Close-Up: Newsmaker - Hudson marks his return by revisiting his past

The award-winning director Hugh Hudson talks BA, budgets, plagiarism and parodying his own work.

Just watching Hugh Hudson make a cup of coffee is tiring. He hovers around his slate-floored kitchen, grinding coffee beans and warming up the milk. The 71-year-old Academy Award nominee has a great deal to say about his new ad for Silverjet, and a telephone interview won't suffice.

The new 60-second spot by IS, which is part of M&C Saatchi, cleverly mimics the iconic "face" spot for British Airways that Hudson directed in 1989. The project marks his return to the advertising world. But he is at a loss to explain where he's been all this time.

"I would have continued making ads, but people didn't want me to," he says. "Maybe they think I only deal in vast budgets. I mean, here's Hugh Hudson, who has made some of the best ads and biggest British films of all time. Why wouldn't you want to work with him?"

To help him out, I recount a conversation with Alan Jarvie, one half of the creative team behind Silverjet. Jarvie and his creative partner, Matt Beaumont, had the idea of adapting Graham Fink's original script for BA, and making it as similar as possible to the original. Yet both had discounted the idea that they might be able to secure Hudson for the remake. So has the director of Chariots of Fire simply priced himself out of advertising?

Hudson is incensed. "So that's it. They think I'm untouchable? That's bullshit," he says. "So unfair."

But it must be flattering to his status as a film director? "Not at all," he says. "I love advertising. Silverjet is proof of what I'm capable of."

Slouching in his chair, his ruffled hair, glasses and locked glance project a sombre demeanour, which warms when he explores a thought in more detail. He recounts the moment the script crossed his path. "The idea tickled me. It was cheeky. To do a parody of your previous work was a fantastic challenge."

The Silverjet ad saw the team return to as many of the same locations that appeared in "face", but there were some compromises.

"We couldn't do the urban shot in Salt Lake City, because its streets had changed; the original building from which we shot no longer existed. The salt flats were shot in California's Joshua Tree National Park, and the original shot of swimmers, filmed in Lake Powell, had to be adapted because the water level has dropped by more than 150 feet in the past 18 years," he concedes.

"We had to drop the aerial ear shot of the face, it wasn't necessary to spend more time in the core of the ad. That's what we are in this business for, though. To make things work with the budget we have."

Conversely, Hudson acknowledges "face" was shot at a different stage in his life. "It was the height of my world, and the final phase of an ad boom. I'd completed a number of big feature films by then, including Chariots of Fire, Greystoke and Revolution, and was still doing ads. There was a big cost behind 'face', but we needed every bit of it, because of all the people involved. The shoot took two weeks, but I was out there five weeks earlier rehearsing, costuming and moving the 4,000 people around. They were all mainly students, who were paid very little. In contrast, the Silverjet ad was a three-day shoot on a fraction of that budget."

Refusing to indulge in sentimentality, Hudson does confess to there being a few meaningful moments in the shoot. "There was an issue of whether or not we'd have the budget to secure the helicopter for the aerial shots. When we did, and it flew in from LA, the pilot was the same one I'd worked with 18 years ago. That was a nostalgic moment."

Both ads provide an insight into how airline advertising, and perceptions of the industry, have changed. The BA spot is grandiose and extravagant, while Silverjet pushes its message of exclusivity through its juxtaposition with the original. It cites the "select few" it brings together each day, rather than the "24 million people" that BA boasts each year. Also, it films just four characters, as opposed to BA's cast of 4,000. Musically, two sopranos sing Delibes' Flower Duet by Lakme for Silverjet, instead of the multi-layered, synthesised sound of the 80s version.

Also, the scenes of vast empty spaces cut by only one or two - and indeed, a final face of just four - can feel like a lonely blend of individualism and elitism.

Hudson agrees to a point. "It can be lonely. Especially as most people who see it will use the 1989 ad as their reference. Yet that's all part of the way it demands your attention. You look at it and think ... 'oh, I know that ...', 'oh God, it's not British Airways ...', 'oh, good God, there's only four people'."

Jarvie goes even further, suggesting the Silverjet ad is selling the concept of civilised, rather than collective, travel. "Crowds used to be something to celebrate, but they are often the problem now. Travellers dread security checks and long queues at Heathrow. The idea of a civilised alternative is appealing."

And so we address the biggest elephant in the room. I ask Hudson what he thinks Silverjet has gained by taking an identity so entrenched in a generation and applying it to a relatively new brand altogether. I barely get the question out before his icy glare resurfaces. He interjects: "Of copying, you mean?" I rephrase. "Plagiarising?" he quips. I start again. "You mean stealing?"

This is something Hudson feels strongly about. And it becomes clear why. "Yes, the ad is a derivative from BA. But the original was derivative, too. The crowd scenes aren't original. They've been done in many Olympic Games, and even North Korean stadiums during the Communist regime. Yes, the script was Graham Fink's idea. But to an extent, it's a copy of another idea."

The idea brews in Hudson's mind. He finds a more contemporary example. "The new Bravia ad is great, but it has taken ideas from kozyndan, who took their ideas from Hokusai. But that's OK."

Er, steady. Eager to set the record straight, I point out the animator of the Bravia ads claims not to have seen the kozyndan originals, which Hudson refutes. "It's like Gordon Brown saying he came up with the idea of (cutting) inheritance tax before David Cameron. It's all derivative. Picasso took a lot of ideas from African art. We used to do things in the 60s with my partner, where we projected images on to bodies for the titles of Goldfinger. That wasn't original. People have projected images on to surfaces for ages. But doing it for Goldfinger, with someone painted in gold, that was original. We adapted our work from the best."

He nails the idea. "It's in the zeitgeist, isn't it? The Bravia ad steals from kozyndan; kozyndan steals from Hokusai; and Gordon Brown steals from George Osborne; and Silverjet steals from BA. It's all pretty post-modern stuff."


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