Broadcast Butterfly

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Oldies-music aficionados might recognize Rick Scott's deep, resonant voice from his years as a late-night disc jockey on L.A. station K-Earth 101. Others might remember him as a producer at commercials production houses The Dxtr's and Elite. The 41-year-old Scott has moved naturally between various broadcast fields by heeding his creative and entrepreneurial passions. His instincts have guided him to his latest home, the Hollywood broadcast design shop he founded and named after his personal mantra: Autonomy.

Scott's life has been a story of breakout successes in the broadcast industry. "It was a great way to spend my teens and my 20s," he reminisces about his early years in radio. In 1975, at 16, he made a name for himself as a teen jock at Baltimore station WLPL 92 FM. He had been working there as a "button-pusher" but landed a gig as a full-time DJ when the regular evening show host was fired. At 26, Scott moved to Los Angeles, where he joined the popular L.A. oldies station K-Earth 101 FM, often beating out famed DJ Wolfman Jack on the SoCal airwaves.

But after making it in radio, Scott got antsy. "By the time I was 26, I had already been on the air for so long," he sighs. "I didn't want to be the DJ in the Harry Chapin song `W-OLD,' just bouncing around. I saw these old guys who went in, had a little bit of a run, and moved cities when the station changed formats. I wanted to own the station. I was always the entrepreneur."

So Scott left radio for television. He and David Street, a former actor, paired up to produce and direct spots at commercials production houses The Dxtr's and Elite. Eventually, the duo opened its own shop, Autonomy. "We wanted independence for ourselves, and we weren't getting it being told what to do by other companies," Scott explains. During that time, the team's most memorable gig was the launch of The Maury Povich Show, for Paramount, through ad agency Jacobs & Gerber. The goal was to humanize Povich, who was moving from the tabloid news of A Current Affair to his own show on the talk-show circuit. "They wanted us to show that he was a real person," explains Scott. "People saw him as this tabloid journalist and we had the opportunity to recreate his image." The company also developed launch campaigns for Melrose Place, promo packages for the major networks, commercials for Ford via JWT, and music videos.

Within a year after the company opened, Scott's directing partner Street died at the age of 31, and that same year, he lost his sister and five other loved ones as well. "I spent an entire year doing nothing but going to hospitals and funerals," he recalls. The deaths prompted Scott to close the business and take a sabbatical. "You have to find a silver lining in that kind of tragedy or you might as well just curl up and die." The DJ-turned-producer used his time off to become versed in a new skill, editing. After a year, with a borrowed Avid and only $3,000, he decided to reopen Autonomy as an editing house.

After two years, Scott hired away a top designer, known only as Clark, from one of his clients, the now defunct Pittard Sullivan, and Autonomy shifted its focus from editing to its current metier as a broadcast design house. The company celebrated its fifth anniversary last December.

Scott's proudest achievement has been completing the graphics package for last year's Democratic National Convention. The task was challenging because it required massive output in a tight turn-around time: his staff had less than eight weeks to complete three to four months' worth of deliverables. Moreover, massive changes to the work were required in the short time span between the Republican convention and the DNC. "The Democrats couldn't predict what the Republicans would do and how they wanted to counter it, so there were certain elements that came up that we had less than two weeks to facilitate," he explains. "If you think the politics are bad when you work with Warner Brothers, imagine the politics you have when working with politicians."

"The fringe benefit was to raise the profile of the company," says Scott of the admittedly money-losing venture. "If the President of the U.S. selects Autonomy, a network could feel confident that we're capable of pulling off their project." But the job was ultimately "a project of passion," he believes. "To sit at the Staples center with Clinton speaking and my graphics behind him, and every dignitary is watching our work . . . It was one of the pinnacles of my career to date. What a coup!"

Autonomy's other accomplishments include the relaunch of BET and the design of a graphics package for Columbia Tristar's Showcase Theater. The work depicted the first live-action incarnation of Columbia's icon - the statuesque, torch-wielding woman who stands amid the clouds. Autonomy also crafted show opens for The West Wing, Third Watch, and Norm. In February it became the sole design house for the Fox Movie Channel, and just last month, the company completed its first theatrical trailer for Ritual, from Dimension Films/RKO, and its first main title for Kevin of the North, starring Leslie Nielsen. Autonomy has even spawned music and new-media divisions.

Motivated by his hardships and successes, Scott has tried to keep Autonomy as "real" and "natural" as possible, from his workspace to his business style. A fish pond greets visitors on their way into the shop's homey offices. Ivy covers the exterior, and beamed ceilings and stained-glass windows extend the relaxed vibe. "Everything is very organic here, not hard edges and metal and industrial," says Scott. "We carry that into the way we brand ourselves."

When asked if there's a danger in the growth of his firm - which has gone from three to 50 employees - in light of the fate of Pittard Sullivan, Scott responds almost spiritually. "There's nothing wrong with getting big," he says. "It's just not forgetting the core values of what made you successful to begin with. I don't care if we get to 250 people as long as they're talented people that can carry through the culture and my philosophies of life." He cites Ralph Waldo Emerson: " `To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded.' We spend every day trying to make life easier for people."

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