Tag: Authorship

Blade Runner and the auteur theory

When exploring authorship in the context of cinema, there is no getting around the auteur theory.

The auteur theory came out of the ideas developed during the nouvelle-vague in France by the likes of Francois Truffaut: that the director can be seen as the major creative force and to some extent sole author of a movie. As Francois Truffaut wrote:  “There are no good and bad movies, only good and bad directors”.

In reflecting on these ideas as published in the French magazine Les Cahiers du Cinema, Andrew Sarris (an American film critic) even went so far as to suggest that “good directors make good movies, and bad directors make bad movies”.

Although in these discussions it is never denied that the rest of the film crew contributes substantially to the movie, it is asserted that it is still the result of a single dominant voice and vision.

One example that is often used to illustrate the auteur theory is the milestone science-fiction movie Blade Runner (1982), where director Ridley Scott is seen at the author of the film.

In the documentary “Dangerous Days” about the making of Blade Runner Ridley Scott himself can be heard saying:

“Sometimes they don’t comprehend, what I do for a living on a big movie. My performance is as important as any other performance of any person on that film. Particularly the star. The film that I make, at the end of the day is my movie. It may be a team thing as well, but I’m tacking the knocks, I’m taking the bashed, and probably I’ve developed it etc. So yes, it’s my movie, and I’m inviting people to come in and do it. That’s what a director is”.

But the same documentary is filled with examples of individual contributions that became essential parts of the world of Blade Runner. It is often argued that Ridley Scott is one of the modern examples of an auteur filmmaker and Blade Runner is a prime example of his vision. But I could as easily make the argument that Blade Runner is the result of a wild collection of individually developed ideas and elements that somehow became more than the sum of their parts.

Some examples:

Do androids dream of electronic sheep
Of cours the first hint that the authorship of Blade Runner is a lot less concretrated than just the person of the director is that fact that the script is an adaptation from a book by Phillip K. Dick. After multiple drafts of the screenplay were written it was sent to Ridley Scott, who turned down the project at first. Only after he dropped out of Dune, he was persuaded to reconsider directing the movie that became Blade Runner.

Jean Moebius Gireaud
As admitted by Ridley Scott himself, a lot of the visual style of the world of Blade Runner was inspired by the work of French comic artist Moebius – specifically the story ‘The Long Tomorrow’. Scott tried to hire Moebius as a production designer but he was busy working on an animated feature at the time.

A panel from the story “The Long Tomorrow” written by Dan O’Bannon and illustrated by Moebius.





Darryl Hannah was one of the actresses doing screentests for ‘Pris’, all with completely different looks. The actresses doing the test scenes had to develop their own interpretation of the character before the audition. Hannah had seen Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu and went with a Klaus Kinsky look with blacked out hollow eyes. The iconic ‘Pris’ was very much her own creation.

Darryl Hannah based her ‘Pris’ on Klaus Kinki in Nosferatu.


Edward James-Olmos developed his mash-up multilingual language for “cityspeak” mixing up Hungarian, German and French all by himself. Olmos says about Scott: “He never questioned it.”

Tears in the rain

Possibly the most famous lines of dialogue in Blade Runner: Roy Batty’s “Tears in the rain” speech, was re-written by actor Rutger Hauer the night before the scene was shot.

The scene had been written by David Peoples, who was hired to re-write the original screenplay by Hampton Fancher.


These are just examples of how the world of Blade Runner is not so much the result of a singleminded director, but the accumulation of all these little contributions that become more than the the sum of their parts.

Denis Villeneuve, the director of Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to Blade Runner said this when asked about auteur theory:

“If I wanted to have total control and be a dictator, I would do ice sculpture in my basement. If I want to make a movie, I’m going to work with 500 people and I will have to work with their strength and their weakness. The idea, as a director, is to be able to bring everybody on board and to inspire and give energy to everybody and to explain specific color, specific ambience. I need to be very precise, but I think I’m a better director when I’m more a channeler than a dictator. When I look at the result, it’s better than what I had; then, it’s tough for my ego but it is (better). And that’s the poetry. The beauty of cinema is, like, 400 hundred people shooting at four o’clock in the morning for a month, trying to create poetry.”

That voice-over
Towards finishing of the film, the producers were worried that the narrative would be unclear to the audience and it was decided to bring back the voice-over that Scott had removed from the script. In the last recording sessions for the voice over Scott was not even present. Harrison Ford was not happy about doing the voice-over and although he has denied intentionally sabotaging the voice-overs you can tell from his rendition that there’s a distinctive lack of enthusiasm.

When a ‘directors cut’ was released Scott removed the voice-over again, but a wide audience (including director Guillermo Del Toro) prefers the version with the voice-over, with the bland acting becoming part of Ford’s android character.


As some of the articles below demonstrate, one can just as easily make the argument that Ridley Scott is indeed the main author of Blade Runner. If you take into consideration that there are seven known versions of Blade Runner, of which five were widely released, it becomes clear that that at least the process towards the final version was also one of experimentation and back-and-forth testing with audiences.

I am not interested in taking away anything of the remarkable accomplishments of Ridley Scott. But I think it is important to realize that a director or team leader can have a strong and identifiable voice, without suppressing or limiting the voices of the team members.

Maybe a good illustration of this is Miles Davis, one of the most influential jazz instrumentalists, composers and band leaders of the 20th century. As a bandleader he is famous for developing very minimal frameworks for his band members to improvise within. Considering that Davis hired many young and unknown players that developed to become distinctive voices in their own right: Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Mike Stern and Joe Zawinul to just name a few. I try to make that connection here.




Blade Runner as auteur cinema

Documentary: Dangerous Days: Making of Blade Runner. Dir. Charles de Lauzirika. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2007

Garrett, Diane. “Book Review: The Schreiber Theory.” Variety. 15 April 2006. 29 January


On material consciousness

On “The Craftsman” (Richard Sennett) Chapter 4: Material Consciousness

In The Craftsman Richard Sennett explores the the idea of craftsmanship, the desire to do a job well for its own sake – as a template for living. Very broadly speaking the book deals with the integration of thinking and making.

In the chapter about material consciousness he specifically discusses the relationship between a craftsman and his materials and tools. “

“The painter Edgar Degas is once supposed to have remarked to Stephane Mallarme, “I have a wonderful idea for a poem but can’t seem to work it out,” whereupon Mallarme replied, “My dear Edgar, poems are not made with ideas, they are made with words.” (p.119)

Sennett proposes that a craftsman is driven by the ability to change things, and that their thinking revolves around three key issues: metamorphosis, presence and anthropomorphosis.

Through three stories on pottery, brick making and stucco, Sennett argues that these crafts and the thinking about them have developed over the centuries through intimate interaction with the materials, through trial and error. Gradually perfecting techniques, or applying them to a different context. But also identifying themselves in and with the work by leaving makers marks or signing. Sennett uses brick making as an example of how anthropomorphism becomes part of the discourse:

“Honest”brick describes brickwork in which all the bricks laid, say, in a Flemish bond course come from the same kiln, and even more, “honest” brick evokes a building surface in which the brick work is exposed rather than covered over: no cosmetics, no “pots of whore’s rouge” have been applied to its face”. (p.140)

This is in contrast with the developments in stucco, which could be used mimic other materials, or hide any underlying materials. This sparked a modern debate on the virtues of naturalness, and the contrary freedoms of fantasy artifice, with brick embodying the Enlightenment desires to live in harmony with simple things.

The projection of human qualities to materials (anthropomorphism) leads to a philosophical debate on simulated materials or objects, made to look like they were hand-made.

Position of the author

Sennett is not one to take a very explicit position but throughout the book it is clear he is proposing the craftsmans integrated thinking and making as a model for living a productive and meaningful life. On multiple occasions he is critical of the split between thinking and doing that has been central to a lot of western thinking since Plato.

Why is this relevant

Within the last century effects for cinema have moved from physical and photo-chemical to much more metaphorical using digital tools.

My argument is that although digital visual effects may not have as much of the tactile physical interaction that, say, clay has – it can be seen as craftsmanship in that the result is shaped through integrated thinking and making. For most visual effects artists, their craft is part of a way of life, and they are driven by a desire to do great work for its own sake.

Second: I am exploring the issue of material ‘honesty’ and how it relates to digital work. On the ‘surface’  it would be convincing to propose that digital effects are to traditional effects as bricks are to stucco (which according to Sennett renowned historian John Summerson classified as ‘fake material’ p.139). This would imply that for instance brick (and especially hand-made brick) have an intrinsic honesty whereas stucco is actively trying to fool people.

Upon further thinking this concept seems more and more ridiculous. Or better: it is a cultural construct. But nonetheless an important part of my motivation.




On digital drawing



Birgitta Hosea is an animation artist, curator and practice-based researcher working in the field of animation and moving images. She is also Course Director for the MA Character Animation at the Royal College of Arts in London and PhD supervisor at Central Saint Martins.


In  her article ‘Drawing Animation’ she examines the meaning of ‘drawing’ as a material process in the context of animation. Drawing as a performative act.

Drawing is usually seen as leaving marks with pencil on paper. However she argues that to limit the definition of drawing to making marks on paper is too narrow and does not allow for inclusion of a range of work made by contemporary animators and artists.

A traditional view on drawing is often associated with immediacy, authenticity and even honesty. This appreciation of traditional craftmanship stands in contrast with the perception of images created with digital tools. Even the common phrase of ‘computer generated images’ has implications of mechanized mass production disconnected from the human gesture, having lost it’s authenticity.

The result of these views is a juxtaposition of drawing as a direct, subjective and unmediated form of expression, in stark contrast with the manipulated perfection of the computer generated image.

This does not do justice to complexity of digitally creating images.

“As computer technology increasingly becomes an essential part of the production and dissemination of all media, the notion of a binary opposition between the digital and the handmade becomes meaningless and a new synthetic paradigm – the post-digital – emerges.” 1


As part of my research on craftsmanship and individual authorship in the context of collaborative work in animation and cinema, I raise the question of the materiality of digitally crafted images.

Most research into digital images puts the emphasis on the reproduction mechanisms, and copyright law. I am however more interested in looking at digital images from the perspective of a painter. Can digitally mediated images carry the ‘fingerprint’ of the maker? Can authorship be recognized not only in the content of the images but in the ‘texture’?

This article by Birgitta Hosea is one of the few sources that attempts to compare traditional analog techniques to digital animation, and question the validity of the common term ‘computer generated images’. I would even go one step further and question her use of the term ‘handmade’ (in the quote above) in opposition to digitally mediated images. Without resorting into semantics, it seems to me that to have this discussion in earnest, we need more appropriate terminology. If photography was called ‘camera generated images’, and painting ‘brush generated images’ I think we would have very different conversations about those fields.

For the time being I will use ‘digitally mediated images’ as an alternative.

In the end even Hosea’s article does not produce satisfying answers. As some point she even sabotages her own argument by stating that even digitally created images are often preceded by pencil drawings’:

“It is essentialist to conceptualize traditional drawing and hand-drawn animation as honest, personal and subjective in opposition to the bland, mechan[1]ized perfection of digital imagery in which individual work is homogenized through the use of standard computer software. Drawing is used in the design and conceptualization of digital animation and in the training of animators: traditional drawn animation is scanned, cleaned-up, colour corrected and edited on computer. “ 2


1,2 Hosea, Birgitta, Drawing Animation, Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal 5 (3), Sage Pub, 2010, p353-367

Source: “Swimming with Sharks”

Trygve Allister Diesen is a Norwegian film director. Out of frustration with having his vision for his films compromized by (his words) ‘sharks’ he started a research project as a fellow of the Norwegian Film School. He has published a video essay in six parts documenting this process. Below I will summarize the episodes briefly and then reflect on it in the context of my own research.

Part 1
His question: “How can you maintain your vision in an artform this collaborative and commercial”. The premise of his research is that in filmmaking there are a lot of people influencing the creative process, from writers to actors, cinematographers to casting agents, and the worst: producers.

Part 2
Diesen points out that on ‘Torpedo’ he had what he thought to be full creative control: he initiated the project, approached the producer, chose the cast and cinematographer and had the final decision over the edit. On set there were lots of conflicts eventually leading up to an actual fistfight amongst the crew. He describes his ‘vision’ for the film mostly as style: high pace acting, cinematography and editing.

In this part he describes that because he had a good relationship with the cinematographer, he could focus more on coaching the actors. But the lead actor on ‘Red’ mentions that he rarely gets any useful input from film directors – because they are more interested in their ‘vision’ than in the ‘truth of the moment’.

And then Diesen mentions how his advisor told him that vision could also be more related to how you see the world around you.

Part 3
This is mostly anecdotal.

Part 4
In part 4 he mostly discusses how his decisions about the shooting style (very loose camerawork) compromised the quality of the audio recording – but he thought at least the actors would be happy because of the ‘freedom’. Except that shooting extremely long days for weeks on end took its toll on the actors and all the other crew. But at the same time it is acknowledged that having more time to ‘fix’ things would not necessarily have made the film better.

In the second half of part 4 we have a look on set of another director: Per Fly. The atmosphere on this set seems much more calm and relaxed. On the surface the director seems to exercise much less control.

Part 5
The plot thickens: Diesen accepts to finish an American feature film that was started by another director. It has been a long time goal to land a directing job in Hollywood, but it seems at odds with his research into maintaining his personal vision (even if he’s not clarifying what a vision in this context is, or what his vision is…).

Later on he states his vision for ‘Red’ was: “to take care of the story, and give room for Brian’s performance”.

Part 6
In this last part Diesen is confronted with some strong visions involved with the film other than his own. The producers cut a scene from the film, and the lead actor forces him to shoot a very long scene without backup plan. He realizes that the visions of others can contribute to a film and make it stand out. Make it better. That when you control a work in every detail, you are limited to the boundaries of your own talent.

One of the reasons this project resonates with me is that I really see potential in the form. The narrative of his research really lends itself to this documentary approach. I am seriously considering video as a documentation and publishing tool for my research project.

Another reason is that the question of personal vision in the context of collaborative work is really closely related to my own, and as such forces me to secondguess myself. Interestingly on first viewing I thought Diesen’s conclusion was a bit stating the obvious.  “By harnessing the visions of your collaborators you can make work that extends beyond your own talent and capabilities and can become much stronger” (I’m paraphrasing) is not a very surprising outcome of the research.

But after watching the episodes again and thinking about my own research I realize that in a way my own research question is similarly focussing on the challenge of maintaining my own fingerprint and authorship within the context of a larger team. This is still a valid question, but it seems equally important to allow for the collaborators fingerprint and ‘vision’ to manifest itself in the work.

Watch the series here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6