Creating a follow-up to one of the most acclaimed sci-fi films of all time must be daunting. Good thing screenwriter Michael Green had help on Blade Runner 2049. Hampton Fancher, screenwriter of the original Blade Runner, wrote a draft before Green began.
Green sat down with Nerd Report to discuss Blade Runner 2049. Here’s everything we were able to talk about without getting into spoilers for the eagerly awaited Blade Runner sequel. Blade Runner 2049 is now playing.
NR: The original never explains this and neither does Blade Runner 2049. Why are they called Blade Runners?
MG: Hampton was asked that earlier today. I can give you his answer speaking for him. Ridley had asked him a question about that, like how are they referred to internally? He was always looking to build out the world inside. Hampton went home and he was a big William S. Burroughs fan. There’s a short novella that’s a bit postmodernist that’s called Blade Runner as a film script, I believe. Again, I’m just paraphrasing for Hampton. He came in the next day and said, “Call them a blade runner.” They were looking for a title, a lot of debate about Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? A lot of people didn’t like that. Hampton says he did and they were kicking around other titles. I think it was Michael Deeley who said, “We’ve got it right here. It’s Blade Runner.” They all went, “Whoa” and they bought that title. They bought the title of an unrelated, title alone, but I think it’s incredibly apt. First of all, it’s very active. Someone’s running but it conjures an image of running across a knife’s edge or running with a knife in hand. Running with scissors is the best way to run.
NR: Did you and Hampton become writing partners?
MG: No, we met after everything was said and done. I got to know him by reading him. I got to know him by working with his ideas. I’d heard so much about him. After the film had wrapped, I felt remiss that I didn’t reach out to him sooner so I sent him an e-mail and just said, “Hey, I would love to meet you sometime.” This was about a year ago now. We got together and he is a lovely, warm human being. I adored him instantly and we were going to have a quick lunch and stayed there for four hours. We got to know each other a bit more since. I enjoy the hell out of him but no, I’ve never written with him. I don’t know if he’s ever written with a partner. He did what he did and after he turned in his hybrid epic poem draft, it fell into my lap. I just learned this today. He still hasn’t seen the movie or read the script. He’s looking forward to being surprised by it.
NR: Was it important that the story of Blade Runner 2049 build on the legacy of Tyrell’s Nexus-8?
MG: What was important is that the story take place in the present. Though it could be about the past, the future is written in the past, that it was important that everything be important to the here and now, the present moment. But, we would be remiss if we didn’t build on rich history. We all want to know what happened after. While we don’t want to paint the exact picture, it is important to imply. The film does imply and it certainly at some point says several things that happened both in the Tyrell side and on the technological side and implies more so elliptically on the Deckard side what happened in between. We don’t require history. I’ll say this as a P.S. to it, as I get asked a lot, “Do I have to watch the first one to see the second?” The answer is no, you do not. You need to see the first to fill your soul and to have any sense of film history and artistic sensibility but this film I believe stands on its own. Your viewing experience will probably be rewarded if you watch the original before or after, but it needed to be its own film.
NR: Was it important to be able to maintain the ambiguity of the original film?
MG: I think absolutely. One of the first questions I got from the Alcon guys, Andrew and Broderick, when they interrogated me about my intentions with their baby – it was like asking the father for permission to marry their child – they said, “What are you going to do about that?” I said, “I’m going to honor it.” They said, “What does that mean?” I said, “I would be a fool to suggest one way or the other definitively. The point is that the ambiguity is part of our story.” Ambiguity as a concept is part of the story, is a driving force of the tale of Blade Runner 2049 and is endemic to the aura of Blade Runner. If you’re not okay with ambiguity in all things than this film will leave you as the original must have, with some issues you can’t scratch. If you are willing to embrace that life doesn’t come clean, then there’s something to be learned from that.
MG: No, it is a novel with its own integrity. The film Blade Runner is already such a quantumly evolved version of it that they bear similarities in only the most tangential ways. When I look at even just the first few pages’ description of Deckard, I find it a bit disorienting because the name is there but there is no similarity between him and the Rick Deckard I spend my time with, which is not to say anything disparaging about the book or Philip K. Dick as a writer. It’s just they feel like completely different things by now. That said, there’s a sheep in 2049. I believe it’s made the cut. There are private jokes that exist and I encourage people to spot them. We didn’t do the thing where it’s, “Well, the sequel will be we go back to the original.” That would’ve been a different process.
NR: Were you able to take the themes of Blade Runner 2049 beyond, “What is human and what do memories actually mean to us?”
MG: That is an excellent question that I can only put back to the audience and to you, because I don’t think it is the place of the creators to tell people what it’s about. I know what themes I want to import it with. If you ask me what themes I think are in there, I can name a few. I hope people will see it and see that it’s a film with themes, with ideas in addition to story and character. Perhaps they can let me know even what it’s about to them.
NR: Blade Runner 2049 ends up being 150 minutes before credits. Was the script any longer than a normal screenplay?
MG: No, not especially. I’ll say early drafts certainly were but the shooting script of it, there are longer versions of every scene to be had. Dialogue always trims away. Sequences tighten up, absolutely. I need to fact check this myself, but I’m fairly certain no scenes are dropped, which is something I’m pretty proud of because it means that we went to war correctly armed. We always knew we were making a full movie, that we weren’t trying to win any speed tests, that it would take the time it takes. Both Ridley and Denis came in with the confidence of this is a world that takes its time, that we steep in our moments, that its pacing is not that of a full bore adventure film. Both of them know how to make those films but that’s not what they wanted to make here. You don’t watch Blade Runner to speed search to the action. You go to experience the full range of emotions. Not that there isn’t some fun action and incredible tension. Both Ridley and Denis are masters of both.
NR: And it spends five or ten minutes walking through what may take a paragraph to describe.
MG: It does.
MG: There are conflicting ideas from different people involved, what happened between 2019 and 2049 exactly, when and where, things that might happen before and things that are happening contemporaneous, but nothing has been made canon except what is required to be canon for this story. There are absolutely more details, some amazing personal stories happening in another city I’m sure at the exact same time this is happening. Something happened a year before and something will happen a year later. I hope we get to see all those. I think it’s very important to not create facts about the world and put walls up in front of your story. You tell the story you want to tell and then that informs the world.
MG: Neither. I’m saying all things are possible. People ask this a lot when you’re talking about genre thinks, “Oh, did you write a bible of the world before you started working?” I think that is one of the most counterproductive things anyone can do to themselves. It’s not even masochistic. It’s self defeating because when you do something like that, you’re building tiny little walls for yourself, an obstacle course for you to get yourself over. When you must, must, must begin with character, emotion, story, let those things, those three things inform the world that you’re going to build out. It’ll tell you what part of the world you’re going to meet and what part of the world you’re not going to meet. The rules, such as they are, become defined by the tale you want to tell. What the world looks like a year after the events of this, we would know if we set our story in it. What the offworld colonies might look like, we will find out if we set a tale set there. The time in between, same thing.
NR: Were there any things you decided that did not make it into Blade Runner 2049?
MG: Oh, absolutely. You have ideas but nothing that didn’t make it into the film can’t be changed. Those things are not set. I might have my heart set on a few because I would love to mine them. I think there’s story there. Whether it’s a comic book to tell or another story. No, there are so many parts of the Blade Runner universe that I would be tickled to explore as writer or as viewer.