Five Great Ridley Scott Audio Commentaries

Ridley Scott commentaries

In 1965, Sir Ridley Scott made his directorial debut with the short film, Boy and Bicycle. His illustrious filmmaking career began with a short that cost him $120 and starred his brother, the late Tony Scott. It led to a career that is nothing short of spectacular, one never lacking passion or permanence. He’s a filmmaker who’s been ahead of the curve, created trends, and made movies that’ll last forever.

Thankfully, he’s been game to talk about almost every one of his films in audio commentaries. He’s always candid, ready to share his wealth of knowledge, and keep you hanging onto his every word, whether it’s for a two-hour drama or one of his three-hour epics. The master filmmaker is, without question, a master of audio commentaries.

With the recent release of Alien: Covenant, it felt like the right time to listen to some of Scott’s commentaries. His tracks for Alien and Blade Runner are must-listens, and the same goes for his tracks about demons, kingpins, two legends on the road, and con artists. Here are the five you really need to seek out.

American gangster

American Gangster (Featuring Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian)

Why Listen: Two and a half hours that go by like a breeze. When it comes to crafting a period piece, Scott is every bit as meticulous as he is when it comes to visualizing the future, which isn’t the least bit surprising. You leave the American Gangster commentary knowing a decent amount about Frank Lucas, how he worked, and the world of the heroin trade. If this subject and time period interests you, you’ll be enthralled by this track, even if you’re not a fan of the movie. Part history lesson and part filmmaking lesson, it’s another entertaining and lengthy Scott commentary that never runs out of gas or words of wisdom. Zaillian’s presence, of course, is equally compelling. The screenwriter opens up about his process, but he also provides insights into the way Scott works maybe only an outsider could see or comment on.

What’s Said: Scott studied design for seven years, worked for the BBC, and shot thousands of commercials. Because of that, his first feature, The Duellists, was a smooth experience. Long after his debut movie came out, though, he still believes all that work doesn’t matter some days:

3,000 commercials, 40 years in the business, and this is my 19th feature film. Everything that you did just prior to this is not as important as what you’re going to do today. That’s something you have to remember. That’s probably the most significant thing I’ve said on the tape [chuckles]. Everything you’ve done is no longer relevant; it’s what you get when you get there. What is relevant is what you’re carrying with you, which is your experience. Your experience will give you that probable confidence to push something, this way or that way, or recognize when it’s happening and agree.

A Day on the Job: Scott’s least favorite part of the job, which is made crystal clear throughout his commentaries, is his general distaste for test screenings. On the day American Gangster was tested, he was happy to stay out of the theater:

This tested really, really well. I was surprised by how well it tested. This tested, like, Shrek level with audiences research. This tested at 92 or 94. Normally, that’s attributed to animation films for kids. I don’t like testing. I hate it, hate it. It’s the part of pictures I hate. Actually, I was kind of nervous about this and wasn’t going to go. Screw it. Nothing I can do now is going to make any difference. I know Steven has always said he hates testing; he’ll never go to a test. I think I’m a negative force sitting in the back of the theater, where what I’m feeling is welling up and affecting the audience negatively. Instead I was going to go to a bar and just have a couple of drinks for a couple of hours and read about it the next day.

Trivia: After bringing down Frank Lucas, Ritchie Roberts only got three days vacation. No reward.

Black Hawk Down

Black Hawk Down (Featuring Ridley Scott and Producer Jerry Bruckheimer)

Why Listen: “Anyone in their right mind making a film about war, I hope, is going to be a serious film about anti-war.”

In the filmmaker’s eyes, he was a making pro-military movie and an anti-war movie. It was a challenging and rewarding experience, one he references and reflects on in other tracks. He was using up to 11 cameras and faced the most obvious difficulties of directing large-scale war scenes. He did it all with a schedule shorter compared to other movies of this scope, but that’s secondary to Scott’s compassion for the soldiers and what transpired during the Battle of Mogadishu. The director’s attention-to-detail is maybe most prevalent in this track.

What’s Said: With science-fiction films, Scott’s discussed the trouble of keeping actors in helmets. With Black Hawk Down, he was okay taking a departure from reality to make sure the audience knows who’s who during the chaos:

It suddenly dawned on me as soon as these guys have crewcuts, the buzzcut, and put on the helmet, goggles, and chinstrap, they’re starting to look the same. That became a big concern. In that moment, there’s not a lot you can do about it, so you try to clarify as much as possible. I said, ‘Well, let’s put names on helmets, front and back.’ They said, ‘We don’t do that.’ I said, ‘You did that in Vietnam. I saw it.’ They said, ‘Yeah, that was then, this is now.’ My argument was, well, because this is even more guerilla, there is even more warfare, then there is even more reason to acknowledge and recognize your teammate. Also, from my point-of-view, I would’ve been shouting, ‘Oy, you!’ I would never get his name because I may not be able to recognize him. I think, little by little during the film and by the second act, you start to get who’s who, which I think is fine. You don’t need any more backstory. This is about the event then and that night. What else needs to be told? That’s what the story is about.

A Day on the Job: A significant part of Black Hawk Down was shot at night, which isn’t Scott or many other filmmakers’ ideal time to shoot. For Black Hawk Down, the director and all involved came up with a solution so everybody wouldn’t tire or lose momentum.

The problem about moviemaking is you gotta dramatize darkness to the point that, of course, the audience has to see. Otherwise, there’s no point in watching the movie. You’d be watching radio. We do what we call ‘movie darkness.’ Shooting at night is never my favorite time. First of all, it’s exhausting. At night, when it’s usually dinner, everyone is filled with dinner at one-thirty in the morning, and you really get only 40% of everybody. They’re fading away. Economically and creatively, it’s a bad solution whichever way you look at it. On this, we split nights, where we’d only work up to 12 at night, and then start 12 o’clock the next day. You gradually work your way through that as oppose to investing your entire time, from six at night to six in the morning, which is absolutely a killer.

Trivia: When Ridley Scott first met Harrison Ford, the actor showed him how to make coffee. “It’s all in the measure,” Ford told him. “Don’t guess. It’s the measure of coffee against the measure of water.” The meeting inspired Grime’s (Ewan McGregor) coffee making skills.

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