Jake Scott does a nice line in spectacular ads. The director proved it beyond all doubt with this year’s "puppy love" (generally accepted as best in show at the Super Bowl) and "the gentleman’s wager" spots for Budweiser and Johnnie Walker.
You would think that Scott now gets his pick of projects, certainly as far as commercials are concerned. But that’s not the picture he paints when Campaign asks the question.
"I’m lucky in that I’m enjoying a lucrative career in the States but, to be honest, I have been frustrated by not getting enough work in the UK," Scott, who is in Rome to shoot a spot for Martini, says. "It’s because there are so many young and great directors there. Also, if you live in the States, you’re not seen as accessible."
"When I can, I try to pick things that will further me in my craft," he adds. "There was a period after I made ‘move’ for Nike when I just got asked to make the same ad over and over again. That’s career suicide and it’s boring."
So, however frustrated Scott may be with the UK, you are still unlikely to see him shooting ads where someone pours blue liquid on to a sanitary towel. But does the director think that grand spots such as "puppy love" and "the gentleman’s wager" are any better at shifting products? Does it even matter to him?
"It does," Scott says. "Those two commercials, they have each got very strong themes, and I have found with any form of storytelling that, if your themes are intact, then you’re following a line and that should be
"It’s a bit too soon for Johnnie Walker [released at the end of July], but Budweiser I know has been incredibly successful for the company. These two ads in the length of my career have been remarkably well-received too. Budweiser has 25 million hits on YouTube [it was closer to 53 million when Campaign checked], which is massive."
By his own admission, Scott was not always so in tune with brands’ wants. "When you first start, it’s all about the craft, but you then realise that you get more business if you behave a bit. It is a business, after all," he says. "But I think every director starts like that. You’re desperately trying to make a feature film every time you make an ad and prove yourself."
Scott must know a thing or two about having to prove himself. It’s near impossible to talk about the son of Ridley Scott and nephew of Tony Scott and ignore his directing pedigree.
Learning the family trade
Without crowing, Scott leaks anecdotes about growing up around the industry: being pulled out of school along with his brother (Luke, who also directs) by his uncle to appear in a Cadbury Dairy Milk ad; being used in shots during Alien to make the sets look bigger.
Scott worked as part of the crew when his father filmed the iconic "1984" Super Bowl commercial for Apple. It was shot in Stoke Newington Town Hall and Scott had to round up skinheads – "Stokie’s finest", as he calls them – to appear as extras. And this at a time in his life when he dressed in a mixture of goth and punk clothes. "A tricky day," he says.
Oddly, the film that finally convinced Scott to become a director was by neither Ridley nor Tony. It was Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath Of God – an art-house adventure film about conquistadors, viewed as a forerunner to Apocalypse Now.
"My brother and I were bored one day during the summer holidays and my dad said to come into Soho to watch a screening," Scott says. "I was 13 at the time and my jaw just dropped – it was like an epiphany."
His first paid directing job was a spot for the German electronics manufacturer Blaupunkt in 1991, which was created by Leo Burnett.
I couldn't get a grant because those were based on family income. But my dad, being northern, said: 'Fuck that, I'm not giving you any money'
Scott then made his name directing music videos for artists including Radiohead and Oasis. His film for REM’s Everybody Hurts won four MTV Video Music Awards in 1994.
Scott says he is becoming more interested in shooting music videos again. Asked whom he would like to work with, Scott replies: "Right now, all I want to work with is Nick Cave. He’s just great.
"That St Vincent girl is very good, too, and Lorde is very clever. I’m actually more of a music buff than a film buff. There are a few other bands [I’d like to work with], but the problem is that they don’t have the money."
‘Changing the language of films’
Scott says the biggest change since he began shooting ads 13 years ago is that budgets have plummeted. Nonetheless, he is upbeat about the state of the creative product at the moment.
"I think the industry definitely went through a creative lull where good ads were few and far between," he says. "But, from where I’m sitting, it looks like there’s more narrative coming back, more storytelling."
And there are, of course, still occasions when brands are willing to dig into their deep pockets. Such as "the gentleman’s wager", by Anomaly and starring Jude Law and Giancarlo Giannini. Scott says the budget for the ad dwarfed that of his most recent film, Welcome To The Rileys, which was
released in 2010 and starred James Gandolfini and Kristen Stewart.
Welcome To The Rileys was Scott’s second feature film. His first, Plunkett & Macleane, was released in 1999. Neither was a commercial success.
Scott says the biggest difference between ads and features is that, with the former, you must revert to short-hand stereotypes to be able to convey enough information in the 60-odd seconds of screen time.
He adds: "You can go into much more detail with films. That said, it’s good to pace yourself when making them. Ads are a sprint, films are more like marathons.
"But making ads gives you a certain skillset. People who shoot less and do fewer commercials don’t exercise those muscles.
"More advertising and music video directors are coming up now and it’s changing the language of films.
The guy who did The Great Beauty [Paolo Sorrentino], he started out making ads – you can see it in his film."
Scott’s biggest desire is to make more movies. "I really want to be making feature films with more frequency," Scott says. "My dad makes them with more frequency than I make ads. I don’t know how he does it.
"But I’m wary of getting into anything too big and studio-ish. I don’t know why. I’m think I’m running out of time; I better fucking hurry up.
"I have to keep hoping and trying. Still, I’m very lucky to have job like this and a career that has lasted this long. I know people who are really struggling. I’m getting more grateful as time goes on."