Ridley Scott on Turning What Critics Saw as a Weakness Into His Signature
In the excellent book The Element, that talks about how finding your passion is a key turning point for everything else satisfying in your life, Sir Ken Robinson, the man behind one of my all-time favorite TED Talk, interviews dozens of “famous” people (artists or else) who became very very good at what they do because they found their element and were able to express their creativity.
One of those artistic soul is Ridley Scott, a filmmaker with a 40 years + career that has managed to put his name under such classics as Blade Runner, Alien and Thelma & Louise. Scott was initially trained as an artist, and he took this knowledge with him when he started making films, being especially known for drawing very detailed story boards that would allow his team to instantly understand his vision.
If it wouldn’t cross anybody’s mind today to argue that Scott is not a strong filmmaker that has left his mark on the Seventh Art, the British filmmaker did have a rocky start at the beginning of his career, and was particularly criticized for his strong aesthetic. Here is what he said to Ken Robinson:
“Because of my background in fine art, I have very specific ideas about making films. I’ve always been told I have this eye. I’ve never thought about what it is, but I’m usually accused of being too pretty, or too beautiful, or too this, or too that. I’ve gradually realized that this is an advantage. My first film, the Duellists, was criticized for being too beautiful. One critic complained about ‘the overuse of filters’. Actually, there were no filters used. The ‘filters’ were fifty-nine days of pissing rain. I think what he was taken by was how I look at the French landscape. Probably the best photographers of the Napoleonic period would be painters. So I looked at the Russian painters of Napoleon going to the front on that disastrous journey to Russia. A lot of great nineteenth-century views on that are frankly just photographic. I would take everything from those and apply that to the film.”
We know it and yet, when it is time to face the critics, it is always tempting to forget about it, but our difference is what makes our stories worth being told in the first place. To keep in mind when things get rough.
This extract is integrated within a much broader discussion about the importance of cultivating your creativity and finding your element, a conversation worth having for any storyteller.