Scott doesn't just make movies; he creates worlds. In his most recent project, Scott created the world of the notorious Hannibal Lecter in the long-awaited sequel to The Silence of the Lambs. Charlie Rose reports.
And in his movie Gladiator, for which Scott won a best picture Oscar, he did nothing less than re-create ancient Rome. Scott accepted the offer to direct Gladiator without reading a script or even knowing the story. A studio executive showed him a 19th century painting and Ridley Scott was hooked.
"And what I got was a need to do it," Scott says. "I love to create worlds as part of the job."
For Gladiator, Scott took over an old military compound on the island of Malta. Then he transformed it into the Coliseum using computer graphics to create buildings and a Roman audience. Directing the movie became more like painting a canvas.
"Today, you can relight things, you can change things, you can do anything you want," Scott says of the computer graphics that are mixed throughout the movie with real footage.
And the realistic portrayal of the tigers in the Coliseum's ring? "Sometimes these tigers are absolutely present," Scott says, pointing to a shot with a real tiger leaping on top of a actor's double for Russell Crowe.
"That guy underneath is the master of the tiger above," Scott explains. "That tiger just jumps on him....And what he's after, if you watch his right hand; he's after the 'cookies he's got in his hand. He's after the meat in his hand."
"And once he's got that meat, you've then got to get that tiger off him, because the tiger will then go, 'What else is there for breakfast?' He'll go, 'Rrrrr' and then he'll go for the arm, right?" Scott says.
The problems involved in creating ancient Rome may have been easy compared to Scott's recent project: the sequel to the Oscar-winning film Silence of the Lambs and the world of the charming but sociopathic Hannibal Lecter, a psychologist with a tendency to eat his patients.
Jodie Foster won an Oscar for her role as a rookie FBI agent, but she turned this part down. The Silence of the Lambs ended with his escape. Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter, again played by Sir Anthony Hopkins, is back in the game. "It's like the good ol' days," Hopkins says.
"His direction is very, very gentle," Hopkins says of the director. "He'll come up, he said, "OK. Umm, let's do it again, but a little bit, OK?" I say, 'What do you mean?' 'A bit more affectionate there maybe.' And he walks away."
Scott commands his filmmaking army with the confidence of a good natured general whose only worry seems to be keeping the ever-present Cuban cigar lit.
The movie is based on Hannibal, a gruesome best-seller that makes Silence of the Lambs seem like Mary Poppins.
In one scene, Lecter is strapped to a forklift and is taken to be slowly devoured by man-eating pigs. Says Scott: "I'm going to do a comedy next."
Unlike most directors, Scott likes to operate the camera himself. He rarely shoots more than three takes. And he leaves the acting to the actors.
"I like to have actors and actresses who are easy to deal with," Scott explains. "Because the making, the process of shot by shot, blow by blow, lighting, rah, rah, rah, rah. OK....That's climbing the bloody mountain."
Says his younger brother, director Tony Scott: "He has a photographic memory about... little eccentricities that people do and...how they function and how they turn. Just tiny little things."
Tony Scott followed Ridley's lead and is a successful director of films like Top Gun and Enemy of the State.
Says Tony Scott: "What makes (the films) so uniquely different is this attention to detail and this obsession with detail."
"My brother is tough," Tony Scott adds. "He's tough, tough in terms of business, tough in terms of the family, tough in terms of work."
Tony Scott should know - Ridley ordered him to spend a summer acting in Ridley's first film, about a boy's adventures while skipping school.
"In those days I was very much into James Joyce and Ulysses," Ridley Scott recalls. "So it was very pretentious. You know, stream-of-consciousness."
At 20 years old, Scott established his visual style that mirrored his dark and smoky industrial hometowin the northeast of England. After seven years studying set design and painting, Scott started a TV advertising production company. He directed over 2,000 commercials and gained a reputation for remarkably stylized visuals that cost a fortune.
Ridley Scott's ad for the first Apple Mac computer was one of the most expensive commercials ever made. It aired once during the 1984 Super Bowl to kick off the era of the personal computer.
"It was...a kind of brave commercial. Because there was no talk about a computer. There was no showing of a computer," Ridley Scott says. "And at the end, it just goes 'Apple.' And I said to the agency, 'Who's Apple?' And they said, 'Computers.' 'Oh!'" he says, amid laughter.
Ridley Scott's success in commercials gave him the financial freedom to pursue what he had always wanted: to direct movies. First, he made The Duelists, about a series of duels fought by two French lieutenants in the early 19th century.
His movie debut died at the box office, but it was good enough to get him Alien.
Alien was a basically a monster movie set in outer space. "It isn't a horror film," says Ridley Scott. "It's the old dark house, with ... seven little characters trapped in a place they cannot get out."
The inspiration for what the Alien and its spaceship would look like came from another artist, Swiss painter H.R. Geiger. Scott delivered a certified Hollywood blockbuster, and although he didn't particularly like science fiction, he became known as a master sci-fi director.
Scott says that criticism over character development is irrelevant. "Alfred (Hitchcock) said, "After all, it is pictures. We're dealing in pictures here. As few words as possible."
The pictures Scott created for Blade Runner, a smoky and dilapidated future Los Angeles, proved to be more memorable than the story. The world of Blade Runner set the standard for every sci-fi film since. But when it was first released, Blade Runner flopped.
Scott also directed another hit, Thelma and Louise: part road movie - part social commentary - part buddy film. It was also Scott's first comedy.
A surprising number of actors got their big break in a Ridley Scott film: Sigourney Weaver in Alien. Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise. Harrison Ford in Blade Runner. Russell Crowe's superstar-making film was Gladiator.
"I'm a good caster," Ridley Scott says. "I'm a good spotter of, not so much talent, of the person who's right for the job."
The box office take on his 11 films recently surpassed a billion dollars making Scott, at 63 years old, a very wealthy man - just how rich he won't say. But he has homes in London and Los Angeles and a vineyard in the south of France. And rather than rent sound stages like other directors, Ridley and his brother Tony bought Shepperton Film Studios near Lonon.
"I've never been led by the money," says Ridley Scott.
Eighty million dollars and a year and a half in production were spent before his first look at Hannibal in the editing room.
Scott thrives on the process: planning, shooting and now finally seeing if the world of Hannibal Lecter will come alive the way he imagined.
"I don't really consider I've done a day's work in my life," Ridley Scott says. "Because I enjoy it so so much. I lie in bed at 6 a.m. in the morning - and I'm one of those very lucky people who think their, 'Oh, goody. A new day.'"
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