A high-profile return to commercialmaking and a first foray into directing U.S. series television reflect a perennial creative thirst for storytelling on the part of an artist who’s already proven he can tell any story imaginable.
Yet Sir Ridley Scott persists, recently helming via RSA Films his first ad projects in 18 years, a short for Hennessy X.O. out of DDB Paris, and a Turkish Airlines film for Anomaly Amsterdam. A shortened :60 version of the Hennessy piece debuted during the Oscars telecast. And a trailer promoting the Turkish Airlines film graced this year’s Super Bowl. And of course, the Super Bowl became the marquee platform for ambitious advertising due in large part to Scott’s seminal “1984” commercial some 35 years ago introducing the Apple Macintosh computer. The Orwellian tale, among assorted other tour de force spots, indeed make Scott’s recent return to commercialmaking a welcome back to hallowed ground.
At the same time, Scott is breaking new ground with Raised By Wolves, TNT’s serialized sci-fi series produced by the director/producer’s Scott Free Productions, Turner’s Studio T, and Madhouse Entertainment. Scott is directing the first two episodes, marking what will be his on-air scripted series debut on American television. Raised by Wolves focuses on two androids tasked with raising human children on a mysterious, virgin planet. As the colony of humans divides over religious differences, the androids learn controlling the beliefs of humans can be a treacherous, difficult job.
In some respects, for Scott--whose feature film exploits are legendary, ranging from the landmark Blade Runner and Alien to his Oscar nominations for The Martian, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator and Thelma & Louise--the quest to craft well-told, deserving stories hearken back to his early days in U.K. commercialmaking when his passion for advertising was fueled in part by competition. “Advertising was emerging as an artform in England when I started,” Scott recalled. “I came on when directors like Alan Parker, Adrian Lyne, my brother (Tony) and Hugh Hudson came along and we were all very competitive with each other. It was a healthy competitive artform where we would see who could do the best short film. The films were expansive, ambitious and visually engaging. I learned to make films that way.”
Fast forward to today and it’s still the story that drives Scott. For example, he was drawn to Hennessy because it dovetailed with his self-described penchant for “creating worlds.”
Complementing the idea that “Each drop of Hennessy X.O. is an Odyssey,” the film is a creative interpretation of each of the seven tasting notes, described by Hennessy’s Comité de Dégustation as illustrations of Hennessy X.O’s taste and feel: Sweet Notes, Rising Heat, Spicy Edge, Flowing Flame, Chocolate Lull, Wood Crunches, and then Infinite Echo.
“I was attracted to this project because I was inspired by the potential for art and entertainment to bring this story to life,” said Scott who was given the freedom to interpret the magnificent seven and create accordingly.
The seven notes, envisioned as individual worlds, are brought to life through wondrous and extreme physiography. The director leaves it to the viewer’s imagination if the film occurs in the future or the past, in reality or in a dreamscape as he takes us through vivid scenes offering snapshots of each world.
Scott’s film depicts the gathering of shimmering golden liquid, human figures walking in the shadows of bronzed giants, androids coming to life through spicy synapses, beings gliding through a fiery atmosphere and meditating peacefully among levitating rocks while lush woodlands are stirred by invisible spirits. As the film culminates, we see the worlds co-existing in an omnipresent nebula.
Similarly the attraction to Raised By Wolves for Scott was spurred on by the story and what it aspired to be. In his capacity atop Scott Free, he’s on the lookout for features and TV for other talented directors to take on. “Part of my job is reading,” related Scott. “I read a lot of stuff. I read this (‘Raised By Wolves’) and it was so inordinately different. I hadn’t read anything like it before. So I decided to direct the first two episodes, to set the pace on this series. It’s a very fresh form of storytelling. On one hand it’s science fiction. At the same time, it’s informative and smart about religion, the Reformation, the beginning and the end. That’s all I’ll say. You’ll have to explore it for yourself.”
Scott sees an emerging appetite for storytelling. “We’ve seen story gradually evaporate over the last 10 years or so with a short attention span generation fucking around on Twitter, Facebook. They don’t read books anymore. I sound like an old fart but I’m not. I’m still ahead of the game. Now we’re starting to see things turn. There’s a huge swing back to the process of storytelling. People are starting to want more, to connect through story.”
To best tell those stories, Scott finds lessons in his favorite sport, tennis. “I love to watch it. I used to play a lot. You win or you lose. There are no excuses. You need to keep your eye on the ball. Djokovic changes the face of the game with a devastating win of a major. Nadal and Federer then raise their games. For me in storytelling, I can hit the ball in any direction. Whomever is playing with me better be fucking great. The pace is inordinate,” said Scott who gravitated to such artisans as DP Dariusz Wolski and editor Jim Weedon, who both worked on the Hennessy and Turkish Airlines films. “Dariusz loves the pace, the simultaneous cameras. Jim Weedon is a clever editor who’s starting to direct. I try to help him as much as I can. I picked up the phone and asked him to drop his directing so he could edit (Turkish Airlines, Hennessy) for me.”
Wolski and Weedon have collaborated with Scott on short and long-form fare. Weedon edited scenes for Gladiator, the title sequence for Hannibal, and episodes of Taboo (an FX network series on which Scott served as an exec producer). Wolski shot such Scott-directed films as The Counselor, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Prometheus, The Martian, Alien: Covenant and All the Money in the World.
Scott’s ongoing endeavors spanning varied storytelling disciplines and platforms--from TV to advertising to features, online, broadcast and theatrical--parallel the recently formulated entity bearing his name. Last year all the RSA Films-affiliated companies were brought together in a multi-business restructure to form the Ridley Scott Creative Group.
The organization includes commercial house RSA Films, music video production company Black Dog Films, U.K. spot production studio Darling Films, and mainstay feature film and TV production company Scott Free, which currently has an unprecedented number of movies and shows in production.
“We are now in a golden age of entertainment,” said Scott. “The world’s greatest brands, platforms, agencies, new entertainment players and studios are investing hugely in entertainment. We have brought together our talent, capabilities and creative resources under the Ridley Scott Creative Group, and I look forward to maximizing the creative opportunities we now see unfolding with our executive team.”
That team, in addition to founder Scott, includes global CEO Luke Scott, and partners Jake and Jordan Scott. Among other key executive talent are the likes of David Mitchell, managing director of RSA, and a Scott Free ensemble consisting of David W. Zucker, president, U.S. Television, Kevin J. Walsh, president, U.S. Film, and Ed Rubin, managing director, U.K. Television/Film.