Oscars: 'The Martian' Producer Reveals What Ridley Scott Said About His Snub
"His first instinct was to ask who else was nominated on the team," says Michael Schaefer, who admits he was "caught by surprise" at Scott's omission from the best director category.
This story first appeared in a special awards season issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Michael Schaefer has a credit on one Oscar-winning film, The Hurt Locker, which won best pic in 2010, but as a production executive. But now, with The Martian, the Ridley Scott sci-fi blockbuster that maroons Matt Damon on the red planet, the producer actually will have a seat at the ceremony — and a piece of the prize if The Martian wins best picture. Schaefer, who left Summit Entertainment five years ago to become president of Scott's production company, Scott Free (where he has produced such films as The Counselor and Exodus: Gods and Kings), spoke with THR about his film's seven nominations (including one for Damon), how Scott reacted to not being among the best director nominees and how serving "French lunch" helped get The Martian finished in only 70 days of shooting.
Where were you when the Oscar nominations were announced?
I was in New York, and it was great because I didn't have to get up at 5 a.m. I would recommend it to anyone. Of course, I was surprised by the omission of Ridley. Otherwise, I was very, very excited because the nominations show that a lot of people on the team did a terrific job on the movie.
How shocked were you that Ridley was shut out?
I was definitely caught by surprise, but then again, we're in an environment were things can happen in all kinds of ways. You can't take anything for granted. Look how long it took Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard and other directors. It's the unpredictability of awards that makes it so fun.
Did you talk to Ridley that morning?
He was in Australia, and I was the first one to call him. His first instinct was to ask who else was nominated on the team, and he was proud of all the people who did get nominated. When you're not nominated, you're not as excited as everyone else, I suppose, but I think he was very happy about best picture and the other nominations. He was very proud of Matt, and he felt that the nominations were a great way to celebrate the movie. It was a film that came together quite quickly, and it was a very energetic and thrilling process for everyone. The nominations are a great recognition from the industry.
Scott shot the film on a budget of $108 million — relatively modest considering it takes place on an alien planet — and wrapped in about 70 days. How'd he do that?
Here's the thing about him — he actually storyboards every single scene. And he storyboards himself. So you can literally give those to the heads of the department on day-of and tell them, "This is what we are going to shoot today." He's very visually prepared about how he wants to shoot the scenes.
Then there's his energy level. There is no official lunch, for instance. There is a running lunch — they call it a "French lunch" — which means there is continuously food for the cast, but we shoot from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at night. Sometimes we go 30 minutes over, but we tend to stick to 10-hour shooting days. Ridley is always on the move. He's always trying to get the next shot in, and he likes to shoot with multiple cameras, and that's something that helps the speed. The speed isn't purposeful, though, and he's not rushing. He has a very good eye for making sure he is not wasteful in terms of resources of people's time and people's money.
Originally, Drew Goddard, who wrote the script (and who is nominated for best adapted screenplay) was going to direct. Was Damon already signed when Scott took over directing?
Matt always flirted with the project. Ridley and Matt hadn't met, but they've always wanted to work together. So we called his agent, Ridley and Matt met, and both of them were like, "We have to do this movie!"
Why was it so important to work with NASA so closely?
Because Ridley wanted to make sure it was real and not made up. He wanted to make sure that the design of the spaceships and the other stuff had a basis in reality. I think that's part of why he was so drawn to the material originally. He was interested in making a movie that was real and could actually become reality.
Why do you think The Martian has done so well at the box office? At $608.3 million worldwide, it's Scott's most successful film ever.
The material is something that hit the zeitgeist right now. It's a film that leaves you more positive about life than the other material he has shot in the past. People right now are obsessed with space travel, and it's a fun subject matter.
• Studio: Fox
• Release date: Oct. 2
• Worldwide box office: $608.3 million
• Director: Ridley Scott
• Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels
• Top awards and noms: Globe for comedy; BAFTA nom; Oscar noms for Damon and Goddard