The filmmaker, whose prolific 40-year career includes such iconic films as 'Thelma & Louise,' 'Alien,' 'Gladiator,' 'Blade Runner' and numerous others, is being honored with the American Cinematheque Award on Friday.
In the 40 years since Ridley Scott, 78, made his first film, The Duellists, the British director has traveled through space (Alien, Prometheus, The Martian) and time (Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Exodus: Gods and Kings), created new worlds and broken genre barriers (Blade Runner) and brought memorable characters, including strong, surprising women (Thelma & Louise), to the big screen. His films have been nominated for 39 Oscars (including three best director noms) and won nine. He'll top off those achievements by receiving the 30th American Cinematheque Award at the annual benefit gala Oct. 14.
"There are not a lot of filmmakers that we can call masters. It seems that Ridley was born a master. When you look at his first movie, [1977's] The Duellists, it was so well conceived and the level of precision was so high. And then Alien, and then Blade Runner. He made masterpiece after masterpiece. The level of mastery, the maturity of the cinematic language, always amazed me: the way he's able to play with cliches and come up with something that's fresh and new and powerful.
I remember I had high expectations for the first Blade Runner because I'd read a lot about it in science-fiction movie magazines. I was a film geek when I was a teenager. I still remember being blown away just by the opening sequence. I was amazed by his vision. There's a level of mastery in everything — design to fashion to special effects.
For the sequel, it was important that I had his approval to be part of the project. My first meeting at his production office, Scott Free, was, for me, to get his benediction. I needed to shake his hand and to know that he believed in me. It would be impossible for me to direct with Ridley Scott over my shoulder. So the deal is that when I need him, I can call him, I can get in contact with him if I have questions or need advice. Anytime. That distance and that freedom is a massive gift. He has a benevolent distance with my work."
"Ridley is so confident and so comfortable. It is so much in his element to be making a movie, and he knows what his vision is and how to achieve it. There's this positive atmosphere on the set, and what I have found is when the director is really confident of their vision, they're very open to other people being creative and having ideas. He always operated the camera and he just loved making movies.
As much as I was in character and focused, in my periphery there was Ridley beaming, just absolutely beaming while we were filming. It made me feel so secure. Thelma & Louise changed my life. The response was so extraordinary and so unexpected, it was a stunning wake-up call to how few opportunities we give women to feel inspired and excited about female characters. Everything I've done since then in the industry has been colored by that experience."
"He's as fabulous as he is terrifying to work with. It's like having a tiger by the tail. I've learned along the way, just don't let go of that tail and you'll be fine because he won't turn around and bite you. He's a friend and a colleague and a mentor to me.
I was very fresh to the job of production design when we started Gladiator. We did a lightning tour of possible locations. He had experience at the water tank in Morocco, and the idea was to build the Colosseum in the tank, but it was booked. He said, 'I think I know a place.' All of us — there must have been 20 of us — walked down the road to an abandoned fort called Fort Ricasoli [in Malta]. He got some paper and proceeded to doodle one of his famous 'Ridleygrams' for how it could work.
Then we had a disaster in the middle of all this joy and excitement. We had the biggest typhoon in 30 years, and it destroyed some of our sets, literally picking up walls that had been moved in with giant cranes, blowing them away like playing cards. Dust was flying, pieces of plywood nearly cut off our heads. The roof collapsed. Ridley came to investigate the damage, and he said, 'Well, it's good aging.' That's Ridley: In the face of adversity, he's nonplussed. The bigger the challenge, the happier he is."
"There was one particular shot I was looking at, this three-quarter profile close-up. They were lighting it with a stand-in. I said to Ridley, 'Why do I know that that's your frame?' Just looking at it, you knew it was a Ridley Scott shot. He said, 'All I really thought about when I framed that shot was how to be as simple and honest and truthful as I could be for this moment in the movie.' I thought of the parallel to guitar players. The guitar is an instrument that every single person has picked up and played at some time, but when Jimi Hendrix played it, it sounded completely different — it was his instrument and you could hear him. Movies are like that. As a master director, Ridley's voice had to come out."