On Friday, Universal Pictures is set to release Robin Hood, the fifth collaboration between director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe. Working from a script by Brian Helgeland, author of the deconstructionist take on medieval action, A Knight's Tale, the duo created a prequel of sorts to the rob-from-the-rich-give-to-the-poor tale that's been told dozens of times on film before. All of which is why before merry men across the country strap on tights and cue up Bryan Adams on ye olde iPod, Cinematical collected Scott and Crowe's comments about the process of realizing Robin Hood - as both man and myth - on the silver screen.
It seems like the first time fans heard about the project, Robin Hood's 12th-Century exploits were practically current events. Russell Crowe explained that the extended development process, not to mention the various descriptions and rumors swirling around the production, were attempts to honestly depict what the movie was or would be at various times.
"If you look at the two and half years between when we were first given the idea and the last day of shooting, people try to pump it up like it was falling apart, that this was going on, or that was going on," Crowe said in a roundtable interview is Los Angeles, Calif. "The reality is that we took a normal, responsible period of time to develop a story into a feature film that was shootable within a confined period of time. Some of the things that were printed were simply because we couldn't answer the question at the time. Are you going to play more than one character? Well, the central part of Robin Hood, one of things is disguise and deception, so I take on somebody else's persona. So I can't answer "no" to that question, right, but I can't fully explain the reality of that because it's giving away one of the fun bits of the plot. But not being able to answer it fully, you leave this massive grounds for interpretation. People were just running with the answer and creating something completely different out of it."
Key to capturing an authentic portrait of the world within the film is shooting all of it, all of the time. Ridley Scott indicated that his multi-camera shooting increased productivity and creativity, not to mention energy among his cast and crew members.
Scott said, "I came to it through watching actors get frustrated when you do it a take and I'm watching the actor off camera and I'm saying, "Save it!" Except he's not saving it. He's giving it to him, so by the time you've come around, he's done - he's cooked. So with two cameras, you adjust the light a little bit – there's not much of a compromise – and once you do that, you suddenly think, hey, we can put four, six cameras in here. If you regard each short sequence as a playlet, a play, then you're covering maybe a minute-and-a-half, two minutes, and it's better for the actor who's acting through the play without the stop-and-pull of individual takes.
Crowe agreed that the technique helped him maintain a sense of immersion in the film's universe. "Me, I like to live in the world," he said. "I spend all the time that I need during a rehearsal situation. I look at where they are; I ask what lens they have on, [and] I've got a pretty good idea what he's going to get. But I also have that thing – and this comes from growing up in smaller films – where you don't want to waste an inch of footage. You have to be aware of the camera movement and what the camera's doing. It's just in a much more fluid sense when you're on-set with Ridley."
Suffice it to say that Russell and Ridley are intimately familiar with the question, "are you not entertained?" But the duo revealed that they have mixed feelings about the test screening process, which led them to cut footage out of the film.
Crowe said he led the charge to show it to test audiences. "He hates it, but I say, you've got to do it, man. I know it's hard, but funnily enough, I felt that it gave you another burst of energy."
Scott conceded, "one thing's for sure [is] nothing is for sure. Whatever you think, you don't know anything. The value of a screening is that you think that something really works and then a third of the audience sees something that you knew in the back of your mind was kind of wriggling, and you go, fuck, I've got to deal with that. It's an endorsement that it's a problem."
If the theatrical cut of Robin's rise to infamy isn't epic enough, Scott said there would subsequently be a longer edition arriving on DVD and Blu-ray.
"There's 17 minutes more," Scott confessed. "It's not a lot, actually. The first cut on this was three hours and four minutes. And did it work? Yes. Because everything was fresh. You live to see rushes. When I'm shooting, the reward is the rushes. That's the fun of it. You get a day of rushes, you're walking on air. For the most part, losing fifteen or twenty minutes is pretty average. But the 17 minutes we took out is going straight into the DVD. It's exactly the same film except there are a few areas, a few scenes-
"A few grace notes in terms of the characters," Crowe interjected.
Scott explained he thinks of the home video audience differently, which accounts for his extended or expanded versions of films. "A person sitting in their living room with a can of beer or a glass of wine, watching, is a different person than the person sitting in a theater with a lot of people," he observed. "It's a different head-set. You're more likely, when you're in your own living room, to watch three hours when you can pause, get up, have a pee, get another glass of wine, come back and resume. It's a different experience."
Scott has revealed that his next two projects, a pair of Alien prequels, will be shot in 3-D. Interestingly, despite the format's current status as a commercial fad as much as a creative tool, Crowe said he could see their first partnership showing up in 3-D one day.
"It's not an invalid thing to do a 3-D version of Gladiator," Crowe said. "This is one of those odd movies that doesn't happen very much. We made that movie in 1999 and every given week that passes, it's screening somewhere as the principle movie that night in primetime. It's one of those movies that's lasted. I can see a theatrical 3-D release."
Scott, meanwhile, suggested he'd prefer to use that technique only on future projects. "I'd rather save that energy for something new," he said. "We could have done this in 3-D, but everyone was so hesitant. We didn't bother because the film's good enough."