Interview: Ridley Scott Explains How ‘Alien: Paradise’ Became ‘Prometheus’, Planning for a ‘Prometheus’ Sequel and More
Posted on Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 by Peter Sciretta
Last week in London I had the opportunity to sit at a table with other journalists and interview director Ridley Scott about his upcoming sci-fi film Prometheus.
We talk about the evolution of technology, teleportation, going from models to CG, how Prometheus evolved from his unanswered questions in Alien, his facination with Artifical Intelligence, the film’s original title Alien: Paradise, the creator-creation dynamic, his decision to build huge sets and not to rely on CG, the film’s viral advertising, working with Charlize Theron, where a Prometheus sequel could lead, writing a book vs. writing a screenplay, updates on all the projects he’s been atteched to, and more.
Read the entire interview after the jump. It contains only very minor spoilers (I have made the one real spoiler invisible, you need to highlight to reveal).
Question: How are you doing today, sir? Congratulations.
Ridley Scott: Thank you, sir. Look at this technology (pointing towards all of the recorders on the table). Jesus Christ. 40 years ago when Kirk said “Beam me up, Scotty” we used to think that was fucking ridiculous, remember? Seriously, that’s been 40 years and then when he says the “disintegration” of his matter into the “reintegration” of his matter in the next space, that right there is light speed. So they touched on light speed. I’ve talked to NASA about this and they’ve said that’s light speed. So “Can you do it?” They said “Yeah. Have you got seven glasses of water?” I go “Not the seven glasses of water trick, please.” There were all scientists in the room and he started to explain to me the relativity and the speed of light. “Can you do it?” “Yeah.” He said the only barrier is “us.” He said, I can mathematically explain how, but we haven’t gotten there with that.
Question: I’m curious, when you did ALIEN and BLADE RUNNE back in the seventies you obviously had technology for those audiences, like it was ahead of its time. You make a movie like PROMETHEUS now and you are dealing with a society that is so technology based, how do you go about creating this world where there are still new things and…
Ridley Scott: Since the thirty years since ALIEN there was no technology… It was all live action shooting, even the models had dolly grips pushing the big model and I could see them walking “Cut. Back up.”
Ridley Scott: There were lots of smoke and wind machines and that was it. There were no digital tracks and all of that shit and then the star fields where a guy with a toothbrush on a black background and you would get a universe. I said, “Wow, it’s beautiful. Can you give me a red one?” He said “Yeah,” takes that toothbrush and goes “bam.” Then I photograph it and… The beginning of ALIEN was flat art work, I just panned across it. I just panned across it and Jerry’s music put the rest to right.
Question Can you talk about approaching how you wanted the technology to look in this movie? Because it’s unclear when it is relative to ALIEN, but this is more advanced technology that they are using than other people have been in ALIEN.
Ridley Scott: Yeah, but I couldn’t help that, because I didn’t know, did I? (Laughs) For all intents and purposes this is very loosely a prequel, very, and then you say “But how did that ship evolve in the first ALIEN?” Then I would say “Actually he’s one of the group that had gone off and his cargo had gotten out of control,” because he was heading somewhere else and it got out of control and actually he had died in the process and that would be the story there. That ship happened to be a brother to the ship that you see that comes out of the ground at the end. They are roughly of the same period give or take a couple hundred years, right? Other than that, there’s no real link except it explains I think who may have had these capabilities, which are dreadful weapons way beyond anything we could possibly conceive, bacteriological drums of shit that you can drop on a planet and the planet… Do you know anything about bacteria? If you take a teaspoon and drop it in the biggest reservoir in London, which also scares the shit out of me, and amazes me that there are not huge guards around it… That’s the way to do it. You don’t do 9/11, you just get a teaspoon of bacteria, drop it in, and eight days later the water is clean and then suddenly on the eighth day the water goes dense and cloudy, but by then it’s been sent to every home and several million people have drunk it, you’ve got bubonic. It’s that simple. That’s how scary it is, so these evolutions of these guys who have developing galloping DNA, it’s like “How can DNA that quickly, sitting in front of my on a table…” That’s because your mind doesn’t allow you to accept that that may be feasible, that’s the deal. In the same way that we have been here three billion years, we know we’ve been… The Gulf of Mexico they believe is a huge asteroid. That was an impact zone, you know that? Yeah, for that big a thing to actually hit our globe, it would have had to adjusted the spin, the axis. That probably created the first massive cataclysmic thing which took away all of the dinosaurs, so that after that you’re left with water, that’s why the Grand Canyon was a sea and it is now a dry valley…
Question: I’m going to switch to a completely… In your scifi projects you have been almost obsessed with AI and robots. What is that fascinating?
Ridley Scott: I don’t know. I think it evolved out of the box in BLADE RUNNER because Roy Batty was an evolved… He wasn’t an engine. If I cut him open, there wasn’t metal, he was grown and the growth pattern came out of the idea of… the idea of a replicant came from a student who was at Carmel who was reading her dad’s script who was actually helping on BLADE RUNNER and said “You shouldn’t call them robots, you should call them replicants.” She said, “I deal with replicants and replications every day,” but he’s grown and then within twenty years you get the first bill not passed in the Senate where they applied for replication of animals, sheep and goats and cattle and animals and they turned it down, but if you can do that, then you can do human beings. If you go deeper into it and say “Yeah, but if you are going to grow a human being, does he start that big and I’ve got to see him through everything?” I don’t want to answer the question, because of course he does, but then in ALIEN, and ALIEN had nothing to do with… Ash in ALIEN had nothing to do with Roy Batty, because Roy Batty is more humanoid, whereas Ash was more metal and Ash’s logic was on every space ship “if I have a space ship worth god knows how much money and I’ve got to have a company man onboard and that company man is going to be a god damn secret,” and the secret… “I’m not going to tell you this, because of the evolution of our robots… He is going to be a perfect looking robot.” So that was the Ash thing. Now I’m doing this and I thought it was an interesting acknowledgement, the marvelous idea of Ash, which I think is a pretty good idea. It was a one off for that to be a surprise, that “Ash is a god damn robot” and we gave all the clues early by having stiff joints and doing his thing. I just wanted to have the same idea that the corporation would have a robot onboard every ship, so that when you are asleep in hyper-sleep for three or four years going at 250,000 knots an hour, you will have guy wandering around like a house keeper. He’s a housekeeper and he’s got full access to everything. He can look at all of the films. He can go into the library… he can do whatever he wants, and that’s David.
Question: This originally started out as more of an ALIEN prequel from what I’ve read or heard. What was the central idea that caused you to extrapolate outward from that and create something that’s more of its own film and has some of its own ideas?
Ridley Scott: The very simple question was “Who the hell was in that ship? Who is sitting in that seat?” and “Why that cargo?” and “Where was he going?” no one asked the question, so I thought “Duh.” It’s a “duh,” isn’t it?
Ridley Scott: They’re all bright guys… Jim and David and the French guy, and I thought “Wow, duh.” And I just kind of say and thought about it for a while and I was busy, so I didn’t really do anything about it and then when they finally put it to bed in ALIEN VS. PREDATOR I thought “You know what? This is a good idea here.” The more I talked about it, I thought “God damn….” I was going to call it “ALIEN – PARADISE,” because I thought that had a spooky connotation to the idea, because it concocts our notion and idea of paradise and “what is that?” And paradise to us suggests religion and religion says “God” and then God, who created us, and that’s certainly… you’ve got a scientist who believes in God and there’s lots of scientists who believe flatly in God and even though they may be in quantum physics, they say “I get to a wall and some times wonder “who the hell thought of this one?” and I can’t get through the wall. When I get through the wall more is revealed and I still see another wall, so who is making this shit up?”
Question: The creator-creation dynamic is playing out threefold in the film, so it’s parent-child, god-man, and then man and AI and kind of delving into facing your creator and it doesn’t pan out very well for any of them. Do you think that that’s the fundamental appeal of this kind of myth in the sci-fi realm? It’s that cautionary tale about over reaching your bounds.
Ridley Scott: Totally. Very good. Yeah, we go too far, but then you can’t simply go too far, because by going too far “Are we living better today, despite all of the problems that exist, than the fifties?” Yes, of course we are. Then the eighteen fifties? No comparison. The nineteen hundred? No comparison in every shape and form, but are we heading towards a much larger problem? Definitely.
Question: What was behind your decision not to rely on CG in this?
Ridley Scott: We had the right budget, but I didn’t have all the money in the world and I kind of wanted to do it on budget, that’s what I do, and also I kind of like to build sets if I can. If you can build sets and you know exactly how much you need, it’s much cheaper than saying “I don’t know what I’m going to do in this scene, but I just want a load of green screen out there and we will try and put something there later…” That’s fucking expensive. That’s how these films go millions of dollars over budget, because they’ve got no target.
Question: This is more a return than a departure, because this movie has had the most attention, as well as the most secrecy involved at the same time. A lot of people are excited and interested in it, because of the film’s connections, and people are also curious about the secrecy surrounding it. Can you talk about how you get a movie like that? It’s very different from your other movies, your more recent movies.
Ridley Scott: It was just… you know increased security. Everyone’s got a script with their name printed right across the middle of it, so if that goes out I know it comes from you and you’re in trouble. That was it and because I’m still very much into advertising, I’ve always wanted to evolve this kind of viral advertising, which would be ads talking about everything but the film. The film isn’t mentioned, so you’ve got Peter Weiland saying “Hi, I’m Peter Weiland and I’m the god you know and I own the world” and I have the Weiland Corporation where he mentions Prometheus, but you don’t know what the hell it is and then David later says “Hello. I’m David. I work for Weiland Corporation,” then at the end he puts his fingerprint on and he’s got a “W” in his fingerprint. Then we have one thing with Noomi applying for a job to Peter Weiland and that’s the best form of advertising, because people are going “What’s that?” As soon as you’ve got “What’s that?” you’ve just done the job.
Question: Charlize Theron hadn’t really acted for a while before this and SNOW WHITE.
Ridley Scott: No, she hadn’t.
Question Did that go in her favor? Did she bring a lot of enthusiasm to the set?
Ridley Scott: We were pretty lively anyways, but she definitely brings… It gets lively with Charlize.
Question: Would you care to explain?
Ridley Scott: No, I mean I’ve known Charlize for a while and so she would say “Come on, give me a fucking movie!”
Ridley Scott: She’s good. She’s a good girl.
Question: I don’t want to spoil anything with your answer, but this film opens a lot of doors that are not answered and you have…
Ridley Scott: In the next one…
Question: My question is how far have you thought? Or have you talked to Damon about where the possibility of a sequel will go? Have you already opened those doors in terms of you already know where these answers are and it’s just a matter of making it or are you sort of like “We will think about that a little bit assuming the movie is a hit. Let’s talk later.”
Ridley Scott: It’s a bit of each. You do a bit of each and I’ve opened the doors. I know where it’s going. I know that to (spoiler invisotext) keep him alive is essential and to keep her alive is essential and to go where they came from, not where I came from, is essential. That’s a pretty open door and then rather than going to that, I don’t see landing in a place that looks like paradise, that’s not how it’s going to be. There is a plan, yeah.
Question How important is it for you to be directly involved as a director in that?
Ridley Scott: Totally. I develop everything. I do. I learned that a long time ago. It’s never going to land on your desk, you have to come up with what you want to do with the story and I think sometimes it can take two or three years. I want to do a western really badly and I think I’ve got a western this morning, finally after two and a half years of talking and writing and talking and… I think I have it, which is kind of interesting. And then the evolution of writing it… Has anyone written a book here?
[Everyone says “No.”]
Ridley Scott: Try writing a book, dude. That’s difficult. Writing a screenplay is like writing a book, it’s that simple. You’ve got a blank page and that’s it, a blank page and then you go from there and everyone has their own method. I know some start here and end here and I’m good with writers. I think I would never try to write… I’ve written two or three screenplays before, but I wouldn’t do it. It takes too long and I would rather… Te time it would take me to write a screenplay it would take me the time to make two films. I would rather make the movies and I’m a better moviemaker than I a would be writer.
Question: With that in mind, you have developed a lot of things over the years. To do more movies in this world it could be quite different, because you were doing a movie almost every year or every two years while switching genres while this movie took a little longer, because it was so evolved… To get back into this world and maybe not make three or four other movies, because you were back in this world… how is that as a filmmaker who likes changing around and working?
Ridley Scott: I like to keep working.
Question: Yeah. To get back to this world and not be able to do other movies, would that be tough to do?
Ridley Scott: Unthinkinable.
Question: So how do you manage that? Are you going to have to clone yourself?
Question: Are you a robot?
Ridley Scott: I am a robot.
Question: Getting back to what you were saying, you’ve been attached to a lot of different things and we’ve heard that you… I’m just curious, what do you think is coming up for you? I’ve seen your name on so many things. What’s the definite stuff?
Ridley Scott: What have you heard?
Question: MONOPOLY, BRAVE NEW WORLD, BLADE RUNNER… There are a lot of things.
Ridley Scott: I’m on all of them. (Laughs) They are all happening now. MONOPOLY’s first pass is written. BLADE RUNNER is in process now how having… I don’t know what to do with BRAVE NEW WORLD. It’s tough. I think BRAVE NEW WORLD in a funny kind of way was good in nineteen thirty-eight, because it had a very interesting revolutionary idea. It came shortly before or after George Orwell, roughly the same time. When you re-analyze it, maybe it should stay as a book. I don’t know. We tried to get it…
Question: TRIPOLI was another one.
Ridley Scott: TRIPOLI is great. It didn’t happen because of a personal thing. I felt somebody wasn’t well, so I couldn’t do it and I stopped, but TRIPOLI is great, because it’s about Thomas Jefferson and guy called William Eaton. William Eaton was a despot who was actually… He worked on the edge of the political arena in three states. The United States then was three states and Thomas Jefferson spent his entire treasury or 11,000,000 dollars with is approximately a third of the price of half the people I know in Hollywood’s home, he bought from St. Louis to the coast, from Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon needed to cash to go to Moscow. Big mistake. And then William Eaton goes out to the coast, where there’s a pasha of Tripoli who is a mother-fucking despot and gangster who was actually kidnapping and taking American frigates and crews. America only had three war ships, but there were a lot of commercial vehicles in that area… He was taking crews and putting them as slaves and taking them above deck and keeping them for ransom. So William Eaton said “Enough of this shit.” He went out there personally and started to create his one personal war against the pasha and the pasha was the pretender. His brother was a Muslim…. They were all Muslim, but the brother had fled to Egypt and Eaton went to Egpyt and personally talked him into coming back. It’s a good story.
[Everyone thanks Ridley.]