Blade Runner: How the Sci-fi ‘flop’ almost cost the director his job

Blade Runner was released in 1982

Blade Runner was released in 1982 (Image: Getty)

The initial release of the iconic Harrison Ford-led movie, which went $5million over budget at $33million, with many millions more ploughed into marketing, barely broke even. Award-winning film-maker Katy Haber, the film’s production executive, today reveals the lengthy journey from flop to hit, culminating in Ridley Scott’s desired version – the Director’s Cut – in 1992 and eventually Final Cut in 2007.

Haber said: “The original release was not how Ridley envisioned it.”

The unusual situation of Scott, deemed as one of Hollywood’s finest directors, not having control was prompted by a twist of fate.

“Two weeks before the end of production, prompted by fears over a pending director’s strike, the producer Michael Deeley decided to shoot those two weeks in one week, which meant that we were shooting around the clock, thereby increasing the budget by $5million in overtime.

“As Bud Yorkin and Jerry Perenchio’s Tandem Productions were the completion bond guarantors, who had to come up with the necessary funds, they effectively took over the picture, firing everyone above the line except me.”

Haber acted as “intermediary” between Tandem and Ridley Scott and Michael Deeley.

“Yorkin wanted to take control away from Ridley to complete the film himself, but the DGA didn’t allow that. However, Ridley had to give in to Tandem’s decisions and scathing editing notes, allowing their own “stamp” on scene choices, character arcs, story and above all Deckard’s final scene voice-over.”

Harrison Ford and Edward James Olmos on the set of Blade Runner

Harrison Ford and Edward James Olmos on the set of Blade Runner (Image: Getty)

“Ridley continued to shoot inserts in the UK, but Yorkin was sending editing notes that had to be fulfilled. I could see Ridley’s frustration as each cut or recut was attacked. Tandem were unhappy and Yorkin’s comments were rude.

They were dissatisfied with what they were seeing, even though trailers were playing in movie theatres.

“The relationship between Tandem and Ridley during the editing period was acerbic to say the least. We did the best we could under the circumstances.

“Ridley had to do what he had to do, but was not happy about it. I was left keeping the peace.”

A memo from Yorkin and Perenchio depicts the animosity towards Scott after a preview screening in January 1982. Perenchio noted: “This picture gets duller every time we see it”… “the audience will fall asleep.”

Perenchio said Ford’s monologue was “terrible”, adding: “he sounds drugged”. Tandem urged Scott to relinquish any role by them “pooling their notes…and have Bud cut the picture. Ridley and crew have had their cuts and still have not done what was agreed.”

They also suggest Tandem executives fly to London to oversee the editing of the film.

Haber says: “That did not happen, but they did change the ending. Ridley saw the final moment as hinting that Deckard was a replicant after seeing a small origami unicorn, harking back to a dream.

But Tandem removed that. Yorkin said at the time, ‘Is he or isn’t he a replicant? You can’t cheat an audience that way. It’s another confusing moment’.”

Yorkin didn’t understand the film. Tandem thought, “We better do something to help move this along. It was a panic decision.” Even Ford, who had a frosty relationship with Scott, was unhappy at being dragged into the tweaks.

“Yorkin decided we needed a narration from Deckard to explain the story. I was in the studio with Harrison, who did the narration really badly in the hope it would not be used. Harrison was livid, but unfortunately, it was used.”

The opening weeks of the film did not fare well, with critics savaging the movie on its release.

Blade Runner went $5million over budget

Blade Runner went $5million over budget (Image: Getty)

Haber recalls how the New York Times called it a “muddled gruesome mess”. LA Times labelled it “Blade Crawler” and film critic Roger Ebert discharged: “The movie’s weakness, however, is that it allows the special effects technology to overwhelm its story.”

Looking sombre, Katy recalled: “It broke my heart. The reviews were bad and it was devastating for all of us.We knew we did something special, but the public, the critics and the media obviously didn’t.”

Haber added too that audiences were enjoying uplifting comic book-esque sci-fi films at the time. “Our film was not Close Encounters, Star Wars or ET and a children’s view of the future. Maybe people were not ready to be told that a dark dystopian future awaits us in 2019.”

Despite its disastrous first cinematic outing, Hollywood creatives were influenced throughout the 1980s by the innovative set design, film style and storytelling.

By chance, a Warner Brothers executive stumbled on Scott’s early 70-millimetre print of Blade Runner in their archives.

Within months buzz in the film world swirled about the never seen version with small screenings at a USA film fest.

Scott was initially miffed at the unfinished cut being shown, but secured a deal withWarner Brothers films and agreement from Tandem to edit the movie as he wanted.

Haber said: “Ridley never wanted the happy ending, so when he finally got the film he wanted made 10 years later – it really was something special. That director’s cut was looked upon by some as the greatest sci-fi film of all time.

“Tandem let Ridley do it because they saw it as business. He’d become one of the biggest directors of the 1980s and that meant a re-release would bring them more financial remuneration.

“I was delighted. The film came out as Ridley had always envisioned. For the 25th anniversary Ridley went back for his ‘final cut’ that will always remain a masterpiece, with the origami and unicorn in it. I will always be proud to have been a part of Blade Runner.

“It was one of the most important science fiction films of the 20th century. So much of it was prophetic then and has now been realised.

Sean Young on the set of Blade Runner

Harrison Ford and Sean Young on the set of Blade Runner (Image: Getty)

“Robotic and AI existence, multicultural society, humans’ desire to be eternal and prophecy of LA’s societal issues were all featured.”

HABER spoke as she collected the charitable services to the Los Angeles community award at the BABC/Britweek Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebration.

The BABC LA celebrates the unique bond between the countries, including celebrations of creative maestros at events like The Social Media Superstar Awards.

Haber, who worked on eight of Sam Peckinpah’s films including Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid and The Getaway, was appointed an MBE for services to the community in Los Angeles in 2012, as well as the Martin Luther Award in 2010 and an Honorary Professorship at the University of Bedfordshire in 2011.

A founding member of Bafta Los Angeles, serving on the board for 23 years, as co-chairwoman of the Education and Outreach Committee, Katy spearheaded the Helen Keller Park screening programmes which enabled inner-city children to see first-run movies in parks for over a period of 12 years.

She co-founded the Washington Prep High School film mentorship programme and co-founded the Innercity Shakespeare Ensemble.

Haber has worked on other life-changing projects including 13 years as executive director of Dome Village Transitional Homeless Community, during which time she co-founded Compton Cricket Club, a homeless and innercity youth cricket team that toured England four times, and Australia in 2011, with the support of Prince Edward.

Haber said: “I feel very humbled receiving this award. I do it because it’s second nature.

“My life has been walking in one direction one minute and then going in a different direction moments later on projects that have given me nothing else but joy.

“The richest award is the gratification I get for helping others. The remuneration is doing something for others.”

Haber, whose worked with stars like David Niven, Steve McQueen, Kris Kristofferson, James Coburn and James Mason, appreciates being called a “pioneer for women in film”. I’ve never seen myself as a pioneer, I simply did what I loved.

“I am grateful for the opportunities I have had by circumstance. I’ve had the chance to work with some of the greatest directors of the 20th century, I could not ask for anything more.”

  • Blade Runner is currently available on Amazon Prime