Legendary director Ridley Scott helped close the first Los Angeles Times Hero Complex Film Festival in style Sunday. He screened two of his most accomplished films, Alien and Blade Runner, and in between simultaneously inspired and gave the world some awesome news on his two upcoming Alien prequels.
In the original Alien, right before Kane (John Hurt) gets planted with a Face Hugger, he sees the skeleton of a giant being sitting in a chair. This being is regularly referred to as “The Space Jockey” and Scott said he always wondered who being was and what was its story. He said that being now has a story. The script has been written and he is currently in preproduction on a set of films that will begin to tell how “The Space Jockey” fits into the world of Alien.
Hit the jump to read more details about these upcoming Alien movies as well as the entire run down of Scott’s Q&A. Plus, don’t forget to read about Leonard Nimoy from Friday and Christopher Nolan from Saturday.
Festival host and moderator Geoff Boucher started off the Q&A by asking Scott how he was doing. He recently had knee replacement surgery and is still on the mend.
– Scott was amazed we were going to watch two of his films back to back. He joking said he wished we had done it when Blade Runner was released because it was a box office failure, not in small part because it opened the same day at E.T.
– As a child, Scott thought science fiction was sort of cheesy until he saw the Mad Max films and the art work of Moebius, who he mentioned on SEVERAL occasions.
– He told the story of how Alien came to be. He was trying to get something going after The Duelisits and after a meeting in Hollywood, his producer took him to see Star Wars at the Grauman’s Chinese. Scott said he felt a vibe in the packed theater that he hasn’t felt since and walked out sick with envy. A few months later, the script for Alien came across his desk and he had to do it.
– He said he was the fifth person the script was sent to and it was in danger of being killed. When he realized he knew how to shoot it, he went in and proposed they don’t change one word.
– The original budget was 4.2 million dollars, but after spending several months drawing storyboards, the studio got excited and doubled the budget. He feels storyboarding is almost as important as writing.
– When he can, Scott will spend two hours in the morning each day just reading with no distractions. He thinks it’s essential to read things pure.
– Scott loves the Alien franchise and was kind of upset they never asked him to come back. In fact, he didn’t even know they were making a second one when they started.
– He stressed that, though after Alien he had two flops with Blade Runner and Legend, filmmakers should be their only critic. Money doesn’t matter as long as you are proud of it. That dogma has paid off as both films are now revered.
– This was when he started talking about his new Alien movies. He said he was always amazed that no one explored the backstory of “The Space Jockey” in the sequels because it’s so obvious in the first movie. So now a script has been written and it’s being prepped. The story has no set timeline except that it’s WAY before the first Alien so that they can fit in enough history for two movies. Scott explained that once you learn the history of how the jockey encountered the aliens, you’ll also want to learn about how he got there.
– He’s done a lot of underwater research for the upcoming movies.
– This film will go very deep into the possibilities of terra forming and the realities of what it would actually take for humans to leave earth. He then started talking sort of technically about light speed and stuff.
– Sigourney Weaver wasn’t cast until 3 weeks before shooting and though she’d gained acclaim on Broadway, she hadn’t really done a film at the time. When he met her the short Scott (who is 5 foot 8 inches) was extremely impressed and kind of taken back by her size. She tested on the actual set, because they were close to shooting and it was being built. Scott said he could have cut the test into the movie.
– While casting Blade Runner, he decided he might want Harrison Ford for the lead role but his producers hadn’t heard of him. Ridley then said he was the guy who flew the “maltese falcon” which got a laugh. Anyway, he figured if Spielberg and Lucas cast him in their new movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, he must be good. That film was shooting down the street from where Scott was so one night Ford showed up for a meeting in full Indiana Jones gear. He got the job that night.
– He believes all the on set friction between him and Ford has been largely overstated, however, believes that tension keeps people honest on a set. He had a very specific look for Blade Runner and hated having to explain himself over and over.
– Scott operated the camera himself on Alien and Legend.
– Filmmaking is a team effort without question. The director is the coach and must be left in control.
– Working in advertising was his film school and didn’t get into films until much later. He was 42 when he directed Blade Runner and felt a lot of pressure.
– He has been doing physical therapy for several months now on his rehabbed knee and sees Harrison Ford every day at the same gym. Said he has put on a lot of muscle for Cowboys and Aliens, which begins shooting this week.
– Scott wasn’t able to pick which of his brother Tony Scott’s films was his favorite but he said his two student films, One of the Missing and A Loving Memory, were the best student films he has ever seen.
– They are currently on the 4th draft of a screenplay for the sci-fi The Forever War, based on a novel by Joe Haldeman. He hopes to make it in the future.
– Scott’s favorite Star Wars film is Episode 4, A New Hope, because it is so romantic. As a producer, he looks for “romantic bones in a director’s body” and that was Lucas at his most romantic.
– Growing up, his family was very strict and didn’t talk about sexuality. So, at the time, he felt sci-fi was very tawdry and he was discouraged from seeing the movies. The Day the Earth Stood Still and On the Beach changed that, followed by 2001.
The rest of the questions were from the audience.
– When setting up shots, it’s all through intuition from a lot of preparation. He used to do 100-150 commercials a year so he is used to shooting very fast and doing everything on the fly.
– He never rehearses with his actors outside of table reads. Many times, the first time he sees anything play out is on the set. He said that’s okay because the actors he hires do their homework.
– Boucher asked about a Robin Hood sequel but instead of answering that, he just started talking about his Robin Hood movie. He loves the Mel Brooks film, not so much the Errol Flynn, and felt the film was a challenge because everyone has incorrect preconceived notions of Robin Hood and he wanted to go against that. He would, however, like to do a sequel.
– Alex Billington from FirstShowing.net said that in the past Scott said that “Sci-Fi is as dead as westerns” and asked why he changed his mind? He said he didn’t remember saying that but now has a western in development, and it’s being written by Larry McMurtry (Brokeback Mountain).
– If he had done the sequel to Alien, he would have made the movie he is making now about “The Space Jockey.”
– Blade Runner is so radically different from Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? because that book has way too much going on to be just one movie. It was Hampton Fancher’s choice to diverge from the book.
– The title Blade Runner came from a William F. Burroughs story and they bought the rights for $4,000. This sounded like a joke but maybe it wasn’t.
And that’s the end of the weekend. It was a total blast. A class operation that ran smoothly and professionally thanks to Geoff Boucher, the Los Angeles Times and the Mann Chinese Cinemas. Here’s hoping they do it again next year.