Tony Scott: A life behind camera

Another life is lost, another legacy left behind. On 19 August 2012, the film industry was left reeling by the loss of yet another of their own; the director and Briton, Tony Scott. From Top Gun to Domino, he painted a career that both his peers and the filmmakers of tomorrow will revere for years to come.

Tony Scott will be missed
If you are unfamiliar with the man who actors and filmmakers have clamoured to pay their respects to, Tony Scott was the brother of fellow filmmaker Sir Ridley Scott aka the man behind Alien and the recent hit Prometheus, and they often collaborated. So yeah, he’s a big deal. Tom Cruise was planning to make a Top Gun sequel with Tony, and said in a statement shortly after the news broke out:

“Tony was my dear friend and I will really miss him … My deepest sorrow and thoughts are with his family at this time.”

To pay tribute, let’s not linger on the circumstances of his death, and instead remember him for the wonders he did for the film industry. He was a notoriously low key and modest man, and therefore many of his achievements you might be unaware of. Let’s start at the beginning.

Early Life

Born in North Shields, Tyne and Wear, the British director, and his brother Ridley Scott are two out of the three sons of Elizabeth and Colonel Francis Perry Scott. Although he was to become a big player in Hollywood, Tony actually showed more of an interest in art during his early years, and attended West Hartlepool College of Art (now known as Cleveland College of Art and Design), and completed a fine arts degree at Sunderland Art School (now the University of Sunderland). He also attended the Royal College of Art, and was going to become a fine artist.

While their separate successes are revered by the film industry, the Scott brothers started out together. In the late 1960s they established Ridley Scott Associates, a TV commercial company, and it was here Tony got a taste for working behind the camera. Becoming a respected director of commercials, by the early 1980s the tide began to move in his direction, at least as far as Hollywood was concerned.

Many British directors whose resumes were filled to the brim with TV advertising accolades at the time, were beginning to make their mark over in the States, including his brother Ridley, whose science fiction epic Alien was released back in 1979 and catapulted his career into the big time.

Tony’s own transition to Hollywood wasn’t quite as direct. He started slowly, beginning with a television adaptation of the short story The Author of Beltraffio back in the 1970s, before working on his first feature film.

The Hunger (1982)

His first attempt at a feature film didn’t quite impress the audience in the same way his brother’s film Alien had three years prior. However it was an decent stepping stone towards his later successes, and not one that should be overlooked. Starring David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve, who played two vampire lovers. While the film was panned by critics, it did have one redeeming feature; the sex scene featuring Deneuve and Susan Sarandon. It’s this scene alone that has gained The Hunger quite the cult following over the years, and also showed his potential for great filmmaking. And it was to lead on to the film that cemented his career in Hollywood.

Top Gun (1986)

Top GunWhile Tony was still endeavouring to make his mark, the producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean) were looking for a director to take the helm of a little project called Top Gun. Upon watching a car advertisement by Tony, which featured a Saab 900 racing against an Saab 37 Viggen fighter jet, the pair decided he was the man to lead the project into the reality.

Top Gun is a rollicking and highly charged romantic thriller starring Tom Cruise. He plays Maverick who is sent to the Top Gun Naval Flying school, where he has to fight the attitudes of the other pilots in order to be the top of the class. The slick action became the genre that became synonymous with Tony Scott’s name. Being a fan of the fast and powerful himself, it was natural this love translated into his screen work. And Top Gun was the first project to prove to Hollywood and the audience, that he was just as much a filmmaker as Ridley.

Onwards and upwards (90s to Noughties)

Top Gun gave Tony Scott the power to pick and choose where he laid his efforts. He tended to veer towards mostly action-oriented titles, beginning with his 1987 follow-up Beverly Hills Cop II. In 1990, Days of Thunder starring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise didn’t gain quite the same critical reception as Top Gun, although it was responsible for bringing the then ‘it’ couple, Kidman and Cruise together on screen.

Tony was never one to dwell on a panned movie though, and despite the choppy changes of Hollywood, continued to make his own way throughout the 90s and noughties. From Enemy of the State, to Domino to Man On Fire, it’s no wonder he was seen as a master of action.

However to slot him only within the category ‘action filmmaker’ is to sell him short. Or at least that’s what Tom Rothman, the Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman has said:

“I think the business took his skill for granted and didn’t appreciate the level of skill and artistry involved. To talk about Tony as an ‘action filmmaker’ is a misnomer because his movies and his soul reflect the same thing, which is that he was in fact the consummate humanist.”True Romance

You can understand what he means from watching any one of Tony’s films. A perfect example though is 1993’s True Romance. Scott proved he could direct a flick with sharp dialogue without any explosions or outside influences to distract from the characters. And with an ensemble that included Christian Slater, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman and Patricia Arquette, it was his chance to prove his capability to oversee a large ensemble of character-oriented action.

“For a guy who would stop at nothing to get the shot he wanted, he was always gracious and kind and generous of spirit,” Rothman continued.

In conclusion

His 30-year career came to an abrupt end when he ended his own life at the age of 67. And yet the impact he’s had on those who had the good fortune of working with and for him is palpable. What’s all the more shocking about his passing is the fact that his working schedule showed no signs of slowing down.

Having released his final directorial project Unstoppable in 2010, he had several projects on the horizon. His name is attached to several as a producer, including his brother’s Prometheus 2. It’s also reported that not even a week before he died, Tony had taken a trip with Tom Cruise to seek out sites to film Top Gun 2.

Visionary and artistic, he was a modest man who will be thoroughly missed, and the action genre will be quieter and less stylish without him.

“I always get criticized for style over content, unlike Ridley’s films that go into the classic box right away,” Tony once said of his films.

“Maybe with time people will start saying they should be classics, but I think I’m always perceived as reaching too hard for difference, and difference doesn’t categorize you as the ‘classic category’.”

Maybe he didn’t live to see his films transition over to the ‘classic category’, but I think it’s safe to say they are now well on their way to being just that.

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