Back to the box for Ridley Scott

Despite his latest film, Black Hawk Down, occupying top spot at the US box office, director Ridley Scott remains grounded and is gearing up to make television commercials again, writes Campaign Screen's Lisa Campbell.

He's a cigar-toting multimillionaire, auteur of five box office smashes and the man behind Apple's legendary "1984", which some still dub "the best ad of all time". Yet surprisingly, Ridley Scott is not the arrogant Hollywood hotshot you'd imagine.

Though he's worked in Los Angeles for more than two decades, the 63-year-old retains his Teeside accent, and with it, the attitude of a no-frills Northerner, (apart from the Monte Cristo). He's affable, approachable, and softly-spoken, although he was a little peaky at the time of our interview.

It was the morning after the proverbial night before -- the premiere of Scott's latest blockbuster, Black Hawk Down. He had been out partying until 4am, behaviour, which he admits is out of character. "I got over those things called nightclubs some time ago," he says.

A self-confessed workaholic, Scott prefers to spend his evenings watching films and although he lists Orson Welles and contemporaries such as Francis Ford Coppola among his influences, he now looks for new talent and techniques within smaller films and advertising.

He found his latest cameraman Slavomir Idziak, for example, by watching less mainstream fare such as The Double Life of Veronique.

"The secret to being a good director is a good cameraman," he asserts, and it is this attention to lighting and the craft of film-making, which helped Scott change the face of British TV advertising back in the 60s.

Until that point, directors used high-key lighting and thrust the product into the foreground and into viewers faces. The look was garish and false.

Scott introduced a low-key, diffused and more realistic approach, which at first terrified agencies but then became the benchmark for other directors. His trademark backlit, soft-focus photography is used to great effect in one of the most famous ads of all time -- Hovis's "hill".

Scott was famously a perfectionist, and still is. "Being a perfectionist and a workaholic is of the essence in the business of advertising. In the early years, I would have an actor dying in the wings while I got the lighting right."

However, his extraordinary visual imagination did have its downside, as he was quickly typecast as someone who could add a big dollop of gloss to a dull script. It was a battle for the former graphic design student and BBC art director to break out of the artistic mould.

His dream to break into features took eight years. His debut, Duellists, won the 1977 special jury prize at Cannes but suffered from poor distribution and publicity. His next attempts were infinitely more successful -- Alien (1979) and Bladerunner (1982), now a cult classic. From there he directed massive hits including: Thelma and Louise (1991); Gladiator (2000); Hannibal (2001) and his latest, Black Hawk Down.

Despite the movie success, Scott maintains his interest in the ad industry and is still hands-on at his production company RSA Films. He has strong opinions about the current state of the production industry, as our interview reveals.

"The industry is over-populated with directors, giving agencies the upper hand," he says.

Having filmed three features back to back, Scott is now gearing up to make ads again. He is rumoured to be in talks with Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and we wait with baited breath to watch the master at work.

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