I don’t know what to write about Tony Scott. I saw the news late last night and the Twitter frenzy around it. Everyone, it seems, is so quick to have something to say in these instances. Armchair psychology, knee-jerk career analysis, etc. It’s to be expected but I usually just go a bit numb with something like this. Scott is one of the biggest names in this industry to take his leave and, well, it’s just awful. And not for Tony, really. For the wife and two kids he left behind.
I was going to offer up the usual “we don’t know why these things happen” line, but it’s now being reported that Scott recently learned he had inoperable brain cancer. “If true and Tony was terminal, then he died as he lived: Full blown, full speed and down to the very last second,” director Joe Carnahan, who has been on a tear about what Scott has meant to him, Tweeted recently.
It would certainly help make some sense of this. Scott had a flourishing career, and not just as a director. (UPDATE: The report of inoperable brain cancer has been debunked by autopsy.) Scott Free Productions (which he headed up with brother Ridley) is a major force in the industry, both on the big and small screen. But, obviously, career is not everything. Maybe we’ll know what’s in those notes one day, maybe we won’t. But a distinctive voice is gone, as is a husband, a father, a friend and a colleague.
The custom is to immediately shine a light on the work. Around here, we use the awards season as a way into discussing movies. And Tony didn’t have a lot of big screen luck there. His work as producer of TV movies like “The Gathering Storm” and series like “The Good Wife” found Emmy love, but his theatrical work was always relegated to the below-the-line elements.
It’s fitting, really, as so often it was the craftsmanship (though certainly stemming from directorial vision) of his films that stood out. The sound of “Unstoppable,” “Crimson Tide,” “Days of Thunder” and “Top Gun,” for instance, with film editing nods thrown in here and there.
Greg P. Russell was one of those craftsmen. He worked with Scott on films like “Days of Thunder,” “Crimson Tide,” “Enemy of the State,” “Spy Game” and “Deja Vu” as a sound re-recording mixer. “He was the most passionate and exciting director to mix for,” Russell told me. “He loved making movies and he embraced sound like no other. I will treasure my memories sitting at the console with Tony laughing and having the time of our lives. We always had a blast with Tone. My heart goes out to his family with my deepest condolences and we will all miss him very much.”
Fellow mixer Kevin O’Connell spent much of his career partnered up with Russell on projects, including a few of those mentioned above. “He was the best director I ever worked with,” O’Connell, who it should be said has also worked with filmmakers like Rob Reiner, Wolfgang Peterson, Michael Bay, Lawrence Kasden, Barry Sonnenfeld, Mel Gibson, Rob Marshall, Ron Howard and Michael Mann, told me this afternoon. “From ‘Top Gun’ to ‘Unstoppable,’ we always remained close friends. I will miss him greatly.”
Scott was also a big champion of rising talent, which is unfortunately rare in this cutthroat business. Coming back to Carnahan, who worked with Scott on “The A-Team” and this year’s “The Grey” he Tweeted, “I’ve been extremely fortunate in my career, a career I wouldn’t have without Tony Scott’s persistence, love and relentless support…Tony GAVE me my commercial career at a time when when the marquee should’ve said: ‘Films by Tony Scott, John Woo & Who The Fuck Is That Guy.'”
And perhaps my favorite nugget: “After [he] saw ‘The Grey’ I got this call, that familiar rasp. ‘Joe, it’s Tone, fuckin’ movie’s great man, don’t let ’em fuck it up, yeah?'”
Scott Free teamed up with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way production company recently to produce Scott Cooper’s “Crazy Heart” follow-up “Out of the Furnace.” It meant a lot to Cooper to have the protection of guys like that while he was out in Braddock, Pennsylvania taking a gamble on his second feature film, the one he knew could make or break his career. And he was, of course, rocked by the news.
To say nothing of what Scott’s taking on an up-and-coming writer’s script, “True Romance,” meant to a young Quentin Tarantino in the early 1990s. Scott’s legacy will be his encouragement as much as it will be his singular voice.
Beyond that, indeed, an entire industry is reeling. The Tweet collectives are out there to be found. The Hollywood Reporter has a decent one, full of all you’d expect: sadness.
Everyone picks favorites so I might as well spring for my own. “Top Gun” helped define a generation. It was, early on, one of those movies that stood out as bigger than the usual list of marquee titles at the theater. It hit the pop culture in a more significant way, and as a kid with an interest in movies, that kind of thing sticks with you. But I’ll spring for “The Last Boy Scout” and “Spy Game,” too, films often considered in line with Scott’s lesser work that I find to be somewhat under-appreciated. His swan song, “Unstoppable,” was an unexpected delight in 2010, I have to say. And “Crimson Tide” was probably his most complete film, a real treasure of that era.
Tony Scott was 68 years old. He is survived by his wife, Donna, and their twin sons, Frank and Max.