giovedì 8 maggio 2014

"This isn't 'Cleopatra', why are we paying this guy so much money?" Ivor Powell shares his memories of '2001' and beyond

We learned in a previous post that Alien and Blade Runner producer Ivor Powell appeared in 2001 as one of the hibernated astronauts aboard Discovery I. Last week I've been able to make contact with Mr. Powell thanks to Peter Briggs, co-writer of Hellboy and director of Panzer 88, an interesting upcoming movie produced by Powell and Gary Kurz (Star Wars & The Empire Strikes Back).

Ivor Powell (this and the following photo curtesy of the amazing documentary series Alien Makers)

Mr. Powell very kindly agreed to share with us some memories of his experience on our favourite movie as 'extra' and publicity assistant. Enjoy!

* * *
Dear Simone, 
I can confirm that the story is true: I worked on 2001 for nearly three years and although uncredited, apart from Ray Lovejoy (deceased Editor of the movie) I was one of the longest crew employees on the movie. I started off working as a publicity assistant, assigned to working within the Art Department - helping obtain tie-ins with all kinds of companies and then ended up working directly for SK as a kind of junior special effects production co-ordinator. My job was basically to know exactly what was happening on all the various SP-FX camera setups that were sometimes shooting 24/7. 
One day, I was asked to stand in for the actor that played Kaminsky inside the Hibernaculum. They needed someone that could keep their eyes closed without their eyelids 'flickering'. Not easy under 'close scrutiny' - but I ended up in the movie as far as I know.
I could not believe my good fortune when I learned that i had got the job to work on 2001. I was a huge fan of Kubrick's after seeing Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, Lolita and Spartacus and as I was also Science fiction mad - it was like a dream come true.
Kubrick was a scary, super intellectual person to come across initially. 2001 was my first big movie experience (albeit at a very junior level) and I was in awe of him.
As a junior publicity assistant, I was paid pretty generously for my limited experience and I learned subsequently that Kubrick was questioning my immediate boss Roger Caras about my salary. There are copies of this correspondence in the Kubrick archives. There's a telex that SK wrote to Roger that said something like - "This isn't Cleopatra, so why are we paying this guy Ivor so much money"?
Ivor Powell (source:
To cut a long story short - one day, unaware that my fate was in the balance and of all these telexes that were flying back and forth between M.G.M. Studios, Boreham Wood and New York, where Caras was based - I was walking across the lot and happened to bump into Kubrick and for the first time plucked up the courage to talk to him.
Fortunately for me, he was impressed by whatever i said and he instructed Victor Lyndon, his associate producer to renegotiate my salary down by 50% and reassign me to work next to his (Kubrick's) office, where I began to chart the progress of all the effect shots of the movie. Remember that this was way before CGI and Digital effects. Special effects were much more complicated in those days and had to go through multiple stages before all the elements were finally composited together in the film lab. I shared this office with Con Pederson and Bryan Loftus.
* * *

Another couple of interesting 2001/Kubrick-related facts about Ivor:

1) It's possible, although not 100% sure, that it was him, drawing from his experience in 2001, that suggested Ridley Scott to use a front-light technique in order to achieve that eye-glowing effect for the replicant's eyes in Blade Runner.

You might remember that same effect in 2001, where the effect was unintended, as we have seen in my previous article about the leopard scene:

Here's a snippet from the Blade Runner classic making-of book Future Noir:
Although I can't be sure of this today, it might have been a prior experience of mine which prompted me to suggest we use this 'reflected light' technique in the first place. Because when I was working on 2001, we were using a lot of what's called front projection. How that works is, you hang a highly reflective screen behind your sets and actors and front-project a background onto that screen. You can't notice this in the film because you've also lit the set in such a way to disguise that front light.
Well, one day when we were doing this on 2001, we brought a live leopard onto the set for the 'Dawn of Man' sequences. And a totally unanticipated thing happened. As a result of throwing all this light forward, the leopard's retinas reflected that light straight back into the camera. And it's eyes looked like they were glowing - it was the motion picture equivalent of what you see when someone takes a bad snapshot of you and the light from the flash bounces back from your eyes onto the emulsion. So the glowing eyes of 2001's leopard hadn't been planned at all. But Stanley (Kubrick) liked the effect so much he kept it in the final cut. This is so similar to what we did on Blade Runner, it is feasible I suggested this idea to Ridley or Jordan early on. Unfortunately, I just can't remember.
2) Blade Runner producer Michael Deeley credited Ivor Powell for the famous borrowed shots from The Shining that ended up being used for the original Blade Runner ending:

Here's an excerpt from Deeley's book Blade Runners, Deer Hunters & Blowing the Bloody Doors Off:
Then Ivor Powell had a canny idea and he suggested to us that we call Stanley Kubrick to ask if Ridley could borrow a short piece of film from The Shining (1980). This rare courtesy from one director to another provided us with the footage that depicted Deckard and Rachael driving through an extraordinary landscape toward their happy future together.  
One day of shooting in northern California with Harrison Ford and Sean Young (Rachael) provided sufficient close shots to splice into Kubrick's footage. Terry Rawlings, back in the cutting rooms, came up with an ingenious way of reformatting the yellow Volkswagen which appeared in The Shining so that it looked like some completely futuristic vehicle. 
The Shining had been paid for by Warner Brothers, who gave Stanley Kubrick an unprecedented amount of financial and creative freedom. No money passed between Brighton Films and Warner Brothers for this material, which was achieved by a mere wave of Kubrick's hand.

Powell was also instrumental in bringing Douglas Trumbull, one of the special effects supervisors for 2001, on board for Blade Runner; and did more or less the same for 2001 modelist Roger Dicken in Alien (Dicken physically built the facehugger and the chestburster from H.G. Giger's original designs).

Not bad for an hibernated astronaut, don't you think?

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