The Quiet Rider

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Usually around this time of the year in mid-June, RSA's Jake Scott is zooming through the Swiss Alps on the annual Fireflies ride, which he and three industry buddies founded for the Leuka charity foundation in 2001, in honor of his late brother-in-law, who died of lymphoma. In 2005, however, the 39-year-old director opted out, remaining in Los Angeles to celebrate a happier occasion. He and his wife, Rhea, who runs the Little Minx division of RSA, are expecting twins. "I've done the ride four times and I think doing it this year would have been a bad move," he quips. "It's killing me now. Everybody on the road is e-mailing and texting me, and it makes me feel like I've been left out of something really interesting."

Meanwhile, he missed out on something else at Cannes, where he would have completed his tour. He would have been there to receive his Silver Lion for "Improvisation," part of TBWA/Chiat/Day's "Impossible is Nothing" adidas campaign. The spot features the Detroit Pistons' Chauncey Billups maneuvering his way to the basket around a formidable come-to-life parquet opponent. While it falls into the more dazzling blockbuster commercials turf, Scott is perhaps best known for his ability to depict effortless, natural film rife with subtly honed emotion. Such is evident in his 2003 Emmy winner, Nike's "Move," a commercials tour de force that seamlessly segues scenes of athletes in motion.

Scott followed that with Nike's more recent "Magnet," in which the camera, joined by birds, bikers and hospitalized children, follows Lance Armstrong on a cross-country training ride. "What was nice about the script was that it was written very simply," says Scott. Nevertheless, he and the creatives had at their disposal plentiful time and "toys," which posed perhaps the biggest challenge. In such cases, "the temptation is to be a little extravagant with your camera work and equipment, to do these impressive roller coaster shots. Convention was leading us to think that we should be more extravagant visually, but we kept coming back to simplicity, and that's the hardest thing of all. If we weren't careful, we could have ended up making a 90-second car commercial. "

In place of stylized adrenaline and heavy-handed emotion are intentionally toned down details that subtly enrich Armstrong's journey. On first viewing, it's easy to miss dolphins splashing in the water in the opening scene, or the fact that the children who follow Armstrong through the window are patients in a hospital. Scott also decided to shoot everything in real time. "We're accustomed to seeing very slow motion shots or things that have been manipulated to make it visceral. I'm of the mind that that's cheating and it takes you away from the humanity."

Cycling is also a theme on Scott's work for New Belgium's Fat Tire beer, out of New York's Amalgamated, a pair of indie film-like spots about the follies of the quirky, bike-building "Tinkerer." Although at first Scott felt some hesitation about doing more cycling-centered ads, ultimately, this turned out to be his favorite advertising job. "It felt so healthy. The scripts had sort of an honest sentiment. The creatives were worried about them being schmaltzy, but you just had to let it be done in a certain way. We were as unobtrusive as possible. We had a small crew, it was 16mm, all shot from the back of pickup trucks, just done very freeform. There wasn't even a slate. We just started shooting and exploring, so it came across that way. That's my favorite, because it's the most complete commercials work I feel I've ever done. It really came out the way I wanted it to."

Scott's onscreen exploits, which also include spots for Reebok, Amex and Citibank, recently seem to have dovetailed with his extracurricular passions, but overall, he likes to try his hand at various genres, ranging from big productions to small. Whatever the task, however, "I like things simple," he says. "If I can make it happen in-camera, I will. In casting, I try as much as I can to cast people I feel aren't necessarily extraordinary looking but not typically mundane. There's that very self-conscious mundane quality in a lot of casting today, and I find that as contrived as anything else."

Although he initially had his sights set on being anything from a painter or a fashion designer to a rock star, his career seems somewhat inevitable, considering he's the son of Ridley and the nephew of Tony. "Filmmaking is in my blood, and I've had an enormous education in it. My influences are abundant. As a teenager, it was exciting to watch my father make Blade Runner. Beyond being on the set, we traveled a lot and there was always a lot of painting, drawing, music and culture. We were very lucky to have had that."

While he acknowledges that commercials can offer creative challenges, it comes as no surprise that his sights are set on features. After a disappointing film debut with 1999's critically lambasted buddy movie Plunkett and Macleane, he's now working on a big-screen adaptation of Kimberly Akimbo, a play about a girl afflicted with a disease that makes her age four times faster than the average person. "Since my first film, I've been trying to find my own voice," Scott reflects. "I feel I need to dig deep to find something inside myself. In all the work I've done since then, I've grown in the right direction, but I won't really be able to know what I'm capable of until I make another film."

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