Paul M. Sammon is not just a well-renowned author and film journalist, he's also a film insider. Since the 1970s, his roles in the film industry have included publicist, second-unit director, special effects coordinator, still photographer, electronic press kit producer, and Vice President of Special Promotions. By the 1990s, Sammon had served as Computer Graphics Supervisor for RoboCop 2.
Perhaps one of the most impressive accomplishments is the nearly two years he spent on the set of Ridley Scott's landmark science fiction film Blade Runner, where he was granted unprecedented access to the film's stars and production crew. He's amassed a spectacularly detailed account of his unique experiences in his new book Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, which has been newly revised just in time for fans to bone up on their history before seeing the long-awaited sequel Blade Runner 2049, releasing next week.
I had a chance to talk with Paul about his fascinating book, the time he spent on the set, and the enduring influence of Blade Runner...
Q: Hi, Paul. In the new preface to Future Noir: The Making Of Blade Runner, you say that Blade Runner is the one film that has most dominated your life. It all started before principal photography began when, as a relatively inexperienced film journalist, you were assigned to document the making of the film and granted on-set access. Tell us about that experience.
PAUL M. SAMMON: By the time I found myself embedded (to use a then non-existent term) with the BR production company, I'd previously tucked a few similar memories under my belt. Among them: writing a production history of Arnold Schwarzenegger's breakout film Conan the Barbarian, charting the genesis of The Black Hole, Disney's first PG-rated motion picture, and compiling an early career-retrospective about Canadian "body horror" director David Cronenberg.
None of these projects, however, prepared me for my Blade Runner experience. Or should I say experiences, since my initial steps into BR evolved into two separate journeys?
One concerned the fact that I had been an admirer of author Philip K. Dick fiction since I'd read that author's short story "The Father Thing" in 1959, when I was nine years old. Finding myself then slowly and increasingly not only meeting with but becoming a friend of this marvelous artist (who of course wrote BR's 1968 source novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) became a deeply affecting experience. As was subsequently being given complete admittance to every department and virtually every member of Blade Runner's unusually talented cast and crew members. That entree lasted from the week Ridley Scott first signed on to direct and produce Blade Runner to the day of BR's original theatrical release. Two actual very intense years, which were as fully immersive as the fantastic fictitious world of Blade Runner's 2019 Los Angeles.
Q: Most moviegoers don't concern themselves with the business side reality of filmmaking. What are some surprising truths about the Blade Runner production that average viewers probably don't know about?
PAUL M. SAMMON: That once BR went over budget during the shoot, director Ridley Scott and producer Michael Deeley were fired from the movie. They had the film taken away from them by a production company (Tandem), which had had nothing to do with the original creation of Blade Runner's script, casting, crew or production design. This came about because Tandem had stepped in at virtually the last moment to help partially fund the film, under the proviso that Tandem would also act as a "completion bond guarantor". That's a business term/entity which basically states that if you, the filmmaker, go over a certain percentage of your previously agreed-upon budget, the guarantor can then not only become the actual owner of that film but also call the creative shots on it. Or, in other words, take it away from you. A situation which irritates Ridley Scott to this day—he and Deeley were immediately rehired after that firing, but Ridley's never been pleased about the manner in which all that went down. Or the fact that he and Deeley ultimately lost most of their rights to Blade Runner because of those overages. Which in reality were relatively small ones.
Q: Describe your reaction when, after watching it evolve behind the scenes, you finally watched Blade Runner for the very first time.
PAUL M. SAMMON: By the time BR was released theatrically in June 1982, I'd already witnessed every step of its creation first-hand (with the exception of the scoring). I'd also already seen at least two full-length versions of the film.
One was the virtually narration-free, so-called "Workprint," which was actually a sneak preview cut screened in May of '82 in Denver and Dallas (in a rather rough, certainly different edit from what would soon follow). Next came the San Diego Sneak, which now boasted a full-length voiceover and a bogus happy ending. Neither of those had been included in the Workprint.
In any event, the San Diego Cut was essentially the same Blade Runner most people, including myself, would keep on seeing until the release of the 1992 Director's Cut. So, I always think of the San Diego Cut as being the first Blade Runner I was able to witness on the big screen with a paying audience.
My reaction was composed of equal parts bedazzlement, exhaustion, and despair. I was thrilled by BR's then-unique avalanche of idiosyncratic imagery, as well as its subtle subtexts. But I intensely disliked what I thought of as a very poorly written narration. I also loathed the San Diego/Theatrical Cut's transparently tacked-on happy ending, which saw Sean Young and Harrison Ford happily driving through a lush forest surrounded by outtakes from The Shining! Finally, I'd already been involved with this film for almost two years, so a certain degree of burn-out had set in. Although my ennui obviously dissolved over the years to come. Future Noir should be evidence of that!
Q: Your undying love of Blade Runner led to the first edition of Future Noir, published in 1996. Can you summarize the enormous amount of research involved and describe what new things about the film you learned from it?
PAUL M. SAMMON: The deeper I drilled during Blade Runner's inception, the more riches I uncovered. That search became almost obsessional. I found myself thinking, "Wow, the particulars behind this movie's creation are just as layered as the details on its sets!" I discovered that one archaeological discovery led to another, and another, and another, and before long, I found myself setting the bar as high as it could go, at least in terms of fact-gathering. It also helped—immensely—that I was given such thorough ongoing access to BR's cast and crew. Michael Deeley, BR's producer, and Ridley saw to that.
Today I'm still discovering new details. For instance, during the writing of the first edition of Future Noir— which took me about two years to complete – I'd been unable to contact Joe Turkel, who plays BR's Eldon Tyrell. But 21 years later I had a fresh opportunity to conduct an amazing series of conversations with Joe, who's now 90 years young. That's just one of the examples of what's included in new, Revised & Updated Future Noir.
Incidentally, it amazes and humbles me to think that Future Noir has never been out of print, at least in the United States, since HarperCollins first published it in '96. I suppose that longevity gives you one small indication of what an incredible, enjoyable, influential film Blade Runner went on to become.
Q: The second edition of Future Noir was published in the U.K. in 2007 to coincide with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the film and the newly released Director's Cut of Blade Runner. And now here we are in 2017, just weeks away from the release of the sequel Blade Runner 2049. What new material can readers expect in the new edition?
PAUL M. SAMMON: New material in the Revised & Updated Edition includes brand-new 10,000 word interviews with Sean Young and Rutger Hauer about their involvement with the film; the first United States appearance of Harrison Ford's 10,000 word interview; new sections on Rick Deckard's "Blaster" (his heavy-duty firearm), and the special effects behind the massive "Mother-Blimp"; a new author's foreword; a revised chapter concerning the 2007 Final Cut; more data about the incredible three and a half hour long BR documentary Dangerous Days; a breakdown of the BR multi-disc DVD sets; a chapter summarizing the birth of that 35 years in the making sequel named Blade Runner 2049; and so much other new material that I've forgotten what's what!
Q: You included lots of candid and informative interviews with the cast and crew of Blade Runner. (In fact, Future Noir contains the longest-ever interview with star Harrison Ford about his Blade Runner days.) To what extent did these discussions help you understand the story's journey from script to film?
PAUL M. SAMMON: In Harrison's case, I saw how involved he became in his development of Deckard's character and story arc. To which Ford brought his own, not vanity, but intelligence and diligence. The manner in which Harrison did that, seriously but not arrogantly, was educational.
And of course, there's the famous story about how Rutger came up with his own memorable bit of on-set dialogue – "All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain." Roy Batty speaks those concluding words during his dying moments. Yet they weren't in the shooting script. Rutger created them.
Q: Over the years, there have been several versions of the film released. Which is your preferred version and why?
PAUL M. SAMMON: I'd originally been a zealous fan of the Workprint, because it was so different from BR's other versions; it had only a little narration, for example, no happy ending, and some original shots and scenes that still haven't been incorporated into any other cut. Those who want more information about this should buy Future Noir or seek out the commentary track I recorded for the Workprint, which was included on BR's 2007 and 2012 special edition DVD sets.
Today I find myself coming down on the side of the Final Cut. No narration, no happy ending, bits and pieces that previously had only appeared on the Workprint, plus a stunning 4K transfer and superb audio mix. The Final Cut is a bit "brighter" than the original release – literally so, since the lighting was dialed up for some sequences in the FC – but the Final Cut also is the closest to Ridley's preferred edit, and it has the original "Unicorn Daydream" footage suggesting that Deckard is a replicant.
On the other hand, what I liked about the Theatrical Cut was that it didn't have the Unicorn Daydream. That omission made Deckard's true nature – is he a replicants, or a human? – much more ambiguous. To paraphrase Harrison Ford, I tilt more towards ambiguity. Not certainty.
Q: Blade Runner perennially dominates "Best Sci-Fi Film" lists even decades after its release. What is it about the film that makes it so enduring?
PAUL M. SAMMON: There's more to Blade Runner than meets the eye. Yes, Ridley Scott built a stunningly individual, staggeringly detailed fictional world for Blade Runner. One that – certainly to this extent – had never previously melded our genuine past with a then-possible future, not in such a crazy, hyperdetailed yet realistically convincing way. Ridley poured everything he'd previously learned over the course of directing thousands of commercials about cosmetics and fashion and automobiles and fine art into Blade Runner. It shows.
More unusually, Ridley further transformed what could have been a routine science fiction programmer into a big-budget art film, by investing BR with numerous personal touches and philosophical concerns. The movie's opening shot, for instance, of that massive industrialized landscape? That was based on the blight of Northeastern England's genuine steel factories and gas works, which Ridley had grown up around and worked in during the first 20 years of his life.
Ridley also subtextually seasoned the film with some haunting questions concerning reality, and what it means to be human, and why humanity seems bent on destroying itself. All of this wrapped within a hypnotic, all-pervasive atmosphere of melancholy, and entropy, and death. Not to mention BR's world-class soundtrack, by Vangelis!
So, it's not just what your eyes and ears experience while you're watching Blade Runner that's allowed it to still fascinate, and endure. It is also not only BR's still-impressive, never-ending cascade of influential visual flourishes, which have gone on to shape real-world architecture and fashion and typography, and even a subgenre of literary science fiction named cyberpunk. No. Blade Runner likewise continues to abide because it is also—thank God—a movie which gives the alert viewer plenty to think about.
Q: There are endless interesting facts, juicy tidbits and interesting stories that you've included in this new edition of Future Noir. What do you hope readers take away from it?
PAUL M. SAMMON: How much everyone gave, personally and professionally, to make this film. And what it's like – what it's really like – to mount a major motion picture.
Cover art: Ronald Grant Archive / Alamy Stock Photo