Discussion with Ridley Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer
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| At the Egyptian Theatre on Monday, February 25, 2002
Director Ridley Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer came out to discuss their box office sensation and quadruple Acacademy Award nominated (Achievement in Directing, Cinematography, Editing and Sound Editing) battlefield masterpiece BLACK HAWK DOWN at the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre on Monday, February 25th. Joe Roth of Revolution Films was in the audience, but declined modestly to participate in the q & a following the sold-out screening.
When asked about the origin of the project, Jerry Bruckheimer explained that they already had purchased the rights to the book BLACK HAWK DOWN before the book was published. While working on PEARL HARBOR, he already had access to the military and began to talk to various influential figures about gaining the militarys cooperation for the making of BLACK HAWK DOWN. As it turned out, the Secretary of Defense under Clinton was a fan of the book and so was Jesse Helms, who ultimately worked on the State Department to get the production permission to shoot in Morrocco which had no agreement with the United States to have troops on their soil. Bruckheimer said it took about five months to negotiate for the right to bring an elite army crew to Morrocco. Scotts location manager found a city he thought would be perfect. Of course, Scott had recently filmed GLADIATOR in Morrocco.
Ridley Scott explained that the production, above all, concerned with accuracy and without the United States Army involved they couldnt have made a successful picture. The production used two main advisors who had been in Somalia. On a production that used 3,000 slates (according to Scott) he made sure that his advisors watched every set-up, every rehearsal, to insure that what was going to be shot was realistic. Bruckheimer commented that Scott did as many of his special effects non-digitally as he could. For some of those shots he utilized the shell of a Black Hawk helicopter that was built for the production.
"We knew we had achieved authenticity after we ran the film for some Special Forces," Scott said. The reaction was good even though the tone of the picture wasnt exactly positive on the military. "This film is hardly a recruitment film... Its an anti-war film as youve probably figured out," Scott commented sarcastically. "Any war film is an anti-war film." An audience member agreed, stating that his brother, in the service in Texas found it dead-on realistic.
As far as casting went, Scott commented that he needed some definitive faces because "when all these young guys were in uniform with their heads shaved, you cant tell whose who." The advisors were apparently amused when Scott wanted to write their names on the front of their helmets. "I needed to be able to identify them on the floor," he said. "I wanted to be able to call out hey Everson, rather than Hey You." Evidently Scott got his way on this detail. With a multi-national cast playing American soldiers including Scot Ewan McGregor (MOULIN ROUGE) and Australian Eric Bana (CHOPPER), Scott had over 30 characters whose stories were told in this almost real-time drama.
"The prime, driving, underlying process was caution," remarked Bruckheimer when asked about the location. The production shot on actual streets. They had to make very fast decisions, because once they got permission from the inhabitants they had to go swiftly. "We were knocking on every door," said Bruckheimer. "It was amazing coordination. People lived there, there were businesses and we had to tell every one of them and get their permission."
Scott mentioned that he likes to keep up with emerging talent and often watches tapes and DVDs to see fresh talent. Jokingly he said he watches them late at night when he cant sleep. Through some of his research, he found a not-so-emerging talent, cinematographer and professor, Slavomir Idziak, whose work in the Michael Winterbottom film I WANT YOU so impressed him, he went on to watch the Kieslowski films TROIS COLEURS: BLEU and THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE. "When I called him up," said Scott, "He told me that he normally works on small festival films with one camera." Even so, he agreed to shoot the picture which is now a contender for the Academy Award for Cinematography.
Likewise, the intensely edited action of BLACK HAWK DOWN is also in competition for an Oscar. Editor Pietro Scalia was already honored by his peers with an ACE award for the film on Sunday, February 24th at the annual Editors Guild award banquet. "Pietro has a formidable knowledge of music," said Scott. "From emerging bands to classical." He went on to share his theory that, "A great editor is not a cutter, but a great story-teller." He asked for a show of hands from the audience how many people were editors and only a few hands shot up. To this he joked, "So you wont admit it."
Program director Dennis Bartok reminded Scott that during his September 2001 tribute at the Cinematheque , he mentioned that he had just finished a picture about American Military events.. When asked how the events of Sept. 11 effected the films release, Scott commented that by June of 2001 they had a "directors cut" which ran two hours and 47 minutes. This was the distillation of a book into essentially a three act play. They had set a June deadline due to the impending industry strikes. There was talk of releasing the film in the Fall of 2001, but they didnt want to rush finishing the picture. Their was a lot of labor intensive sound work to accomplish. "We had to line up sound," said Scott. "Every word of dialog had to be looped." "Then about four weeks later, September 11th. When we recovered from the initial shock, our reaction was to push the release way back. Then the next reaction was to try to get it out as soon as possible." The only thing Scott changed was some text at the end that commented on Clintons foreign policy regarding troops on the ground. The audience will draw their own conclusions Scott feels. When discussing the underlying reasons for missions like the one depicted in BLACK HAWK DOWN, Scott commented, "It is a question of intervention or so as some people call it, interference surrounding groups who are not able to contend with what is oppressing them."
In marketing the film, Bruckheimer acknowledged that it was a joint effort between Revolution and Sony Pictures. "We first received sketches that has the traditional action shots and multiple heads. When we asked for something different we knew we were going out on a limb going with something more artistic. There is so much clutter in the marketplace, I try to stick with strong singular images in the artwork for my films because I feel you have to stand out." The resulting poster is of course the stylized image of Josh Hartnett sitting by himself at a skewed angle.
On his own attraction to stories about the military, Scott acknowledged that he never experienced National Service in his native Britain. They ended the obligation for young men to serve just as Scott was leaving school. "I remember feeling slightly disappointed," he said. "It must be in my genes to experience it as a moviemaker. We get to see what they (military) do and how its done."
An audience member wanted to know what Scott and Bruckheimer look for in a project. "Elements of story," Bruckheimer states. "It starts with a good idea." He also looks for fascinating characters. Its all about showing the audience something they havent see in a long time." He acknowledges that that is the hardest part, convincing the studio that audiences want to see something that isnt like other projects already in the marketplace. Using the example of his own TOP GUN, he said no one wanted to make top TOP GUN. They didnt think anyone would care to see a picture about these pilots. A TV show on military pilots in the 1960s had been a bomb and no one had revived the theme since. "I like to do something no one else is doing," says Bruckheimer. "But that is hard. It is hard to be inventive and you can think you are the only one doing something, but then you dont know what everyone else is working on at the same time." Bruckheimer also mentioned that he likes stories where characters are battling obstacles and stories about personal triumph. "Audiences like an inside look into something they cant be part of." When asked if the dramatic story of his late partner Don Simpson would ever be a film he would make, Bruckheimer remarked in log-line style, "It is a good story of someone who came to Hollywood and ultimately gets gobbled up by the demons inside him. It is not a film I would make though."
Scott agreed that he looks for a good story too. When asked if he would make another ALIEN movie he said, "If it is the right story."
A history teacher in the audience applauded the pair for making a film with "accuracy and honesty without preachiness that lets us draw our own conclusions." Another audience member asked why they didnt incorporate the controversial CNN footage of the dead American soldiers dragged through the streets in their underwear. Apparently this was never in the script and not in the time frame they cover in the movie. This happened the next day in real life. It is touched on when they drag a soldier from the helicopter and begin to undress him.
Bruckheimer said he never knows if a film will be a financial hit beforehand. "I knew with only two films out of the 30 Ive made. BEVERLY HILLS COP and ARMEGGEDDON (despite the early critical dislike for the film) both tested so well with audiences, Bruckheimer knew they were golden. On the other had, he jokingly said, with DANGEROUS MINDS "you could shoot deer in that theatre by the time the screening ended."
As far as upcoming projects go, Bruckheimer is working on BAD COMPANY with Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock, a "Kangaroo Chase" film for kids cvalled DOWN AND UNDER and a picture about a murdered Irish journalist starring Cate Blanchett. He also has a number of TV projects going, including "CSI" and "Amazing Grace." Scott is working on a two hour HBO movie starring Albert Finney as Winston Churchill and Vanessa Redgrave as his wife Clementine. The film will explore Churchills private life.