Ridley Scott
Photo by Austin Hargrave

Ridley Scott: “You can't have a comfortable ride”

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Short Profile

Name: Sir Ridley Scott
DOB: 30 November 1937
Place of birth: County Durham, England, United Kingdom
Occupation: Film director

Ridley Scott's 1982 classic Blade Runner is showing via Secret Cinema until 8 July 2018.

Mr. Scott, are you a competitive person?

I’m very competitive! I think I first realized that in school, where I struggled in class. I was not stupid, but I was very bad! I was bottom of my secondary school class for five years! I was 29 out of 29 in my class and could never really work it out. Maybe to give myself a little excuse, maybe I was a little dyslexic: “I can’t concentrate on what this guy is telling me, it’s fucking boring!” (Laughs)

So what did you do?

Well, I went off to do what I was good at, which was art. So on the first opportunity I had, I went to art school and that is where I took off. Art school was my revelation: I was good at it. It went way further and faster than I ever imagined. Once I went to art school, I loved it so much that after West Hartlepool College of Art, I got in everywhere: The Royal College in London, the Slade, all kinds of places. I thought I better follow it through because at least I can end up in a job that I enjoy. I ended up going to Royal College and that was the start of the evolution, the springboard.

“I’ve never worked a day in my life. I get up every morning and say, ‘Oh good, another day!’”

Where do you think you acquired a determination to succeed?

My mum was like that; she should have been a business woman. She was a housewife, brought up three boys: Tony Scott, who was also a film director, and my older brother Frank was a captain who got his own ship at 30 years old. He jumped the gun by about 20 years! Normally you wait for dead men’s shoes, so to speak, but he was posting to Singapore and Shanghai by the time he was 30. She did well with three kids. She did something right.

How did that spirit change when you started working in Hollywood and making movies?

I’ve never worked a day in my life! I don’t! These days I get up every morning and say, “Oh good, another day!”

Surely there have been some challenges.

Well, with my earlier work like Blade Runner, for example, that was all around a bad experience for me.

How come?

It was my first time in Hollywood and I was no fool! I was no child, I was 42 or 43 at that point and I was already quite a successful businessman. I was way too experienced! I was 40 before I did a movie, but I had wanted to do a film from when I was 30 and had just never gotten an opportunity then. But I didn’t care because I was having an inordinate success with advertising and loving every minute of it… What I didn’t realise was that I was on a learning curve, right? When a guy comes in at 25 or 26 and gets a huge amount of money to make a movie and it fails then people kill him! You can’t jump a person from doing a $3 million movie to a $150 million movie. You have got to be stupid to do that, it just simply doesn’t make sense.

In most other industries, that would never happen to begin with.

Right, one morning you’re working with a low budget, you are walking in with 12 people or 20 people. But with a budget of $200 million you are walking into a town who all turn and face you and ask you what to do.

Is that what happened with you?

When I came here, I realized that I was dealing with people who were not up to what I wanted, but who I was stuck with and that is what happened. But I think it was quite good having been against the gun a bit, it was good for all of us. It’s a bit like doing a sport! That’s an interesting parallel to making movies: you better keep bouncing the ball or you will die. You can’t ever have just a comfortable ride, there is too much money at stake, you have to be on it all the time.

A look through the oeuvre of Ridley Scott.

Francis Ford Coppola said that for a studio to make even one movie is a risk which is why so many movies that aim to be different simply can’t get financed.

If you look at the demographic and the thing that keeps the studio alive, if you look at the successful companies like Disney and the very successful companies like Universal, I think they are doing alright for big movies! They should have divisions for low-budget movies because the whole world is now moving towards content from the smaller films that the platforms control. And that is going to change the whole studio system. But I mean, Gladiator was just over $100 million — and I know that was a while ago, but nevertheless it made so much money that it’s very good economics. When a film costs $260 million and it makes over 500, the $500 million doesn’t even all go to the studio! They only get half of that, so the studio is just at breaking even.

It seems like the film world doesn’t even have a middle ground in terms of budget anymore.

Well, we do, but it’s fallen to being at under 10. Mine is way down the scale which is around about $40 million.

What about big blockbuster productions like Prometheus or Alien?

Prometheus was $106 million and so I’m very economical in today’s world, even on big movies. When a film goes to $300 million, someone doesn’t know what the fuck they’re doing.I mean, really, it’s stupid —  it’s actually stupid. A $250 or $260 million budget and someone goes 50 million over then that someone should be fired!