Both Blade Runner films contain a multitude of lessons to unpack. Bonus: robots!
It's rare that we get to see two legendary filmmakers tackle the same subject and themes within the same franchise. But it seems that when we do, Ridley Scott is frequently at the center. We enjoyed what he did with Alien, and saw James Cameron's take as well. Today, I want to relish Scott's other science fiction masterpiece, Blade Runner, and the update, Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve.
These are two different movies, but they work in tandem as part of the same universe. They're both about journeys that begin with a simple question, "What makes us human?"
There are so many lessons we can learn from this pair of movies, but we're going to focus on eight of them. So whether you're a human or a replicant, you're welcome to explore them with us.
8 Great Filmmaking Lessons from the Blade Runner Films
1. A Story Is Never Finished
One of the things I admire about Scott is his pursuit for the best version of this story. There are five different takes on Blade Runner in the box set I have, and all of them have slight differences, from the unicorn dream to voiceover, to alternate endings.
People used to complain about Scott messing with this stuff, but I think it solidifies that all ideas are subject to change. From treatment, script, shooting, editing, all the way through the "final cut." Anything and everything can change.
2. Find Humanity in the Machines
Both Scott and Villeneuve's version shows the search for a soul.
What are machines? How advanced can consciousness get before we consider it human? As an audience, we wrestle with these huge moral questions. And the movies challenge us to ask these questions as we root for what's happening.
The human story is always at the center, so ask yourself, why do we care about your characters? They can't just be human, or humanoid, they have to have a journey that makes us care.
3. Build the World
The worldbuilding of Blade Runner is astounding. Both movies lean into the future. We have corporations and a desolate planet at the center. They live in that dirty noir space, where things are dark and grim. We understand these worlds. Cops hunting robots, robots hunting robots, the rain and endless dark skies brought about by climate change. Everything slips in naturally.
Have you built out your world? Are there specific corner stores, colors, and tech that become a part of the storytelling?
4. Challenge the Genre
As I mentioned above, the genre of Blade Runner is noir, but because it's mixed with science fiction, there's room to do some unique things here. You can lean into the detective tropes in noir, but use science fiction to surprise us with robots, tech, holograms, and flying cars.
What genre are you working within? Is there a way to subvert the tropes we expect from them to fool the audience?
5. Mysteries Can Take Their Time
I'll never argue for a screenplay being over 120 pages for a beginning writer. I do think the idea of writing long and then editing short makes sense. But I cannot deny that both Blade Runner movies feel like they are the perfect length.
Don't be afraid to take your time with your story. The most important question to ask is, "Does this scene move the story along?" followed by "Is this scene interesting?"
If you have solid answers to both those questions, then you have an excuse for why those scenes are in the story.
6. Push Effects Further
Don't play down to the competition. Write and direct to the limits of what your budget can give you. The special effects in both these movies are done specifically to look real. They have some spectacular images for their time, that are only achieved by absolutely testing the limits of what tech could do at the time.
Be brave and try to push forward.
7. Each Director Followed Their Own Vision
Scott and Villeneuve are very different directors. But both of them were able to find their own vision within the worlds of Blade Runner. The world was big enough for both of them to tell the stories they wanted without reinventing or treading on one another.
I think it's so vital to bring a piece of yourself to the story. Why are you writing or directing or producing a project like this? What part of you is on display for people?
8. Let the Actors Work
The most famous line from the original Blade Runner was delivered by Rutger Hauer, "Like tears in rain," and it was from some additions he made to the script the night before. Scott trusted his actor to embody the character and took his notes from the scene.
This level of collaboration and trust carried over to Villeneuve, who had this to say, "It’s important for me to bring that. It’s important to give space for that spontaneity. I would not use the word 'improvised,' but I will say there were many moments that were modified, or there was an epiphany or idea that came from me or Ryan or Harrison Ford that sparked the desire to do something different than what was on the page."
Are you collaborating on set? Are you listening to new and exciting ideas?
What's next? Write your feature film!
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