As the American Cinematheque honors Ridley Scott at 78 — yes, IMDb, 78 — he’s not the kind of creative to say: “Wait! I’m not ready! It’s too soon!” Scott’s pragmatism and visual acuity propelled a muscular career spanning three Oscar directing nominations for “Gladiator,” “Black Hawk Down,” and “Thelma and Louise,” plus 155 episodes of “The Good Wife,” the acclaimed CBS drama. His “Gladiator” star Russell Crowe will host the 30th annual American Cinematheque Gala where the award will be handed to Scott by “The Martian’s” Matt Damon on Oct. 14 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
That same night, Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper will present the Sid Grauman Award to Sue Kroll, Warner Bros. president of worldwide marketing and distribution.
The Englishman graduated from the National School of Art before becoming a BBC production designer trainee. Going live on a Friday to 13 million people taught Scott a key lesson: “When you hit the floor you have to know what you’re doing. I was never sure at the beginning,” he says. “Experience does frequently work. I was always amused people retire at 60. At 60 you know everything. I’m way past my 60s and I’m chugging along doing the best work I’ve done in my life. That’s why I look at Clint Eastwood as the way to go.”
Scott downplays his role as an industry pioneer. “My real world school was commercial advertising,” he says, citing Irving Penn as influential. Following the BBC, he made thousands of commercials: “Early on I discovered I had a good eye. The eye was very useful, but it worked against me when I worked with films because it was too beautiful — it’s not a bloody radio play we’re doing pictures, dude, Hitchcock.”
Because Scott has such a clear vision of what he wants, he expects a lot from his DPs, including his collaborator on “The Martian,” Dariusz Wolski. The pair reunite for the upcoming “Alien: Covenant,” where they use a four-camera set-up. “Knowing what you want to do with those four cameras makes shooting four times faster. I went multi-camera specifically so that you don’t have actors off camera wearing their chops off to support their co-stars. It preserves freshness in the performance. Fresh is very important.”
Budgets are important, too. Scott learned at the BBC that “the clock is ticking from the second you step on floor and that clock is money. I may sound very goody two shoes but I can’t stand going over budget. It’s part of the challenge.”
Experience has also given Scott an eye for good material — “I can now read page one of a script and know whose hands I’m in in the first paragraph.” But he recalls the screenplay lost to Richard Donner. “Shane Black had written this thing called ‘Lethal Weapon.’ I read it and rocketed out the office, drove to Fox, went to Joel Silver and said: ‘I want to direct this film.’ I missed it by an hour. He’d just given it away.”
While Scott chased “Lethal Weapon,” his last film, “The Martian,” landed out of the blue. “By the time I’d read it, I’m already on the phone. ‘I’ll do it!’ The voiceover was so amusing. The humor was the substance of the hero’s right stuff. Controlling panic is everything. That’s also true for directors. Stop panicking; icy calm.”
Scott’s confidence has grown with his experience and he has no intention of quitting now. With “Alien: Covenant” in post-production and the untitled “Blade Runner” sequel filming with Denis Villeneuve at the helm, Scott says: “The idea of retirement for me is unthinkable.”