The article was originally published in Los Angeles in February 2007.
No one had seen anything like director Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner when it appeared in 1982. The film’s stunning opening shot of a dystopian wasteland—Los Angeles in 2019—established the bleak, haunting tone for the movie that followed. Here was the hellish noir of the city’s past pushed four decades into the future. Harrison Ford, just off Raiders of the Lost Ark, played Deckard, a bounty hunter chasing down a group of synthetic humans called “replicants” Led by Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty and rounded out by Daryl Hannah, Joanna Cassidy, and Brion James, the quartet are desperate to find a cure for the imminent end of their built-in four-year life spans. As Deckard tracks the androids through a broken, chaotic city, both he and the film’s audience experience a creeping realization: Could the bounty hunter himself be a replicant?
Blade Runner was based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by the reclusive science-fiction author Philip K. Dick. Scott’s previous film was the blockbuster Alien, and his new producer, Michael Deeley, had just won an Oscar for The Deer Hunter. No film production is a breeze, but in the annals of filmmaking, Blade Runner stands out as one of the most traumatic shoots. The first writer quit; the production lost its financing weeks before filming began; Dick died midway; the director and actors feuded as the crew revolted against Scott; and Scott and Deeley were ultimately fired by two of the movie’s financiers, Bud Yorkin and Jerry Perenchio. Essentially powerless, Scott watched as a clunky voiceover and a happy ending were tacked onto his brooding masterpiece. When it finally opened on June 25, Blade Runner proved to be both a commercial and a critical bomb.
Yet as time passed, the film’s influence grew. Its look, conceived by Scott and designer Syd Mead, began showing up in movies like Brazil and Beverly Hills Cop. Its dark story line helped spawn a new genre, cyberpunk, and Dick’s novels would eventually be adapted into movies like Total Recall and Minority Report. In 1991, a version without the much-maligned voice-over was released at a San Francisco theater and at the Nuart; house records were broken at both venues. This summer will see a definitive 25th-anniversary multidisc release of the film from Warner Bros. Misunderstood on its release yet ahead of its time, Blade Runner today stands alongside Sunset Boulevard and Chinatown as one of the great films set in Los Angeles.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
In which an ex-flamenco dancer comes into a sum of money and decides to make it big by optioning an obscure sci-fi novel
HAMPTON FANCHER (SCREENWRITER): In 1975, I got some money and I thought I might try to option something with the notion of producing and getting in the front door. I was tired of being under the turf for so long, and I thought science fiction was the coming thing. I had three notions, actually: One was Charles Bukowski, one was William S. Burroughs, and the other was Philip K. Dick. A friend had told me to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
ISA HACKETT (PHILIP K. DICK’S DAUGHTER): My dad wrote that novel when my parents were living in the East Bay. My mom would proofread, and he tended to write for weeks on end, talking in characters in the night. I think Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is one of his great novels, and you can find the same themes running through his books: What is reality, and what is not real? What is human, and what defines us as human?
FANCHER: I first thought I could get Bukowski to write something. He always wanted me to bring over a six-pack, and we drank. That went nowhere. Burroughs was great. He finally gave me Naked Lunch, but it was a screenplay another guy had written. It was no good. And I couldn’t find Dick.
HACKETT: My dad was an agoraphobic, and he had a tricky relationship with the outside world. He primarily was in his own head, and he didn’t go out. When he interfaced with people, it was with them finding him.
FANCHER: One day I was walking in Beverly Hills and someone yelled out to me. It was Ray Bradbury. I’d met him when he was doing a play of Moby Dick set in outer space and I was acting. As we parted, I said, “Wait a minute—do you know a guy named Philip K. Dick?” He opened his phone book and gave me the number. Dick was then living in Santa Ana and teaching. He kept trying to get me to do another novel, Ubik, but I just wasn’t interested. A couple years later, in ’77 or ’78, my friend Brian Kelly told me he wanted to do the same thing with Androids I had tried to do earlier.
MICHAEL DEELEY (PRODUCER): Kelly was an interesting character—he was an actor, amazingly good-looking, who had played the father on the television series Flipper. In 1970, Columbia had announced him as the star of their big picture of the coming year. But he was coming down Laurel Canyon one day on a motorcycle and he crashed, banging his head on a stone the size of your palm. It finished him—he couldn’t walk well, and his speech was slurred after that.
FANCHER: Brian called me a couple days after we talked and said he got an option for something like $2,000. He took it to Michael Deeley, who was a friend, but Deeley said there was no movie there and passed.
DEELEY: I had done The Man Who Fell to Earth with Nicolas Roeg, but science fiction wasn’t my thing. To me, it was all Logan’s Run with silly suits.
FANCHER: I said, “Bullshit! There’s a movie there.” Brian asked if I would write it, and I said no. I was with Barbara Hershey then, and she told me, “You’re an idiot. You say you want to get through the front door, and he’s offering you the chance.” I started that night.
DEELEY: By the time the script came in, I saw what it could be, which was very few of the things that actually ended up in the final film. Originally, Hampton’s script was a romantic film of an impossible love—a man who falls in love with a machine he’s been assigned to hunt down. It was very tender.
Ridley Scott Signs On
How a relatively unknown director abandons the futuristic deserts of Dune for the futuristic rain-soaked streets of L.A.
FANCHER: There were eventually several drafts of the script—three of which were written when Robert Mulligan [To Kill a Mockingbird] was involved as the director.
KATY HABER (PRODUCTION EXECUTIVE): We worked with Mulligan for a long time. But eventually he and Michael Deeley couldn’t agree on what way the screenplay should go. When that all fell apart, Michael went to Ridley.
RIDLEY SCOTT (DIRECTOR): Since I had done Alien, Deeley comes to me and says, “What about this?” I didn’t want to—I was with Dino De Laurentiis working on Dune. But because of a death in the family—my older brother—I jumped back to Deeley and said, “Listen, I’ve got to work right now. What do you want to do?”
FANCHER: Ridley was a bit elusive and shy then, but I liked his mind and he was funny as hell.
SCOTT: Hampton and I bashed away on the script for eight months, with Deeley doing his 40 cigarettes a day and me bumming off him. Hampton would talk every morning for two hours about his present problems—Barbara Hershey had just left him. Finally Deeley would go, “For fuck’s sake—let’s get on with the screenplay.” But I think we came up with a brilliant piece of script.
FANCHER: The script was then called Dangerous Days. Then Mechanismo. Finally, I remembered a book by Burroughs called Blade Runner: A Movie, and I worked that in. Deeley saw it and said, “That’s the title.” I had originally written the role of Deckard for Robert Mitchum. I wanted an over-the-hill, fucked-up alcoholic guy, and that was when Mitchum could still kick your ass. But they said they had a box office guy who was a great actor.
SCOTT: I was wooing Dustin Hoffman then, who diddled with it for about two months. We followed him from L.A. to New York and back to L.A.
HABER: Dustin wanted to reconstruct the script and bring in cryogenics and stuff.
SCOTT: I got exhausted in those meetings. Dustin is brilliant, but in those days he would just talk and talk. Eventually, Deeley said, “You know what? Fuck it.”
FANCHER: Then I was talking to Barbara Hershey, who was in touch with Spielberg while he was cutting Raiders of the Lost Ark. She told me Harrison Ford was going to be huge, according to Spielberg. So Ridley and Deeley flew to London.
SCOTT: No. I just put two and two together and flew to London and met with Harrison inside this posh piano bar. I’d already said to my financiers, “I want this guy Harrison Ford.” They said, “Who the luck is Harrison Ford?”
DEELEY: Spielberg showed us some rushes, and we thought, “This guy is a leading man.” We had our star.
HARRISON FORD (ACTOR): I remember when they eventually showed me the script, I had a lot of concerns about the narrative. There was actually a voice-over in the original script, and I felt it was telling the audience things that could easily be discovered in the context of the scenes. Besides that, my main complaint was that I was a detective who did no detecting.
Wherein the writer who would go on to pen Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven replaces Fancher, and a biology lesson saves the day
SCOTT: Hampton is a very good writer with sophisticated characterization, but the problem was the characters never went outside the door.
FANCHER: I’d say, “OK, then let’s do a car chase.” And Ridley would say, “But we don’t have room for a car chase,” and I’d say, “We’ll find room—this is a big movie.” I was naive. I thought if I won an argument with Ridley, that’s the way it would be. Ridley was seeing my so-called winning as being recalcitrant and idiotic. Finally Ivor Powell [Scott’s commercial producer] said, “Listen, I know my man. If you don’t do what he says, he’ll get someone who will.”
DAVID PEOPLES (SCREENWRITER): I had a screenplay called My Dog’s on Fire, and [director] Tony Scott wanted me to do a rewrite of it. But one day I get this call to meet with his brother Ridley about doing a rewrite of Blade Runner. I knew there was another writer, but I didn’t know Hampton. They put me in a suite in the Chateau Marmont with this script, and I thought it was fantastic. I told them, “I don’t see how you can improve on this. It’s great!” They sort of chuckled and said, “Well, Ridley has a few ideas.”
HABER: Ridley wanted to make it more of an adventure story than an esoteric one, and Hampton couldn’t do the basic detective-sleuth, action-adventure stuff.
SCOTT: Peoples was the antithesis of Hampton—a jolly character who could deal with the Cityspeak language that’s in the film. I said to him, “We can’t call these fucking bastards ‘robots.'” And David said, “Well, my daughter is studying biology and said, ‘What about “replicants?”‘”
PEOPLES: Eventually, I found out they’d gone to Hampton and had him redo some more stuff, so in fact he was rewriting me without even knowing it. They were having Hampton write and me write, and they were very big about us never getting to know of each other.
DEELEY: That’s not true. They knew of each other’s existence.
FANCHER: I just remember Ivor showed me a script that had an interesting scene that I didn’t know. Then I turned the page and there was the interview with the character Holden—”Tell me about your mother.” We were at Christmas dinner, and I said, “What the fuck is this?” I realized what had gone down. Ivor said, “I told you,” and I said, “Fuck all of you,” I felt betrayed.
DEELEY: Fancher got fed up with demands from Ridley, and he said, “Well, if that’s what you want, then I don’t want to do this anymore.” Ridley and I had a brief huddle and said, “We accept your resignation.” He was acting without thinking, but I’m afraid in that respect he was taken advantage of.
How Ridley Scott journeys into the past by way of Hung Kong in order to create L.A.’s future
SCOTT: I was never really attracted to science fiction early on. Then one afternoon in the Strand they were running 2001, and I went with a pack of cigarettes and sat in an empty theater watching it. I thought, “Christ—this is it. Now we have a real world, the first original world.”
DAVID SNYDER (ART DIRECTOR): If you take 2001 or Logan’s Run as examples, they decided to guess what the future will look like by completely ignoring the past. That’s the mistake everyone made until Ridley said, “We’re going to do the exact opposite. We’re going to research the past.”
SCOTT: I had been shooting commercials in Hong Kong, and I was absolutely stunned by the environment. There were no skyscrapers. The streets were medieval. The harbor was filled with junks and a crust of filth—a city on the edge of losing control of everything. I wanted Hong Kong first. I was going to put skyscrapers in the harbor.
DEELEY: But we finally realized we had to do it in the studio, and the only proper one was Burbank with the back-lot New York street set.
HABER: That’s the reason we shot the movie at night—to cut out the Hollywood Hills. There were day scenes in the original script. But if you’re shooting daytime in Burbank, you look up and see the hills. It was complete logistics.
SCOTT: So I got a guy who really looked into the future, Syd Mead, and said to him, “This is the set—draw on top of it.”
SYD MEAD (VISUAL FUTURIST): When I met Ridley, he said, “We’re going to make a film about the future, and don’t even think about Logan’s Run.” I thought, “Well, we’re already off to a good start.” I read the script and caught on right away that it was a dystopian, dysfunctional world. So I took cross sections of a New York street and then expanded the buildings in drawings up 3,000 feet.
SNYDER: If you look at Times Square in 1940 or 1960 or 1980, most of it is the same except for the automobiles and advertisements. It’s like a stratification, like geology: cities in layers. Ridley said, “This is the key to the movie.” What we were going to do is add layers onto that set—40 years into the future. We went all over the West, getting all the pipe and metal and PVC we could to retrofit the New York set.
LAWRENCE PAULL (PRODUCTION DESIGNER): From the beginning we were looking at architecture that was iconic—whether it was the Bradbury Building or a wonderful ’20s statement of Mediterranean such as Union Station or a Frank Lloyd Wright like the Ennis House.
MICHAEL KAPLAN (COSTUME DESIGNER): When we went to Union Station, there was this beautiful tile work that was like Mexican deco. We used those forms to inspire a whole mythology and put those motifs into the patterns of the clothes we made.
FANCHER: I remember Ridley went looking for locations and came back all excited. He said, “I just found the most incredible building—the Bradbury Building.” I said, “Oh no. Please, Ridley, don’t use that. They use it every week on television.” Plus I had grown up with that building—as a flamenco dancer I was on the marquee of the Million Dollar Theater across the street. He looked at me and said, “Not the way I’ll do it.”
WILLIAM SANDERSON (ACTOR): They dressed the Bradbury up real interestingly. They put round pillars in the front and muddied the floor, and there was rain everywhere.
SNYDER: Because Ridley had come from London and wasn’t familiar with Los Angeles, I don’t think he gave one luck about what anyone else had done with it. One of the first things he wanted to do was to turn the Bonaventure into a flophouse. They wouldn’t allow it. But that’s how smart he was.
The Devil’s Pact
In which the film’s financing vanishes overnight, only to be replaced at a cost no one could have anticipated
DEELEY: Filmways was the original money behind us. The budget then was $12.5 million, and they were very proud of it. But a rumor started circulating that Brian De Palma had a new picture called Blow Out and that Filmways was now going to do two $12.5 million pictures. What we didn’t know is they couldn’t afford two pictures. Katy Haber called me at seven in the morning one day and told me the trades said we’d been dumped by Filmways.
HABER: It was panic, sheer panic. We had a complete crew, were set to begin shooting, and there was no money.
SCOTT: Michael said, “What do you want to do?” I said, “Well, let’s get some more money.” It was never say die.
DEELEY: I went to see Laddie [Alan Ladd Jr.], an old friend who had a deal at Warner Bros., and he slotted us in there in no time flat. I knew Run Run Shaw and the Shaw brothers very well—they’d always bought my pictures—and they said, “Okay, we’ll come in with $7 million if you get a distributor,” and I got Fox onto the picture for that.
HABER: Michael’s brilliance was that he put that entire financial package together in just ten days, right as we were to begin shooting.
SCOTT: I also think that this is where Tandem Productions—Bud Yorkin and Jerry Perenchio—came in.
BUD YORKIN (PRODUCER): Quite honestly, the only reason I got involved was that they were short on money and I read the script and thought it was fresh. I thought it would make a wonderful picture.
DEELEY: It was actually Norman Lear, Bud Yorkin, and Jerry Perenchio,
and they’d made tons of money from legally ripping off English television shows like All in the Family. Only Lear didn’t want to come in.
YORKIN: We bonded the picture, which is completion money in case they go over and whoever is financing the picture doesn’t want to be stuck with that bill.
DEELEY: Without Lear we were left with a fucking boxing promoter who’d made a bit of money and an idiot as our financiers. They did a very foolish thing, which they did out of greed—taking on a completion guarantee and bending the picture. I’d dealt with the devil before, but there was no time at that point.
Yes Guv’nor, My Ass
Catty remarks in a British newspaper lead to a nasty T-shirt and a production rebellion on the set
SCOTT: Because of unionization in Hollywood, I couldn’t bring in my own people. So I had to interview crews. I was a designer who wanted to be a filmmaker, so I needed the best because I was going to beat them up and say, “I want more.” They were going to have to withstand that.
SNYDER: I thought I was in the presence of genius. But some people were, I’d say, legitimately terrified of Ridley. When Larry Paull and I finally set up all our drawings in the art department, he turned to Michael and said—as if Larry and I were not even in the room—”It’s never what you want.” I figured then that to give Ridley 90 percent of what you had, you had to give him 180 percent, and then he might be satisfied.
MEAD: Ridley really thought things out to get the level of detail he wanted. There’s a chess game in the film between William Sanderson’s character and Eldon Tyrell, and Ridley got the actual moves from one of the most famous chess games ever played. No one knows that, but he did it for his own satisfaction of detail.
SNYDER: For the opening interview scene with Holden, Ridley wanted a coffee cup and pen set. So the prop guy brings in two pen sets and three cups. Ridley says, “I want to see more.” The next day the guy comes back with six pen sets and six coffee cups. Ridley says, “When I say more, I mean more.” He wanted to see a hundred cups and a hundred pen sets. I said, “Fucking great!” but for a lot of the crew it was, “I’m the prop guy, you’re the director—do your fucking job and I’ll do mine.”
PAULL: The first day of shooting, we walk into Tyrell’s office, and there are these columns 8-foot-square at the base and 24 feet high. Ridley turns to me and says, “What I want to do is, these columns—I want you to turn them upside down.” So I said to the first assistant director, “You guys aren’t shooting for another six hours.”
SCOTT: I think my methodology was unusual, and they started to get very nervous about how I functioned. Every inch of the way everybody is saying, “Why is it always raining?” “Why is it always night?” I had to keep saying to myself, “Wait a minute—2,000 commercials, the Golden Camera at Cannes, Alien. I know what I’m doing.”
SEAN YOUNG (ACTOR): My first day was when I walk into Tyrell’s office and say, “Do you like our owl?” Ridley wanted me to be unaffected by everybody else, like isolated and androidish, so for four months he kept me incarcerated in this little wooden box, this tiny dressing room they’d cart around. Anyway, he kept making me say “owl”—one syllable—not “ow-well.” That was my first day. It took 26 takes just to get “owl” right. He was very controlling in that regard.
DEELEY: All that first stuff with the owl? I think it was five days or so we reshot. We went overbudget from the very beginning.
GARY COMBS (STUNT COORDINATOR): Sam Peckinpah and Ridley were the two most talented people I’d ever worked with. Sam was sharp, but Ridley was sharp and in control. He took a long time redoing things. There was the scene where Daryl Hannah does a hands-to-feet flip-flop across the room and lands with her crotch on Harrison Ford. I had a stunt girl who looked like Daryl, but I wasn’t aware when we started rehearsing that one shot that we were going to do it 900 times. He’d move the camera and say, “Again,” then move it once more and say, “Again.” It was so hard on her that by the second day I had to bring in a male gymnast to do it.
JOANNA CASSIDY (ACTOR): Ridley was a perfectionist. I don’t know exactly how many takes Harrison and I did on our fight scene. He could certainly take a punch and give one back. I think we did 20 takes or maybe more.
MARVIN WESTMORE (MAKEUP ARTIST): It was the toughest shoot I’ve ever been on. We had people quitting weekly who didn’t want to put up with it. There were basically two groups: those who had the cojones to quit and those who said to Ridley, “You’re not going to get my goat.”
PAULL: One evening the first week, Deeley turned to Ridley and said, “These American crews—they don’t work very fast, do they?” That was overheard by the first assistant director, Newt Arnold—one of the greatest ADs the business has ever known. So he opened his mouth, and they canned him.
SANDERSON: I guess you could say that Ridley was like Picasso then. A woman told a man she didn’t like Picasso, and the man ran and told Picasso, “This woman doesn’t like you.” Picasso said, “Which one?”
PAULL: Unfortunately, that American crew had never worked with personalities like Michael Deeley and Ridley Scott. The only way I can put it is, “There’s us and there’s you—and you’re the help.”
HABER: Halfway through production, Ridley did an interview with The Guardian about the difference between British and American crews. Basically he said he preferred British crews because he could talk in shorthand and they’d say, “Yes, guv’nor, know what you want.” The article was in Ridley’s camper, and someone grabbed it and made four dozen copies.
WESTMORE: Ridley made some nasty remarks in that story about the American crew and the fact that he couldn’t be the cinematographer, and I’d had enough. So I had 60 T-shirts made that said WILL ROGERS NEVER MET RIDLEY SCOTT and handed them out for free to anyone who had the guts to wear them. And it took a lot to tell your director he was full of shit.
HABER: Everyone was wearing the Will Rogers T-shirt, and so Ridley came to me and said, “What the hell does it mean?” It was really cruel. So Michael and I put out a T-shirt that said XENOPHOBIA SUCKS, and Michael and Ridley and I wore it.
SNYDER: I think Marvin’s first T-shirts read YES GUV’NOR, MY ASS. TO me, that was like kindergarten bullshit, but there was a lot of resentment towards Ridley. For whatever reason—his culture or his level of people management—he didn’t do anything to try and fix the situation.
DEELEY: But Ridley never shouted at people. He could lose his temper, yet he rarely showed it. He wasn’t gushing all over people, either, though—particularly not Harrison.
SCOTT: People always say, “Well, Ridley didn’t get on with Harrison.” We did, really. I think we were just sparring. I’d never dealt with an actor who was so on fire intellectually as Harrison was. But things were chilly.
DEELEY: Harrison had been a carpenter who wanted to be an actor, and up to that point he had been looked after by people who gave him a lot of attention, whether it was Spielberg or Lucas. Ridley’s position was that Harrison was already what he wanted, but what Harrison expected was for Ridley to be down on the ground taking him through every scene. Ridley never did, and Harrison spent a lot of time in his trailer getting more and more pissed off.
FORD: There is a difference in personality between Spielberg and Ridley. Ridley was full of piss and vinegar, at times contentious but always in command. It wasn’t the easiest relationship. There were times when we got along, and there were times when we were pretty pissed off at each other. It was a very tough shoot for everybody. I don’t think Sean Young clearly had an idea of whet she was doing. I think she was early in her career, and I think she was a bit daunted by it.
YOUNG: I was very young then, and the hardest part was playing “older”—more womanly and mature and mysterious—because I was none of those things yet.
KAPLAN: Harrison never liked Sean Young on that shoot. She was very young, it was one of her first shoots, and oddly he took it out on her and wouldn’t speak to her.
SCOTT: Harrison can be bad tempered, and the irritation there was rife. I think one of his problems is he’s so fucking smart he gets irritated at most people.
DEELEY: Sean Young eventually woke up to the fact that her undeniable sex appeal wasn’t going to work on him. But that scene of them in his apartment—that was practically a rape. I think she got a nasty shock.
KAPLAN: When it came time for that scene, he still hadn’t spoken to her and she was very nervous. When he throws her against the venetian blinds, her tears were real.
YOUNG: I did hit my back pretty hard. And I did cry a lot. But I think it was exactly what Ridley wanted.
CASSIDY: Whatever you say, no actor walked through that film, that’s for damn sure. Everyone took one step beyond.
The Last Detail
Wherein the man from Amsterdam surprises all by pulling off the most poetic moment in the film
SCOTT: We were doing the last scene of the film—the scene on the roof with Harrison and Rutger, and they [Tandem] were getting ready to pull the plug on me.
DEELEY: It was that sort of moment when, you know, we haven’t got any time left, we’ve been working for 30 hours, we’re racing. Rutger Hauer comes over to me and says, “Michael, I must have a word with Ridley.” It’s Roy Batty’s big scene. I said, “Rutger, this is ridiculous. We haven’t got the time.” He says, “No, I have to talk to Ridley.”
SCOTT: Rutger comes to me and says, “I have written something I want to read for you.”
RUTGER HAUER (ACTOR): The dialogue had been so good. Every scene in the movie has three or four lines that you’ll never forget. But I said to Ridley that after all these extreme visual deaths, I should die quickly. It shouldn’t be like an opera. I saved just two lines from the script, added a line about not having enough time, and then I came up with “All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain.” And Ridley liked it and used it.
DEELEY: Hauer is not some product of the elite of Amsterdam. This was a rough guy all around—a potato farmer. But we did that shot, and it was complete magic. That was Hauer—that was the potato farmer.
An Author Dies, A Director Is Fired
In which Philip K. Dick excuses himself from this world, and Ridley Scott is forced off his own movie with no excuses at all
JEFF WALKER (UNIT PUBLICIST): Both Phil Dick and Ridley had said sniping things about each other in the press during the production, and what I wanted to do is to bring them together and have Phil see what was going on.
SCOTT: I think Phil got insulted because I said his book was so dense, but I wanted to show him some rushes to put this thing to rest.
WALKER: So we sent a car for him to see the first 20 minutes of the movie. We showed Phil the opening sequence, and he was just blown away. His comment was, “It was like holding a mirror up to my mind.” He also thought Sean Young was born to play Rachael. And he wanted to get her phone number.
HACKETT: He thought it was just miraculous. Then he went into a coma in February and died in March. That he never got to see his movie was really a tragedy.
WALKER: It was actually six weeks after we brought him up that he could have seen the final cut of the film in postproduction.
HABER: As soon as postproduction began, that’s when Yorkin and Perenchio moved in. It was evident that as the completion guarantors, they were going to have to put their hands in their pockets, and they got upset.
DEELEY: Their position was simple. Once we’d gone overbudget, then the people who own the bond on the picture had the right to take over the picture. That’s the greatest threat bond people have—”We’ll put in a hack, and he’ll finish your picture.”
YORKIN: They had been falling behind, and we were trying to find a way to speed them up. Ridley was aware he was going over.
DEELEY: So we wrapped the picture, and two days later we received the letter.
HABER: I have the original letter that Bud wrote. It says, basta, that’s it. It’s over. You know, basta, like in Italian.
YORKIN: I don’t remember that at all.
DEELEY: It said, under the terms of the guarantee, Tandem is formally relinquishing your services. We never thought they would be stupid enough to fire both Ridley and myself. It was out of spite. “Make those fuckers crawl,” you know? But it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference. We just continued doing what we had been doing.
SCOTT: First time I’d ever been threatened by a bond. I’ve never been threatened since.
The First Sneaks
A preview audience leads to a showdown over an infamous voice-over, and an 11th-hour call is placed to Mr. Kubrick
DEELEY: Our first sneaks were the wrong audiences because they came to see Harrison Ford in another Star Wars, and that wasn’t what we had. It wasn’t “Another rollicking bit of fun from Harrison Ford!”
SCOTT: The audiences were confused, and I thought, “Uh-oh.” I think Harrison was confused about it as well because it was not the kind of film he was used to doing.
YORKIN: Let me put it this way: A lot of the audience walked out. They had no idea what a replicant was. After two previews we looked at the cards, and the audience didn’t know what the hell the picture was about.
HABER: People didn’t understand the film, or maybe more significantly, Bud Yorkin didn’t understand the film. They thought, “We better do something to help move this movie along.” It was a panic decision.
PEOPLES: I remember suggesting in the beginning that we take out the script’s original voice-over because it shouldn’t tell the story. But in the end the new voice-over became the major project because now the thought was the story needed it to make it work.
YORKIN: Ridley was there when we all agreed we’d have to put some narration in. And we didn’t have another writer because those two guys didn’t want to write anymore. I’d done a lot of wonderful pictures with a writer named Roland Kibbee, so we brought him in and within a week or ten days he wrote all of the voice-over for us.
FORD: In the end we got stuck re-creating the narration after Ridley had been taken off the picture. The first couple of tries were with Bud Yorkin. The final one was just myself and the gentleman who had cobbled it together. There was no one to appeal to except to the man who had written the narration—there was no tie-breaking vote, and he was unwilling to bend. So I said, “I’m going to read each of these five or six times, and you take your choice.” I was very unhappy with how it turned out. I think there were better versions of the voice-over I read, but I have no idea who made the eventual choice or how they did it.
SCOTT: Harrison rightly hated it, but he tried. The worst thing is that the voice-over was brought in as a bit of “Irving the Explainer.” The audience had been going, “Well, what …?” and I’m saying, “Well, watch the fucking movie and see what happens at the end.”
YORKIN: I thought the original ending we had was a huge shock to audiences. The elevator doors slam and boom, you’re out. On every preview card—”What the fuck kind of ending was that?” It didn’t work. Stanley Kubrick was a very close friend of mine, and I knew The Shining, and I knew I could get footage from him. So I called him up and said, “We’ve got to do a new ending, and I need cumulus clouds, and I’m sure you got tons of footage from The Shining.” And he said, “Yeah, Bud, you can have anything you want. I’ll send it over to you”
DEELEY: That’s a lie. How would Bud Yorkin know Stanley Kubrick?
SCOTT: I called Stanley. I said, “Look, we’ve got a bad preview on what is a good film. They want to see a test with a teeny bit of optimism in the end.” He said, “I know—familiar ground.” I said, “I know someone shot you six weeks of helicopter footage—can I maybe borrow some?” Within that afternoon I had 17 hours of helicopter footage.
YORKIN: I thought everything about the new ending we had worked perfectly for me.
FORD: I thought the film had worked without the narration. I saw it once with the original ending and then with the tagged-on “sunshine car going through the bucolic landscape.” I didn’t care for that very much.
“People were going back to see E.T. five and ten times. It defined the summer, and it affected how Blade Runner, this dark, depressing film noir, was accepted.”
Wherein the spending power of nerds is put to the test, and Mr. Ford is K.O’d by a three-foot creature from another planet
HACKETT: I had this huge hope that my dad would get some recognition from the movie, having just passed away. I thought that it would get people talking about his work. But it was just the opposite.
DEELEY: We knew from the previews that we were in trouble. E.T. had come out two weeks before and was a huge success. Ridley and I thought it was rather silly. We thought two weeks ought to be plenty of time for this sentimental sot to return to his planet. But E.T. wiped the floor with us.
WALKER: People were going back to see E.T. five and ten times. It defined the summer, and it affected how Blade Runner, this dark, depressing film noir, was accepted.
SNYDER: I was standing outside the Fox Theater in Westwood, and this sort of Republican-looking woman walked out and said, “That’s the worst movie I ever saw in my life.” That was the first public comment I heard about something I’d spent a year on.
PEOPLES: Hampton persuaded us to come and see it with him and Barbara Hershey. What was on the screen, with the music and the rain and all of that shit—my mind was blown. But right off I cringed at the voiceover—it was fucking awful. I had been hired to write a little of it, and I knew Hampton had, too, and we both sat there thinking the other had committed the crime.
FANCHER: I was horrified by the voice-over. One time in Berkeley I got drunk and eventually did broach it with David. I said, “Why did you ever write that shit?” We laughed—he had thought I wrote it.
SCOTT: I think it was at that time I realized you can’t read your own press. It was very disappointing, excruciatingly disappointing. I was really depressed for a while.
YORKIN: We had the long lines because, you know, you get all the nerds. I thought, “Well, shit, man, this is going to be great.” Then I pick up the paper, and it didn’t get the reviews. So I thought, “If you’re not getting the reviews, it’s not going to do well.”
HACKETT: It was amazing to be sitting there watching my dad’s book on the screen, even if there were only a few people in the theater. But I felt so much sadness—it was overwhelming. I waited afterward to see his name come up on the screen, but the few people around me got up and left, and the lights came on, and they stopped the projection early before the credits could finish. So I never saw his name. I just sort of sat there and cried.
From the Ashes
How a commercial and critical failure became a masterpiece with the help of a little theater and a lot of Japanese fans
SNYDER: I think it was 1984 when I went to Tokyo for a screening of the film and I got mobbed. And I thought, “Well, this is interesting. I’m halfway across the world and people actually love this thing I did.”
YOUNG: Oh, God—the mail I used to get from Japan in ’82, ’83, ’84. My mailbox would be filled with fan mail from Japan.
FANCHER: I never understood why it began to become a cultural obsession, but I don’t think in the history of the world there was ever a complete failure at the box office that had a major rerelease years later.
SCOTT: Warners had been asked to run a screening in Santa Monica, and they couldn’t find the print. But we had made a 65-millimeter print to preview it with big sound, and they found that in the cupboard and sent it. That’s what started the whole thing. People went, “Wow! What’s this?”
DEELEY: The big moment came when that print was found and played at the Nuart in 1991 without the voice-over. Suddenly there was huge new interest. Everybody said, “Oh, it just proves that bloody stupid voice-over wasn’t necessary.”
FORD: I had gone on to other things and wasn’t paying much attention. The next time I turned around, it suddenly had cult status. I think it was a powerful cinematic experience—it just wasn’t originally what people expected or thought they would see. It was ahead of its time, both emotionally—it wasn’t a cuddly movie—and visually.
HACKETT: Then the director’s cut appeared, and that made a huge difference. My room and I went to see it in San Francisco. We’re driving up and there is a line going around the block. No part of me believed the line was for Blade Runner. I got in it—the screening was completely sold out—and I still thought, “These people are here to see another movie.” And then I notice: They were wearing Blade Runner T-shirts.
KAPLAN: It’s had such an extraordinary influence in the years since. It was maybe five years ago that Alexander McQueen did a whole Blade Runner collection featured on the cover of Italian Vogue.
HABER: When this huge critical mass began following the movie, I realized that maybe Ridley had achieved what he set out to achieve, we were basically naive when we made that film, but it set the standard for a whole new way of looking at films, of making films, of a trend in postproduction that is still going forward today.
MEAD: You have to give Ridley immense credit, because in spite of all that happened, the movie today has been placed in the National Film Library along with Gone with the Wind and Citizen Kane.
HACKETT: Since its release, from my dad’s books we’ve had Total Recall, Screamers, Imposter, Minority Report, Paycheck, A Scanner Darkly, and then coming up is Next, with Nicolas Cage. Next year will also see a volume of Philip K. Dick placed in the Library of America. They have never inducted a science-fiction author before, and I think that shift in his legacy has so much to do with this piece of cinematic history, Blade Runner. He’s been canonized, really. Dad used to say that reality is that which, when you stop believing it, still doesn’t go away. But people did ignore the movie, and it had real value. It was ignored, but it didn’t go away, and it is still here today.