LONDON — Screenwriter Allan Scott claims he has never watched the whole of the famous sex scene in his first movie, “Don’t Look Now,” because he’s always too busy admiring the bottle of Macallan scotch artfully placed at the bedside.
It’s a story that sums up the first 25 years of his career, when Scott’s attentions were divided between his movies and his whisky. He established himself as a successful scripter and occasional producer in London and Hollywood while holding down a full-time job at the Macallan Distillery, running the company as chairman since 1980.
But this double life finally came to an end in August, when he completed the $380 million sale of the Scottish liquor company to Highland Distillers and Suntory, leaving him free to devote his prodigious energies almost entirely to the film business.
It’s a propitious time for Scott (who also goes by his Gaelic surname Shiach), one of the best-connected figures on the movie scene in London, Hollywood and Scotland.
“The Preacher’s Wife,” the Denzel Washington-Whitney Houston vehicle that he co-wrote, will be released by Disney in the U.S. on Dec. 9, the day after TNT premieres his Biblical miniseries “Samson and Delilah.” A third screenplay, “In Love and War,” makes it to theaters courtesy of New Line and director Richard Attenborough on Dec. 18. Scott also did uncredited rewrite work on Universal’s upcoming volcano epic, “Dante’s Peak,” which was greenlit a week after he handed in his draft.
Meanwhile, his London-based production company Rafford Films is in the midst of shooting “Regeneration” with director Gillies MacKinnon, adapted by Scott from Pat Barker’s novel about World War I poets.
Following his exit from Macallan, Scott is now spending his time beefing up Rafford’s profile. “I was running a public company, but now I hope to put some of that energy into Rafford,” he says. Under his 15-year chairmanship, Macallan’s market value grew from $2 million to a peak of $500 million before slipping back to the sale price of $380 million.
He remains a big man in Scotland. He’s chairman of the new Scottish Screen Agency, uniting all that nation’s old film funding bodies, two of which he previously headed. His influence brokered a four-film development deal between the Scottish Film Production Fund and Canada’s Norstar Entertainment, which is backing “Regeneration” and is also involved in two new projects from Rafford.
He’s also a non-exec director of Scottish TV, the region’s main commercial TV station. It was his suggestion that led to STV’s recent takeover of Caledonian Newspapers, on whose board he also sat.
Scott’s ability to wear many different hats at once is perhaps his most remarkable characteristic, mirrored by his use of two surnames. He revels in the fact that he served as president of the Writers Guild at the same time as he was chairman of Macallan. “I’m the only chairman of a publicly quoted company who was also head of a trade union at the same time,” he laughs.
He downplays suggestions that juggling his writing with a business career was that much of a challenge. “I work by writing for at least two hours a day quite intensively. Two hours a day means two months for a complete screenplay. It’s not awesome,” he says.
Scott plunged into screenwriting and whisky straight from university. “Don’t Look Now,” co-written with Chris Bryant and filmed by Nicolas Roeg in 1973, was their second script. Scott stopped writing for four years after becoming chairman of Macallan, but once he got the business into shape he found time to revive his film career.
Struggle doesn’t feature much in the Allan Scott story, although he has his share of screenwriter’s bruises. He is passionate in his defense of writers and the credit that is their due. “How do you persuade Hollywood that if Robert Bolt writes a play that becomes a worldwide success and then writes the screen adaptation that becomes a worldwide success, the film should not always be referred to as Fred Zinnemann’s ‘A Man for All Seasons’?” he asks with exasperation.
Nonetheless, Scott has profited greatly from his Hollywood work, both financially and in his understanding of the business. That and Macallan have made him a very wealthy man, with a reputation for considerable generosity among his London colleagues.
“At the end of the day, one measure of your accomplishment is what you earn, but I’m tremendously driven by the material, and if there’s a choice between a great project with no money attached and a crap projects with lots attached, I’d do the great one,” he says. But in such cases, he also seeks a bigger role in the production. “At the end of the day, I share the screenwriter’s lament, and that’s why I want to be a producer as well.”
He’s currently working as a writer on “A Very Long Engagement,” which David Puttnam is developing for Warner Bros. He has two projects with Sydney Pollack’s Mirage, one of which, an adaptation of Anne Tyler’s novel “Morgan’s Passing,” will be a co-production with Rafford, while the other, “The Practical Heart,” is a straight writing job. He’s also writing and producing “Mother of God” for Touchstone.