Sir Ridley Scott: Past, Present and Future Visionary Exhibition at The Word, National Centre for the Written Word

Sir Ridley Scott: Past, Present and Future Visionary

Sir Ridley Scott: Past, Present and Future Visionary 22 October 2016 – 2 May 2017

Sir Ridley Scott: Past, Present and Future Visionary was the first main exhibition at The Word and was on show for just over 6 months.

It celebrated the life and achievements of one of the most successful and famous film directors in the word, Sir Ridley Scott.

Alongside the main exhibition space, the ground floor pod was also turned into an area to celebrate Sir Ridley Scott’s work. The theme of the pod was to look at his advertising career and it featured examples of his work.

About the exhibition

Sir Ridley Scott: Past, Present and Future Visionary

Sir Ridley Scott’s breadth of vision, range and diversity of his work, marks him out as one of the finest directors to emerge from the long history of British cinema. For over five decades he has proved, in almost every genre, the ability to recreate and reimagine the world; giving us some of cinemas most atmospheric scenes, iconic imagery and memorable characters, whilst providing an extraordinary contribution to the history and improvement of the moving picture.

In 2016 for the opening of The Word, the main exhibition was dedicated to celebrating the life and achievements of Sir Ridley Scott. Born in South Shields it seemed only fitting that the first exhibition took visitors on a journey through some of Sir Ridley’s blockbuster movies and advertising career.
An email sent from the director’s production company said: “Ridley is HONORED and excited about this. You have his and our full approval and go ahead.”

The fascinating exhibition showcased six of Scott’s most well-known movies: Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Robin Hood, Thelma and Louise and The Martian. Each movie was given a dedicated area with content, interactives, costumes, props and scripts from the movie, and the most famous element of the exhibition was a seven-feet-high replica alien, which was specially commissioned. Photos of the exhibition from 2016 can be seen in the show reel below.

“As a boy growing up in South Shields, I could never have imagined that I would receive such a special recognition. I am truly humbled to receive this treasured award.”

Sir Ridley Scott, upon receiving a knighthood for services to the British film industry. 

Sir Ridley Scott’s unique approach to making movies

“Storyboards are the first ‘look’ of the film. With them, you can just trace the drawing down on the board, and ‘see’ the film.”

It is unusual for a film director to have the talent or the ability to storyboard an entire film, but Sir Ridley Scott differs from most, in that he’s a visual artist with seven years of training that included study at the Royal College of Art. With these advanced graphics skills, he is able to sketch storyboards; a slick visual method of planning a movie scene-by-scene.

This not only prepares everyone working on the film by establishing a direction for what they intend to create, but he is also able to consult with the film’s art department, as well as influence the set design and costumes used in the movie. Perhaps most importantly, by having it visualised this way first, it helps him to mentally prepare for shooting.

When Sir Ridley joined the Alien project in 1977, only his second movie, he storyboarded the whole movie in less than three weeks. This approach was to prove invaluable – especially where money was concerned – and helped shape the film into the classic it became.

Sir Ridley’s storyboards were, and are, so individual, recognisable and numerous, they have gained the nickname “ridleygrams”. As well as preparing them in advance, he often draws on-set; a spur-of-the-moment conceptualisation drawing or short series of storyboards to describe a scene, or a set-up while scouting on location. A great device for getting everyone on the same page, fast – he has even been known to sketch them while being driven to the film studio! According to Sir Ridley, whether you’re directing a $120 million motion picture, or simply producing a modest painting, we all face the same challenge: creating something from nothing.

Advertising career

When Sir Ridley Scott directed ‘Alien’ in 1979 he was already 42 years old, and for the previous eleven years he had enjoyed a highly successful career in advertising, becoming one of Britain’s most famous and prolific commercial directors.

Indeed, by the time he directed his first feature, ‘The Duellists’ in 1977, he had already made around 2,000 commercials. Few filmmakers can sell a story like Sir Ridley Scott: whether it’s the nightmarishly futuristic corridors of the ‘Alien’ spacecraft, the mighty ancient colosseums of ‘Gladiator’ or the bustling recreation of 1970s New York City in ‘American Gangster’. His films are richly detailed and use alternate visual styles and settings with consistent conviction – all elements he attributes to his long background in television advertising:

“I learned about process, which is everything. You can talk yourself blue in the face at film school, you can talk yourself blue in the face at drama school, but you’ll never learn till you go out and do it.”

Sir Ridley started making commercials while moonlighting from the BBC, where he began his career in 1963 as a trainee, worked as a designer and then, in the late ’60s, became a director. The advertising work continued to such an extent, that in 1968, with his late brother Tony, he founded the highly successful Ridley Scott Associates (RSA). Sir Ridley spoke recently about his passion for advertising and commercials:

“I stayed in it for 20 years because I just loved it. I was working in film, working on celluloid, I was working in quick time. They were very competitive days. Today you’re considered busy if you’re doing 12 spots a year; in those days I would be doing, personally, 100 commercials a year, averaging two a week.”

“I was obsessed with commercials. The ones we made 30 years ago are pretty good today. They don’t age. I would obsess over details, not just who the actor was, or how beautiful the model was.”

“People at that time said TV commercial breaks were better than the programmes. In doing that, I learned to address the most basic question: Am I communicating, or am I going over your head? And that’s what all filmmakers face.”

Today, although Sir Ridley’s role is now limited mainly to production, RSA is still going strong, with offices in Los Angeles and London. It produces hundreds of commercials a year, and is a valuable springboard for new talent and directors who might possibly go on to direct the blockbuster movies of the future – much as Sir Ridley did before them.

COMING HOME: Sir Ridley Scott at The Laing Art Gallery

In partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, London

Until Saturday 27 March

The Laing Art Gallery is currently closed until further notice, following the Government’s national lockdown announcement.

Sir Ridley Scott by Nina Mae Fowler, 2019 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Sir Ridley Scott by Nina Mae Fowler, 2019 © National Portrait Gallery, London

A portrait of acclaimed film director Sir Ridley Scott has been loaned to the Laing Art Gallery from the National Portrait Gallery in London as part of its COMING HOME initiative, which sees portraits of iconic individuals being loaned to places across the UK with which they are closely associated.

Scott was born in South Shields, Tyne and Wear in 1937 and his films include Alien (1979), Thelma and Louise (1991) and Academy Award-winning drama Gladiator (2000). He was knighted in 2003 for services to the film industry and in 2018 received the BAFTA Fellowship Award.

The drawing is by Nina Mae Fowler and is part of a larger series that the National Portrait Gallery in London commissioned of leading film directors.

The artist captured the portrait of Scott with his face lit only by the light of the screen in an otherwise darkened space. Scott chose to watch the scene from a film that was a major turning point for him and his relationship to cinema. The title of the portrait, “29:04:37”, refers to the exact film frame the director is watching when Fowler captured his portrait.

The initiative will be supported by an online learning programme for teachers and schools. This will include two virtual CPD opportunities with Art Consultant Susan Coles, and a Portrait Challenge which can be set as classroom or home learning.

Whilst the gallery is closed there will also be a digital preview of the painting and digital content – when this is ready it will be shared on the Laing Art Gallery’s website and social media.

COMING HOME has been made possible by the National Portrait Gallery, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, generous contributions from The Thompson Family Charitable Trust and funds raised at the Gallery’s Portrait Gala in 2017.

“29:04:37” (Sir Ridley Scott) by Nina Mae Fowler will be on show at the Laing Art Gallery as soon as the gallery is able to reopen following the coronavirus lockdown. Online digital content will be produced whilst the gallery is closed including a digital preview of the painting and related art-based activities.

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