A Case Study on Film Authorship: Exploring the Theoretical and Practical Sides in Film Production

By David Tregde
Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications
2013, Vol. 4 No. 2 | pg. 3/4 |

Case Study: Blade Runner (as documented in Dangerous Days)

Preproduction

The screenplay for Blade Runner was first penned by Hampton Fancher. Fancher was directed by a friend to the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. He didn’t immediately like the novel, but saw its potential as a viable screenplay. Dick turned down Fancher’s first drafts because he felt the material was too “dumbed down” and did not reflect his original work. A mutual friend brought Fancher’s scripts to producer Michael Deeley, who chose the title Blade Runner for the film. After director Ridley Scott joined the project, he and Fancher began to disagree about the scope of the world set by the screenplay.

Fancher also differed in opinion over the inclusion of an explicit sex scene in the film. Because of these disagreements, and Fancher’s disagreements with Scott and Deeley, David Peoples joined the project as its second writer. Peoples notes that “Ridley was going to make it better, and I was doing his bidding.” Deeley diffused Fancher’s continued pleas to return to the elegance of his original script by saying, “This is what we need to do to make the movie.”

Because of his background in art direction, Scott is known to micromanage his art department. Scott’s first jobs in entertainment were as an art director for the BBC. This experience translates into his directing style, particularly on Blade Runner. Although Lawrence Paull was the production designer for the film, Scott micromanaged the art and design elements of the set. Scott would often go to the designers himself and approve their work without bothering with the proper hierarchy. Because of Scott’s visual style, he felt this level of involvement was paramount to carrying out his vision. Scott would often deliver his own drawings and versions of set pieces to the art department to be made for the sets, rather than having a designer do this work. The one exception was the concept art rendered by Syd Mead. These renderings were done early in the design process and would come to majorly influence Scott’s work, so Mead was brought onto the production in a more full-time capacity to design sets and props. When it came down to the production of set elements, Scott said, “You never get what you want.” In Scott’s eyes, the work of others didn’t live up to his ideas. It was these desires of Scott’s to bring his dreams to life that drove up costs for the film.

Early in the documentary, Scott said, “I’ll get what I want. If you’re with me, great. If not, too bad.” This perspective on filmmaking is auteuristic and director-centric. As evidenced above, Scott takes a very strong and artistic vision for this production and doesn’t allow much room for others to express themselves. Scott notes that the “landscape [set] is a character” in his films, and he wants it to receive the attention accordingly.

Production

Actress Sean Young (playing the character of Rachel) says Scott was “very demanding” on set in both the acting and visual design. Special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull said that if Scott wanted something, he got it. However, Deeley said Ridley’s visual style came at a price, in both finances and morale. Scott’s attention to visual elements meant his direction with the actors was lacking, especially with Harrison Ford. Young said Ford was never happy on set because he felt Scott was not giving him enough direction.

Scott’s crew and producers agreed that he worked towards perfection, and in order to do that, he shot and printed a lot of takes. One of the film’s financers worried it was too many at the time. However, they came up against his vision, and Scott argued that they hired him for a reason. Scott said, “I don’t like discussion. I know exactly what I want.” He felt the director isn’t meant to “stand there and consult with a dozen people.” Dick Hart—lighting gaffer—called Scott an artistic director who liked things a certain way.

Due to Young’s age and inexperience, Scott “talked her through” her performances. Scott said directing is a “delicate waltz” because you’re dancing the line between realism and professionalism. In order to achieve this control in his scenes, Scott would place and block his actors specifically. While Ford’s character in Blade Runner is recognized as his best, he did not agree with Scott’s directing style. Scott even notes that the film “may be a team thing as well…[but] it’s my movie.”

Postproduction

There were a lot of debates between Scott and the executives over what was allowed to remain and what had to be cut from the four-hour rough cut. The major shifts were from artistic and “cerebral,” as Scott calls it, toward a more cinematic, more commercial experience. The editors complained “all the subtleties were taken out.” Because initial rough cuts scared executive producers into making major changes to Scott’s visions in the way of cutting scenes and adding a voiceover. Scott reportedly never agreed to the voiceover concept, even though this was an element of Fancher’s original script. Ford never believed the voiceover would be used, and in the recording sessions commented the lines were “weird.” In these sessions, Ford can be heard laughing after delivering certain lines, finding them ridiculous. Ford attempted to exert some control on the voiceover process by requesting changes. Scott and others felt the voiceover element was too on the nose compared to the film that Blade Runner was. However, Scott complied, thinking it would make his work more accessible to a movie-going public.

Breakdown

Based on the evidence provided, we can see Ridley Scott as an auteur filmmaker based on his strict adherence to his personal artistic vision as well as desire to control production. There was little to no artistic collaboration. In fact, Scott only collaborated when the unions necessitated it. In the end, however, Scott came up against the confounding variables of the studio system mentioned previously. This did not, however, change his process or mindset. Rather, it was as if he disowned the early versions of Blade Runner until the “Final Cut” version came out.

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