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Tony Scott (1944–2012)

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  • Tony Scott (1944–2012)

    Scott, Anthony David Leighton [Tony]

    by Justin Smith
    Published online: 07 January 2016

    Scott, Anthony David Leighton [Tony] (1944–2012), film director and producer, was born on 21 June 1944 at 50 Preston Road, North Shields, Northumberland, the youngest of the three sons of Francis Percy (Frank) Scott (1909–1981), a master stevedore then serving as a lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Engineers, and his wife, Elizabeth Jane, née Williams (1906–2001). At the time of his birth registration the family lived at 69 Cleveland Road, North Shields. The eldest son, Frank (1934–1980), joined the merchant navy. Ridley (b. 1937) and Tony both attended Grangefield grammar school, Stockton-on-Tees, and West Hartlepool College of Art. Seven years his senior, Ridley accepted a place at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in 1960. Tony went on to study fine art at Sunderland Art School (1962–6), where he also ran the Film Society, then Leeds College of Art and Design (1966–7), and followed Ridley to the RCA in London in 1968. Abandoning any prospect of earning a living as a painter, he was drawn to film. In 1961, at the age of sixteen, he had taken the lead in Ridley's first short film, Boy and Bicycle (released 1965). In March 1967 he obtained £1100 from the British Film Institute's Production Board to make his own 16 mm short, One of the Missing (1969), an American Civil War drama based on a story by Ambrose Bierce, which was completed in 1968 at the RCA's film department. It was first screened at the National Film Theatre in January 1969, and was subsequently shown at no fewer than nineteen international film festivals. It was later blown up to 35 mm for theatrical distribution, notably at the British Film Institute (BFI)'s regional film theatres.

    On the strength of this début the BFI lent its support, alongside Albert Finney's benevolent Memorial Enterprises, to a 52 minute drama entitled Loving Memory (1970), which was made for £12,500 (of which the BFI contributed £8000). Shot on 35 mm and photographed by the celebrated cinematographer Chris Menges, it is a macabre but poignant tale, about a brother (Roy Evans) and sister (Rosamund Greenwood), on a farmstead in the remote Cleveland Hills, who conceal the corpse of a cyclist (David Pugh) they killed in a road accident. Loving Memory was chosen to open the National Film Theatre's second screen in September 1970 and made the Critics' Week selection at the Cannes Film Festival the following spring. Notwithstanding this achievement, Tony Scott (in common with other aspiring film-makers of his generation) considered his best career prospects lay in television. But his elder brother (who had left the RCA to work as an art director at the BBC) persuaded him that there were better opportunities in the commercial advertising business Ridley Scott Associates that he had established in 1965. There, Tony Scott directed thousands of television commercials during the 1970s and 1980s including iconic advertisements for Sure, Levi's, Chanel, and Hovis, perfecting an accomplished visual style, and earning him the ability to indulge his passion for sports cars and motorbikes.

    Scott made two further ventures into television and feature film during this period: an adaptation of Henry James's story The Author of Beltraffio for French television in 1976 and, for MGM at Shepperton Studios, a vampire movie called The Hunger (1983), which starred David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve, and Susan Sarandon. Too cultish for mainstream success, The Hunger failed at the box office but succeeded in attracting the attention of Hollywood producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson. Their backing led to Scott's breakthrough feature, Top Gun (1986), the visual concept for which was inspired by a commercial Scott had directed which pitted a Saab jet against a Saab car: 'silver jets in a bright blue sky, good-looking guys', as he later described it (The Times, 21 Aug 2012). This recipe, featuring Tom Cruise, led to a succession of similar high-octane action-adventure films including Revenge (1990), with Kevin Costner, Days of Thunder (1990), with Cruise again, and The Last Boy Scout (1991), starring Bruce Willis. But on the back of Top Gun, it was Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) that confirmed Scott's ability to handle Hollywood's most lucrative properties with verve and panache. True Romance (1993), scripted by Quentin Tarantino, marked a change of tone, the ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ narrative enabling greater character development. But he returned to type with a series of films starring Denzel Washington including Crimson Tide (1995), Man on Fire (2004), Déjà Vu (2006), The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009), and Unstoppable (2010). He also made crime thrillers starring Robert De Niro (The Fan, 1996) and Will Smith (Enemy of the State, 1998), and the true story of the bounty hunter Domino Harvey, starring Keira Knightley (Domino, 2005). As well as directing, Scott was also executive producer of a number of films for the company he ran with his brother Ridley, Scott Free; these included Clay Pigeons (1998), Where The Money Is (1999), The Last Debate (2000), In Her Shoes (2005), Tristan & Isolde (2005), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Cracks (2009), Cyrus (2010), Welcome to the Rileys (2010), Life in a Day (2011), and The Grey (2011). He produced, among others, Tale Tale (2009), The A-Team (2010), and Stoker (2012).

    Despite their Hollywood base, in the mid-1990s Ridley and Tony Scott headed a consortium that salvaged Shepperton Studios, which was later merged with the Pinewood group. As a director, Tony Scott rarely received the critical acclaim that Ridley enjoyed, with whom the press inevitably compared him. Yet there was no sibling rivalry. 'Ridley makes films for posterity', he once remarked, 'my films are more rock 'n' roll' (Sunday Times, 26 Aug 2012). In Hollywood he directed or produced a raft of popular commercial successes which many would envy and enjoyed the status of a well-respected, top-flight film-maker. Crucially, he honed a vibrant visual aesthetic, and had a shrewd understanding of the emotional register of popular narrative cinema. He continued to make television commercials despite his cinema success, thriving on their creative cross-fertilization: 'I'll take stuff from commercials to film and vice versa' (Figgis, 130). Indeed, it was the commercial aesthetic he brought from advertising to cinema that defined Hollywood style for a generation. His films earned serious money, eight titles making more than $150 million each worldwide. During a career of more than forty years his work was nominated for numerous awards, though perhaps won fewer than it deserved. In 1995 he shared with Ridley the Michael Balcon award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for outstanding British contribution to cinema, and his television work was recognized with Primetime Emmy awards for the made-for-television movie The Gathering Storm in 2002 and for the feature documentary Gettysburg in 2011.

    Scott was a workaholic who reputedly thrived on very little sleep and spent leisure time rock climbing. He married three times. His first wife, Geraldine Mary (Gerry) Boldy (1944–2007), daughter of Frank Boldy, assistant superintendent, was an award-winning television production designer. They married on 16 March 1968 and divorced in 1974. His second marriage, on 7 June 1986, was to an advertising executive, Glynis Sanders (b. 1949), daughter of Reginald Stuart Sanders, brickworks manager, though they divorced after a year following Scott's affair with the Hollywood actress Brigitte Nielsen (b. 1963), whom he met on the set of Beverly Hills Cop II. He married third, in 1990, Donna Wilson, a film and television actress twenty-four years his junior, whom he had met while making Days of Thunder. They had twin sons, Frank and Max, in 2000. Having undertaken chemotherapy for cancer, Scott committed suicide on 19 August 2012 by jumping from the Vincent Thomas Bridge which spans San Pedro and Terminal Island in Los Angeles Harbor. A private funeral was held on 24 August 2012 in Los Angeles, where his family launched a scholarship fund in his name, to be based at the American Film Institute, in order to offer support to young film-makers. He was survived by his wife and sons.