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Prometheus - Sir Ridley Scott interview

Prometheus

Interview by Rob Carnevale

SIR Ridley Scott talks about what to expect from Prometheus, his forthcoming return to science fiction, and why he has evolved into something much more than just an Alien prequel.

He also drops some potential spoilers, including a nod to Alien’s chest-bursting scene, and why certification bodies need to get their houses in order! He was speaking at a Q&A in London that followed a world first presentation of footage from the film.

Q. You had an idea for a prequel to ‘Alien’ based around the Space Jockey for a long, long time but at what point did that coalesce into something solid, into this?
Ridley Scott: Well, I watched the three subsequent ‘Aliens’ being made, which were all jolly good in some form or other. Does that sound competitive? Because I’m really competitive! So, I thought the franchise was fundamentally used up. How long ago was the last ‘Alien’?

Q: Alien Resurrection was 1997…
Ridley Scott: 1997, so I must have thought about it for three or four years and thought in all of the films nobody had asked a very simple question which was – who is the big guy in the chair, who was fondly after ‘Alien’ called The Space Jockey. I don’t know how the hell he got that name; there was this big boned creature who seemed to be nine feet tall sitting in this chair and I went in to Fox with four questions. Who are they? Why are they there? Why that cargo and where were they going or had they in fact had a forced landing? And so, in fact, it was a study of a pilot and Tom Rothman [co-chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment] said: “That sounds good to me.”

And so off I went with two writers, John Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, and we came up with the screenplay, the draft. It’s interesting when you start off with an interesting idea like that and you don’t know whether it’s going to be a prequel or a sequel, it gradually adjusted itself into much larger questions and therefore now the actual connection to the original ‘Alien’ is barely in its DNA. You kind of get it in the last seven minutes or so. What you saw here was a montage of what comes out of the film, just to give you a taste of what’s to come, so some of it felt a bit disjointed but you may have caught a bit of it, but there is a little bit of it right at the end that gives you a connection. That’s about it.

Q. But there are Easter Eggs in the film, I don’t know if anyone saw the planet is LV-223, I believe and the planet in Alien is LV-426. Was it fun putting those things in, layering those little references?
Ridley Scott: Yes; but the more I got into another story the less inclined I was to take on board that it was connected to the original.

Q: You’ve work with genius designers in the past, how long did you work on designing this new world and who are the people that worked on it with you?
Ridley Scott: Oh, I knew you were going to ask that question! I’d have had my little list. But actually I tend to work with one guy all the time now called Arthur Max, who’s my production designer. I’ve worked with him, since, God, I must’ve done about five or six movies with him now. It used to be Norris Spencer before that. Because I was a designer, I really enjoy the process. And so I really get into it. And so this film, before we were even green lit, I persuaded Fox to spend some smart money, in that the film was completely planned with five designers who are digital designers who can design like industrial designers.

From the suits to the kitchen on the ship, to the corridors, to everything you can possibly think of, and then actually climbing into the environment. Arthur Max and these five guys sat in my office in LA, while we were writing and re-writing, for about four and a half months, and by the time I had finished I had a book which was this big and that thick of glossies that were like photographs; they’re not drawings they’re exactly what you get on the screen. So I planned the film before we then mustered and put together a huge team, because once that huge team goes together, that’s where your money runs away. And time and time again I’d get asked, ‘Are you sure? I would like to just adjust this’ and I’d say: “Nope, there it is.” “What about the light?”; “There it is!” And so that became my benchmark. So, it worked out economically first, as opposed to trying to work it out on the floor when you’ve got a unit of three hundred and fifty people. So designing to me is very important.

Prometheus

Q: How conscious were you of fusing the world of Prometheus with the world of Alien… the derelict ship, the Giger designs, the biomechanical?
Ridley Scott: You know one of the problems with science fiction, which is probably one of the reasons why I haven’t done one for many, many years, is the fact that everything is used up. Every type of spacesuit is used up, every type of spacecraft is vaguely familiar, the corridors are similar and the planets are similar. So what you try to do is lean more heavily on the story and on the characters, to make that really, to give you lift-off, bad pun! But then during the design process, I think we come up with a lot of fairly, to use that awful word ‘cool’…cool looking things which evolve from the drawing board with the designers saying, ‘I’ve seen that, you can’t do that, you can’t do that’. Then you suddenly start to come up with evolutions of different looks so that as a total package, the film feels quite different.

Q. What certification would you want for this film?
Ridley Scott: I want certification for this film that allows me to make as large a box office as possible! No, I’ll tell you what, the studios wrestle constantly with these ridiculous adjustments to whether it’s PG13, PG15, you know, R, double R and it does, to a certain extent, affect the box office, which is arithmetic, which is not a cash register, it’s how they get their money back. And if studios don’t get their money back we don’t have any movies. And so it is important that films are successful and I am fully supportive of that because I’m not just a director, I’m also not stupid, I’ve been in this business long enough and, to a certain extent, I’m a businessman, I know the importance of that; so when a big film fails it’s disastrous for all of us.

When a big film wins it’s terrific for all of us, whether you like the film or not, it’s really cool. So the adjustment of the ratings thing are inconsistent and ridiculously inconsistent, so I can start talking about films that have got PG13 this year, which are absolutely fucking ridiculous! Or a film like, I’m going to say it because he’s a friend of mine…no, I can’t say it. But it’s fucking ludicrous. Is anyone in here from the MPA or whatever it is?

Q. I don’t think so… it’s the BBFC over here…
Ridley Scott: Get your house in order!

Prometheus

Q: Given what you did to your actors on the original Alien film – and I’m thinking of a particular scene involving John Hurt’s character – were your actors constantly living in fear every day on set? Did you throw in any surprises this time?
Ridley Scott: There is a scene that could be called the equivalent of that in this film. But that was private, no one witnessed that. It’s your scene [points to Noomi]. But we can’t say what it is.

Q: Was there a learning curve for you with 3D here? Could you talk about how you chose some of the 3D images for the film?
Ridley Scott: Well, I’ll footnote by saying it’s not science, it’s not brain surgery. It’s actually pretty straightforward. And yet it is science, because it’s science to actually make 3D occur and to be shoot-able and capturable on a daily basis, but I’m sitting in a studio with four huge screens which are all 3D in a little black tent and I’m looking at them. If there’s four monitors there are four cameras, if there are six monitors then there’s six cameras, and because I’m a visual person anyway, it was dead simple and very straight forward. You could easily allow things to turn into major conferences where you ask anyone, including the tea lady what she thinks, but I don’t do that. I had a wonderful camera man called Dariusz Wolski.

He is a wonderful cameraman full stop, and had one shot at 3D doing the last Pirates [of the Caribbean] and I was going to go for him anyway because he’s one guy who I wanted to work with but hadn’t worked with yet. So, I talked to him and said: “We’re going to do 3D.” And he said: “Yeah, that’s fine.” So, we went with using the RED camera, as opposed to the other one, and the RED was superb. The quality was fantastic, whether it’s 2D or 3D it’s amazing and it wasn’t a problem. So anyone who says, ‘Oh, you’ve got to add 16 weeks’ means they don’t know what the bloody hell they’re doing! It’s dead simple, straight forward. If you know what you want, you know what you want. That [holds up finger] could be hanging in the foreground, and I’ve seen people have a 45 minute discussion about whether it should remain hanging in the foreground. For me, it comes down to “I hate it; get rid of it!” Or: ‘I love it; f**k off!” It’s that simple!

Read our review of Prometheus

Read our interview with Michael Fassbender