PARIS — “I am very moved tonight because I am welcoming one of the idols of my youth,” Antoine Arnault told the audience gathered on Thursday at the Elysées Biarritz cinema auditorium, just off the Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris, for a private audience with Sir Ridley Scott.
As head of communication and image for luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Arnault was hosting a special screening of Scott’s first advertising film in 15 years, a four-minute short called “The Seven Wonders of Hennessy XO,” which he made for the French cognac producer.
Also on the menu of the event: a conversation between the 81-year-old filmmaker and Isabelle Giordano, general director of UniFrance, the agency dedicated to promoting French films around the world, followed by a screening of “Thelma & Louise,” his 1991 feminist road movie starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon.
“One of the first times I cut class was to go see ‘Thelma & Louise,’” Arnault confessed to the crowd. Speaking to WWD at a cocktail before the event, he said: “He is one of the people that inspired me at the time to work in the domain of image, communication and perhaps, eventually, cinema. The man is a living legend.”
The director of “Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “Gladiator,” “American Gangster” and more regaled the crowd with anecdotes peppered with swear words that deliberately challenged political correctness. A case in point: describing the genesis of the advertising film, which premiered in a 60-second version during the Oscar awards ceremony broadcast on Feb. 24.
“Whoever did that film must have been on Hennessy,” he joked after the screening of the ad, which features fantasy images reminiscent of his work in “Prometheus” and “Alien: Covenant.” Scott, who in the Eighties directed seminal ads for Apple and Chanel, worked on the Hennessy clip with French agency DDB Paris.
“They sent me a script which was interesting, because it gave me an opportunity to do my thing with their thing. I was not to know that they were really a tough bunch of sons-of-bitches, so I really didn’t get away with anything, but that said, coming to the table, I like people who are strong,” he said.
“Gradually, little by little, we came up with something, I think, in advertising terms, pretty unique,” Scott added.
In an interview ahead of the talk, he compared directing to driving a car. “Big films are Formula One, clearly. Advertising is both rally and Formula One: crazy. So I’m just a driver. I’m a good driver,” he said.
He gave an insight into his work process, saying it all starts with a solid script. “That’s why I spend my life developing material with good writers,” he said. Scott, who studied at the Royal College of Art in London, famously makes storyboards for all his films. “I’m very lucky because I can draw these universes,” he explained.
Speaking in front of guests later, he said he sees his job more as a businessman than an artist, with offices in London, New York, Los Angeles, Amsterdam and Hong Kong. “I run a film like a corporation,” he explained.
He noted that his production studio, Ridley Scott Creative Group, has seven TV shows on the air. Scott himself was fresh from South Africa, where he directed “Raised by Wolves,” set to premiere on television network TNT. He revealed he watches a film every evening before going to bed.
“From my driving seat in the Formula One, I want to know what’s going on every day,” he said. “I constantly review, ‘am I getting old-fashioned?’ I’m very competitive. You would not believe how competitive I am, so I am absolutely ice-cold when I watch my cut.”
Asked about his cult movies, Scott referenced two films that heavily feature Australia’s aboriginal culture: Peter Weir’s “The Last Wave” and Nicolas Roeg’s “Walkabout.”
And although he has created some of cinema’s most powerful female protagonists, including Sigourney Weaver’s character Ripley in “Alien,” Scott said his decision to screen “Thelma & Louise” was not linked to #MeToo, going so far as to express annoyance with the movement against sexual harassment.
“Stop with the #MeToo, OK? Stop — you’re taking all the fun out of life, maybe, but I’m not going to go any further than that,” grumbled the veteran director. Scott in 2017 replaced Kevin Spacey from his film “All the Money in the World” after the Oscar-winning actor was accused of sexual misconduct.
He explained that he worked closely with screenwriter Callie Khouri on crafting the script of “Thelma & Louise,” about two downtrodden women whose road trip turns into a crime spree.
“I spent about a week with her literally going through every line, and every nuance, from the female point of view and at the end of it, I was fully locked and loaded. And for that reason, I needed two very strong women, and these two are tough,” he said of Davis and Sarandon.
“We had a Time magazine cover, which was really cool, except I wasn’t mentioned, it was like I wasn’t there. But that happens — never read your own press,” he added. “The important thing is I adored doing it and I loved the interaction with the two gals — and I found a guy called Brad Pitt.”
Asked for his advice for budding filmmakers, Scott used another sporting analogy. “The trick, like everything, is just go out and do it. Just do it — love that Nike thing, which is just bloody do it,” he said, pointing to the smartphone on the table in front of him.
“That phone — you can make a film. There’s no excuse anymore. You don’t need celluloid, you don’t need a lab, you don’t need actors: just go make a g–damned movie and stop moaning,” he instructed.