Ridley Scott was one of the most expensive, most sought-after directors in advertising.

He won every award, worldwide, many times.

The best agencies would compete with each other to get him to direct their scripts.

The best directors in the business all worked at RSA: Ridley Scott Associates.

But what Ridley really wanted to do was make feature films.

He found the perfect project, a Joseph Conrad short story called ‘The Duellists’ set in France during the Napoleonic period.

It was about two men obsessed with honour, destined to fight each other over a perceived insult, every few years in a duel to the death.

As his first movie, Ridley was determined to make this a masterpiece.

He scrupulously researched every facet of the period: military dress, furniture, food and wine, manners, duelling protocol, the finished result was perfect, a jewel of a film.

In 1977, ‘The Duellists’ won the Cannes Award for Best Debut Film.

It was everything Ridley wanted.

But something was gnawing at him, for all the critical success of ‘The Duellists’ ordinary people weren’t actually going to the cinema to see it.

One evening he was in a taxi passing the cinema where ‘The Duellists’ was showing, there was no one outside, then the cab passed another cinema which had a huge queue around the block.

But it wasn’t showing Ridley’s film, it was showing ‘Superman’.

And at that point it occurred to Ridley to ask himself what he wanted to do with his career.

Did he want to carry on making art-films that ordinary people didn’t go to watch?

Or did he want to make popular movies that everyone wanted to watch?

And then he asked a question no one ever asks: why couldn’t he do both?

Why did popular movies have to be badly made and poorly shot, why couldn’t he put the careand quality into popular movies that he’d put into ‘The Duellists’?

And that realisation changed the course of his career and the course of cinema in general.

Since that taxi ride he’s directed over two dozen films and produced over a hundred more.

‘Alien’ was the first film to introduce the concept of a ‘used future’, a science fiction world that won’t be bright and clean and perfect.

‘Blade Runner’ was the first to introduce ‘Science Fiction Noir’, a dark and ominous future, like a 1930s gangster film.

‘Thelma and Louise’ was the first time anyone made a ‘buddy picture’ about women, before which women in movies were mainly just eye-candy.

‘Gladiator’ was such a huge success it kick-started the reintroduction of ‘swords & sandals’ movies to Hollywood.

The interesting thing for us is that Ridley didn’t choose between art-house films and popular films, he did both.

He chose the sort of stories that ordinary people could relate to but he made them with style and class, and the sort of cinematography associated with art films.

Years before, when Ridley began directing commercials, it was seen as the second-ratechoice, for people who weren’t good enough to work in actual cinema.

Ridley said, “I decided I was going to elevate the medium” and he did, first he did it for commercials then he did it for feature films.

The best advertising is like that, it isn’t a choice between repetitive, dull, advertising that works, or beautiful advertising that does nothing except win awards.

Ridley didn’t choose between quality for the few or dross for the masses, he chose quality forthe masses.

What Ridley did is what we should all be doing: elevating the medium.