The Blade Runner future that we haven't quite reached. (Courtesy Warner Bros.)From Blade Runner's opening titles. (Courtesy Warner Bros.)
Los Angeles November, 2019.
Early in the 21st century, LAist has put together an L.A.-centric oral history of the 1982 seminal science fiction film Blade Runner.
Thirty-seven years after it came out, we are now in the month that the movie took place. At the end of the month, Blade Runner's Los Angeles of the future will officially take place in the past. Hold on tight for this trip through time and space.
We've spent months speaking with some of the minds that helped bring you the film.
Below is an account of how they created Blade Runner's fictional November 2019 and what they think about how the real one turned out.
SETTING BLADE RUNNER IN LOS ANGELES
As the movie was developed, the plan wasn't always for it to be set in L.A.
Screenwriter Hampton Fancher: There were a lot of elsewheres. There were some great places to overlay our deal on, citywise Hong Kong, Mexico City. In the beginning, we were talking about about London.
Visual Futurist Syd Mead: Originally, the theoretical city in which Blade Runner was taking place was called "San Angeles," on the imagination that it would be constant city from San Francisco all the way down to the border to Mexico.
Los Angeles was just convenient for cost purposes for shooting you didn't have to move out of the city.
Production Executive Katy Haber: I went with [Blade Runner director] Ridley [Scott] looking for locations in Chicago and New York, because he was looking for the most appropriate city where he could find the best locations, and we couldn't find any locations that represented his vision of what Blade Runner would be. And so we decided to stick to Los Angeles, and shoot the whole film on the Warner Brothers lot.
Fancher: But in the writing, before that, Ridley's got a rich imagination, and I'm crazy so I kept writing for different climates and different circumstances, mechanically and weatherwise. So it did change around a lot, before it finally got simple, into L.A.
Art Director David L. Snyder: The whole idea was, OK, we would shoot in L.A. wherever we could the Bradbury Building, Union Station.
HOW RAY BRADBURY GAVE US BLADE RUNNER
One of Hampton Fancher's friends gave him money to option an existing property, with the hope of Fancher legitimizing himself in Hollywood.
Fancher: It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, "OK, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas" some novel, you know?
So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.
And so the three projects were Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Naked Lunch, and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something "commercial," and I thought that all of these things were coming.
There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn't find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn't even know where he was. And so I gave up.
And then I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled "hi" and I'd forgot who he was.
So at [my girlfriend Barbara Hershey's] urging I was with her at that moment she said, "Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you," and I said "No, f- him," and keep walking.
But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, "Wait, he's in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick." I said, "You know a guy named" "Yeah, sure you want his phone number?"
My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn't get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well [if you can't get a writer,] then you write.
So then, as soon as I started, I got totally involved. I was really immersed, and I worked hard at it, and the rest is Blade Runner. It was mercenary. But when I started writing it, then I became sincere, and it became significant to me.
DESIGNING NOVEMBER 2019's LOS ANGELES
Syd Mead hadn't worked in Hollywood before, so when Ridley Scott wanted to bring him on board to design the future, Haber came up with the idea of crediting him as a "visual futurist."
Snyder: Ridley was the executive production designer, due to the fact that he had been a BBC art director and had art directed and directed in films, shot camerawork, many commercials.
Syd Mead was the futurist. If I were doing a film on, say, the second World War, I'd go back to the archives and do the research, and there's plenty of it stills, magazines, print, film archives.
And in this case, because the film took place 40 years in the future, we depended on Syd, who was an industrial designer he's not an art director, or a production designer, he's a real-life designer.
We all decided, let's do something great.
Mead: [My primary influence was] from Chicago and New York, because they're grid cities. And New York already had buildings over 1,000 feet well, the Empire State Building. And so I thought, well let's add another thousand feet or so why not?
So I had this vision of these incredible tall buildings, and that triggered the idea of how do you get in and out of a building that's 3,000 feet tall? Well, you need access on the ground plane. And that's why they had these pyramids at the bottom, for greater access around the perimeter to get into the building in the first place.
Snyder: What Ridley said was, he would draw, and Syd Mead would draw, and everyone would draw, and then "the poor bastard art departments" had to build everything.
On the first day of shooting, Ridley would look through the lens, and everything would change. My job became the reconstructor art director, turning everything upside-down and sideways, to better effect because Ridley's brilliant.
AN ENVIRONMENTAL MESSAGE BASED IN ITS TIME
Fancher: The reason I was able to write the movie, and not be distracted as I always am by a million other things, is because I was very serious about the demise of the planet. You know, this is '75. This is acid [rain]. Until 1980, it was like, Whole Earth Catalog, CoEvolution. It was important to me.
Snyder: It was an idea that the environment is crumbling, and the idea was that the rain in the film was like acid rain. That's why people were moving off-world to get off this planet before it disintegrated.
I think we were making a statement about the government, and the future, and the climate, and the disparaging rift between rich and poor.
Fancher: I mean, I was devastated that animals were disappearing at the rate they were disappearing the rainforest was going bye-bye. It was like, "this is f-ed up," and I was angry and sad.
And so that idea kept me rolling, because I had something to write for. I got the cue from the book, but I was in that mindset anyway.
Fancher was replaced on the film by writer David Peoples, who executed Ridley Scott's vision for what needed to happen with the screenplay.
Fancher: I was devastated. I hated it. I didn't understand that it might be a good idea. If David Peoples hadn't have come, there would be no Blade Runner that's for sure.
Because where I was going was not right I mean, it would have been a different movie. If he hadn't have come, if I would've stayed, Blade Runner would have been one of those little movies Soylent Green, or something that maybe you could rent once in a while or something, but we wouldn't know about it.
FINDING A NEW WAY TO SHOOT THE BRADBURY BUILDING
Fancher: [Ridley] was location hunting when I was writing, and I remember him coming back from a scout, telling me that he'd seen a building that he liked. And I remember screaming, "What?! You can't use the Bradbury Building!"
And he said, "Why Not?" I said, "Because you're a Brit you don't understand, that's been in every f-ing TV show, every other day, for 50 years."
He was walking out the door, and I said, "I'm telling you, you're making a big f-ing mistake." And he said, "No, I'm not." And I said something about the way that it had been done it had been done in every detective show, and every hot show it's been seen.
And then he laughed, and he looked at me "Not the way I'll do it." And I thought, "You arrogant idiot."
Snyder: That was a working building at the time, and when I built the marquee outside, the canopy, we couldn't touch their building at all. So what we had to do, old-school, was take a calipers and measure the building, and then cut everything to it, and then gently push the building into place without even touching their building.
So if you look close at those scenes, with Pris Darryl Hannah if you look close, you can see that there's a tiny little space between my set, and the Bradbury Building.
Haber: We shot the entire end of the film, and J.F.'s apartment, in the Bradbury Building. But the Bradbury Building is a fully functioning and existing office block.
Snyder: The interior, we started shooting at 6 o'clock at night, and we had to be out by 6 o'clock in the morning, and we had rain inside the building.
What we did was, we got barrels of crumbled cork, which looks like dirt. So we spread the cork all over the floors, as opposed to dirt, because it looks like dirt. And in the morning, we would just sweep up the cork, which had absorbed the majority of the water, and mop the floors down, and we had to do it every night.
It was really treacherous and difficult. And with Ridley, there was no "I can't do it, I don't know how" it just had to be done.
Fancher: Boy, was [Ridley] right. There's reasons for his confidence. He f-ing nailed it.
CREATING A FAKE DOWNTOWN L.A. BUILDING
The movie features a climactic chase, with Rutger Hauer's Roy Batty hunting down Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard.
Snyder: So we went to a building downtown it's called the Rosslyn Hotel, the Million Dollar Hotel. Many films have been shot there, music videos, and it has a heart-shaped neon sign on the rooftop.
He has to jump from one rooftop to the other. Well, of course, it's quite dangerous. I consulted an engineer, and he said the building was built in 1912. It was derelict when I was there I mean, it was really in bad shape.
So he said that we would have to build another platform on top of the rooftop to take the weight of all the equipment and the crew, and it was going to be maybe 50,000, 100,000 dollars.
I said to Ridley, look, you know what: I can build a building on the backlot that's 20 feet high, 20 feet wide, and 20 feet deep, and I'll put it on wheels, and we'll be able to move it around. Which we did, frequently.
So it's a landmark building it's the one landmark building that I reproduced, meticulously. I mean, it's a dead match to the building. And that cornice on the roof is made of steel well mine is made of fiberglass, but who knows, except me.
And Harrison Ford was able to climb up to the rooftop because I had him get on a lift, and he would put his hands where he would reach, and I would mark the chalk, and we'd cut out a hole and put rubber tubing so he could grab it. So when he's ascending the rooftop there, he looks like he's pretty good at it, but I gave him a little help.
[Ridley] would say "Do this," and I would do that, and he would say "OK, I want something moving in the frame" at 3 o'clock in the morning, and I would come up with things like the landmark piece in the film.
All those fans turning and strobe-lights they weren't there the day we got there. They were made up of paper plates and cardboard, and put on C-stands, and there were no motors, and so the prop guys would have to spin the fans and then run out of the shot. [laughing]
It was a DIY situation for me, where he would say "Make something happen," and I would say "What do you want me to make happen?" And he said, "Well you're the art director, you figure it out."
WHY BLADE RUNNER'S WRITER GOT REPLACED
Fancher: [Ridley Scott and I] definitely had disagreements. And it was my fault. I was naive and stupid. I didn't know I thought that the project was mine, you know?
He was extremely inspiring. But I also had trouble. By the way, the things I disagreed with it turns out he was right and I was wrong, for sure. I was naive about heroes.
Haber: I spent many weeks at the Chateau Marmont with David [Peoples] rewriting Hampton Fancher's original screenplay.
The problem was that Hampton was around when David was at the Chateau Marmont, and at first he didn't know it was happening.
Fancher: [Ridley's] good. He knows the business of making a movie, and what has to happen, and I never have. I'm not realistic that way. And he's very realistic.
So we had two falling outs. I left the picture, but I came back at the end, and we continue to know each other. I adore him.
For a while, I didn't want anything to do with the picture I tried to get my name off it. So that's how stupid I am.
WHAT CHANGED FROM THE ORIGINAL BLADE RUNNER SCRIPTS
Fancher: I didn't like that Rachel, I thought, was weakened. I wanted her to be more powerful than everybody mentally, emotionally. [In mocking voice] "Oh, god, what am I going to do?" I didn't want that, and I fought that and I was wrong.
And I wanted Deckard to be even more vulnerable, and I was wrong there too. When Batty's going to drop him off the roof, Ridley wanted me to have Deckard be defiant. I said, "He'll suck his d-! He'll do anything he's not defiant!"
The chess game I thought that was ridiculous. He gets into the Tyrell Corporation playing chess? The most surveilled place on the planet? He goes up an elevator with Roy Batty the most sought after renegade in the world? Noooo. I had another way to do it.
Then I think, they're whispering behind my back, "Well, Hampton doesn't seem to understand movies, Saturday matinees, whatever." You can get away with things, the audience will love it whatever that is. And I was being, in some stupid artistic way, conservative. So there were a lot of things I resisted in fact, I didn't cooperate.
SHOOTING ON THE WARNER BROS. BACKLOT
Mead: Once we got going, the whole Warner Brothers backlot became Blade Runner Land.
Snyder: That was when the decision was made that we only shot at nighttime. Because at nighttime, like in Tokyo or whatever the distance from the camera across the backlot, you don't know what's beyond that it could be Hong Kong.
Mead: I knew Ridley wanted to have a very dense, packed set look to the whole thing. So once I got pictures of the backlot, I started to overlay them with a lot of stuff wiring, and tubing, and so forth.
The idea of the city as a machine took on a whole new idea we called the look "trash chic," or "retro deco." I mashed together every single architectural style I could think of, indiscriminately, just to make it look packed up and eclectic.
Snyder: This is the first film that Ridley did in Hollywood, L.A. So he had this idea, the most brilliant idea of all: we would go night-scouting in downtown L.A., which was really treacherous, really tough.
And so, Ridley said, "Look there's 1920 on this building, and then they put a layer of 1940 on the building, and then they put a layer of 1960 on the building," and it was a stratification thing.
So when it was decided that we were going to shoot on the Warner Brothers backlot the buildings that were built on the backlot started in 1924. And then went through all those periods, from 1924 to 1980.
When we were in pre-production, Ridley took us into the screening room and we ran the film Logan's Run. And at the end of the film, he said, "Do you see that? We don't want to do any of that, at all. This is exactly what we don't want to do the Earth is leveled, and you start over again."
Mead: The first thing Ridley said out of his mouth was, "This is not going to be Logan's Run." I thought, "Well, that gives me a clue."
Snyder: We started with 1920, and 1940 the backlot, various structures over time and then we added 2019 to it. The layers, and layers, and layers of stuff is what really makes that film look like it does.
Fancher: I didn't understand money at all. I remember a scene, and they told me, "We don't have the money for the street." I said, "What do you mean, money for the street?" "We can't lengthen the f-ing street in the backlot of Warner Brothers to accommodate that." And I said, "Well, just do it it's movies."
THE TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE VOICEOVER AND WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THE FINAL CUT
Snyder: We all, filmmakers, prefer the Final Cut, because [Ridley] was in charge of the Final Cut. As far as the "director's cut," he wasn't that involved in it.
Haber: We shot the last two weeks in one week, so as not to lose Ridley, god forbid and then the directors strike never happened. So we shot two weeks in one week, and the overtime for the crew meant they shot 24/7, [which cost] 5 million.
That put the movie over-budget, leading to Scott and the other producers being removed from the film, with financiers Bud Yorkin and Jerry Perenchio taking over post-production. Haber was the one member of the producing staff kept on under the new administration.
Haber: When Ridley wanted to do his next two cuts on DVD, he had to get permission from them, because they owned the film.
[When the movie came out,] I felt like I was giving birth in public. And it was really difficult, because it was Bud Yorkin's version of the film, which is why it was not so successful.
The narration, which Bud Yorkin and I dubbed with Harrison Ford, with Harrison doing it very badly in the hope that it wasn't going to be used it was not written by Hampton Fancher or David Peoples. It was written by Bud Yorkin's writer [Roland Kibbee].
And unfortunately, it was used, to Bud Yorkin's and Ridley Scott's demise. Ridley originally called it "Irving the explainer." [Yorkin] used it to tell the story, so Irving the Explainer was the perfect term to describe how irrelevant it was and unnecessary it was, and expecting the audience not to understand the film, so you needed Deckard to explain it.
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