LOS ANGELES — Director Ridley Scott gave a sigh, then smiled at his film editor, Pietro Scalia. "That's it," Mr. Scott said with finality. After sorting through almost 2 million feet of film, and editing it into a cohesive movie, he was ready to turn in his director's cut on "Black Hawk Down."
It was August, and the film wasn't slated for release until March 2002, so he had plenty of time to add music, sound, and special effects.
"Then Sept. 11 happened," the director recalled, "and everything changed."
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer felt the story of the US Army Rangers with a UN peacekeeping force in Somalia should be told now.
The soldiers were assigned an eight-hour mission to defuse a civil war in that African country. It expanded to 18 hours with the opposing factions surprisingly prepared with ammunition.
"It's a true story," Scott says. "It shows the courage of the Army's Rangers and Delta Force who volunteered to go back to save their buddies who were surrounded. Although the event took place in '93, it seemed like it was ripped from today's headlines."
Black Hawk is the name of the Army helicopters. The Rangers, who worked in the film, are now in Afghanistan.
"The Army gave us the cream of the crop," Scott says. "They kept to the letter of the script, often flying 20 feet above ground, hovering at six feet, then landing on roof tops and even landing in streets to rescue the trapped and wounded.
"In all my films, from 'Blade Runner' to 'Alien,' to 'Hannibal,' and especially 'Gladiator,' I'm always alert to safety precautions. A director's worst nightmare, especially in battle scenes, is that someone will be hurt."
The British-born director adds, "If I felt a stunt looked a bit dodgy, I'd say, 'Stop, let's rethink this....' There were no accidents [in making Black Hawk Down.]"
Post production was accelerated, and "Black Hawk Down" (see review, page 15) opened in major cities just in time for Oscar consideration. It will be released nationwide this month.
"A film director's life is filled with peaks and valleys," Scott confides. Last year, "Gladiator" won the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture, and its star, Russell Crowe, won Best Actor.
Scott, who directed and produced the movie, was nominated but did not win.
"I've learned nothing is worth worrying about," he admits.
Scott recalls that when his older brother and father died within weeks of each other, he was forced to take a closer look at his life.
"I tend to be introverted. I'm not one who goes to psychiatrists. Instead, I went it alone and looked deep within," he says. "I found my own center. When my priorities were set straight, stress left."
Scott's mother died as he was finishing "Black Hawk Down." He added a dedication to her on the crawl at the end of the movie: "For my Mum, Elizabeth Jean Scott, 1906-2001."
When the stress dissolved, the love for his craft expanded. Moviegoers may notice his fine-tuning during several scenes in "Black Hawk Down."
"There are certain things that dig in," he explains. "Emblazoned in my mind was the book's description of a long convoy racing out of Mogadishu. The lead driver sees a man crossing the road. Instead of flattening him, he [slams] the brakes. It's a grandfather with the lifeless body of his granddaughter in his arms."
Near the end of the film, as a truck races the wounded to safety, it passes a billboard showing what Somalia once was: a peaceful surfing and sailing paradise.
"It was the last scene I put in the film," Scott says.
Any film student knows such cinematic moments separate the good from the great. Scott calls them "cause and effect - little tragedies - which touch the heart."
When students ask him how to become a director, he advises them to "get a camera. It's only by 'doing' that you learn."
Scott shot more than 2,000 television commercials before he made his first movie.
Today, he and his younger brother, Tony Scott, director of action films such as "The Crimson Tide," are partners of a special-effects studio and film company.
"I keep on truckin,' " says Scott.
He's currently producing the "The Lonely Years" for HBO. It stars Albert Finney as Winston Churchill and Vanessa Redgrave as his wife, Clementine.
"It's almost spooky how much Finney becomes Churchill," says Scott, who is also producing the movie, "Six Bullets From Now."
"When I'm producing," he explains, "I'm involved on the script level. I think the script is the blueprint. If you get the script right, and the director right, then everything is relatively smooth sailing."