Interview: Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe!
There was a fine group of gentlemen sitting, waiting to speak with the legendary director of GLADIATOR, ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER. While it was a bit of a long wait, Ridley Scott finally arrived. He told us about his recent knee replacement surgery, which sounded just horrible. Already, it was a spellbinding interview and we are just talking about his knee. And then came talk of his next venture, which is Alien. It seems strange to hear Mr. Scott talk about Alien and not the original classic film. But he is, and I can certainly say that I am more than a little curious.
But once Russell Crowe arrived, they started chatting about what it would be like to re-release GLADIATOR in 3D… but I doubt that will happen as Ridley doesn’t seem terribly interested in that. And of course, talk soon turned to their latest collaboration, ROBIN HOOD. They spoke in regards to the rumored delays, the deleted scenes, and the beauty of working with six cameras all at the same time. While I did get a chance to see a more humorous side of Mr. Crowe (you’ll see that very soon), it was pretty fantastic to hear these two men chat it up. And of course, Robin will be shooting his arrows into theatres this coming Friday at a theatre near you.
Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe
Everyone knows what you are lining up to do.
Ridley Scott: You do?
RS: Oh, you mean ALIEN. Yeah, I’m doing that now, on the fourth draft. It’s alright… pretty good.
Now there has been a lot of talk on-line about possibly doing that in 3D…
RS: Of course. Of course it’ll be 3D.
Are you going to actually use the 3D cameras that James Cameron did on AVATAR or…?
RS: No, I think they’ve already moved beyond. Jim said, ‘we’ve already… this process has taken me four years’ he said, ‘now, you’d probably do this in two.’ So the technology is shifting all the time. Right now, I could’ve taken this [Robin Hood] in 3D…
We’ve heard some reports that you might.
RS: I could’ve converted Robin Hood. They said yes last October. I could’ve squeezed it under the hat and made a 3D version of Robin Hood.
But for someone who is as visually demanding as you, to compose in 3D, and plan it…
RS: No big deal. People agonize whether its 1.85 or 2.35, I don’t give a shit. If you’ve got an eye, it’s not a problem. If you don’t have an eye then [people] turn it into science. We get a lot of conversations going on and that’s where it takes forever and it shouldn’t.
Well I always heard that 3D, especially the newer 3D, you want as much light on the situation as possible…
RS: That’s the downside.
Isn’t ALIEN almost the antithesis of that because the movies have always been in shadows, and darkness, about hiding?
RS: That’s what Jim says. The problem is, you’re gonna have to grade in later, and you’re gonna have to grit your teeth and light it not the way you like it. And then later you’re gonna have to re-grade it, repaint it so you are literally repainting. In fact, Avatar, when you think about it is almost a completely animated movie. It’s an animated movie.
Well not that you’d even want to do it the same way but could you make an Alien movie now that has that same sort of austere, patient style…?
RS: Yeah. I think it will work. Don’t you?
Well the original definitely still does. But I think that audiences are now acclimated to things that have more… Or is that just what they think audiences want...
RS: But that’s twenty-nine years ago, that film. Now, to say, do you want to re-cut it, at the time I thought no, I think I’ll leave it alone because that’s what it is… Would things move faster today? Yeah. But I had no technology, at all. I had no digital technology, at all. So even the ones that followed had tech… you know like, digital rails and tracking and computers. I had no computers at all in Alien. Alien was literally all physical. So even the spaceship could be about as big as this table, you’d hang it from a wire and the camera would slowly push it out - I was the operator, and you had to slowly push underneath – and keep it as steady as possible. We had a fan blowing up dry ice to give it some sense of movement. That was it. It was pretty good actually.
With the advent of all these movies, Cameron’s talked about doing TITANIC and doing it with 3D, and Lucas has talked about the STAR WARS movies, Peter with LORD OF THE RINGS. Could you ever see yourself revisiting one of your previous films and doing a post-conversion for 3D, for example, BLADE RUNNER or anything…?
RS: You can virtually order it. I can virtually go to a company saying, ‘Can you 3D this…?’ It would be quicker if I sat there and I did it with them, which I… when you are grading a movie, I sit there with a grader, and we flip through one scene, I give ‘em two frames like that, and you grade it and then you do the whole scene. And then you can do the whole film that way.
[Russell Crowe has now entered the room. Ridley fills him in on the conversation about re-doing one of his films in 3D.]
Well has anyone come at you to redo some of your older films?
RS: Yeah, yeah.
And your thoughts are?
RS: Not really. I’d rather save that energy for something… we could’ve done this in 3D but everyone was so hesitant.
Russell Crowe: Yeah, but when that technology comes in, and you discovered recently how far forward its gone right?
RC: You could do a 3D version of GLADIATOR. This is one of those odd movies that – and this doesn’t happen very much – I mean, we did that movie in 1999 right? And every given week that passes, its screened somewhere as the principal movie in prime time, right? So it’s one of those movies that has lasted, so I could see a theatrical 3D release.
Now we were talking to some of the other actors in the film, and the way that you shot this picture, you would have a bunch of cameras out there, and they would be acting in the world. Would the new 3D system allow you to do that…?
RS: Not with absolute freedom, but I was told you can’t do that with 2D cameras either and we do. And he’s [to Russell] an expert at knowing where every f*cking camera is…
RC: Mainly ‘cause I’m a slut. [Laughing]
RS: So you go, da, da , da, da, and he knows exactly where the ninth camera is. Whereas, an actor that… say Bill Hurt saying, ‘I don’t know where…’
RC: He’s talking specifically about a conversation that I had with William. At the end of one day, he was very morose and sitting in his trailer and all the merry men are sitting around having a beer together, and I said, ‘Come on…’ and he said, ‘Ah no, I just can’t, I don’t understand what’s going on. I’m out there, I’m doing my thing and not once did Ridley cover me in a close-up and I don’t understand… I mean, isn’t this an important part of the story?’, and I said, ‘Bill, we had five cameras going. And with five cameras, we did four takes. Between each take, they changed the lens and changed the way a particular camera moved. I absolutely, guarantee you, he’s got more close-ups than you can shake a stick at.’ He said, ‘Is that how he works?’ ‘That’s how he works. Did he interrupt you? Did he stop you from doing anything? No. When you’re not doing what he wants, that’s when he’ll come and talk to you.’
RS: And also it’s a preference or a choice for an actor from one actor to another, as to what do you prefer. Do you prefer to know where the camera is? Or do you prefer just to forget about it?
RC: Me, I like to live in the world.
RS: Yeah. So you don’t have to worry about it.
RC: Yeah. The thing is, I spend all the time I need during a rehearsal situation. I have a look at where they are and I go and ask them what lens they have on. And I’ll do that between each take. So if you are changing, what are you changing with… so I have a pretty good idea what he’s going to get given the set of tracks that are laid down. But I also have that thing where – this comes from growing up out of smaller films – you don’t want to waste an inch of footage so you don’t want to be the guy whose back is to the camera in the emotional part of the movie. So you have to be aware of the camera movement and what the camera is doing. So this is just in a much more fluid sense when you’re on set with Ridley.
RS: You know, I came to it through watching actors get frustrated when you do a take, and you are the actor helping off camera, and I’m saying save it. Except you’re not saving it, he’s actually giving it to him and so the time I’m done here, I come back to him and he’s done, he’s cooked. So that started to drive me crazy so I started with two cameras. And once you do that, you realize, hey, you can put four or six cameras in here if you know where to put them. Because if you regard each shot sequence as a play, then you are covering maybe a minute and a half or two minutes. It’s better for the actor who is acting though the play without the stop and go of individual takes.
RC: And everything that happens in front of those six cameras is mathematically related.
RC: So it’s easier to cut. You know, I first had that experience prior to working with Ridley with Michael Mann working with Al Pacino. Michael just decided that he was gonna run two cameras on everything. Because I like to work in the first three takes and Al kind of uses the first thirty to warm up. [Laughing] So Michael just decided he was going to get everything. So that… also because of the way I work with Ridley, when I’m on another film and somebody goes back to a single camera or whatever, that I still make sure that the energy is high off camera. So you’re driving it out, so you don’t have this thing where you drop down. Quite often, you have chats with the other actors who believe that their job only starts when they’re on camera. And its’ like no, actually you have to work on the other side of the camera at the same time.
RS: There’s nothing worse than saying to an actor, we’ll be ready in forty-five minutes, and he goes round back to the trailer going, ‘F*ck!’ when you just got going, you don’t want to stop. It’s death, death, death.
RC: The thing is, the assumption would be that going from one camera to six cameras, adds a lot of money. But what you are talking about is being able to achieve more in any given hour of the day. So you can actually… you take your six cameras and yes, functionally, you have X more of dollar costs with multiple six cameras. But that multiple of six counts in your favor, of everything that you shoot. Now we were doing a little comedy in the South of France. And the crew, after a few days, went to the producer saying, [In a French dialect] ‘I don’t know what this man is doing. He is going to kill us. We are doing seventy set ups before lunch time. This is supposed to be a little comedy.’ [Laughing] But that’s just the way he likes to work. That’s just the way I like to work.
Can you talk about the development process of this, because many of us had heard sort of, the early stories about NOTTINGHAM when it was a spec sale and it was a radically different premise…?
RS: What you’re about to hear is totally normal, and very every day and happens on almost every project.
RC: Yeah, if you look at the two and a half years between when we were first given the idea, and the last day of shooting… I know people have tried to pump it up like it was falling apart and that was going wrong and this was going wrong. The reality of it is, we took a normal, responsible period of time to develop a story into a feature film that was shoot-able within a confined period of time. There was nothing extreme about it. Some of the things that were printed were simply that we couldn’t answer the question at the time. And the answer given, even though, you’ve seen the film right?
RC: Okay, so are you going to play more than one character? Well, an essential part of Robin Hood, one of the things is disguise and deception. So I take on somebody else’s persona. So I can’t answer no to that question. But I can’t fully explain the reality of that because that’s going to give away one of the fun bits of the plot. So by not being able to answer it fully, you then leave this massive ground for interpretation. So that was happening to both of us where we were trying to answer the questions as best as we could at the time. And people would just run with the answer and created something completely different out of it. Which wasn’t what we said, or what we intended for, you know, what was meant. But you’ve got to take the time period it needs for you to get on top of it. You don’t want to be starting a film not knowing what you want to do. So we just took that time. And also, there was a real thing that happened, when a certain series of dates was put forward, it’s going to be a very bleak landscape. We were going to start shooting in England at the end of January and we’d shot a part of Gladiator in England in January. You can’t do your first shot until 9:30 in the morning, and you’re done by 2:30 in the afternoon. On Gladiator, at least we had a balance where at least we had some day and some night in the same sequence.
RS: And we popped some tents on the top of the hill so we wrap at 2, have a quick lunch and be in then tents at 3 o’clock. We’d had sets on the hill, so it was incredibly practical, wasn’t it?
RC: Yeah, that worked in our favor, without also trying to get that amount of artillery and horses in place when you are dealing with a foot and a half of mud. We knew that January’s not a great time to be shooting epic battles in England. So we had to wait a little bit. Once you’ve had a film like Gladiator, once that’s been in your background, everyone is going to hold whatever else you do up to that. And I don’t think we ever tried to functionally live up to that. But we do apply the same methodology. No matter what is going on, we’re gonna get up every day and our aim is, before this day is done, we are going to have done something special.
You’ve been known to have many deleted scenes on your movies, I’m curious, did you guys over shoot a lot on this? Is there a lot of stuff that is going to be on the DVD and Blu-ray?
RS: Seventeen minutes. There is seventeen minutes more, which is not a lot actually. We were pretty accurate. We had the first cut of this which looked at around three hours and four minutes. Did it work? Yeah. Because everything was fresh and you lived to see rushes. When I’m shooting, the reward is not in the evening going to have a drink and lying down. I go straight to a dark room and start watching rushes and eat dinner. And then go in the editing room afterwards because that’s the reward. The fun of it is… it doesn’t sound like fun but it is fun. You’re doing eighteen hour days and you get a day of rushes and you are walking on air, then you go and have a drink and you’re working the next day. But for the most part, the average of losing fifteen-twenty minutes is pretty average. But the seventeen minutes that we took out is very good stuff so it has gone straight back into the DVD.
So you are going to be putting out an extended edition?
RS: Yeah. It’s exactly the same film except interspersed with areas and little…
RC: This is in terms of the characters and they have the connection to form.
RS: There is a moment of the play, the dynamic of the play when you’re sitting there with an audience. The test is, an audience sitting there at night, in his living room with a can of beer or a glass of wine, he’s a different person than the person sitting in a theatre, with a lot of people. It’s very different because you are more likely, when you are in your own living room to want to sit and watch three hours. Where you can pause, get up and have a pee, have another glass of wine come back and resume. It’s a different experience, right?
RC: Yeah. Film is also a trained sort of medium too. You can take what’s on a page and you think we absolutely need these four moments to fully explain this relationship. But then when you’ve shot it, and you look at the shots you have, you realize that, ‘oh, that two second look from Marion, that supersedes these four scenes. Everybody knows what Marion is thinking now, so I don’t need to explain it. I can take those four scenes and put them away.’
RS: And you can never be sure how that’s going to land. But in the shorthand of something that really works, you think damn, that works so we don’t need this.
Did you guys do a test screening on this?
What do you guys think about that type of thing?
RS: Horrible. But you think differently.
RC: He hates it, but I said, you’ve got to do it man. You’ve got to do it. I know it’s hard and I know you are going to end up… actually, oddly enough I felt that it gave you another burst of energy when you started getting people’s opinions.
RS: Yeah it did. One thing’s for sure when you do what I do, nothing is for sure. Whatever you think, you don’t know anything. The value of a screening is, you think that really works and then you go to a screening and a third of the audience says something that you knew was in the back of your mind. And as soon as they say it you go, ‘F*ck! Now I gotta deal with that.’ So all you are doing is getting an endorsement of… that is a problem. So you’ve gotta deal with it. Let me know what you think. Send questions and/or comments to JimmyO@JoBlo.com.