'No Better Person in the Trenches': Hollywood Remembers Tony Scott
Executives, writers, directors and friends recall the “gravitas and guts” of the prolific director.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 23-Sept. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Tom Rothman, Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman
"He was a good man. He was a really good man. I've known him for 20 years or more. And Tony and Ridley's Scott Free Productions deal has been at Fox since 2001. We've done a lot of projects. We've done a couple of big movies together with Tony as director -- Man on Fire, and his most recent movie, Unstoppable. And he's produced a whole lot of movies for us, because he works with young filmmakers, and he has even produced a number of cool little Searchlight movies for us, like the Nicole Kidman movie Stoker that comes out next year. The thing about Tony and his brother is, they are activists. They are doers. They are making things happen every day of the week. Tony, like Ridley, loved to work and was very prolific.
"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. The humanity of the ordinary common man is a thread through his work and his life. He wanted complicated characters. If you knew him, that wouldn't surprise you, because he was a people person. You have to look far and wide to find someone who combined the level of talent that he had, the level of artistry, with the level of decency and generosity of spirit. For a guy who would stop at nothing to get the shot he wanted, he was always gracious and kind and generous of spirit. There was no better guy to be in the trenches with.
"He also knew talent when he saw it. Obviously, Ridley Scott Associates, their whole commercial business, depends on that. And there's a long list of incredibly talented new filmmakers who've come out of that. He produced The A-Team for us, that Joe Carnahan directed. Joe was a protege of his. Tony was just so supportive of new talent and incredibly loyal. That loyalty was often manifested in his support for other filmmakers, the same way he and his brother were a mutual support society.
"What struck you about their relationship is how they managed to be so supportive of each other and not be competitive. They were each other's biggest boosters. But you know, here's the thing. For a guy who made movies with such muscularity, he was tremendously softhearted." -- as told to Pamela McClintock
Nicole Kidman, actress
"Tony was a visionary. Somehow he was able to translate story and character into visceral, consuming images and sounds. There was a musicality to everything he did, an intensity, but also an elegance. And yet for all his talent and innovation, there was nothing pretentious about Tony or his movies--he had an instant connection with an audience, he spoke their language.
"I feel so lucky to have been directed by him. As an actor, it's a rare thing to feel such trust and confidence, to know you are a part of something special. Tony was a master filmmaker, but he was also a gentle spirit, someone whose sensitivity and generosity could be obscured by the scope of his work. He was a great supporter of other artists. Filmmakers loved working with him, as I recently found, on a film called Stoker, which Tony produced. His appreciation for and curiosity about making movies permeated everything he did. I think it is that side of Tony that made him so great. The passion of his work and personality, the emotion within it, was consistent. Tony's loss is a complete shock. I feel blessed to have known him. I am deeply sad that he is gone.
Robert Towne, writer-director
"It was impossible not to love him. He just seemed to have boundless energy. One of my favorite things was when we were doing Days of Thunder in Daytona. I came to the set, and Tony and Tom Cruise were parachuting down to the set for a day of shooting. That was typical of Tony. He parachuted down to the set, looked a little dazed by the descent, but he was fine. He got out of the parachute and went to work. He loved excitement. He never seemed to sleep. He’d be doing little drawings for the shots the next day. He had a lot of generosity and warmth and that spilled over into his characters. I just loved him, everybody did."
Joe Carnahan, writer-director
"I will say this about Mr. Tony Scott: I wouldn't have the career I have today without that man. His love, support and encouragement were unwavering and unconditional. He was a heavyweight in every sense of the word and a human being first and foremost. I've not met many people in this life that lead with their heart, especially in this business, but for all of Tony's bravado and toughness, it was his sensitivity that made him great. You need look no further than Man on Fire to see him at his utmost. To see him redefining his directorial style at the age of 60. What gravitas and guts. He made five or six movies that other directors would proudly claim as their magnum opus. Such was the power of Tony Scott. Gone but not forgotten. Your fire will live on in me and an entire generation of artists and filmmakers. We've not yet taken the true measure of your talent and influence, but when we do, we'll build monuments to what it meant to us. RIP, my friend."
Henry Bean, writer-director
"Tony Scott had more energy, generosity and childlike joy than any adult I’ve ever known. As Phil Spector would have put it, to know him was to love him. This might not always have been apparent from his movies, which emphasized his brash side and hid, as he often did himself, the sweet, tender, vulnerable parts. But anybody who ever met him got the whole Tony, and they all loved him, loved him at once and unequivocally, even when he blew up and terrified them with his unrestrained fury. You could worry that Tony was about to kill you, but you never doubted that he liked you. Even his rages would often bubble over into laughter and happiness. He hid parts of himself, but he never faked anything, and I never saw him lie. He was a deeply honorable man, sweet, kind and a little scary. He was life itself."
Steven Zaillian, writer-director
"Tony and I worked together when he first moved here from England. For both of us, it was our first Hollywood assignment, and we remained friends for the next 30 years. As audiences, we think we can know artists from their work, that they and the things they create must mirror each other. But Tony couldn’t have been more different from his creations. These vigorous, muscular, high-powered films were made by the sweetest, kindest, most soft-spoken and generous man I’ve ever known. A piece of my heart is gone and the rest of it hurts, losing my friend, this gentle soul. My thoughts are with his family."
Jerry Bruckheimer, producer
"I was shocked and devastated to learn of Tony Scott’s death. He was not only a brilliant filmmaker but a wonderful man and dear friend. He was thoughtful and warm and had an irrepressible sense of humor. I was fortunate to have worked with him for 30 years, an experience that I will always treasure. Tony was a true original, and he will be terribly missed by everyone who knew him. My heart goes out to his family."
Brian Helgeland, writer-director
"Tony Scott knew and understood that any moment in film or in life could be funny and sad, profound and absurd or sacred and profane all at the same time. When I realized that about him, I fell in love. He was a director I could trust, a friend I could trust even more, and I will miss him every day for the rest of my life."
Denzel Washington, actor
"Tony Scott was a great director, a genuine friend, and it is unfathomable to think that he is now gone. He had a tremendous passion for life and for the art of filmmaking and was able to share this passion with all of us through his cinematic brilliance. My family sends their prayers and deepest condolences to the entire Scott family."
Richard Kelly, writer-director
"I worked closely with Tony for two years on Domino. He hired me to come in and take a crack on the story of Domino Harvey. He really responded to the idea of doing her story as a fever dream, this acid trip. He was very taken with doing the story as a more radical take on her philosophy of American life, how she chose to hang with all these poor people and run around with all these bounty hunters -- what an interesting lifestyle choice that was and how we could express it with radical filmmaking techniques. It was like getting to hang out with this great idol from my childhood. He was just incredibly generous, very warm and funny. He would always record all of our meetings with a tape recorder, have his assistant transcribe the meetings in very explicit detail, word for word. He was a very, very meticulous researcher. I learned so much from him, really getting into the minutia and detail of a story, especially given that we were taking a real human being and real events and turning them into this fabrication. He was incredibly precise about knowing what he wanted in developing a story. He was very upfront that he was not a screenwriter, but he knew so much about how to develop a story. He was so experienced. He really helped me to develop my skill set.
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"I always felt he had a punk rock spirit. He had this wild sensibility of wanting to push everything to edge and keep pushing the envelope. He was really fearless, whether it was narrative, visual design, music or sound design. It was always a real thrill to see the way he conducted himself on set, what a meticulous craftsmen he was, how quickly he knew how to move. He was a very knowledgeable filmmaker, always pioneering new techniques. He’d pioneer new technology, and then everyone would rip him off a couple of years later.
"He was a real workaholic. I think he found the development process very frustrating, because he constantly wanted to make movies. He had a wonderful system at Scott Free, cranking out a movie almost every year. As he and Ridley got older, they became more and more efficient. It was really, really inspired. I asked him at one point, 'Does it get easier with each film?' He sighed and he chuckled, and he said, 'You know, Rich, it gets harder.' I wanted a different answer. I wanted to hear it does get easier as you get older. Part of me thinks he was maybe referring to frustration of the studio system, telling original stories and pushing passion projects through the studio system. Something like Domino was a very experimental, very radical film to get made in the studio system, not a traditional film under any circumstances. I could see the passion and fire that was in his eyes. He really got a thrill from it. The film wasn’t successful, but he gave me a lovely gift, a bound copy of the script, and he framed the poster for me. He was just a guy who had impeccable manners and was always just a real joy to be around.
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"He was always the pioneer. Often, a lot of his films wouldn’t be appreciated for many years later. I was always very happy when people appreciated work. I was always rooting for his films to make money so he could push through the system. It’s so tragic that we won’t have any more Tony Scott films."