RSA at 40
The oldest but certainly not the fogiest of our top production companies turns the big 4-0 this year while remaining one of the industry's strongest, most creative and well-balanced players. The shop's leaders Ridley and Tony reflect on what they've done to get this far, and we revisit some of the company's finest production moments, in words and pictures.
"My god, here we are 40 years on, and a lot has happened in that time," reflects Ridley Scott.
Ridley and Tony Scott, the dynamic sibling duo behind RSA, reflect on what keeps them and their company charged after all these years.
A lot is quite an understatement when you survey not just this famous director's career, but also that of his equally prolific brother, Tony, his three kids, and the rest of the talent pool at his company, Ridley Scott Associates, Inc. With successful offices in London, Los Angeles, New York and Asia, a thriving music video division Black Dog, and a feisty new talent-driven arm Little Minx, RSA has birthed a host of groundbreaking work--from Ridley's "The Boy on the Bike" classic for Hovis, the industry-changing Apple "1984," to more recent efforts like BMW Films, breathtaking commercials like Nike's "Move" and "Magnet," as well as this year's ambitious multiplatform multi-story promotion, HBOVoyeur.com. This isn't the kind of freshness you would expect from what Tony Scott jokingly calls "a bunch of old farts," but then again, we're talking about some smart old farts (and some talented young ones), and the company still stands strong thanks to the Scott brothers' no-nonsense formula of self-reliance, creative daring, business sense, and, of course, family loyalty.
Ridley Scott launched RSA in London four decades ago "not really knowing what I was doing," he says. He had already gained success as a director working out of production shop Natural Breaks, "but I wanted my own place. I didn't always see eye-to-eye with management, and they didn't always keep me in the picture--directors weren't meant to worry about budget and money." But business acumen, he believes, "is in my DNA. So I started on Lexington Street with what I'd saved and with no partners."
The younger Scott believes that diversity has played a huge role in the company's longevity. "From Ridley to all the other guys within the company we've got such a cross section of great directors in terms of style and change and difference, and I think it's always that reach for change and difference that's kept us alive all these years," Tony says. "One of the reasons why people like to stay at RSA and [features production company] Scott Free--anything is possible," adds Ridley. "Everyone feels their opinion is heard and considered."
It doesn't hurt that both RSA leaders' careers are testaments to the rewards of fearless creativity. This fall, Ridley will release his 19th film, American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, and just started shooting his next, Body of Lies, with Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio. Days before beginning shooting on Body, the director debuted a new cut of his sci-fi classic Blade Runner to celebrate the opening of the Venice Film Festival. The movie, when released 25 years ago, was slaughtered by the critics and tanked at the box office, only to become a sci-fi cult classic. At the Venice screening, "we got five stars in The Times and 15 minutes of standing ovation," he says. "I think what you have to do in the creative process is stick to your guns, stand by your bed, and if you've made it, you've got to lie in it. If it works, it works, if it doesn't, you take the knocks."
All the while, younger brother Tony's fearlessness has been an inspirational call to action. "He's shown me that anything is possible," says Ridley. "He climbed El Capitan, which has a vertical face of 4,000 feet, after a hip transplant. He's a lunatic. He'll say, 'No, no, no. No problem.' His 'No, no, no. No problem' is invigorating. That's what it's about. It's the driving force of life, really. You're either a person who pushes forward, or not."
Tony's career has yielded cult classics like True Romance and box office magnets like Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State and Man on Fire, and the director is currently working on an L.A.-based retelling of the N.Y. gang cult film The Warriors. Along the way, he hasn't always received glowing reviews and on that subject says that "I'm always criticized for style over content. But I hate repeating myself. I'm always reaching to tell stories in a different way and push people to have to think about what they're looking at and wrap their heads around it in a different way. I know that I can shoot and handle stuff in a way which is much more acceptable, not as challenging, but that's not what I enjoy doing. I enjoy reaching for difference. That's exciting to me. Sometimes I miss, sometimes I hit, but I always enjoy the process."
And then, there's the rest of the family. The younger Scotts--Jake, Luke and Jordan--together with RSA's team of producer and director talents have helped to uphold RSA's creative reputation in the spots world and beyond, while the elder Scotts benefit from the kids' fresh points of view. "I think I did well by them by making damn sure they have the best education I could afford," says Ridley. "At the end of the day that paid off, because they turned out to be forward thinkers and sometimes my most serious critics. That's pretty good for the soul." Says Tony, "I steal from them, basically. I'm the biggest plagiarist in the world. The last person I stole from was Luke. One of the spots he did he shot on a dam in L.A., and I stole that for my last film Deja Vu."
A limited selection of fine cultural and commercial moments, courtesy of the folks at RSA.
1962: Ridley Scott directs his first film, "Boy and Bicycle," starring brother Tony. The film, shot while he was a student at the Royal College of Art in London, contains themes that will show up in his later work.
1968: Ridley Scott launches RSA in London.
1973: Ridley resurrects the boy on a bike theme from his first film to create a commercials classic for Hovis. Tony does not star.
1979: "Alien" scares the bejeezus out of everyone. The film is a box office and critical hit and spawns a massive franchise.
1982: Ridley's "Blade Runner," eclipsed by Steven Spielberg's wildly popular "E.T.," opens to disappointing reviews and box office numbers, only to become an all-time cult classic. (See 2007)
1983: The Apple "1984" spot shot by Ridley runs during the Superbowl and sets a Hollywood-level benchmark for big game spots to follow. Many say that no commercial to follow has matched its cultural impact.
1986: "Top Gun": Although the film is mysteriously absent from RSA's historical reel, we feel obligated to note that it stands the test of time as a cinematic capsule of 1980's machisimo and romance. The volleyball scene goes down in history as one of Hollywood's Grade A beefcake moments. One of the best guilty pleasures. Ever.
1993: Tony Scott can do cult classic too. "True Romance" is released.
1999: Chris Cunningham directs the robot-lovin' in Bjork's "All is Full of Love," just one fine specimen from RSA's clips archive.
2000: The Fireflies, a group of cyclists that include Jake Scott and others from RSA, begin their ride to support charity Leuka, established to support a research and treatment unit for leukaemia. The group, which has raised 240,000 pounds since its inception, is now a Cannes institution.
2001: Ridley does good. "Gladiator" earns the Best Picture Oscar.
2002: Son does good too. Jake earns the Emmy for outstanding commercial for Nike "Move," arguably one of the fines in the brand's history. Still leaves you breathless after repeat viewings. . . BMWFilms: RSA takes the torch on the second round of history-making effort. Tony directs "Beat the Devil," starring James Brown, Gary Oldman, and of course, Clive Owen.
2004: "1984" redux. This time, the famous hammer-swinging babe sports a spiffy white Ipod.
2007: RSA rebrands to celebrate 40 years of freshness. Jake debuts a massive, multiplex of stories for BBDO/N.Y.'s HBOVoyeur.com. Ridley screens his new cut of "Blade Runner" earning raves at the Venice Film Festival. His next feature "American Gangster" will hit theaters in the fall, and he starts his 20th film, "Body of Lies," while Tony has taken on '70s gang film "The Warriors," to be reimagined on the streets of L.A.
RSA staffers and directors share their favorite moments, and what they'd be doing if the shop weren't still around.
Jules Daly, president/managing director, 18 years at RSA
Highlights: Signing young directors and helping to create a role for them in the industry. If someone comes to us with three spec spots and you fast forward to them winning awards, it makes me proud. The next step is to make a film with them. BMW Films and Jake's recent project for HBOvoyeur.com. Both of these projects were done with David Lubars, Brian Dilorenzo, Greg Hahn and David Carter. They have had incredible faith in us and we are thankful and proud of the relationship.
In another life: I'd be running a white river rafting company. It is the only adrenalin rush that could compare to running RSA. It's an addiction.
Marjie Abrahams, executive producer, 15 years
Highlights: This may sound lame, but I am always so proud when I can help a new director book his/her first job. I still get goosebumps when I walk into a meeting with Tony or Ridley and work with them on a project. If that ain't a personal highlight, I don't know what is.
In another life: Wait. . .just give me a minute, I need to find the list.
Fran McGivern, executive producer, 8 years
Highlights: My proudest moment would be winning the Emmy for Nike "Move" as Jake Scott's EP.
In another life: I honestly can't see myself doing anything else, but every now and then I do imagine what it would be like to be meditating on a mountain for a few years!
Rhea Scott, president, Little Minx, 7 years
Highlights: Proudest accomplishment would be the steady growth of Little Minx.
In another life: I would produce planet earth. Probably hard with four kids.
Philip Fox-Mills, N.Y. executive producer, 6 years
Highlights: Too many to specify. Acne winning the Gold Cannes Lion (2003) on their first U.S. job would be one.
In another life I'd be: A professional sportsman of some type. I think tennis?
Tracie Norfleet, executive producer, 4 years
Highlights: Being a part of the team involved with Jonas Akerlund producing the VW web films which won Cannes Lion [Cyber] Grand Prix in 2005.
In another life, I'd be in: Craft services.
Kai-Lu Hsiung, m.d./ep, RSA London, 15 years
Highlights: Still being at RSA. As an MD, our first big year at Cannes and the first Fireflies ride. We hired a big house and said that everyone should make their own way to Cannes. 27 of the London office stayed (plus Philip Fox-Mills). Who says you cannot mix work and play?
In another life: I think I would still be an art teacher, which is what I was doing when I cycled past a shoot and was offered a job.
Kim Dellara, executive producer, Blackdog Films, 6+ years
Highlights: 2004 & 2005 were all about Green Day's American Idiot -- it was the biggest album the record industry had seen in many years. We produced five #1 videos and then closed the project with the live film and documentary Bullet in a Bible, which we filmed in the U.K. in June of 2005.
John Payne, executive producer, RSA Asia, 10 years
Highlights: (Professional) Being asked to head up RSA Asia. As former EP of Black Dog London, seeing a multitude of top class, original, wonderfully creative music videos being produced by all the Black Dog directors. (Personal) Seeing the look on Ridley's face after receiving a Secret Santa gift of a cock ring one year. (Yes, you read it.) Needless to say the sender was Chris Cunningham! Also being the butt of many pranks by Chris. Mostly unpleasant at the time, but looked back on with fondness.
Johan Renck, director, "years and years"
Highlights: My movie (Downloading Nancy). Probably the creative highlight of my life.
In another life I'd be a: Dancing man
Jonas Akerlund, director, 4 years
Highlights: Shooting Madonna's "Confessions Tour" for NBC at Wembley Arena last year with Black Dog U.K. Winning Grand Prix in Cannes for VW work and working with Rolling Stones. Shooting Rammstein performing naked with 20 other naked oiled up men wresting in a big pile of human MAN flesh on a pink carpet.
In another life: I would be an overweight Satanist banging the drums in a black metal band, sacrificing goats on the weekend.
Sookie Foster, RSA London executive producer, 7 years
Highlights: I co-produced a short film Jonathan with Fran that was directed by Jordan, shot in the UK in autumn 2004. The film was made for Unicef to show how children adapt and survive the horror of war and screened alongside others in the film festival in Venice.
In another life: No clue. Photography maybe?
Debbie Garvey, deputy m.d./e.p. RSA London, 16+years
Highlights: Telling my mum I'd got a job working for Ridley Scott.
In another life I'd be: Super nanny!
Laurence Dunmore, director, 10+ years
Highlights: Making my first feature, The Libertine, in 2004/5.
Working on such a diverse range of commercials with interesting and
passionate agencies and creatives. I love making films, long or
short, each has its own challenge and reward. RSA has supported and
encouraged my passion and my desire for quality work and individual
In another life I'd be a: Gardener.
David Mitchell, permalance producer, 12 years
Highlights: Working on the BMW Film "Beat the Devil" with Tony. It was the first time I was really able to see his process first hand on something more than a :60 commercial.
In another life: I would own a hardware store.