Acclaimed director discusses his producing style, A Good Year with Russell Crowe, American Gangster, The Assassination of Jesse James and Shadow Divers
Movie PictureFew directors have the power to get an audience's attention just by hearing that they have made a film. We live in a society that celebrates spectacle more than artistic accomplishments. However, very few directors seem to merge the worlds of art and commerce like Ridley Scott.
Having directed such seminal films as Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, at 68 years of age Scott shows no signs of slowing down.
He recently sat down to talk with us about the DVD release of Tristan + Isolde, a film he executive produced through his own Scott Free Productions, as well as a bunch of other projects he has in the works.
As excutive producer on this movie, what was it about Tristan + Isolde that made you want to make this film?
Ridley Scott: It goes back a long way. I wanted to make Tristan + Isolde as my second movie. My first movie was The Duellists. And I was standing in a very romantic part of France looking around me thinking, "My God, this would be perfect for Tristan," and to cut a long story short it never happened because I did Alien instead. (Laughs)
But it all stayed with me, so when I had it presented to me about four years ago by the writer, it was like revisiting where I'd left off. I still found it a very compelling love story. I've known Kevin Reynolds for some time now and I'd just seen the film he made called The Count of Monte Cristo, and I kinda liked that. I know it's a different period but I thought that he had a very good eye for period. So I approached him and that's how it began. It just happened.
Since you weren't directing the film, as the producer were you very hands on?
Ridley Scott: No. As a director, with someone like Kevin you don't have to be. It's how I've managed to get... you can't make everything. And sometimes you get a little stockpile so it's nice to get them made.
You've directed and produced some pretty large scale films like Tristan + Isolde and Gladiator, are you ever daunted at first by the prospects of bringing that world to the big screen?
Ridley Scott: No, you can't... you mustn't think about it otherwise don't do the job. If you think about it you're never... I always say to people when I'm trying to get something going, bringing on other producers or other directors, "You can think of 95 reasons why not to make a movie. You've got to address why you want to make the movie and get it done. Just do it." I tend to live by that rule.
Having worked with Russell Crow and Orlando Bloom in period films, how would you compare an actor like James Franco to those two? Did you find his approach similar or did he bring something to the leading man of Tristan that you didn't expect?
Ridley Scott: Well, he certainly dealt with the period side really well, I thought. And, you know, Jimmy's a really good actor anyway. He's just a very good all around actor. He'd probably done period in theater because he does a lot of theater as well. Period, is fundementally a slight adjustment of rhythm. If we had written Tristan in the true vernacular the audience would have been very small. It wouldn't have even been Shakespearean. It would have been so Celtic you wouldn't understand what was going on.
You've got to act it so that the dialogue... so that the audience today has the ear for it and therefore they understand it. What you're still doing is balancing human relationships and acceptable dialogue, given the fact that it's a period which could be ending up to a thousand years ago.
As someone who has made such a varying amount of projects, what is your criteria for a project that you're going to direct or produce?
Ridley Scott: The rule is there is no criteria. A good story, something that attracts me and you know, I spend a lot of my time just developing material; or the company does. That material can come from a book, can come from a newspaper, can come from a discussion and sometimes it can come from a script that got passed over and is floating around.
So it's just whatever you feel you want to do?
Ridley Scott: No, if anything I like to change the venue as often as possible. You stay fresh that way. I just finished a comedy in Provence last year, which will go out at the end of the summer. Which is a comedy based on a book by Peter Mayle.
And what's that called?
Ridley Scott: It's called A Good Year. And that's with Russell Crowe can you believe?
Off the subject a bit... would you have any interest in doing a fifth Alien film?
Ridley Scott: I think the franchise has maybe now been disengaged with Alien vs. Predator.
Did you have any idea when you did that first one that it would span three other films and still be with us today?
Ridley Scott: No, but I knew... you get an idea when you're doing something that it's going to be fairly important. Don't forget those were the days when sequels were rare. I'm just trying to think what other sequels there were. There was the James Bond movies and not many. I think sequels have become a recent idea of franchising.
Made with the idea to make this one movie and then make a few others...
Ridley Scott: Oh yeah, absolutely. Now they're giant box office. Films like Harry Potter and Narnia, I'm sure they'll do another one. The biggest audience of course is the youngsters.
Ridley Scott:The Assassination of Jesse James is with Brad Pitt and is directed by Andrew Dominik. He wrote and directed that film Chopper, that introduced Eric Bana to us actually. It's finished shooting, they're editing now. It looks really great. It's Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck.
I'm doing American Gangster with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, again. I start that in New York in Harlem on August 1st.
How about Shadow Divers or is that still in the writing stages?
Ridley Scott: No, that's going through it's evolutions, it's actually being written in it's second, third draft now. It's an interesting subject though. It's fascinating that people do this kind of... it's not even an occupation, it's a goddamn pastime. It's a passion and they do this diving which is really dangerous. It's very extreme. They don't really look for treasure, it's not treasure hunting and Shadow Divers was interesting because the evolution of changing, from just nosing around wrecks to establishing the idea that these are graves. These are graveyards and even worse it's a grave of Germans from back in World War... a German submarine. Should it not be left alone? It goes down a very powerful, emotional thread as well.
My last question, and we usually don't hear from directors on this, why do you think we're seeing a decline at the box office?
Ridley Scott: You know, I don't know? I think you can argue all kinds of reasons. You can argue there's an increase in the digital market. There is an access to... people can now afford very high quality technology, where you can have a very good reproduction of a large picture on a large screen at home. People go out less. There's all kinds of reasons. I don't know that it's going to stay that way but, I think also, we've got to start making better movies.
Tristan + Isolde is available on DVD through Fox Home Entertainment.
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