Many people know Scott Ross. Many look up to him and many want to be like him. After all, he is one of the most notable pioneers in digital media, technology, and entertainment of our century. But Scott Ross, well, he always wanted to be Mick Jagger.
When creativity runs through every vein of your body and increases with each breath of inspiration you take, you need to find a way to take some out. Scott's plan to become Mick Jagger may have failed, partly because of his mother's voice in the back of his head telling him that most musicians become drug addicts and die young, but mostly because he must've realized how good he is at everything else that he does.
Scott began expressing his creativity by running creative companies. He ran George Lucas' entertainment empire LucasFilm for years, before co-founding Digital Domain with James Cameron and Stan Winston. Digital Domain was nominated for a total of eight Oscars, including the one for visual effects in Titanic.
“Digital artists gave so much to me and my life that when I saw them being taken advantage of, I decided to do something about it,” says Scott, who started giving talks around the world trying to help digital artists, mentoring them and making them aware of their rights.
It was then that Andre Luis, THU founder, invited him to come to speak at Trojan Horse Was a Unicorn. What initially seemed like “just another talk” at “just another event”, completely changed Scott's life.
“I was blown away by the Art Direction and by how cool everything was – the posters, the logo, the people, how things were laid out,” Scott remembers. “It didn't feel like anything I'd ever been to. It was way much hipper, more fun, and more adventurous!”
That's when Scott decided it wouldn't have been fair to the event if it stayed so anonymous. He knew he could bring big names, great speakers. He knew he could make it bigger and even more exciting, so he proposed to become a sort of THU ambassador, or godfather, if we like.
“After 25 years in the industry, I had my contacts. People knew who I was and I helped build the careers of many,” says Scott. “I called these people up on the phone and almost every single artist I approached, accepted my invitation.”
That's how Hollywood began learning there was such a thing called THU in the world, although it was not easy to define what it was exactly and why it was different from any other event anyone had ever been to.
“Analogies make things easier to explain, so I began presenting THU as 'Burning Man meets TED' and describing it as 'the most fun you can have with your clothes on',” laughs Scott. “People trusted me and they got very excited by it!”
And those people sure weren't let down by their experience at THU, but it's been a tough journey and it isn't over yet. It takes a lot of time, effort, and most importantly money, to run the show. Andre and Scott have given both sweat and blood for the cause, but Scott believes it's finally time to expand in a different direction.
They're an interesting couple: two visionaries, but with different visions for the future of THU, even though the goal is the same – helping digital artists across the globe.
Andre is working on expanding the Tribe online through the THU TV experience, so not to lose the family feel of THU Main Event, but Scott feels like there is another way to grow and it's the only viable one.
“Andre is the gas pedal, I'm the brake,” confesses Scott. “He's an incredibly naïve dreamer and doesn't always realize what it takes to get things done. He makes outrageous comments like 'Let's get J.J. Abrams and Miyazaki' and, as much as I'd love that, one's busy making Star Wars and the other never goes anywhere! Managing his expectations while trying to make THU viable as an ongoing business are the two things that I find the hardest.”
The truth is that THU isn't a business yet. Everyone who was there still remembers the closing ceremony of THU 2015 and Andre Luis breaking down and admitting it wasn't possible to continue anymore, not financially and not emotionally.
“THU is really expensive to produce. Well over one million euros!” reveals Scott. “If you don't get the money to produce it, you will have to start cutting back on things, and you will eventually fail to deliver the quality the attendees deserve.”
“Artists always seem to have problems with money,” he continues. “If you asked any artist of stature to work for a whole year for just €6 an hour, they wouldn't do it. But here's the thing: that, according to my calculation, is what Andre makes. And given the quality of work he puts in, it's not fair.”
One of THU's main goals is to help artists understand their worth, but what artists don't always seem to understand is that THU staff itself doesn't get paid like that.
“We are not supposed to be a volunteer army,” Scott argues. “We try to deliver the best experience possible and keep the price reasonable. We try to get sponsorships and bring money in in non-corporate ways, and it's a very difficult task. I think a lot of the attendees don't see that. We've had people complain of the ticket price, but although a 600 euro ticket may look expensive, it doesn't even cover half our expenses!”
Syd Mead once said that if you're not getting paid, it's a hobby. But how long could this last? And what's the solution? Scott Ross has an idea.
“Take 700 attendees and make them 2,000. Make the event bigger. Two or three times bigger! I feel confident we could sell out. If now we have 700 of the grooviest, funniest, and most artistic people in the world, we would then have 2,000 of them! It can just keep getting better. I believe it's the most logical and straightforward way of solving our problem and adds excitement and value to THU. And if Troia can't physically hold so many people, let's move. Let's go to Bali! All we need is an isolated, natural environment with great beauty, delicious food and wine, and places to party and hang out. The intensity of the collective experience in Troia is what creates that special bond between attendees, not the limited number of people. If we manage this correctly, we wouldn't be losing the family feel. When you share similar dreams, emotions, thoughts, and fears you connect and support each other in a way that only family does. That wouldn't change. We'd ust end up being a much larger family than we are today.”
Scott dreams of an itinerant festival, which in some ways would make it more easily accessible to people all around the world and would limit the number of attendees, just like Andre prefers.
“We do have almost 60 countries attending THU, but mostly it's speakers from North America and European Tribe members. Almost no one from Asia,” explains Scott. “Imagine THU going to Portugal in September, New Zealand in March, Japan in May, and Brazil in December! It would be great.”
Scott's vision is very different from that of Andre. Perhaps that's why they make such a great team: they complement each other! Only time will tell what's best for the Tribe and, as you already know, whatever that is, it's what THU will bring to you.