DETECTIVE FUTURE PAST
Once again, Rick Deckard, Blade Runner, pursues escaping Replicants.
Articles & Interviews by Randy & Jean-Marc Lofficier
OF ELECTRIC SHEEP
Hampton Fancher fashioned a script from Phil Dick’s novel
In his rewrite, David Peoples added an element of detection
As visual futurist, Syd Mead illustrated brave new worlds
ARCHITECT OF THE FUTURE
Building Ridleyville was Lawrence C. Paull’s mission
Assembling it all, Ridley Scott crafted a SF masterwork
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OF ELECTRIC SHEEP
Hampton Fancher fashioned a script from Phil Dick’s novel
Co-writer Hampton Fancher is also credited as executive producer of Blade Runner because he is the man who, in 1975, conceived of turning the book into a film.
He’s an actor who appeared in 10 movies and some 100 TV shows. Blade Runner was his first script. Although his attention was directed to Dick’s novel in 1975, Fancher had to wait until 1978, when rights to the book (previously under another option) became available again. Fancher previously discussed writing Blade Runner in Starlog #58.
STARLOG: What first attracted you to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
HAMPTON FANCHER: I had been what you might call an underground filmmaker, and never got a chance to get anything that I had written, and that I wanted to direct, off the ground. Over the years. I eventually learned that the way to do that was to do something that was commercially feasible. It was around 1975, and I decided to look for a property that had some kind of commercial feasibility. I’m not a science fiction fan, and I am ignorant of science fiction, but someone suggested that I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I saw in it a possibility.
I didn’t think of writing it or directing it. I just thought that, if I got something like that going as a producer, it would put me into more familiar ground with front-office Hollywood. So. I decided to option the book.
Philip Dick turned out to be very elusive. His agent didn’t even know where he was. I ran into Ray Bradbury one day, after 1 had given up trying to find Dick. and he gave me Dick’s phone number So, I called him. But Dick was very suspicious of Hollywood, and of me. I met him, and we had three meetings over a few weeks. Even though we made contact, he continued to be elusive, and though we liked each other, I felt that he thought I was a “Hollywood” producer. But I wasn’t: I was just a filmmaker trying to do this because I felt it could be an interesting film. I didn’t have an approach to it. I was naive enough to think that he might!
We didn’t get anywhere, and finally, I dropped it. Then, a few years later, in 1978, a friend of mine. Brian Kelly, the movie’s other executive producer, was looking for something to do. I just mentioned the book to him, saying to do it if he could. He succeeded rapidly! I guess Dick needed the money. There was nothing like what I went through. He just called the agent, and within a day, he owned the property.
Brian was a fairly well-known actor [from the Flipper TV series], but had to drop out of acting after a motorcycle accident paralyzed him on the right side. He wanted something to do, and films were his love. At that point in time, he had made two films with Michael Deeley, the producer, in Europe. So, Brian took the property to Deeley, who read the book and said. “No way!”
Do Androids Dream… wasn’t the kind of thing that even someone who’s professionally involved could easily picture as a film. Dick is very obscure and purposefully ambiguous in his writing; maybe it would take a filmmaker to un- derstand how to deal with it. I didn’t even see how to deal with all the components. I just saw one simple thing that you could hang a lot onto, and which I thought would be intriguing: The “”bounty hunter chases androids” theme. There’s a Kafkaesque atmosphere about the book that I enjoyed. But there was also a whiff of something else in the book that I thought could be turned into something close to my heart. I didn’t think that then, at least not consciously, but I must have subconsciously done so. or else I wouldn’t have pursued it.
But I didn’t have anything to do with it at that point. Then. Brian came back to me and explained that Deeley didn’t like the book, and he didn’t understand how it could be done as a movie. “What can I tell him?” Brian asked. I told him to say this and that. So, he asked me to write it down as an outline, which I did. It was basically a simplification of the novel in eight pages. He gave it to Deeley, who said no again. Brian came back to me distraught, and I felt guilty that I had talked him into spending $2,000.
Then, Brian entreated me into doing, if not a screenplay, at least a treatment. I refused at first, but Barbara Hershey, the actress, who knew about all of this, told me it was a perfect way to achieve what I was trying to do. If I believed that this was what I wanted to do, and if I wanted to make it happen, why didn’t I write it? So, I made a 50/50 deal with Brian, and I started work on the first draft.
The first two drafts were very much in keeping with the book’s themes. A problem that you can run into in Hollywood is that, if it reads well, they don’t know how to deal with it! But Deeley fell in love with it, and he made us feel that we had it made, and we felt that we had a producer with a lot of power, because he had just won an Academy Award [for The Deer Hunter] and many people were romancing him.
Still, none of the studios would say yes. I realized later that we were going to make a movie that nobody understood. There were four or five drafts. I lost my naïveté and got more experienced in what was needed, and adapted scenes that were in the first drafts into better substance.
STARLOG: Did you leave out the book’s religion of Mercerism, for instance?
FANCHER: I don’t think Mercerism even got past the first draft. I was going to put it back in, but didn’t because I finally didn’t know what to do with it. The next thing that went — and that was terrible for me, for I still love these old drafts — was Buster Friendly, and what I had done with him.
Basically, at that point, the plot was that of a man trying to get enough money to buy himself a real goat. That was still in when Ridley came on. Everybody liked it, but they were afraid of it. I was dealing with people who didn’t have the same commitment to Mother Earth. It was a bitter struggle and it took a year! In a sense, they won, but in another sense, the educational process for me in terms of writing was worth it. Eventually, I came up with a much more important theme, which was even closer to my heart: The empathy theme, what’s wrong with man.
STARLOG: You mean that Deckard’s character changed from someone looking to buy an animal, to someone who’s now questioning his concepts of what’s right and what’s wrong?
FANCHER: Right! I was always trying for that, but I finally got it more simplified and defined. It got so good by the last script I thought I was in good shape! What got refined in the last three drafts was the theme of a man who was questioning his own conscience, or lack of one, and that the very thing the hero was trying to kill for being a machine, was in fact, less mechanical than he was!
It was that discovery of his own soul, falling in love with the thing he had to kill. It was an agonizing process for that man, and a dramatic one too.
STARLOG: How did Ridley Scott get involved?
FANCHER: There were four drafts written, and a very fine director came in for awhile, but had trouble with the studio we were dealing with at the time, Universal. That’s Robert Mulligan, whom I respected a lot, and who was very neat to work with [Mulligan directed Summer of ’42, The Other, To Kill a Mockingbird]. We did one draft together, and then we couldn’t make sense financially with Universal. So, Mulligan left, and then we left Universal. They weren’t committed yet, and they wanted a “Happy Ending.” Mulligan and I wouldn’t do it.
Right around that time, Ridley, who had been sent the script and liked it, but didn’t want to do another SF picture, changed his mind and decided to do it. He, of course, was the reason the movie got made. We were in trouble because everyone said, “You’ve got to have a director, because this is too weird a film. You need a director to insure its value.”
It was true in a sense. Two days after Ridley got into town and talked to us, every studio in town called and said, “How much do you want, and when do you want to go?” So, we made a deal with Filmways, and then they went, “Pffft!” Ridley is very imaginative and many-faceted, quirky and fun to work with, but difficult to tie down. I found myself getting excited about many things, and disliking many other things. We had a real basic disagreement on certain sentiments. It was an arduous process, as well as a fulfilling one, and certainly a very educational one.
STARLOG: Was there no way to work out these problems?
FANCHER: No way! I didn’t think that, because Ridley never made me think that. On a dialectical level, when it came to those areas that I disagreed on, and felt justified in disagreeing, I would usually win the argument and feel satisfied that my point had been proven. But two or three weeks later, we would have the same argument all over again! He was just steadfastly hooked into wanting things that I wouldn’t do.
As pre-production began, and things really had to be nailed down, it got really hairy! I wasn’t a hired writer, so it wasn’t as if Ridley could say to me, “Do this and that,” and I would do it. I was also a producer. Finally, I said — because it was Ridley’s film in the end — “If you’re going to do that, you’re going to have to get somebody else to do it, because I won’t!”
I didn’t think he would do it, because the time was too short. We came up with what I thought; and what many people think, was a very wonderful script. It has all those things that I wanted. But they did get somebody else, and it turned out to be David Peoples, just about two weeks before shooting started.
At the time, of course, I was very disturbed, because I didn’t know who David Peoples was. I thought that they had gotten a guy who was going to do anything Ridley wanted, and it was going to wreck the film.
Later, I found out that David did a really good job of translating Ridley’s ideas into script. I was going to go into [Writer’s Guild] arbitration about it. I didn’t know whether I wanted my name or his name off [the screen credit], but I was going to do something about it, until I got the script. Then, I thought, “Hey, this guy is neat!” I really liked his work, and then, the animosity, jealousy and all that stuff disappeared. Now, we’ve become friends!
What was disappointing was that I don’t think even David’s stuff came across, because of how it was tampered with by people who weren’t writers, but producers, secretaries, associate producers, directors. There’s a discombobulation, a lack of cohesion and coherency.
STARLOG: What do you think of Blade Runner being promoted as a detective story of the future?
FANCHER: That was Ridley’s idea. That’s the first idea that I gave in to. I hated it! What happened was that after literally three months of fighting, I gave in, and decided to fall in love with it instead, because it was, after all, a way to get everything through. It’s a wonderful thing in a movie if you can, on a superficial level, get people to be hooked and then, just below that, have a message.
I was against it at first because I thought it was a cliche and very unoriginal, but when I saw his graphic ideas about how to handle it, in a kind of Gothic or Kafkaesque manner, I started to think, “Wouldn’t it be interesting, we could have a voiceover narration and all that kind of character.” I originally had Deckard as a little bureaucrat, a guy who wasn’t too sure of himself, but then I thought that it was better to have an extremely macho guy and then have him cut down so he doesn’t know where he’s coming from.
That’s what I started doing by the sixth draft, and eventually, I think I arrived at it in the last draft, number 10! But they didn’t even go for that, and they left the underpart out. Ridley didn’t want any vulnerability, but at the same time, he didn’t make Deckard macho.
The deepest thing I had was the love story. I don’t think they ever saw it as a love story. For me, the most noble person in the film, the person with the most to lose and who was willing to lose it, was Rachael. I liked matching her against a macho jerk who was totally sexist-oriented in that stupid detective way. Then, through her, he becomes otherwise — but he still loses her.
STARLOG: Why was the world changed from being empty to being overcrowded?
FANCHER: I guess it was just looking at New York, Mexico City and what’s happening now. Which was a great idea!
Many of Ridley’s visual and atmospheric concepts are interesting. My atmosphere was much more naive. I didn’t really create much of a world. You could have pretty much taken my first draft and put it on a [theatrical] stage. There weren’t many exterior scenes, there wasn’t much hardware. It was basically a small drama being done for $9 million.
STARLOG: Do you agree with Dick’s rather bleak view of the future?
FANCHER: Not necessarily, but bleakness to me is watching a tourist suck an ice cream cone!
Any kind of art that moves or inspires you, and has something that’s bleak about it, can be a strong inspiration and can make your life bigger. Definitely everything I did up to the last draft was a warning. I had to have something I was saying, or else I couldn’t have written it!
I wasn’t advocating bleakness, of course, I was warning about it, and empathy had much to do with it. But there was, always, even in the bleakest of my drafts, a lesson that engendered hope.
I wanted the last moment to be a thrill. I like proposing some hard questions that way.
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In his rewrite, David Peoples added an element of detection
Co-writer David Peoples co-wrote and co-edited an Academy Award-winning documentary feature, The Day After Trinity, which chronicled the making of the first atomic bomb. He also wrote the Oscar-nominated short Arthur and Lilly, and edited the Oscar-winning documentary feature Who are the DeBolts and Where Did They Get 19 Kids?
A man of many talents, Peoples’ collaboration on Blade Runner began in 1980, at Ridley Scott’s request, before principal photography commenced. Peoples also discussed his work in Starlog #58.
STARLOG: How did you get involved?
DAVID PEOPLES: During the period I was doing documentaries, I had written several original screenplays. I was actually working on rewriting one of these with Tony Scott, Ridley’s director brother [Starlog #107], when Tony showed Ridley one of my screenplays and spoke well of me. Ridley must have liked my work, because he called me, and that’s how I ended up on Blade Runner.
STARLOG: Did you work with Hampton Fancher on Blade Runner?
PEOPLES: No, I didn’t meet Hampton until we had both finished working.
STARLOG: Why did they bring you in as a writer?
PEOPLES: Hampton had reached a point where I don’t believe he wanted to pursue it and make some of the changes that Ridley wanted. But he had written on it for a long time, and must have felt pretty tired of it. Also, there were some changes that I don’t think he was very enthusiastic about. He just said that they should have somebody else make them, and Ridley thought I would be a good person to make them.
In many instances, I picked up right where Hampton had left off, and did probably exactly what he would have done. There was a scene between Deckard and another character where I found that Hampton’s dialogue, which he had written months before and hadn’t been picked up for one reason or another, was written exactly the way I would have written it!
STARLOG: Had you already read Dick’s novel?
PEOPLES: No, and I didn’t refer to his book when I was writing. I referred only to Hampton’s screenplay. From my point-of-view, Hampton’s script was what I was working from. The script that Hampton had written before I got there was absolutely brilliant. It was just wonderful! When I saw it, I was terrified! I thought I was going to embarrass myself because it was just so good! The changes I made were really to make it more in line with Ridley’s vision.
It was definitely not the case of a bad screenplay being fixed up. Ridley has a very unique and brilliant vision of the world, and he wanted to fit more of that in there.
STARLOG: Had Ridley much input into the script?
PEOPLES: Absolutely! Ridley is the author of the movie in every sense of the word. He is a complete author. It’s his movie and he dominates every frame of it with his way of looking at things.
STARLOG: How was working with him?
PEOPLES: He is very much a perfectionist, and you must work very hard. But he couldn’t be more charming, or a more pleasant person to work with. Ridley surrounds himself with people who are pleasant people, and it’s a wonderful atmosphere. He is also extraordinary in that he is open and receptive to ideas from everyone. He’s always listening. He’s polite enough to listen even when he knows he’s going to do it differently!
STARLOG: Did you find Blade Runner difficult to write, considering the heavy emphasis on visuals?
PEOPLES: No. I didn’t have that problem because Ridley was supervising at all times, and he understood the visual aspects perfectly. Sure, there were times when I didn’t fully understand what I was doing, but Ridley always understood what he was doing and where he was going. I was doing what I was told to do, and it worked out fine.
STARLOG: Don’t you think that spectacular visual FX tend to take away from a storyline or from the characters?
PEOPLES: Obviously, if they do, it screws up the movie. To a writer, of course, the story is always the important thing. But people go to the movies to see stories and spectacles, because you do have good stories on TV after all. So, there must be that balance where you’re not only telling a good story, but you also have that sense of something special that makes it a movie and a theatrical experience rather than a television experience.
STARLOG: Did you have any problems writing scenes around sets that had already been built?
PEOPLES: All along, there were things that were absolutely locked into the story, because people had been working on building this and that and so on. There were times when I would want to write something one way, and the set had already been built another! It was a strange sensation to think that these things were happening even as you wrote the words down on the paper.
STARLOG: Was there heavy pressure to get the script done on time?
PEOPLES: Yes, there was a great deal of pressure because the sets were being built, the casting was underway, and the picture had to go on schedule because a certain amount of money was being spent every day, and you couldn’t go into a holding pattern at that stage.
STARLOG: What do you think of Phil Dick’s rather dark vision of the future?
PEOPLES: When people do scientific or future stories, what they’re looking for is a way to talk about now. So, I don’t think we’re talking about the future here. I think people are looking at now in an exaggerated way.
So, when you talk about the future in Blade Runner, it’s not a case of whether I agree with it or anything: it’s a case of looking at the exaggeration of what’s happening now. The cities in Blade Runner are bigger than the cities we have, but the cities we have are enormous! It’s a way of seeing the present through different eyes. It’s like an artists’ rendering of something. If it strikes a chord in people and they say. “Yes, that’s what’s happening,’’ then the artist has really gotten to the people.
That’s where Blade Runner is different from something that’s a fantasy like Star Wars, where you’re released from the present. Blade Runner is more vital in some ways, because it is not a fantasy.
Alternatively, if you showed a bright vision that rang true, then that too would be one you could agree with. There isn’t one single way of painting the world. This is an extraordinary vision, and I think people will find that Blade Runner strikes something in them.
STARLOG: What would you say is the film’s point?
PEOPLES: The point that appealed to me was, when is a person no longer a person? Because he is not born from a womb?
STARLOG: Wouldn’t you say that part of Dick’s point was about the nature of reality? Like this obsession with the electric sheep?
PEOPLES: Ridley wanted to dwell on the animal theme, and I know Hampton’s draft had a lot about it, but somehow we never found the proper way of making it an important part of the picture.
STARLOG: Is Blade Runner SF, or a detective story that just happens to occur in the future?
PEOPLES: It’s a detective story all right, even more than it is SF. It’s also a love story—all of that, but set in the future. I don’t think it has ever been done before, at least in the movies. Unless you count Alphaville, and that’s nothing like Blade Runner.
* * *
As visual futurist, Syd Mead illustrated brave new worlds
For Blade Runner, Syd Mead designed a future. His work lends a credibility to the film’s world. As design concept consultant (credited in the movie as Visual Futurist), Mead created the many visual representations of the future’s machines and products.
Mead, a famed industrial design consultant (his credits include Ford, Chrysler, US Steel and many others), contributed to Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Tron. His book Sentinel presents a remarkable overview of his career. Mead previously outlined his work in Starlog #58.
STARLOG: Working on Blade Runner must have been a new experience.
SYD MEAD: Yes, I had never worked on a major production from zero to the finished print until this one. The little bit I did on Star Trek—designing V’Ger, its exterior, some concept sketches for the interior—was at the tail end of the movie. But with Blade Runner, I was involved from blank paper all the way through the end, which was exciting.
STARLOG: What is your background?
MEAD: It’s primarily industrial design. I’ve been typecast as a vehicular, or a transport type of designer, but I’ve done product design and fantasy illustration. When Ridley Scott came to LA, I was hired to do five vehicles. They had to be started on right away because they took the longest to make. That was the reason for hiring me: The vehicles.
STARLOG: How did you grow to be more involved with the film?
MEAD: The first designs I submitted to Ridley and [production designer] Larry Paull. You see, I don’t like to do sketches isolated on a white sheet. I like to bury the design into its setting so it looks like it’s supposed to look when it’s going to be in use. So, I started putting in background indications, having read the script and heard discussions, and I started to get the visual feel Ridley was after.
He liked some of those visualizations, so he said to me, “Why don’t you see what you can do with the street sets?” And, at that time, they decided to use the Burbank Studios to avoid the cost of flying actors and props around the country. So, we redressed its New York set. I took photos of the street and just did a tempera sketch to show how I would dress those sets to match the film’s look. That progressed into interior sets, specifically Sebastian’s laboratory, Deckard’s apartment kitchen and bathroom. In each of those, there was a specific picture quality that Ridley determined and outlined.
STARLOG: How did you approach the design problems involved?
MEAD: My background in industrial design helped in several instances: one, for example, was the entry system for Deckard’s apartment building. We needed a dramatic device or sequence by which you had to get into this high-security building. The current state of the art is a magnetic card. That’s not very dramatic or future-looking. So, we refined it a bit. You push the card into a slot and the computer in the building identifies you and lets you enter that particular door. My knowledge of these kinds of technological accomplishments allowed me to fine-tune it with screens, voice identification, etc. The device acquires an image which makes the audience: One, appreciate the technology: and two, enhance the dramatic needs of that particular scene.
STARLOG: Why is the Blade Runner decor all old and dingy?
MEAD: We set up a sociological sort of theory of why the world would be that way in interpreting the original story, and then the script.
The theory was, that the heavy industry or high technology was concentrating so much on off-world accomplishments that it was taking all of the available capital, maybe as much as 70 percent of it, to accomplish what they were doing in space. As a result, the consumer base wasn’t being serviced properly. You didn’t have a new toaster, car or shaver, a new device available for shelf sale every year as we do now. That then produced the recycling of old things, or redressing them to make them work better or longer, which meant that you had an after-market to supply bits and pieces of stuff, parts, technological add-on blocks, and you just put these on the car or refrigerator to make them work better because there’s no new model.
This approach produced an accumulative sort of lumpy, knobby look, because everything was “retrofitted” with bits and pieces to make it work.
STARLOG: Whose concept was this?
MEAD: Ridley would, in detail, describe what he was thinking about and what he wanted it to look like. He’s very visual himself because he’s an artist. He would draw sketches.
One striking example is the Voight-Kampf polygraph. He specifically said to me: “I want it to be very delicate but look very menacing, sort of like a tarantula sitting on your desk.” It had to be small enough to be a briefcase device. It had a thick cable underneath the desk going to a remote control box, but in essence, it was a very delicate device which sort of unfolded by itself. It had an optical thing that followed you and was centered on your face, because the idea was that it watched your iris opening. When you get very nervous, your iris contracts, and it showed this on a small TV screen. The person operating the device would watch the iris’ opening and closing, which is analyzed by a computer. Plus the fact that Ridley wanted it to look “alive.” So, we had a bellows built into it.
The idea was that there is a science of smell. They suspect that there are molecules called pheromones that come off a person, and your nose picks these up. So, this machine would literally “breathe” with its bellows, very slightly, drawing in air samples and analyzing them along with the iris contractions. That’s a specific cross-over between Ridley’s visually exact direction and coming up with a workable prop.
STARLOG: How did you interface with production designer Lawrence Paull?
MEAD: Larry’s job was to have the things built—everything, the vehicles, the sets—and have them built to something resembling a budget, and putting up with the changes in scenes! Some scenes were built or were in progress, then were written out of the picture!
I’ll give you an example: I went to Europe, and at the time I was designing a beautiful Chinese tea machine for this restaurant where Deckard eats. When I came back with the sheaf of sketches, the scene had been totally written out! I think my designs ended up as a food cart on the street.
Larry’s job was also to make the sets actually buildable. What I did was to supply some visualizations of the specific things needed to make the film look the way it does.
STARLOG: Did you design things that couldn’t be built?
MEAD: All the time! Larry did an amazing job because he had to have things constructed that were going to be very expensive. Of course, some things were just written out because of cost factors. There was a train scene, for example, that was in the original script.
Deckard was on the train going towards the City that was at the time called San Angeles. That was written out, because to rent an actual train or find an old one and redress it for a minute-long scene just wasn’t worth it!
Another example: Originally, the film’s ambience was going to be cold, but they found out what the cost was going to be to ship all the sets to Michigan or Wisconsin to get them to freeze. So, instead, it became misty, hot, with sweltering rains.
STARLOG: Why do the streets look so crowded and poor?
MEAD: That look evolved progressively. One of the backgrounds of the vehicle sketches—I think it was the taxi—was reflecting the sociological theories we were discussing at the time. The City had grown to where buildings were 3,000 feet high. I made a scale drawing showing the World Trade Center Towers—they’re about 1,200 feet—then upped it to 2,000 feet, and then added another 1,000 feet because we’re in Year 2020. When you start to get this scale, you realize that the street level would really serve as access to the building maintenance system. If you had to live next to the street, you would see nothing outside your windows, except machinery and stuff. So, I thought, “We’ll have a rentals service where you can rent a view!” which means a box that you snap over your window. You have a flat-screen TV—which is technologically feasible right now—then you can have a nice jungle with birds flying by.
Of course, when everyone has one of these, it produces a warehouse-like look to old apartment buildings. It has a non-inhabited look.
Then, you would have big power conduits going up the outside of these old buildings. There would be no use tearing them down. You may take the whole inside out and remodel the entire interior.
STARLOG: Isn’t doing so much research a bit extravagant for a film?
MEAD: No, it’s just professional. The amount of detail you can achieve depends on the money. With enough time and money, you could duplicate the Taj Mahal. In the old cathedrals, the backs of stone figures that you can’t see were carved as well because whoever did them attached their own mentality to what they were creating. I think the density of detail is very important.
STARLOG: Yes, but does it make any difference to the spectator?
MEAD: I think it does. It becomes more believable. If you look at a matte shot and see traffic lights blinking, and you see a car fly by or a little rustle of paper down there, it might cost thousands of dollars for that one little movement, but it makes the entire thing more believable. Incidental movement and details enhance the reality, which is what you’re really trying to do.
STARLOG: How much of your designs are based on valid scientific concepts?
MEAD: That depends. In doing Deckard’s kitchen, we had to have things that looked like kitchen items. So, if you have a flat surface, maybe that’s a griddle. We had this fat sort of rolled-edge thing laying on it, and you don’t know what that does—and I don’t either! [Laughs.] But it looks like something which belongs there. Like, you buy ready-made hamburgers, and they’re stored in there, freeze-dried. All of these things aren’t scientific, but produce a look, and you can fine-tune that visual look any way you want.
STARLOG: What about the Spinners?
MEAD: Ah, the principle of that is scientific; it’s the aerodyne which is an enclosed lift system. It’s a valid principle, through which you just direct the exhaust downward. If you equal the vehicle’s weight, it lifts off the ground.
When Ridley and I had our first meeting, he said, “We have a flying car; that will be your biggest problem.” He didn’t want rotating blades or fold-out wings. He wanted a real car that would just lift off the ground and fly without changing shape. That way, it would always be recognizable. It made more sense technologically to have something that could land and take off in its own space.
STARLOG: Designs that didn’t work?
MEAD: Interestingly, yes. We had to design a special gun for Deckard. Ridley didn’t want lasers, because that has been overdone. So, we came up with a kind of projectile which maybe had its own propellant built into it. They went shopping around and found a kind of flare gun, a big, heavy kind, and put some things on it to make it fancier. We tried various colored flashes out of the muzzle, but my own original design for the gun wasn’t used. In fact, it became a telephone, because when the sketch was lying upside down, it looked like a futuristic headset telephone! [Laughs]
STARLOG: Any ideas totally changed?
MEAD: Yes, Sebastian’s truck. We had to come up with a truck that Sebastian, who was a tinkerer, might have built from things he found. The problem is what you would find in a junkyard 40 years from now. I started off with a streamlined version of an old ambulance he might have bought, but it looked too much like a motor home. Then, we went into a completely new direction and assumed he might have gotten hold of an off-center cab chassis. So, we built a cabin on its back, and incorporated all sorts of technological scraps, and it grew just like it would have grown had he done it as we supposed.
STARLOG: How was it to see your designs actually built?
MEAD: It was exhilarating! Most of the things I design are never built, because I work in a theoretical kind of area. But having something actually fabricated is fantastic because it does prove to me that my research, my ideas, were correct.
* * *
ARCHITECT OF THE FUTURE
Building Ridleyville was Lawrence C. Paull’s mission
The mean streets of Blade Runner‘s future boom with life, full of texture and color. Making the film’s bold design come alive are production designer Lawrence G. Paull, art director David Snyder and their staffs. Working closely with Ridley Scott and Syd Mead, Paull built an incredible future world, its street set dubbed “Ridleyville.”
Paull, a production designer whose film and TV credits include How to Beat the High Cost of Living and The Last American Hero, describes Blade Runner as one of the most draining and difficult projects on which he has ever worked. For one three-week period, he never left the studios, and had changes of clothes delivered to him. By the shoot’s end, he had lost 15 pounds. Still, he relives with enthusiasm his experiences on Blade Runner.
STARLOG: You haven’t done any SF pictures before?
LAWRENCE G. PAULL: No. One of the things I have to be rather clear on is that I don’t consider Blade Runner to be a SF film. I have always considered it a period piece; it’s just that the period we’re doing is 40 years from now, instead of, say, 1940.
The only other thing close to SF that I’ve ever gotten involved with was a picture which unfortunately never got made. That was years ago at MGM, something called Pyramid, which Doug Trumbull was going to direct. A good percentage of it got designed. We had storyboarded the entire picture, but the studio decided not to do it!
What I try to do for myself is to not be typecast as doing SF films, period pieces or whatever. I try to do a mixture whenever possible, although I happen to love period pieces! My background is architectural, as opposed to Syd Mead’s, which is industrial design, so we have a different attitude towards design. What I found interesting in Blade Runner was that it was set only 40 years in the future, so you’re projecting forward as to what a city will look like, what the environment will be, the attitudes of the people. So, you build up a whole thesis really, before you sit down and start designing. It gives you a very concrete approach to the problem, and the results can be good, or bad. Take a look at the inner cities in New York or Hong Kong; that’s where the world is going.
STARLOG: How did you get involved?
PAULL: I was called in for an interview. Ridley and I were able to communicate; he felt he could work with me.
STARLOG: Did you have any input in the background designs?
PAULL: Yes. absolutely. Syd was involved initially in automobile designs, and what I would call the design of the hardware. When I met Syd. when I first got involved, he had already had preliminary discussions with Ridley for the vehicles’ look and style. As time went on, the vehicles evolved. It didn’t just happen magically. What happened was that when Syd was doing some illustrations for some of the vehicles, he put in some of the city, pieces of buildings. Ridley and I liked what was happening, so we took Syd out to where we were going to create the City. We sat down and did a lot of brainstorming.
Syd is an incredible illustrator, and he came back with many interesting things that were drawn up. It was a combination of what I had said. Ridley’s input and Syd’s own ideas.
STARLOG: How did you achieve that retrofitted look?
PAULL: All of the hosing, turbine and blocks of foam were added onto the buildings. The idea is that the building’s mechanics have deteriorated, and people go outside to buy additive types of mechanical devices to service them. Consequently, you get a building style where it has just built up layers.
We also tried to make the streets look very claustrophobic. We designed it in such a way that it is. in many areas, similar to Milan, where the buildings actually come out right to the curb and feature covered arcades with columns.
It wasn’t going to be all straight modern glass and steel buildings. Somewhere along the line, somebody had said. ’’Let’s get back to a more decorative type of architectural motif.” So, there were these massive columns holding up monolithic buildings.
Then, there were air of the interior spaces. Syd was also involved in these, designing the hardware. We collaborated on the decoration of Deckard’s apartment. I had done rough designs which I gave him. We also went through various types of research books. We looked through electronic gadgets catalogs—a portable, battery-operated vacuum cleaner was used as a hair-dryer. The purpose was to find things with a hi-tech look and stick them here and there.
Then, there’s the rest of the movie. The responsibility for getting Syd’s and Ridley’s ideas done and designed right was mine. Besides the City, which was one set, there were 20 or 25 interior sets, which we sat down and designed basically from scratch. They were of the future somewhat, but not all. Many times, we also drew from the past.
STARLOG: And that dingy look?
PAULL: We didn’t call it that, but all of the streets and the interiors of many of the buildings had a lot of trash. It wasn’t just paper trash or garbage trash, it was all like hi-tech trash. We used all sorts of airplane parts, engine parts and just broke them all apart. We had barrels of them—55 gallons of hi-tech trash! The point was that we had to have trash that looked like it was part of the buildings and cars which deteriorated on the spot, and just have it lay there. It also gave us an added texture—it looks a lot different than if we had just taken paper and threw it all around.
STARLOG: Did you have any problems assembling any of Mead’s designs?
PAULL: The only thing pertaining to Syd that we had a difficult time with was the Voight-Kampf machine. We had a great deal of difficulty making its mechanics work in the size that we wanted to make it. We started over from scratch again a second time, and we finally got it to work.
We also had some difficulties with some of the vehicles because of the time factor involved. What we were asked to do was come up with five different types of vehicles in a five-month span from design to finish. There were a total of 28 or so vehicles. When you think about that in terms of how long it takes General Motors to pull together a custom car—and we were talking about 28 of them in five different styles! They all had to run. They all had to be designed and drawn up for working drawings so that someone had something to go with on them. Our biggest problem was time.
Blade Runner was so encompassing—what we were doing was really creating a total environment, from cars to what a city looked like, including parking meters, light standards, mail box chutes, whether you have newspapers or not. In this instance, we took the premise that there would be no newspapers in 40 years. Everything is going to come over video machines. With the time limitations, such a total approach to design takes a great deal out of you.
STARLOG: Was starting with the New York Street set easier than setting up a new set from scratch?
PAULL: I don’t think it was a matter of easier or not; it had to be done that way, period! Many of the buildings on the set stayed as they were; the only things we changed was that we would add the retrofitting, transformers, hosing, pipes, all these strange connector devices.
Had we started from scratch, we would have had to build the old buildings first, and then do the retrofitting on top of it. There are several factors to consider: time, the budget, but also, where do you build such a set? You have to find a very large soundstage that you can tie up for months, and that’s very expensive!
STARLOG: What came first, the street set or the vehicles?
PAULL: The vehicles. Then, we got involved in some of the interior sets. I had put together an entire art department and we laid out a schedule of what our priorities were. I had three fellows working on executing drawings for just the street and another three doing just the sets.
STARLOG: Was the fact that some designs were written out frustrating?
PAULL: It’s somewhat frustrating, yes. But what’s sad about it is you’ve wasted all of that money and time.
I remember one specific, very large set that I designed—it was an interior set. It got halfway built and then, one day, someone said we were going to cut it out. Apparently, it was budgetary, and they were concerned about the flow of one scene through to the next. There was a lot of “shoe work” in this movie, people walking from one scene to another, as opposed to just dramatically cutting.
In this particular instance, even though I had already spent “x” amount of dollars, they just didn’t want to spend the extra time—a few days—to shoot it.
With Ridley, there were always changes to be made. That’s his modus operandi. Ridley likes to see things, and then he’ll start playing with them and change them. So, we had much more of that, instead of having something started and then totally yanked. We would have something that was 3/4 or perhaps totally built, and then Ridley would change his mind. Sometimes, that would happen, but other times it would be fine.
STARLOG: Did you enjoy speculating on the future?
PAULL: Oh yes, very much, because it was based on concepts in reality that we thought were very valid. One of the things I like about Blade Runner’s look is that people are able to see the buildings that they still see today in downtown LA, Chicago or whatever. So, when they see the interiors, [showing] 40 years from now, they can relate to them. I found a lot of reality in the film, and it was a very stimulating experience.
STARLOG: Did you have to design electric animals?
PAULL: We talked at one time about a white electric owl. We also made a bird, almost like a pterodactyl, for an early, early script. We had a special FX team working on it. It had wings that were five feet long, made out of a tubular structure in aluminum, with a synthetic skin over it. It was almost like building a model airplane—and it had to work! We flew it by remote control. But suddenly, it was just another of those things eliminated from the script.
STARLOG: Was there any problem in making things really work as they were supposed to?
PAULL: My only answer to that is—we are in the movie business and, by hook or by crook, one way or another, with the right people, I can always make it work! The vehicles were especially difficult because we didn’t have enough research and development time. Some of them leaked—we had rain throughout the whole film, so water got inside! Some of the vehicles had exhaust leaks into the interiors. On most of the cars, the window didn’t work, because that’s a whole big mechanical thing to arrange, and that takes time, so the windows were up, the exhaust and the rain leaked in—it was very uncomfortable inside, but nothing that we couldn’t overcome.
STARLOG: Did you work well with Scott and Mead?
PAULL: Oh, yes, I think so. There were tenuous times with Ridley because he’s also a designer, but he’s a very bright man and I have nothing but respect for him. It was an interesting 14 months.
* * *
Assembling it all, Ridley Scott crafted a SF masterwork
Blade Runner’s initial backer was Filmways Pictures, but the studio fell prey to severe financial difficulties. Alan Ladd Jr., with his new production house, The Ladd Company, took over. Oscar-winning producer Michael Deeley worked closely with director Ridley Scott, whom he had brought to the project.
Scott, of course, is noted for The Duellists, Thelma and Louise and most importantly to genre fans, Alien and Legend. Scott has previously discussed his work in Starlog #26. #60 ‘& #101.
Blade Runner was Scott’s first Hollywood feature. According to all who worked on it, it was very much the director’s own picture, reflecting his particular vision. In this interview, which took place before the film’s release, he takes a close look at Blade Runner.
RIDLEY SCOTT: It’s a curious film. It runs on two levels. It’s almost, in parts, philosophical. I hesitate to use the word with a commercial movie, but nevertheless, it is.
STARLOG: How did you get involved?
SCOTT: Funnily enough, I had been shown it a year-and-a-half before, by Michael Deeley, who developed it. I thought that the screenplay at that stage was very interesting. It was by Hampton Fancher. But the automatic reaction on my part, having read it, was to advise Mike that I thought it was a terrific screenplay, but that I didn’t want to do it because it touched ground with what I had just done, Alien. So, Mike automatically catalogued it as science fiction.
I had let it go, but it stuck with me while I was working on something else [a film version of Dune], I kept picking it up and looking at it, and suddenly I decided that I knew a way of doing it which, oddly enough, would have nothing to do with what I had just done! Because, in a funny way, it’s really like a contemporary movie, about relationships.
STARLOG: Were you already familiar with Philip K. Dick’s books?
SCOTT: I must admit that never in my life had I read a Philip K. Dick novel! I knew of him, obviously. I tried one of his novels, and found it extremely complex. Hampton Fancher had actually done a very interesting precis of the book, so it made it much easier for me.
STARLOG: Once you decided to get involved in Blade Runner why did you pick Syd Mead to design?
SCOTT: I was a designer, and I still come very strongly from that direction with all the projects I do. It so happens that it helps tremendously with the kind of material and subjects that attract me.
I had been aware of Syd’s work for two or three years. I had picked up his book Sentinel about two years beforehand. I thought it was very curious, very brilliant illustrations. You’ve got to look closely at the corners of those things as well, because there are some marvelous details in what’s basically hardware. So when it came to this project, Syd just sprang to my mind.
He was an industrial designer, and I was certain that he would love to speculate on the way that industrial design could go, on a rather more practical level than on that sleek level. So, I contacted Syd and he loved the idea.
We started with him designing the vehicles and then, eventually, he, in collaboration with production designer Larry Paull, started to move onto all sorts of other things: The streets, the buildings.
STARLOG: You must have collaborated a great deal to define the City’s look.
SCOTT: Yes. It’s a kind of verbal sculpting process over a period of time. I usually collect a huge number of photographs and references as a part of my preparation of a movie, [resulting in] a pasteboard filled with images of what could serve as references. Then, when the production designer comes in, I usually talk endlessly with him about the way I think it could go. They get sucked in and start to contribute.
It’s pretty well the same with everyone that I deal with in that area. I do have a lot to say about what I want it to look like, but at a certain point, I step back and, hopefully, I’ve chosen the right people and they get on with it.
STARLOG: In this instance, did you have any difficulties in getting the visualization of your ideas through?
SCOTT: No, because one of the most valuable things I think I ever learned from my schooling is that I can draw very well. I was an art student for seven years, so I should be able to!
I can draw storyboards, sketches. The entire communications process is done not as a verbal communication, but rather as a pictorial communication!
STARLOG: How much of the “Spinner” concept was yours, for example?
SCOTT: I originally thought the whole reason for me for doing this film, apart from thinking that the script was interesting, was that, again, in a funny kind of way like Alien, I could latch onto my own views of how I wanted to do it, how I could shape its look.
So, that look I wanted entailed a lot of air traffic within the City. I had envisaged traffic jams in the air, which I never really got because it would have been too expensive. But originally, we had two really marvelous opening sequences where you witnessed the most immense traffic jam at highway level. Then, Deckard gets out of his car, because he’s stuck, the police have called him to come in and he can’t. He taps on a digital device inside the car—a kind of lock-in device—and the car moves off on its own. Then, Deckard carefully nips his way through the traffic, which is still moving very slowly, like one mile an hour in a torrential rain, and he goes over the edge of the highway to what is in fact a huge, concrete mushroom. The mushroom reveals itself to be a landing platform. He sits up there, having coffee out of a machine on the wall with other businessmen. They’re all waiting to be picked up by air traffic from the lip of the platform. When his turn comes, the Spinner arrives, and that was the introduction of that machine. That was also an expensive sequence.
STARLOG: Blade Runner seems to have a lot of rain in it. Why?
SCOTT: If you decide to do a movie the way we did it, where we selected a studio backlot to do the whole picture in, you have to go to every great length to disguise it. Because most backlots you see in films look pretty cruddy. The use of rain on textures that we’ve created finely puts a layer on it, which pushes it over the edge into reality. It glues it all together, if you like! So, it helps.
The other side of things is that I thought of the idea of having a city with these monolithic buildings. Now, you’re looking at buildings which, on average, are the height of the Empire State Building or more. There are buildings which are twice that size. Therefore, it has created its own weather storms at a high level, its own precipitations.
STARLOG: Much of the visual look of the film seems reminiscent of some of the strips done by Moebius for Heavy Metal. [Approximately five years after this interview took place, the Lofficiers became Moebius’ partners].
SCOTT: I get inspiration from Moebius all the time! I think Moebius is possibly one of the greatest comic strip artists ever! He’s absolutely extraordinary. His drawing techniques are wonderful. His ideas, his observations and his humor—humor in every sense, whether it’s in the architecture, the clothing, the insolence—are really brilliant.
STARLOG: Did you storyboard the entire picture?
SCOTT: Pretty much. We storyboarded the most important sequences. Then, we had to restoryboard certain sequences, because they proved to be too expensive.
One of the, big tricks was how I was going to introduce Deckard in the City. I wanted to do that in a spectacular way because I wanted to really demonstrate what the City was then, what our cities could grow to. I didn’t want the future to get out of hand, to get so far in advance that there was no point or connection with the present-day audience.
STARLOG: When and why did you call David Peoples to help you with Hampton Fancher’s script?
SCOTT: One of my problems with the screenplay early on was that Deckard did no detection! He seemed to be told everything, and I wanted to see some detective work. So, Peoples came in, and started to take over Hampton’s place in terms of helping me with those roots, and also with voice-over narrations.
STARLOG: In the screenplay, the world is portrayed as being overcrowded. In Dick’s novel, the feeling of alienation arose from the pervasive emptiness. Why this change?
SCOTT: I hate the idea of cities being vastly empty! It’s somehow a terrible downer—the idea of city wastelands! I don’t mind the idea so much of a multinational, multi-peopled textured city of the future. Somehow, it seems more optimistic! But looking at a terrible wasteland where people are hiding in pigeonholes, and where you see somebody only occasionally on the street or passing in a vehicle—now that sounds like a nightmare! I don’t think I would have gone with that concept.
STARLOG: How do you reconcile this overcrowding with Sebastian’s large, empty building?
SCOTT: Well, the building was derelict, right? I believe his comment was something like, “There’s no housing shortage around here.” So, in other words, there is a housing shortage, but not in that building. Most of the floors were like the floors that Harrison Ford crawls through, virtually uninhabitable.
STARLOG: The importance of live animals to Deckard, and the world, was an important concept in Dick’s novel. It’s mostly absent from the film. Why?
SCOTT: That was a very tough concept. We used to have that in the original screenplay, I mean, we had Deckard’s desire to buy a real goat be his principal motivation. The idea that people will have animals on the roof of their apartment block as a connection with the past—almost as a therapeutic device because these things don’t exist anymore—to me, that rang very dangerously close to being pretentious.
It works fine in book form, but when you present it on screen, you must be very careful, because otherwise it looks like one’s delivering a lecture, or a message, which, frankly, I think is hokey.
I don’t think it illustrates OK. in the film sense, I mean. You would have to spend the entire film explaining the presence of these animals, rather than something which is just part of the world we happen to be showing.
STARLOG: Did you feel that having just a few references would be sufficient to get the idea across?
SCOTT: Yes, I think it was. I would like to have done a little more, but I found that the obsession of the central character—the idea of getting a goat—just a little intellectual…and kind of cute, too!
STARLOG: Isn’t that inconsistent with showing pigeons in Sebastian’s attic?
SCOTT: I could argue that they were all artificial pigeons, but that wouldn’t make sense, would it? [Laughs.] In this world, there are certain types of animals, city animals, which are still in existence. In London, for instance, there are gigantic flocks of starlings which are destroying the buildings. So, in a city like that, you may start to lose exotic creatures, but the animals that could survive, like rats and birds, would. Then, you’re looking at pigeons the same way as a rodent. It’s a pest.
STARLOG: The film’s final scene, showing vast, unspoiled countryside, contrasted strongly with that bleak City.
SCOTT: Sure, it does, but there are huge, beautiful wastelands even today, in Alaska and Labrador, where only a brave soul or two exist. That doesn’t mean to say that you or I are going to want to go up there and live there, or whether it’s even practical to go and live up there!
These wastelands will always exist. Pushing city limits out to areas like that would probably be impossible.
There was a big argument about this. I would have liked to have stuck rigidly to the idea that Earth was then pretty well decimated and exhausted, and therefore, what you’re looking at was a fairly bleak prospect, but these two characters were going to survive anyway, somehow. That’s the romantic notion of the whole thing, because Deckard is essentially a survivor. But after the whole film, which I guess is fairly intense, to end up seeing them having escaped into an impossibly uncomfortable landscape would have been a real downer. I just didn’t want to end on such a down note. So, it seemed to make sense to end on the idea that there would be some unspoiled areas in the world still left.
STARLOG: Didn’t you worry that Harrison Ford was too linked in the minds of the public to Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark?
SCOTT: Nobody had seen Raiders at that point. I caught Harrison way before Raiders. I wasn’t concerned about anything; he was dead right for the role.
STARLOG: Roy Batty is a far more compelling, charismatic character. Was that intentional?
SCOTT: Well. I think that Deckard’s character is very austere. Roy Batty, oddly enough, was the whole, not surprise, but turn of events in the film. One thinks one’s dealing with a kind of Frankenstein Monster in the character, but he really becomes more human than the average human as the film progresses, and therefore, in some respect, gains one’s sympathy, possibly as much, or even more than Deckard!
STARLOG: You tried specifically to achieve a “film noir” mood?
SCOTT: Yes, I saw Deckard as Humphrey Bogart. Well, the whole thing was originally influenced in one sense as a kind of comic strip anyway. That was my “eureka” in reading the script, and feeling that I knew how to do it. That was one of the energies that got me moving into it. It was that we would most certainly do a sort of comic strip!
But in the process, the film became much more serious than I had imagined. So, when doing it, the seriousness of some of the film’s aspects emerged, and in some ways, that fought against it becoming a pure comic strip.
STARLOG: Why so little use of the Rachael character?
SCOTT: She was there originally to present the predicament of the central character, who hunts replicants and then falls in love with one.
We had more scenes originally written, but never shot. Because the movie’s basic thrust just didn’t go that way. You’ve got to decide what your movie is. At that early stage, it was between a love story or an adventure. And even now, I find that certain portions of the love story are very good but, whichever way you look at it, it does slow down the film. I just don’t think I could have done more. It would have gone against the movie’s thrust, it would have been making another kind of movie.
STARLOG: Don’t you think that in a case like Blade Runner, the elaborate special FX and sets have a tendency to overshadow the picture?
SCOTT: No. I think I kept it in place on this one. And, funnily enough, I think I kept it in place on Alien, too.
The FX are there, especially if you’re doing a film which involves a different time period. Then, obviously, if you really know what you’re going to do, then you’re going to be presenting your environment in a certain way, which must look real, but has its place. Because if it upstages the movie’s actual contents, and characters, then it becomes, usually, a lousy science fiction movie. The best SF movies in this area have a balance.
STARLOG: Was Doug Trumbull your first choice for the special effects?
SCOTT: Oh yes, absolutely! Doug started it off, then he was involved in his own project [Brainstorm], so then I worked entirely with David Dryer and Trumbull’s team of guys at EEG [Trumbull’s then-FX company]. Dryer became essentially the special FX director, and did a brilliant, brilliant job.
STARLOG: And the score?
SCOTT: The music is all by Vangelis. I would think that you could almost put the “street music” into being effects, but I was very happy with the track.
I chose Vangelis, but he’s pretty much the kind of man you leave to it. We did a fair amount of work, changing tracks around. But Vangelis very definitely works on his own.
STARLOG: You have been described as a perfectionist by various people. Is being a perfectionist important?
SCOTT: I am a perfectionist, and I think it’s totally important. There are too many things that you lose hold of in the process of making a movie. A film can deteriorate fast because you have so many people involved in it. It’s a bit like running an army!
STARLOG: Are you afraid of being typecast as a genre director?
SCOTT: That was the instinct at first, but then, I’m beginning to wonder, with everything else I’ve read, if frankly some of the best material isn’t emerging from the SF field anyway.
I find that more and more, just reading the scripts I’m presented with…I’m really looking at cannon fodder for cable TV most of the time. Some of the most original thinking and original ideas are in fact emerging from the SF genre.
So, I’ve thought, why not? I’ll just go into that particular area. I don’t think Blade Runner has really anything to do with Alien. In a funny kind of way, it’s really a contemporary film. So, I’m no longer concerned about that at all. Therefore, I embrace any ideas that come in from that direction.
STARLOG: Do you personally like SF?
SCOTT: No, not at all! [Laughs.] I don’t read it. I just happen to have a view on how to do it. I’m now beginning to read SF, but I find much of it heavy going. Some of it has pretensions about idealistic futures and stuff like that, which is very dangerous.
STARLOG: What were you trying to say in Blade Runner?
SCOTT: With Blade Runner, I intended to entertain, but the film is also about the life of the living. If that message comes through, then terrific!
Randy & Jean-Marc Lofficier, veteran Starlog correspondents, conducted these Blade Runner interviews in 1982. Published (in part) only in France, these talks make their American debut this issue, albeit in abridged form. They will appear, unabridged, in the forthcoming Making Movies 1980-90 (McFarland, hardcover).
Starlog Magazine, Issue 184, November 1992