne and stuff like that. It’s not true. I spent more days, nights, hours writing scripts until three AM, I was holding down my main job at the BBC as a designer, I was doing commercials moonlighting, which was illegal, and at night I was going back home writing until three, four AM on screenplays. If you’re not prepared to do that, forget it. So there’s no excuse today: You’ve got a digital camera, you’ve got buddies. You don’t have to have it developed. You can edit in-camera. Go out and make a movie this weekend and stop moaning, seriously.
RS: Did that sound really conceited?
Q: No, it’s inspiring. You’re an inspiring filmmaker. I just wondered—you’ve been working with Tom Hardy recently and you cast him in Black Hawk Down very early. I wondered what you saw in him and was he ever considered for Kingdom of Heaven as the lead?
RS: Tom, when I met Tom—I think Tom used to do a bit of rapping. And I met him because Black Hawk Down was very distinct casting thing because all the guys—there’s no big, specific role, so asking guys to do it like Orlando Bloom… Tom was brand new, Orlando Bloom was already I think rolling quite well in Lord of the Rings and things like that. So Tom, I put him with Ewen Bremner because I thought Ewen would kind of look after him because those are the two Laurel and Hardy characters that got lost, literally they got left behind, and that’s… So those two characters are actually part of the actual story, two people got left behind, so they had to make their way back to the main pack in that place, Mogadishu. And so they became a kind of amusing relief in that film, but I noticed Tom always made the right decisions; he had great intuition as an actor. So I fully expected him to surface and I watched him surface gradually very high in BBC in particular. He played in a Dickens show that really put him on the map—was that Oliver Twist? Anyway one of the Dickensian tough guys, so I figured he would get there.
The show with him, I’m jointly producing a show Taboo with him because his dad came in with the idea, wrote a very good four-page piece on saying what it was and so Tom sweetly brought it to me and said, “Take a look,” and we made the first series last year. I think we’re doing the next one this year in September. So I’d work with him in a flash but he’s never available. Part of the thing is finding time when I’m available and he’s available. But definitely he’s probably one of the finest actors we’ve got.
FS: OK, hand up here and one down here as well.
Q: Thanks so much for this evening, it’s so inspiring listening to you talk. You strike me as some one with really extraordinary passions and visions that have driven you for much of your career and I was very interested just very briefly to hear a bit about you as a child and as a young teenager and what really inspired you when you were much younger, you know, what drove you?
RS: Well it’s a bit of a repeat of last night, I had to do this speech last night so it’s a bit of a repetition on that, but—because you know every time you do a speech it’s tricky, you don’t want to repeat yourself, but I was a product of an army kid who did ten schools. I was not very good at school because parents in those things didn’t worry about, “got to get the kids early to school, got to get the right school.” My parents didn’t have time to think about that because I was a pre-war baby and in 1947 I went to Germany on a troop ship, so I had a label and a gas mask and a little coat, and I stood out on the rail and I was with troops. We sailed past the Helgeland we’d blown up the day before, they were all submarine barracks, submarine pens, and they had a lot of Germans living inside them—they couldn’t get at them so they just blew it up. I was in Germany for 1947-1952, but because I was at ten schools I was so backward that when I came back to England I avoided, could never have got the eleven plus.
So I went to a secondary modern school and I was bottom of the class throughout the four and a half year period at school. I knew I wasn’t stupid but I felt stupid and father was always very supportive so I went to art school instead. I could really draw. What’s interesting then that the educational system wouldn’t allow today—for me to go to art school I’d have to have five, six subjects. What do I want Latin or Algebra for to go to art school? It’s ridiculous. So I had, I had one thing—I got into Hartlepool College with, which was art. I could draw much better than norm and so I went in there for four years, once you’ve had four years in art school, from there I got into every school, I got Royal College, Academy, Slade, everything. So I chose Royal because Royal gave me a bigger programme. I struggled with fine art and I figured I needed a more specific—fine art is like being a writer, you go into your studio every morning and you face what you did yesterday, so it’s a constant process of readjustment and psychology. But I’m going in with art school, sorry, with advertising, photography, graphic design, that gave me all these things I could get my hands on. So I kept following my nose until one day I knew I was good at one thing because they opened up a television design, set design department, and I joined that and got a job at BBC. And from that I was a nuisance as a designer because the BBC were bloody useless and don’t ask me to build a set this size if I’m just going to shoot in the corner because I’m too nervous to do anything else. So they realised, and they gave me a production course. I said, “Wow.” A production course is only a month, but in that month you’ve got a phone, you can call up any actor you want, you can plan what you’re going to do and at the end of that month they’re going to give you one studio, full air time, six cameras. So lots of people were doing outside broadcasts, two-handers and things like that, and I was irresponsible enough to do a potted version of Paths of Glory and it worked.
So I was the most unpopular person in the class, as you can imagine. And they offered me a show, so from that I got a show. It was a crossover from Z-Cars to Softly, Softly. So follow your instincts, be an animal, be an animal, dude.
Q: Hi. Erm Ridley, hi. Ivor Powell. I worked with Ridley for the first fifteen years.
RS: Who is that? Is that Ivor? Stand up, old boy.
Q: I’m here. I can still stand.
RS: Oh you’ve still got your hair. Oh good.
Q: Erm, no I just wanted to tell a little story. I’ve got a lot of stories about Ridley but his lawyers are slightly better and more expensive than mine and so I’m not going to tell the naughty ones.
But there’s one funny little story that demonstrates—it actually just occurred to me as I was listening to Ridley… Early in the days, before we’d actually made any films and we were thinking about all kinds of things and working towards that—remember Ronnie and Leo.
RS: Yeah, hardcore, right?
Q: We both read a book called First Blood and this was before it was made, and I think it was talked about, I think, I can’t remember if it was some really well known director—
RS: No, John Calley, I called him—
Q: I wasn’t going to mention his name because I thought that might be naughty.
RS: No, no, no.
Q: But anyway, Ridley said, “Let’s call up Warners and let’s see if we can get them interested in the rights to it.” And so I said, “Yes OK fine, are you going to call?” And he said, “No I’m not going to call, you call.” So we sat in his office in Lexington Street, and here’s the interesting thing: We got through to John Calley. Today you wouldn’t even get beyond whatever it is—the broom cupboard. So we got to speak to him and I said, “Look I’m a producer working for Ridley Scott.” “Ridley Scott, who’s Ridley Scott?” And I said, “Actually he’s probably arguably the best known commercials director in the world. He works in New York, bla, bla, bla.” And he basically said, “Yeah, and…” And I said, “First Blood, we’re really interested and Ridley’s got an amazing reel and he’s ready to make his first feature.” “Sorry, advertising did you say you worked in? No, no, no, no, I’m afraid you don’t understand: advertising is separate from films. I’m afraid we don’t, bla, bla, bla.” So Ridley was basically turning apoplectic next to me, but that just demonstrates the attitude in those days, which has somewhat changed now. So anyway I’ll…
FS: That’s great.
It’s you who’s been so instrumental, actually, in creating that change, that people would never say that now. And now you’ve got directors queuing up to make adverts, feature directors.
RS: Yep, yep. The feature film directors kind of occasionally do the reverse because they’re paid a huge amount of time to do a commercial.
FS: In between. Well look we are pretty much out of time. I’m very sorry for those who haven’t had a chance to ask a question but thank you for your questions. But most of all, Sir Ridley Scott, thank you for your Life in Pictures.
RS: Thank you.