Wednesday, July 2, 2014

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY INTERVIEW SERIES: IVOR POWELL Part One

Next up in our 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY Interview Series....

Producer Ivor Powell (Alien, Blade Runner) talks with TV STORE ONLINE about his first job in the film industry....Working for Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey...  

TV STORE ONLINE:   How did you come to work on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)?

POWELL:   It's one of these famous and slightly incestuous stories...I had always wanted to work in the movies but it's never been easy for anyone to work in the movies.  It's even harder today than it was back then around the time that 2001 was made.  You had to have a Union ticket in order to get a job, and in order to get a ticket you had to either have been offered a job or have had a job on a film.  

I had being working in the theater for a while and my aunt was a famous film critic.  She wrote for the Sunday Times in London.   She had gotten me a job working with the New York cast of West Side Story when I was 17-years-old.   From there I worked on various documentaries and then I got a job with the BBC when they first launched BBC2.   My aunt then got me a interview with a man named Roger Caras.   Roger was a publicity man with Columbia Pictures for a time and he went on to work with Stanley on DR. STRANGELOVE (1964) and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.  I got the interview with Roger and he hired me to work as his assistant.   When he hired me, 2001 was being called "Journey To The Stars".    Stanley Kubrick was my hero because I had absolutely loved SPARTACUS (1960).   I was also Science Fiction mad too so getting the job on 2001 was really like manna from heaven.  I ended up working on the film for over three years.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What was Roger Caras like to work for during the production of 2001?

POWELL:
  Roger was a very sweet guy.  He was larger than life.   Roger wanted someone who could write and even though I hadn't done much writing by then, he wanted someone who could write up things for the publicity for the newspapers.  So I did a bit of that for him.   My official title on the film was "Publicity and Art Department Liaison".   

I was working at MGM, and I know that they paid me more than I probably should have been paid.  I think Roger liked me and at the time I was doing a bit of moonlighting for the BBC doing some photograph modeling.  I was doing quite well doing that.  When Roger interviewed me he asked, "How much money are you making now?"  I told him that I was making about 60 pounds a week and from there Roger took me up and I was interviewed by a gentleman named Victor Lyndon who was working for Stanley and he asked me as well about the amount of money I was currently making.  Victor and I went on to become long time friends and I regarded him as one of my closest friends at the time that he passed away.    I told Victor that I was making about 60 pounds a week and he said, " What would you be prepared to work for?"  I said, "16 pounds a week", but he thought that I said 60 pounds.   On a film set there are no secrets, so when some of the other people in the Art Department found out what I was making they got quite angry because it was much more than some of them were making and they were many times my senior, and I was working under them.  

About six months to a year later on 2001, Stanley had gotten wind of this and he sent off a memo to Roger Caras that said, "This isn't CLEOPATRA.  Why is Ivor Powell getting paid so much money?"    And I think at that point Stanley tried to get rid of me, and he hadn't even said so much as two words to me over that last year.   I did end up figuring it out because I decided that I would go and talk to Stanley.  So I went to talk to him. I found him both charming and terrifying, but the situation managed to work itself out.   Stanley put me up in his office block.   He put me in charge, and I was one of three guys working on this...I became one of those guys that was in charge of the three shifts of special effects cameras that were going at any given time on 2001.   Those cameras were shooting 24 hours a day. It was my job to know exactly what all of them were doing at any given moment.

Stanley put me in this big room with Con Pederson and Brian Loftus.  It was called the "chart room" and the room was covered in these flip charts.   I couldn't draw, so I had to find people that could draw these little pictorial representations of each special effects shot.  They would draw them and then we would name them and put them up on the wall.  On any given day Stanley would come in and ask about any of them.  He would come in and ask me, "What's going on with Dawn Of Man 4-A?"  If I didn't know or if I wasn't for certain exactly where the shot was at work wise, then I would sort of waffle in my response and he would nail me with those sort of cold black eyes of his and say, "Ivor... Answer me yes or no..."  I kind of learned not to waffle in life from my time working with Stanley...laughing

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did you become friendly with Arthur C. Clarke during the shooting of 2001?

POWELL:  I did, because I was working in the publicity department and Arthur was working closely with Roger Caras.   I spent quite a bit of time with Arthur.  Stanley would say to us, "We need you to research monkeys.  We need pictures of monkeys."    Arthur and I would get in a chauffeur driven car and go up to Twycross Zoo.  The zoo had a big collection of monkeys and apes and we would take loads of pictures and take them back to Stanley.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  Do you think that Stanley and Arthur had a good working relationship on the film?  There's been some things written about Arthur sort of taking the proverbial back seat during the production of the film...

POWELL:   Well, 2001 was inspired by Arthur's short story and they did work on the script together even though it wasn't much of a script in the traditional sense.   I know Arthur was frustrated somewhat because he had wanted to publish the book that he had written in conjunction with the film and Stanley wouldn't allow him to do that when he wanted.  Stanley kept pushing back everything and I remember Arthur being quite frustrated by that, but while they were working together during the shooting of the film their relationship carried on wonderfully.

TV STORE ONLINE: Stanley had originally thought that he would open the film 2001 with a 10 minute prologue of interviews with various scientists....I know that Roger Caras conducted most of those interviews for Stanley, but I was curious to see if you went along with Caras to assist on any of those sessions?

POWELL:  I went out with Roger on some of them.   I have a vivid memory now of  being there for the interview that Roger did with Bernard Lovell.   I know Roger also went to Russia to do an interview but I certainly didn't go with him for that one.  

TV STORE ONLINE:   Roger also had you working with companies like IBM and Pan-American as well for the research that Stanley had asked him to do...

POWELL:  Yes, I was acting as a liaison for all of that.  Roger had first got in touch with the bigger fish like IBM for that.  I was acting as the assistant, Roger would give me a call and ask me to contact IBM for specific information.   Then I would call the contact Roger had asked me too at IBM and then ask the questions I was instructed to. Then I would take that information to the Art Department.   I remember when Stanley was shooting the Clavsis stuff on the moon....I did some research on some agriculture machinery.  We wanted to get information for as little payment as possible from any company that we were looking to for help. We would offer an exchange, where for information, we would try to give their company some sort of publicity.   I can't remember which company I had contacted now but they created this sort of crawler like caterwauler vehicle and they put a dome over it so it would look credible as a lunar vehicle. It never made it into the film though as I recall.

I spent quite a bit of time working with Bob Cartwright too.  He was a Asst. Art Director.  He was a set dresser.  He was very experienced at that and I spent a lot of time going around to various places with him.  He would, for example, set up a meeting with a company about the space suits in the film and then we would go for the meeting then I would execute the follow-up.  I would send letters out to companies ect.

TV STORE ONLINE:  In doing the research that you assisted with...At what point does Roger release the research to someone like Technical Advisor Fred Ordway during the production?

POWELL:   It would go to Fred and Henry Lange.  Fred came and went.  He would come by the Art Department and show us things that had came in from the United States.  He was there to make sure that everything that we were working on was as real and credible as possible.   He was around the production long before I was hired.  I started at the end of 1965 on 2001, in fact, I remember still quite vividly yet, the first day of shooting on 2001.  We shot at Shepparton Studios on H Stage. 

TV STORE ONLINE:   Right..I believe the first day of shooting on 2001 was on December 29th, 1965....

POWELL:   I believe so.  I'd have to consult my call sheet.  I still have my call sheet from the first day of shooting...

TV STORE ONLINE:  What was that Shepparton Studios set like?

POWELL:  It was the TMA-1 site with the Monolith down at the bottom of it.   Given that it was on a studio soundstage, we couldn't dig any holes in the ground, so all of that had to be built up into the air.   That set went about 20 foot up in the air.   It gave a great illusion that the Monolith was down in this pit.  I remember paying really close attention to Stanley as he was following the astronauts down the ramp with his handheld Panaflex camera. 

TV STORE ONLINE:   There have been rumors swirling around for years that Stanley was pursuing Pink Floyd to do some music for the film....

POWELL:  That would be news to me.  That's the first I've heard of that.   If Pink Floyd would have had any involvement in the film I would have seen something pertaining to them.  My office was down the corridor from Stanley, and next door to Stanley's office was were Ray [Lovejoy] was cutting the film and given that my office was so close, I was privy to seeing all of the rushes as they would come in and I saw many rough cuts or assemblage of sequences that they were working on.    Anytime Stanley had something to show anyone I was lucky to be included as one of the privileged few.  I remember one day...Stanley came down the corridor and said, "Come and look at this..."   He had wanted us to watch an assemblage, but before that he played us some music.   It was Stanley's wife, Christiane, I think that discovered the music of Ligeti for the film.   We had seen some assemblages of the space station sequence and of Floyd's trip to the moon, and when we first saw it, Stanley had different music on it than what was used in the film.   Some time later, he asked us all to watch the same assemblage again but this time he came in with this slight smile on his face and that was because he had put the "The Blue Danube" to the sequence.  

We saw the early assemblage of Dan Richter as "Moon-Watcher" killing the Tapir and throwing the bone up into the air and early on Stanley had put Mahler's Third Symphony on that before he went with "Thus Spoke Zarathustra".    I can't imagine though, that Stanley was really considering Pink Floyd for anything for 2001.  Where did you hear this?

TV STORE ONLINE:  There was an article some years back where Pink Floyd's Roger Waters mentioned that his biggest regret in life was that he was unable to score 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and that some time after 2001, Waters went to Kubrick asking if he could sample 'Dave Bowman' on their album Echoes.   It's my understanding as through the internet and via various books written about 2001 that Stanley turned them down for such and that they were quite angry about it.....

POWELL: 
  I personally don't give that any credit.  I can see Roger Waters going to Stanley about the sample and Stanley turning him down certainly, as Stanley was very protective and possessive like that.    I mean, he went to great lengths on 2001 with the models and sets to make sure that they didn't end up in any other Science Fiction films.  He destroyed the models for that reason after a certain point.   I was quite pleasantly surprised when I called Stanley up while I was making BLADE RUNNER (1982) with Ridley Scott and he told us that we could use some of his outtakes from THE SHINING (1980).    I put Ridley in touch with Stanley and I think he allowed us to do that because he was a fan of ALIEN (1979) and of Ridley's work.    

I think if Pink Floyd was to have any involvement in 2001 I would have heard at least a whisper about it.  I mean, after Ray Lovejoy, I worked on 2001 during post-production longer than anyone else.   When the other crew members left and went on to other things I stayed around because it was my first job on any film and I was terrified that when it was over that I wouldn't be able to find any work afterward.   I had just gotten married then too, and I remember Stanley rather begrudgingly gave me two days off of work for that.   Stanley actually hired my wife to work on 2001 too.    He had thousands of stills from the making of the film and the original plan was to use these for the publicity for the film and then at the last moment he decided that he didn't want to use them, and to the disgust of all of us.  So, my wife and I had to go through the 60mm rough cut of the film and take out all of these little clips whereas stills from these clips would be used for the publicity of the film. I don't think we were using a 65mm print at the time because I don't think the soundtrack was mixed by that time.   We had to cut out these clips and then transfer each frame of the clip to a transparency so that Stanley could look at all of them and decide on which images he wanted to use for the publicity.  That was my final job on 2001, before they finally swept me out the door of the studio...laughing

TV STORE ONLINE:  Can you talk about the shooting of the Dawn of Man sequence from the film?

POWELL:  The set was very hot, and that stage was very huge.   To create the African belt one had to have an awful hell of a lot of light.   They were using the old-fashioned 10K Carbon Arc Lights for that.  John Alcott was the Director Of Photography for that sequence.  He had started out as just a technician but he and Stanley got on very well and at that point John had sort of taken over as DP.    It was extraordinary.  I can remember the shooting very vividly yet.  That was what was great about having the opportunity to travel around with Arthur C. Clarke to study the monkeys, because we saw the monkeys at the zoo and the baby Chimps that you see in the film were actual baby chimps from that zoo.   I remember Stanley bringing in all kinds of actresses to try to see how they would look in the ape costumes.  Stuart Freeborn and a gentleman named Charlie Parker worked very hard on those ape costumes.   One thing that always sticks out in my memory about working on 2001, Roman Polanski was working across the way on THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS (1967) at the time, and he would visit the set and I remember seeing Sharon Tate around at the studio too.   I remember one evening getting an invite from Stanley up to his house at Abbott's Mead for supper and Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate came and Roman showed all of us a rough cut of FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS.    I remember that THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967) and WHEN EAGLES DARE (1968) were shooting at the studio at the same time that we were doing 2001 as well.

Watch for Part Two of our interview with Ivor Powell next week!
Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung in 2011