Ridley Scott on Alien, 3D and staying in control
Film director Ridley Scott became the 62nd recipient of a fellowship from the BFI last week.
The man behind Alien and Blade Runner discusses the pressures of command, his planned venture into 3D and the art of splattering a creature out of a man's chest.
To the outsider, directing looks like the whirling tango from hell, a blur of planning, politics and pressure.
But according to legendary director Sir Ridley Scott, that's just something you're going to have to deal with.
The 71-year-old Blade Runner and Alien helmer said: "You have to think and make decisions from the second you arrive in the morning.
"You have to know what you're doing the instant you walk onto the floor. When you have a discussion it becomes a financial disaster because there are too many cooks.
"The director is the chef and if you don't like it, don't work on movies."
The South Shields-born film-maker is one of Hollywood's leading current directors, with much-loved movies such as Gladiator, Thelma and Louise and Black Hawk Down under his belt.
He became the 62nd recipient of a prestigious fellowship from the British Film Institute last weekend, after film fans voted Blade Runner as the movie they would most like to preserve for future audiences.
But the former advert director didn't make his first major movie until he was nearing his 40th birthday.
He said: "I finished my first short when I was 21 and went so fast into adverts that it was kind of a blessing, because I was making real money.
"But at the same time I was thinking a film was just around the corner, and it wasn't. You couldn't get arrested as a commercial director in Hollywood at that time. It was hard. I tried for about five or six years."
Despite this struggle, Ridley believes his experience in advertising and as a production designer for the BBC allowed him to cope better with the pressures of a major shoot.
He said: "The BBC was a great learning process because it taught me to deal with the bureaucracy of a large organisation.
"It has be like that - you can't do it any other way. Your creativity is always running alongside what something's going to cost.
"In advertising, you're always driven by budget. You're on the clock and that clock is your money. I did over 2,000 commercials and opened a company when I was 27.
"I was so busy and prolific on commercials that nothing ever bothered me. For me, the hardest single thing to do is to get the screenplay on paper. I have great admiration for great writers, of which there aren't many."
Ridley shot his first film half a century ago, focusing on the thoughts and experiences of a boy who spends a day playing truant. His assistant for the shoot was his younger brother Tony, who later went on to direct Top Gun, Beverley Hills Cop 2 and Enemy of the State.
He said: "I ruined my brother's summer. Tony was 14 and thought he was going to get three months off, and I got him up early every morning and dragged him off to Redcar.
"He hadn't any idea what we were doing. But at the end of that summer, I showed him the finished film and I think the magic happened for him then.
"It was a real family affair. My mother was incessantly berating us, and she did a stream of consciousness rant which she didn't know was being filmed. And my dad used to drive me around filming in the trunk of his Morris.
"That was literally my film school and editing school. Anyone can make a movie today. Digital cameras have opened up a world of simplicity."
After eventually breaking into movies with The Duellists in 1977, he began work on Alien, a chilling 1979 sci-fi which pitted the crew of a mining spaceship against a sleek, murderous creature designed by HR Giger.
He said: "I'd never been a sci-fi buff until I saw Stanley Kubrick's 2001, and that was just amazing. And George Lucas' Star Wars was seminal. I couldn't speak for a week. I sat there and thought, 'What have I been doing?'."
While Ridley admits "nothing happens for the first 45 minutes" in his own masterwork, Alien birthed one of sci-fi's most memorable moments when a tiny hissing creature exploded out of a crew member's chest over dinner.
Ridley said: "From all those years of commercials, I knew I was going to use blood, KY Jelly and back light and all the segments were going to work out.
"I kept the monster away from all the actors. There was so much blood on the set that you had to do a take, wrap and come back in a week when it had all been cleaned up with alcohol.
"Roger [Christian - production designer] came in with the little demon in a shopping bag. We had an artificial chest screwed to the table. John [Hurt] was underneath, so it was an illusion that his neck was attached to that body.
"I had to cut through the chest with a razor blade as it wouldn't burst. And when it happened there was total silence. I think Yaphet [Kotto, who played Parker] started to shriek with laughter. We never went back. It was one take.
"People were saying the footage was gross and I didn't know whether that was a compliment or not. One of the studio guys had his daughter in watching the rushes and she was nine. He said it was over the top, and I said, 'You pay me for this. We're doing a film that's completely over the top'."
The grotesquely beautiful design of Alien still petrifies and captivates audiences thirty years later. But Ridley is preparing for the next leap in cinema technology.
He said: "I'm filming a book by Joe Haldeman called Forever War. I've got a good writer doing it. I've seen some of James Cameron's work, and I've got to go 3D. It's going to be phenomenal."
His other projects include a film on the Gucci fashion dynasty, a retelling of the Robin Hood story and even a possible movie version of the board game Monopoly.
He said: "The studio pays me to do this stuff. I'm getting my rocks off, and it's the best toy set a man could have. That's me in the desert covered in dirt and I'm loving it.
"I watch a film every night before I go to bed. I've seen everybody.
"I've found I tend to look at very low-budget movies. I'm looking for others coming through, great students, so I can say, 'Damn, that's good. I'm going to rip that off'."
Sir Ridley Scott in Conversation was held as part of BFI Southbank's Blade Runner Day. For more information on BFI events, go to www.bfi.org.uk/whatson/bfi_southbank