Russell Crowe, Ridley Scott talk ‘Robin Hood,’ Alien prequels, and ‘Gladiator 3-D’
By Todd Gilchrist
HollywoodNews.com: A decade after Ridley Scott resuscitated his career and more or less launched Russell Crowe’s with Gladiator, the duo reunites for Robin Hood, an origin story of the infamous 12th century bandit. Having worked together three times in between these particular bookends, the two seem now to get along like an old married couple – at least evidenced by the way they often finished each other’s thoughts during a recent interview. But what obviously makes their longtime partnership work best is not their ability to anticipate just what the other might say, but to understand what each one does best, which is why their latest film seems to resonate the most strongly of their collaborations thus far.
Hollywood News recently joined a small coterie of journalists to speak with Crowe and Scott at the Los Angeles press day for Robin Hood. In addition to discussing their work together, they revealed the often-discussed but little-understood development process that went in to finding the film’s story, offered their opinions on the use of 3-D technology, and talked about Scott’s next project, a pair of prequels to his 1979 film Alien.
[Note: Although “Hollywood News” is used to distinguish questions from answers in the text below, our journalist was just one of many reporters asking questions of the filmmakers.]
Hollywood News: (Waiting for Russell Crowe) Ridley, we were talking about how excited we are for your next project.
Ridley Scott: Alien, yeah. We’re doing that now. We’re on the fourth draft. It’s alright; it’s really good…Of course, it’ll be 3-D.
Hollywood News: Will you be using the same technology Cameron used to shoot Avatar?
Scott: No, I think we’ve already moved beyond. Jim said that this technique, which had taken them four years, he’d said that now you could do it in two. Technology’s shifting all the time. I could have converted Robin Hood. They’d said last October, I could have squeezed it under the hammer and got it in as a 3-D version of Robin Hood.
Hollywood News: Given your visual style do you have to make a lot of changes to compose shots in 3-D?
Scott: It’s not that different. People always agonize whether it’s 1.85 or 2.35 and I don’t really give a shit. If you’ve got an eye, it’s not a problem. If you don’t have any eye, then it turns into science.
Hollywood News: 3-D requires a lot more light, and the Alien films are pretty dark. Do you anticipate that being an issue?
Scott: That’s what Jim said. You’ll have to grit your teeth and light it not the way you’d like it. And then later, you’re gonna have to repaint it. In fact, Avatar, if you think about it, is almost a completely animated movie.
Hollywood News: Is it possible to make an Alien movie today the way you did in 1979 and have people respond to it?
Scott: To say, “Do you want to recut it?” at the time, I thought, “Not really. Leave it alone. It is what it is.” But would things move faster today? Yeah. I had no technology at all. I had no digital technology at all. Even the ones that followed started to have tech. Like, digital rails and tracking. I had no computers at all. Alien was literally all physical. Even the spaceship, which would be about as big this table, you’d hang it from a wire and the camera would slowly push in underneath with a fan and a lot of dry ice blowing at it to give some sense of movement.
Hollywood News: How do you feel about 3-D post-conversion?
Scott: You can virtually order it. I can go to a company saying, “Can you re-3D this?” It’d be quicker if I sat there and did it with them, which I would have. It’s when you’re grading a movie, I’ll sit there with a grader, we’ll flick to one scene, I’ll give ‘em two frames and say, “Like that.” You can do the whole film that way.
Hollywood News: (Crowe joins the group.) Would you consider converting any of your past films?
Scott: Not really. I’d rather save that energy for something new. We could have done this in 3-D, but everyone was so hesitant. We didn’t bother because the film’s good enough.
Russell Crowe: It’s not an invalid thing to do a 3-D version of Gladiator. This is one of those odd movies that doesn’t happen very much. We made that movie in 1999 and every given week that passes, it’s screening somewhere as the principle movie that night in primetime. It’s one of those movies that’s lasted. I can see a theatrical 3-D release.
Hollywood News: Can you do multi-camera shoots with 3-D?
Scott: Not with that absolute freedom, but I was told you can’t do that with 2-D cameras either and we do. He’s expert at knowing where every fucking camera is…
Crowe: Mainly because I’m a slut.
Scott: He knows exactly where the ninth camera is. Whereas an actor like Bill [Hurt] –
Crowe: He’s talking specifically about a conversation I had with William at the end of one day. He was very morose and sitting in his trailer while the Merry Men are all sitting around, having a better together. I said, “Come and join us,” and he said, “No, I can’t. I just don’t understand what’s going on. I’m out there and I’m doing my thing and not once did Ridley cover me in a close-up. I don’t understand. Isn’t this an important part of the story? I’m not trying to overstate my contribution here…” And I was like, “Bill, he’s got five cameras going. Five cameras, four takes. And between each take, he’s gonna change the lens and change the way the camera moves. I guarantee you, he’s got more close-ups than you shake a stick at.”
Scott: It’s a preference or a choice for an actor as to what you prefer – to know where the camera is or to simply forget about it.
Crowe: Me, I like to live in the world. I spend all the time that I need during a rehearsal situation. I look at where they are; I ask what lens they have on…I’ve got a pretty good idea what he’s gonna get. But I also have that thing – and this comes from growing up in smaller films – where you don’t want to waste an inch of footage. You have to be aware of the camera movement and what the camera’s doing. It’s just in a much more fluid sense when you’re on-set with Ridley.
Scott: I came to it through watching actors get frustrated when you do it a take and I’m watching the actor off camera and I’m saying, “Save it!” Except he’s not saving it. He’s giving it to him. So by the time you’ve come around, he’s done; he’s cooked. So with two cameras, you adjust the light a little bit – there’s not much of a compromise – and once you do that, you suddenly think, “Hey, we can put four, six cameras in here.” If you regard each short sequence as a playlet, a play, then you’re covering maybe a minute-and-a-half, two minutes, and it’s better for the actor who’s acting through the play without the stop-and-pull of individual takes.
Crowe: And it’s better for the editor. Everything that happens in front of those six cameras is mathematically related. So it’s easier to cut together. I first had that experience prior to working with Ridley when I was working with Michael Mann and Al Pacino. He was gonna run two cameras on everything. I like to work in the first three takes and Al likes to use the first thirty to warm up. So Michael just decided that he was gonna get everything and anything that happens…The assumption would be that going from one camera to six cameras adds a lot of money. But what you’re talking about is being able to achieve more in any given hour of the day. So you take your six cameras and, yes, functionally, you have a cost that’s a multiple of six, but that multiple of six counts in your favor with everything you shoot. We were doing a little comedy in the south of France and the crew, after a few days, went to the producer and said, “I don’t know what this man is doing. He’s going to kill us. We’re doing 70 set-ups before lunchtime. It’s supposed to be a comedy!” But that’s just the way he likes to work.
Hollywood News: This film seemed to have a long development process. Can you talk about what took so long?
Scott: What you’re about to hear is totally normal and very everyday, and happens on almost every project.
Crowe: If you look at the two and half years between when we were first given the idea and the last day of shooting…People try to pump it up like it was falling apart, that this was going on, or that was going on. The reality is that we took a normal, responsible period of time to develop a story into a feature film that was shootable within a confined period of time. Some of the things that were printed were simply because we couldn’t answer the question at the time. Are you gonna play more than one character? Well, the central part of Robin Hood, one of things is disguise and deception, so I take on somebody else’s persona. So I can’t answer “no” to that question, right, but I can’t fully explain the reality of that because it’s giving away one of the fun bits of the plot. But not being able to answer it fully, you leave this massive grounds for interpretation. People were just running with the answer and creating something completely different out of it. I think you’ve gotta take the time period it needs for you to get on top of it.
Also, there was a real thing that happened when a certain series of dates was put forward. It’s gonna be a very bleak landscape if we’re shooting in England in January. We had shot a part of Gladiator in England in January. You can’t do your first shot until 9:30 in the morning and you’re done by 2:30 in the afternoon…Trying to get that amount of artillery and horses in place when you’re dealing with a foot and a half of mud…January’s not a great time to shoot epic battles in England. Once you’ve had a film like Gladiator, once that’s in your background, everybody’s gonna hold everything else you do up to that. We never try to functionally live up to that, but we do apply the same methodology: No matter what is going on, we get up every day, and before this day is done we’re going to have done something special.
Hollywood News: Does that mean you have a lot of extra footage that might make it on the DVD or Blu-ray release?
Scott: There’s 17 minutes more. It’s not a lot, actually. The first cut on this was three hours and four minutes. And did it work? Yes. Because everything was fresh. You live to see rushes. When I’m shooting, the reward is the rushes. That’s the fun of it. You get a day of rushes, you’re walking on air. For the most part, losing fifteen or twenty minutes is pretty average. But the 17 minutes we took out is going straight into the DVD…It’s exactly the same film except there are a few areas, a few scenes…
Crowe: A few grace notes in terms of the characters.
Scott: A person sitting in their living room with a can of beer or a glass of wine, watching, is a different person than the person sitting in a theater with a lot of people. It’s a different head-set. You’re more likely, when you’re in your own living room, to watch three hours when you can pause, get up, have a pee, get another glass of wine, come back and resume. It’s a different experience.
Crowe: Film’s also a strange medium. You can take what’s on a page where you think you need these four moments to fully explain this relationship, but when you’ve shot it and you look at the shots, you realize, “Oh, that two-second look from Marion supersedes these four scenes.” So you don’t need to explain it and you can take those four scenes and put them away.
Hollywood News: Do you feel like the test-screening process helps at all?
Crowe: He hates it, but I say, “You gotta do it, man.” I know it’s hard, but funnily enough, I felt that it gave you another burst of energy.
Scott: One thing’s for sure…Nothing is for sure. Whatever you think, you don’t know anything. The value of a screening is that you think that something really works and then a third of the audience sees something that you knew in the back of your mind was kinda wriggling, and you go, “F*ck, I gotta deal with that.” It’s an endorsement that it’s a problem.
“ROBIN HOOD” TRAILER