With nearly 40 years of hindsight, it’s strange to think of Blade Runner as the initial flop that it was back in 1982, but in that summer of the early eighties, it was up against some stiff competition that included Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Tron, Videodrome, The Thing and the monster hit that was E.T. the Extra–Terrestrial, which set a record for 16 weeks at number one at the US box office and went on to become the highest grossing film of all time. Blade Runner came up against some negative reviews for its bleak setting and physical and emotional gloom. It initially only managed $14.5 million in US theatres against a budget of $28 million, but the making of Blade Runner was no easy experience either with some crew members calling it “blood runner”….
The People Involved:
Phillip K Dick
Author of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”
Main Star, Played Deckard
Executive Producer of Blade Runner
Executive Producer of Blade Runner
Played Roy Batty
Hampton Fancher (Blade Runner Producer) came to my apartment in 1975 with the actress Barbara Hershey to convince me to let him option Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. I told him the novel was already optioned by Herb Jaffe Associates. I also let him know that i wasn’t interested in film adaptations of my work. I think that hurt his feelings.
Brian Kelly came back to me in the winter of 1979 with a first draft screenplay Hampton Fancher had written. This time, I loved it. It was this marvellous blend of thriller and romance. There was also a dramatic moral problem at the heart of the book – the idea that this sanctioned executioner was becoming emotionally attracted to the one he’s supposed to kill. He wrote a second draft, Android, in 1979. Then a third, which for about five minutes was called Animal. The next draft was called Mechanismo. That was then changed to Dangerous Days. It became the fifth-draft script, and finally sparked some reaction.
Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird) and Universal Pictures showed what ultimately proved to be short-term interest. Deeley then decided to send the Dangerous Days script to Ridley Scott. That was a gamble, because Ridley had seen an earlier draft of my script, back when it was called Android, and he’d passed on it.
The reason I didn’t want to do Android had nothing to do with Hampton’s screenplay. I was developing a dark, fantastic adaptation of Tristan And Isolde, and I was also committed to producer Dino De Laurentiis to do an adaptation of Dune. And you remember that, with Alien (1979), I’d just finished a sci-fi picture. But later, after dropping out of Dune, I got restless and asked Deeley to show me the latest version of the screenplay. It was an Extraordinary piece of work with marvellous design possibilities.
Michael Deeley and I agreed that it was crucial to cast the replicant roles with performers whose faces weren’t yet familiar to audiences. Casting Deckard was difficult. Initially, I wanted Dustin Hoffman but he didn’t work out. I began thinking of Harrison Ford.
So Deeley and I flew out to England, Where Ford was just finishing up Raiders of the Lost Ark. Harrison drove to meet us in London, and when he arrived he still had the goddamn hat on he wore as Indiana Jones. I though, “Oh, Shit!” because up till that point we’d seen Deckard wearing the same kind of hat – the kind they used to sport in noir thrillers. So there went Deckard’s hat. I though, “OK, if that’s out the window, we’ll give him a crew cut instead”. which is where Deckard’s brush cut came in.
I was one of the first crew members hired during pre-production. When i arrived, Ridley’s associate producer told me, “You’re going to take a lot of abuse, but you’ll never have a chance to do anything like this again”. And he was right. Ridley brought out the best in everybody, but he was difficult to work with. I’d say 40% of those who worked on Blade Runner got separated or divorced during production… It wrecked a lot of relationships!
We’d worked like hell for months to get the main street set right. We brought every piece of plastic, steel and wooden pipe in a 5,000 mile radius. The day came to show it to Ridley. Larry and I stood there, shaking, when Ridley drove up to the back lot. The set was already way over budget and cost over $1 million. Ridley got out of his car, looked around, took the cigar out of his mouth and said “This is a great start!” Then he got back in his car and drove off. Larry and I stood there in silence for five minutes and then said “What the fuck are we going to do now?
The problems some people were having with Ridley during pre-production quickly paled in relation to the disaster of Filmways pulling out of financing it in late 1980. That was a nightmare. We had a full crew working, all of them on salary and principal photography was literally only weeks away.
What I now set up was this complicated financial arrangement between Dangerous Days and Warner Brothers, through The Ladd Company. Additional financing came from Sir Run Run Shaw and a company called Tandem Productions, which, for Blade Runner’s purposes, was being represented by two gentlemen named Bud Yorkin and Jerry Perenchio. So now the Filmways problem was overcome. But I’d barely had time to relax when another situation cropped up. This one involved Hampton Fancher.
At the end of 1980, I began to realise there was a slow process of involuntary addition and elimination going on in what was now called Blade Runner (a title Fancher had appropriated from William Burroughs’ 1979 book, Blade Runner: A Movie) through Ridley, who was jettisoning key concepts of my screenplay. That horrified me, so, I became very vocal. I only found out that I had been kicked off the shoot at a christmas party, when I picked up a Blade Runner Script I’d never seen before with the name David Peoples on it. I thought, “Who the fuck is that?
I was flown to LA and put up in this great suite at the Chateau Marmont, where a copy of Hampton’s script was delivered. I was devastated – it was awesome. A knockout. So when Michael and Ridley came in, I said, “Its terrific.” They said, “You can’t find anything wrong with it?” I said, “No. There’s nothing I can do to make this script any better.” Ridley and Michael Deeley both said that they really liked the fact that I liked their script. Then Ridley pointed out some changes he wanted to make.
By day three of our first week, we were over budget and behind schedule, which began making things uncomfortable in our relationship with our finance partners at Tandem Productions. Tamdem had entered into an arrangement with us that placed them in a position of a completion bond guarantor. An entity, in other words, which guarantees that if a production goes wildly out of control or over budget, that same entity will step in and take over control of production to cover any costs such problems have incurred. So you can imagine what was said behind closed doors during our meetings with Tamdem in that first week.
Ridley took quite a lot of time setting up and lighting some of the shots in Blade Runner, true. I’m sure that didn’t sit well with the money men. But to get that extraordinary type of imagery requires a lot of time. And Ridley was stubbornly dedicated to this picture. he wouldn’t hurry up or budge or change his mind for anyone if he thought he was right.
The first scene I shot was Rachael meeting Deckard. My first line was, ” Do you like our Owl?” But Ridley told meI was saying “ow-el”, not “owl”. He made me reshoot that line 26 times. But Blade Runner was a good experience – except for my leading man. I could dish the dirt for days on Harrison, but I have a rough enough reputation as it is. Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t call Harrison Ford generous!
Ford would see Ridley perched on a crane 30 feet in the air, peering through that perfect eye of his and creating a perfect frame, which is Ridley’s biggest strength, and all Harrison wanted was to be told what to do. Ridley didn’t want to tell Harrison what to do. Yet Harrison wanted to be told. Which is something you should be grateful to actors for, actually.
What brought things to a head with the crew was the “Yes, guv’nor” incident. Ridley had told this English journalist that he enjoyed working with British crews more than American ones, because he’d just ask for something and the British crew would say “Yes, Guv’nor” – and he’d get it. Saul Kahan, the unit publicist, had left a copy of that newspaper in Ridleys trailer. Then someone photocopied the article and spread that interview all over the set.
When I read that “Yes, Guv’nor” thing, I knew i had to express and opinion as to how a lot of the (American) crew felt. So I designed and paid for 60 T-shirts that said, “Yes, Guv’nor My Ass!” Who’d have the balls to wear them? well, I put one on. Next thing I knew, 60 guys came and picked them up!
I’ve picked up a lot of bruises and scars while making movies, but the injuries I picked up making Blade Runner were really something. For instance, when you see me first meet Sebastian (William Sanderson) outside the bradbury building, there’s a shot of Pris skidding into this van and breaking its window. That was totally unscripted. I really did slip on the wet pavement, then crashed into that window with my elbow, and chipped the bone in eight places.
The last night was the worst. We’d all been up for 36 hours straight. Yet we still had to film a lot of stuff on this rolling, two-storey rooftop set – parts of the Deckard/Batty fight, all that. Somehow we blasted through most of it, and the sun was coming up. That was supposed to be it. But Ridley still had a few shots left.
So we rolled that rooftop set into a soundstage, re-dressed it, and lay poor Harrison Ford down on this wet garbage while they shot close-ups of his face. He was supposed to be watching Rutger Hauer’s character die. People have told me Harrison’s particularly convincing at that moment – beaten up and exhausted. Let me tell you, Harrison was beaten up and exhausted. He was also half-asleep!
Just before Blade Runner was released, we screened it in a work-in-progress version for sneak preview audiences in Denver and Dallas. The response cards were worrying because some audience embers had a problem understanding what the film was about. A few also didn’t like my original ending, which climaxed the story with the elevator doors closing on Harrison’s back.
By this time I was spittin’ in a bucket. I was totally spent. I suppose that had something to do with (the last minute addition of) the original narration, which I never liked, and the new ending we shot shortly before the film’s release, which showed Sean and Harrison driving away into the countryside. Basically, I was just too tired to sort things out.
Tamdem Productions objected to a lot of things. Like the voice-overs, which were done three times, and the original ending. Tandem also never liked Gaff’s tin-foil unicorn. That was supposed to indicate that Gaff (Edward James Olmos) knew what Deckard was thinking, that the memory he has of a unicorn in the Director’s Cut was an artificial implant put into him by the Tyrell Corporation.
Because Deckard was supposed to be a replicant too. Tandem hated that idea; they just didn’t get it. Shortly after the end of principle photography, Tandem stepped in and, in effect, fired Ridley and Michael. Tandem then took over the picture, or tried to. Ridley and Michael were both back on the Blade Runner set in very short order, because Tandem couldn’t make the firing stick.
When Blade Runner was first released, I missed seeing it, much to my later regret. Because a lot of the reviews hadn’t been very kind, most 1982 audiences didn’t take to it. A lot of people had expected another Indiana Jones movie, not Harrison Ford as an alcoholic ex-cop shooting women in the back.
One day in 1989, i was walking up and down the aisles of the TODDAO vault in Hollywood when I found these Goldbergs (metal film cans used to transport film reels to theatres) that were marked “Technicolor. London. Blade Runner. 70mm Print”. What I didn’t realise was that I’d actually discovered the original Blade Runner work print, a 70mm version of the print which had played at the Denver and Dallas sneak previews back in 1982.
That 70mm workprint, after a corporate decision by Warner Brothers, was reduced back down to a 35mm version and then released to the NuArt Theatre in Los Angeles, in September 1991. It immediately broke all house records and stayed for three weeks. But Ridley Scott, who was working on Thelma and Louise, hadn’t been told about the workprint release. And Warners had provided run a newspaper ad calling this the Blade Runner Director’s Cut. Apparently, Ridley didn’t care for that.
I’d directed a short dream sequence in England during Blade Runner’s post-production period of a unicorn running through the woods. That shot specifically implied that Deckard, whom I wanted to suggest might be a replicant himself, had been implanted with this image by the Tyrell Corporation. But I was forced to take it out.
So a director’s cut seemed like the perfect opportunity to reinstate that, as well as other moments that had also been cut. A deal was struck to theatrically release a new version of Blade Runner to theatres in 1992, a sort of 10th anniversary celebration.
Eventually, because the Director’s Cut was locked into a national 1992 release, we were forced to come up with another compromise. What Michael Arick did was to take the original American theatrical version, strip out the voice-overs on that release, edit out the tacked-on happy ending, and then insert a positive trim he had found of mu unicorn footage. And that was the so called director’s cut released back in 1992.
I’ve said this before, but Blade Runner is the only movie I’ve ever been a part of that came even close to my expectations of what film-makiong should be. Yes, it was a hard shoot, but Blade Runner will, I think, still be playing somewhere long after those of us who worked on it are gone and forgotten.