As the Red Dwarf web-site goes on-line, Mr Flibble takes his biro to meet the ink and paint of the man responsible for the site's glowing artwork, the conceptual artist renowned for such movies as Alien: Resurrection, The Fifth Element and Gladiator - Sylvain Despretz
Mr Flibble whispered his first question to Andrew, who passed it on to Sylvain: Which movie that you've worked on has come closest to mimicking your concept art?
Off the top of my head, I would say ALIEN: RESURRECTION. There's a few things that I think closely mimic [my work]. I had this moment on the set when I went over one night, and Ellen Ripley [Sigourney Weaver] - who was waiting for a take or something - was walking around and she had a gun strapped on that I'd designed. And I remembered the afternoon when I'd designed that gun; it was a quick design, just a quick little sketch. I stood on the set and I looked at Ellen Ripley, and there she was with my gun - and I was very, very happy about it. It was just a nice moment.
I also did one of the two ships in the film. It's not a great ship - it's not as nice as Syd Mead's ship [the Sulaco] in the second one or anything, but we had to work with what we were given, which was limitations...and no time! (Laughs.) It's called The Auriga, it's the one that blows up. It looks like an alligator or something. It looks like a flying rib-cage - that was the idea, actually. The idea was to make it look like a very organic thing, it almost looked like a sort of animal itself.
Mr Flibble whispered that he was very keen to see two of the most anticipated 'almost-movies' in recent memory - Superman Lives and I Am Legend - with Tim Burton and Ridley Scott respectively. He wanted to know why they were never made.
Warner Brothers! (Laughs.) Actually it was, they were both Warner Bros films; both in 1997, which I don't think was one of their best years. SUPERMAN LIVES was a different story from I Am Legend - Superman Lives was an idea, an executive idea at Warner Brothers, which was, "We have the rights, let's revisit the property. Let's have Nicolas Cage [and] Tim Burton." These are packaged deals. And from that you try to say, "Let's write a script." And I think that's where they had problems. They couldn't quite live up to the initial idea.
I AM LEGEND was a different story, a different principle, a different reason for being made. There's many reasons why it didn't get made - the actor's [Arnold Schwarzenegger] fee was enormous, a fifth of the film's budget, which on I Am Legend was a $100 million budget. And one fifth is a lot of money, it's the visual effects budget basically. That's one of the things that I think kept Ridley in fear, he felt that he might not be able to make the film he needed to make.
That was one of the things; the other thing was that Warner Bros felt like they'd hired him to make a different film. I think they believed that they were going to do a big sort of Terminator thing, because they had Arnold, they had the future, a devastated future - so they felt that by association that's what they were getting. Then Ridley came back with a mood piece that to me was extraordinary, but that wasn't what the studio had really hoped for.
Mr Flibble thought they should have cast him - he's a guaranteed box-office draw. More recently you've been doing another Ridley Scott film, GLADIATOR...
That got done! That's finished! (Laughs) Which is good, because one gets tired of working on things that don't. You have to justify gaping holes in your career, "Where have you been for the last two years?" "I was working on this thing that you'll never see." So yeah, that got made, and it was a humongous movie, enormous, massive, and I still can't believe it got made.
I did pre-production work, really, I wasn't working through the shoot - through a bit of it, but not that much of it. It's kind of nice because I do most of my work before people get there, which [on Gladiator] was a big crew. So it's very laid back, you work in the best possible circumstances for creating. Before pressure comes in.
Mr Flibble asked if the Gladiator crew were ever given fish by the caterers. Andrew instead asked: A lot of what you work on is very dark - although your work on something like The Fifth Element or The Avengers is somewhat lighter. Which TONE do you prefer working in?
I like both. If I had to make one choice and live with it, I would stay with dark, realistic, gritty - because I think it's closer to what I am. (Laughs.)
It's funny, I have a feeling that when I'm in one mode, I pull towards the opposite. I think that if I know I'm working on something that is very light and comedic, I'm liable to try to become more realistic in the way that I draw, and then pull to the other extreme - I don't know why, I don't really know if I do it consciously. While I couldn't say I was doing comic relief in I Am Legend, I think I have a tendency to want to compensate, to add a sort of opposite feel to things sometimes.
That's what I did sometimes on Avengers, and it was the same on Fifth Element. I was part of a sort of black sheep group on Fifth Element that was always arguing to pull things towards something more realistic, and questioning the sort of senseless plot things that were going on. We were always trying to sell concepts to the director that were 'higher' science fiction, and often getting turned down.
Mr Flibble insisted on asking if film catering includes a provision for fresh fish. Andrew threatened to stop cutting his fingernails. Mr Flibble elected to ask a more appropriate question: Are there DIRECTORS with whom you have a good rapport? Who you communicate well with?
I've most enjoyed working with Ridley Scott from that view point, but that's partly because he's a remarkable artist. He speaks an artistic language and he's very sophisticated; if he doesn't like something you've done, it's mostly because he's got a much better idea. Working with a director like Ridley is a bit like going to your artistic 'Dream School'.
It's quite likely that a director will call me for their next project, but directors sometimes have to wait three years between projects - if I waited three years I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you, I'd be under a bridge somewhere. (Laughs.) Sometimes you're lucky and you get to work again for people you like. But more often than not you can't. They'll call you, and if all goes well you're on a bigger and better film! (Laughs.)
At this point Mr Flibble was handed a doodle Sylvain had done of him - he said his beak was too big. Andrew asked: You've worked with an amazing array of talented directors, tell us about working with STANLEY KUBRICK on Eyes Wide Shut...
I think Kubrick is
by far and away the greatest director that could have been, so I would
have done everything to work on one of his films. When I was on The Avengers
the [Eyes Wide Shut] production designer Les Tomkins called up and said,
Can you bring some of your girlie sketches? And I didn't really have
any - so I made some. (Laughs.) I think they were looking for some designs
for the orgy scene; not really designs, they were looking for ideas of
what high-class prostitutes in an exclusive - they didn't use the word
'orgy', they said a sort of 'exclusive gathering of people with lots of
money' - would be doing.
I was given two script pages, I was sat down and the door was closed and I had to do some sketches. And I did. That was it, really - I wouldn't say that it was working on the film, it was a bonus. A brush with greatness before greatness died.
Is there another director you'd like to work with that you haven't yet?
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN, unequivocally. I'm a big fan of The Exorcist, I think it's on my list of the five best films ever made. When I think of all the current, living directors, I think he's by far and away the most interesting to me. I'd give everything to work with William Friedkin, but I don't think I ever will - I don't think he uses people who do what I do. He's too instinctive, he's very organic in his technique, he comes from documentary making. He's a very wild and spontaneous director, so he's typically the kind of person who would never use someone like me - and maybe that's what the attraction is. (Laughs.) You always want what you can't have!
Mr Flibble enjoyed talking to Sylvain Despretz, and now that it's over... Mr Flibble is very cross.Click here to view Artwork