Saturday, June 14th was a day to remember here in Los Angeles – it was the day of the perfect Blade Runner experience. The one-time-only charity screening took place on the Warner Brothers backlot (where the film was made) and director Ridley Scott, co-screenwriter Hampton Fancher and a host of others were on hand afterwards to take questions from the audience. For die-hard Blade Runner fans, it was the event of a lifetime; not only was the film presented in reference-quality digital projection and sound, but during the Q&A we witnessed Scott and Fancher engage in a heated debate over whether Deckard is – or is not – a Replicant…
The sold-out event was held by Paul’s Brain Trust, a charity organization benefiting DVD Producer/artist/all around great guy Paul Prischman. Paul, who is fighting brain cancer, was instrumental in putting together the recent five-disc Blade Runner collection, pretty much considered the best DVD box set in history. Everyone wants to see Paul make it though this, so his friends and family created the “brain trust” to help raise funds, kicking it off with the all-star Blade Runner screening (please follow the link at the end of this article for more info about Paul and how you can help).
As the lights dimmed and we heard – no, felt - that first, low-frequency thump that opens the film, you could sense excitement race through the audience - this is gonna be good. The sound was so clear and detailed I could even hear the changes in tape hiss from one dialog track to the next! The crystal clear, 2K DLP image was nothing less than perfect; it was as if someone had plugged the film directly into our brains and I think all in attendance would agree that we shared the rare pleasure of experiencing – for the first time – every last drop of Blade Runner.
When the lights went up, a sustained standing ovation greeted the guests as they took the stage. Scott was very gracious in accepting the onslaught of praise for the film, displaying not arrogance but a prideful confidence in his work; he always believed in Blade Runner, even though critics and audiences had initially scorned it.
“We thought we had blown it,” Scott said. “Actually, we knew we hadn’t blown it, but the audiences just didn’t get it. I think we were ahead of the game, actually.” Why does Blade Runner still enjoy such popularity? “Despite the fact that there have been so many science fiction films since then, for the most part there aren’t very many good ones.” He went on to posit that the ratio of bad-to-good sci-fi was perhaps 10:1, a number the crowd whole-heartilyagreed with.
Scott, who cut his teeth directing numerous commercials, feels he owes a lot of his skill as a director to his early years as a camera operator. “I was an operator right though The Duelist, Alien and Legend,” he told us. However, when he came to the US to shoot Blade Runner, union rules forbade him from being his own camerman. “It was like being a painter and they remove your hands,” he explained. “It all happens through the viewfinder for me. You’re essentially working as a photographer and I think more directors should try it, because the integration and communion with the actors is much closer. Actors like that, they like to feel that you’re not cut off, but actually you’re connected to them through the lens. I think it’s very important.”
One aspect of Blade Runner that was tough on actors and crew alike was the rigorous night shooting schedule, in which the production hardly saw daylight for sixteen weeks. When asked what inspired the dark look of the film, the answer surprised many: comic books. “I think Batman and Superman are essentally always seen at night,” Scott explained. “And to popularize Blade Runner, I wanted to make it into a real comic strip; Hampton was always showing me comics, and we talked about it a lot. Little Orphan Annie is dark – Daddy Warbucks is so sinister – it’s like Silence Of the Lambs! It’s full of terrible things and bodies locked in cupboards… I would look at these drawings, particularly the [Harold] Gray comic strips - they were so well done in those days. When we were making Blade Runner, it was always in the back of my mind that we were making a comic strip. You could put Batman in rooms or scenes from the film and it would work… I think Blade Runner is a pretty sophisticated comic strip.”
OF COURSE, all roads in any Blade Runner discussion will eventually lead to the big question: is Deckard a Replicant? This day was no different than any other, and it all started off innocently enough with a query as to why a unicorn was chosen to symbolize Deckard. “I had to find something that would be entirely unique that Gaff couldn’t possibly have thought of,” Scott replied. “I was already thinking about my next movie [Legend], the subtext of which was going to be a unicorn, so I thought “why not just make it a unicorn? That way I can actually get to test how to do the god damn horn!”
There was another aspect to Deckard’s unicorn dream that appealed to the director – the backdrop. “Because the whole film has been in this urban landscape, once he departs phychologically in his imagination, I thought it probably should be green,” he explained. “That’s what made no sense about the ending the film originally went out with, because if you’ve got landscape like that, why the fuck would you live in this city? So that was meant to be absolutely the only moment you ever see green and normality and beauty; that’s where we also find out Deckard is a little bit of a romantic.”
Scott said that, ultimately, his discovery of what the film was about led to his decision about Deckard. ”I felt the underbelly of the film – if you were to put one word to it – was paranoia,” he revealed. “If the main protagonist – the detective, the hunter, the Blade Runner – looks at files of Replicants on a daily basis, and goes through the background of all these characters (who are as close to human as they can possibly be), he begins to wonder: because he works for the department, is it feasible that they may be trying him out as a Nexus Seven? That’s paranoia.
“The whole concept [of Deckard being a Replicant] evolved really through Gaff’s origami – Gaff wasn’t in the book, he’s an invention to thread through the story so, at the end of the film, he can leave his calling card which fundamentally says, ‘I know something about your inernal thinking that only you know – and there’s only one way I could possibly know that – and that is because I am part of the office that created you.’”
At this point, co-screenwriter Hampton Fancher, who has always staunchly denied that Deckard was anything other than human, shook his head and blurted out, “Ridley’s off, he’s totally wrong!” The audience burst out laughing, after which Fancher continued. “His idea is too complex. I think there is a metaphor in the film that works – for me anyway – and it’s about how we aspire to be something and we fall short of it; we always do. And we’re not sure if we’re being authentic. I don’t feel authentic – maybe Ridley does [Scott enthusiastically nods].
“So that question [is Deckard a Replicant] has to be an eternal question,” the writer concluded. “It doesn’t have an answer, and what I alway say about that is what Pound says: ‘Art that remains news is art in which the question ‘what does it mean’ has no correct answer.” I like asking the question [about Deckard] and I like it to be asked but I think it’s nonsense to answer it… that’s not interesting to me.”
The moderator then decided to break the tension by asking the audience, by a show of applause, who thought Deckard was – or was not – a Replicant. Surprisingly, the reaction was nearly equal, but with a slight edge going towards a manufactured Deckard. “I just want to say, that was not 50/50,” quipped Scott with a big grin.
As the afternoon turned into evening, a final question was asked about the rumors of conflict on set between the director and crew while making Blade Runner. Scott admitted that his films are tough shoots, but people who aren’t having a good time probably shouldn’t be in the film business; he summed it up with this piece of advice: if you don’t like stress, don’t do the fucking job!
———- WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE? ———-
An excellent interview with Hampton Fancher can be found here.
Click here to see a collection of origami unicorns
To find out more about Paul Prischman and how you can help a fellow fan in distress, please click here.
UPDATE: In addition to public tickets, an auction was held for ten passes to receive a special tour of the backlot with Ridley Scott after the screening. “Jeyl” was one of the high bidders and came all the way from Maine for the event. Scroll down and read comment #7 for an Jeyl’s account of what happened on the tour (comment numbers are on the right side of the comment boxes).