Raw transcription of
Ridley Scott Interview With Don Shay
from Alien Laserdisc

leading from 

Part 1

Don Shay: Lets go back about twelve years, at that point in time you were a very well known and respected director of commercials having done something like three thousand I might think at that point and you had recently completed your first feature film The Duellists which was very well received critically and won honours at the Cannes film festival and then along came alien which was probably as far removed from your first film as you could likely get. How was it that a science fiction horror film came to you at this point in your career and what was it about this particular project that made you do it?

Ridley Scott: Two questions: Ah well,  D..er..G..er.. one of the producers David Giler, er, was the, I think, er, the Cann... person involved in... er... that choice because I think he had seen The Duellists at the Cannes film festival. And, er, they called up, so I've learnt that, er, he'd asked me to do it because of the Duellists I was more than baffled than anyone else, and the, so, I guess it's all down to his good taste. And the, erm, the script was just so tight, concise, it was very spare, er, the characters were clearly defined which frequently they aren't in that kind of exotic arena in that kind of movie, you know, it's kind of waffly, it's aII down to, you know, the effects and the horror and how horrible can you make it. What I liked were the characters, and I really loved the idea of, er,  which was reasonably definitive new idea then actually of making the hero a woman I thought that was really clever.

Don Shay: Yes

Ridley Scott: erm, and it was just a very neat read.  I read the script in about an hour and a half and called them up within two hours and said I'll do it. And so I was in... standing in Hollywood within about, within twenty four hours. (Don laughs) And so it was very tight, erm, the whole... the dynamics of the screen play which also I think a lot of people miss or missed in the first screening of the film because the film is always been ss... criticised as being light on characterisation which I think is totally wrong, I think these, the characters are beautifully defined, you know within the context of all you had to know about them, That's all you need to know. And I think the subtext to each character was really intelligent and gave you enough to know who was who, right, the trouble makers were Harry Dean and Yaphet Kotto down below, and the, you know, the upper deck, the upper echelon, you know, so you have a universal or classical, er, situation of er, of er separation of the two... of the classes even in space.

Don Shay: Right

Ridley Scott:Yeah

Don Shay: What was your initial agenda when you first took over the project. I und...It was in kind of disarray I understand

Ridley Scott: Yeah

Don Shay: It didn't have much direction at that point.

Ridley Scott: Yuh, coming in, I'd, I... they'd already done a lot of preparatory stuff I think with, er,  Ron Cobb, right, and which was very good, in fact Ron's excellent... is brilliant. Really one of the best at it, erm,  and so we took him over to England anyway 'cause Ron does drawings and isometric visuals which you know, you can virtually put a sss... you know, slide ruler on and cost it, right, erm, and everything works with Ron, he can tell you how the air lock's going to open and why it's there and how, why the door has got to be this way and that way. So, he talks up a very interesting technical, erm, you know, storm, er so it was always very fascinating to listen to him and listen to him speculate, yeh, er, and so we kept on working with the production designer in England almost for a year. Er, the original visuals I saw were very very good, and they were... and a kind of a key, you know where I started off but, er,  because I'm an art director, I was an art director, I decided that earlier on because of the budget for the film originally was something like four and a half million dollars, and I thought… I had no idea or perception of what four and a half million dollars meant, in terms of… it sounded like an awful lot of money to me. And,  er, so I sat down to prepare my own thoughts on it and of course I story board everything, right , so I sat down and basically story boarded the movie, er and, which produced a reaction of, you know, delight, but at the same time a kind of horror because the costs suddenly started to suddenly look like they were rising, And so what we did was presented the board, I had to present the board to Fox and then, what on...  based on that, we doubled the budget. So then we went into eight four something, 'cause then I think they were starting to feel that there was something here

Don Shay: Hmm

Ridley Scott: right, which was more than just a rip your head off and strangle them, you know what I mean. (Don chuckles) But I bring all sorts of, erm,  things to bear to it from the fact I was a production designer, and er, I was a, er,  trained in art school, I spent seven years in art, spent seven years in art school, spent four... three years in the Royal College of Art with you know, serious colleagues like David Hockney, Alan Jones, Ron Kitaj, painters like that and some great graphic designers so it's a very sophisticated arena I came out of , but at that point so I was able to take it further I think, right, it was fair to say, influenced certainly by, erm,  2001 and Star Wars 'cause I'd seen Star Wars, er... oh God probably a month before I received the script, somebody said to me, "lets go along and see this film called Star Wars. I don't know what the hell its all about but it's making a big fuss." It was the opening week, and I went and saw that, and of course I was stunned.  I mean, I was absolutely devastated, I was really depressed for a week, er,  that I was preparing Tristan and Isolde, the one I'm on, which is fine, you know, but it's like walking along into a lion's mouth doing a film like that, I mean you're gonna, you're never gonna have a real audience for that, and it's still going to take a year of your life and I just backed, I just dropped it and I decided I can't be doing this when this guys doing that and I can see that as fulfilling as doing Tristan and Isolde, so he really whetted my appetite, that G. Lucas.

Part 2

Don Shay : Shortly before you release the film

Ridley Scott (nodding): mmm

Don Shay :you cut eleven minutes out of it,

Ridley Scott: Mmhmm

Don Shay:including a sequence at the end

Ridley Scott: Yuh

Don Shay: that, er,

Ridley Scott: Mmhmm

Don Shay: err, would've, err, talked about what had happened to the Harry Dean Stanton character

Ridley Scott: Yuh 

Don Shay: and the Tom Skerrit character,

Ridley Scott: Mmhmm 

Don Shay:is it alright if you could talk a little bit about those scenes,

Ridley Scott: Yuh 

Don Shay: what they entailed and why you elected to cut them out.

Ridley Scott: Well you know there's always a pace thing to a film and, er,  we cut the,, we put it all together, you know, as shot, and erm, the,  nothing really happens for the first forty five minutes of the movie but you know Jerry did a, a great score, so the whole anticipation of moving in right from the very first opening cue, which I think is absolutely magnificent, I still do. I still think it's one of the best cues I've heard, you know, where you just... very simple scene, you're panning across the planet, you know, and the titles,  great titles actually as well,  are coming up and that is a great cue. and erm, you just from then on in, you'd… it's like entering the dark house, but in the best kind of way, you know, and, er, so the forty five minutes all stood up for me, but I know those little kind of… little bit of paranoia, saying "God, nothing happens for forty five minutes," but I'm saying "yeah, but look what you're looking at, you know, you're looking at these, the,  these guys wakening up, you're getting information all the time now, and I felt because we really got it, you know, we really got what it might be like, then it was powerful, right, so that all held position but by the time we got to the dynamics of, you know, now she's on her own, right, err, we'd got a sense that the audience was getting restless at this certain point, and so when she stumbles into that room which is the landing leg room, and finds this, you know, hive, erm, and er she finds the bodies basically, the nest, she finds the bodies, and she finds, erm,  Harry's gone, but he's clearly there and he's completely imbedded in the surface in a kind of kind of, er, kind of strange erm, semi glutinous but very strong, erm,  material which is almost like built into fibreglass and, er, and, er,  Skerrit is already half gone but he's still alive, he is really the host for the insect, which is the alien.

Part 3

Don Shay : There must be tricks of the trade to create suspense, and, and er, and terror, I presume your background in, in commercials probably kind of helped you in the area your kind of manipulating the audience

Ridley Scott: You know what, the most important thing to do is to not employ tricks, in so, in effect, if you're doing a horror movie, you know, is to fee... is to disregard the tricks that have been employed before because that's what your doing, you're doing repetition, and so it's trying to always look back inside yourself, the same as if you're writing a script, if you're writing a screenplay, if you're writing a book, you know the best of those elements come from looking back inside yourself to find out what you think, you know, and trying to put that in film. So that's to do with being how personal can you get making a film,

Don Shay: Right

Ridley Scott: You know,

Don Shay: What do you find personally frightening, and, and were you able to incorporate that into the film?

Ridley Scott: Well I had to look into it, I mean I had to look into it myself, and say, oh yeh, you know, what frightens me, erm, and erm. So I started looking at a lot of, er,  films, horror films which were good ones. I think one of the great horror movies is the Exorcist, yuh. So , and I always talked and played with the idea of, uh, you know, the absolutes of good and evil, right and if the alien is really, what was it? Was it just, um,  was it the face of the devil, right, was it the face of the demon, because if you look at historical you know , manuscripts and engravings, pictures, er, i... erm, from wherever they come from, whether it's China, whether it's Europe, whether it's, you know whatever the nationality, there's a kind of continuity of the idea of the perception of the dem, demon, as there is about the dragon, right, so it's like taking off the mystical aspects of it and saying "it's nothing to do with that. It's a Mar..., no, Martian, Mars is not far away enough. It's, it's a...a biological fact, it's a biological creature, and it's been here before. Exorcist for me was the biggest lesson, I just kept looking at and looking at it, and, erm, looking at the class that you've got involved in making the movie, you know

Don Shay: Alien was your second film , you've now done I believe six ,

Ridley Scott: Yep

Don Shay: er,  how you do feel about it in retrospect, er, how does it stand up in your own mind?

Ridley Scott: Alien?

Don Shay : Alien

Ridley Scott: Ah,  well you get so far separated from it now now, it's like you didn't make it. But err yeah, it's a good movie. (Don chuckles) It's a good film, I'm very pleased with it.

Don Shay: Right, Thank you very much

Ridley Scott:Thankyou

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