Ridley Scott: How he persuaded the producers to double his budget

Ridley Scott is the director who has made amazing films like Gladiator and Blade Runner. But he got into making films only after he was 40 years old!

Before then, he made tv commercials. He honed his skills in the ad world. And he bought in a few of the ad world tricks to the world of movies, that helped him a lot. Because of which, his movies are extremely visually appealing!

When Scott was 40 years old, his first movie The Duellists won the award for the best debut film at the Cannes. And while the movie didn’t earn a lot of money, it got Scott on the radar of major movie studios.

After the success of Star Wars, suddenly every movie studio wanted to make space based movies. 20th Century Fox had a script called Aliens. But no one wanted to make it. Because the movie would require a lot of special effects, and the budget was very low. 20th Century Fox upped the budget from $2 million to $4 million, and yet the directors they approached didn’t budge.

Ridley Scott agreed to be the director for the movie – because he just didn’t know better. He had made The Duellists for under a million, and so he thought $4 million would be more than enough.

The first thing Scott did on bagging the movie is he flew to his home in London and holed himself in for 3 weeks, thinking through the entire movie. He drew pictures after pictures and created a whole story board!

After 3 weeks, he flew back to Hollywood and showed his storyboard to the producers. And the producers realized, even though Scott didn’t – that $4 million was not nearly enough. They doubled the budget to $8 million!

The power of storyboards

Half a dozen big name directors had tried to say that $4 million was not enough. But it didn’t sink in. Only after seeing the storyboard that showed the whole flow of the movie did the producers realize their budget was inadequate.

That’s the power of storyboards. A storyboard does multiple jobs.

  • It helps catch mistakes in the flow of things. 
  • It allows you to understand the scope of the project.
  • It helps you communicate your vision and get everyone on the same page.

But what can you do if you are not artistic and can’t draw storyboards?

The core of the storyboard

A storyboard is not important. Showing the flow is. 

That’s the same approach your humble author takes. These articles start with an outline. The outline shows the flow. The outline allows better editing by removing weak ideas before they are written. The outline allows you to know what needs to be researched more, and how much time will the whole article take. The outline allows you to start well and end well.

Showing how the idea will flow will allow you to execute it a lot better. It’s the sharpening of your axe. Everyone who doesn’t do it suffers from going overbudget and missing deadlines. 

You can show the flow with various tools. Good software developers use wireframing to visualize the flow of how the app will look and how people will go through it – before they write a single line of code. 

Smart CEOs create organizational charts that show the roles people are supposed to do, and then create standard operating procedures (SOPs) to show the flow of each of these roles!

Great industrialists use process maps to design how their factories should look. In fact, the whole lean production system that helped Japan make better products focuses on the flow of the factory. Taichi Ohno, who revolutionzed Toyota, focused on various flows. Flow of the raw materials. Flow of the tasks that each machine or section did. Flow of the people and engineers. Flow of information on the floor.

Map the flows with whatever tools you have. The tool is not important. Visualizing the flow is.

How detailed should your flows, storyboards, and outlines be?

The detail is determined by the complexity and the importance of the project. A short article can have an outline of 4-7 bullet points. But a fat book should have more detail planned out before you begin writing. 

Ridley Scott himself spent a lot of time creating detailed storyboards for Alien. Because creating special effects before computers was complicated, and he wanted to nail his vision. Creating detail allowed him to bring his abstract ideas out of his head and communicate it with everyone else.

Matching the visually appealing storyboards is what allows Ridley Scott to make tight, visually appealing films. Ridley’s storyboards have become so famous that they are called “Ridleygrams!”

On the foundation of these Ridleygrams, Ridley Scott’s Alien grossed $108 million at the box office! 

Action Summary:

  • Put in the time to chart the flow of your work – before you begin your work. 
  • Don’t start your planning with allocation of resources. Start it with visualizing the flow of things, because that makes resource allocation easier too.
Sample storyboard sequence from Riddley Scott’s Alien