From the Faculty of Arts to Hollywood producer

A Scotsman, whiskey executive, McGill alum, screenwriter, and producer walk into a Zoom meeting—well, tune into a Zoom meeting. No, this is not a set-up for a fascinating punchline; it is a delightfully accurate description of The Queen’s Gambit co-producer, Allan Scott, who joined Television McGill’s (TVM) public Zoom Talk on Feb. 4 to discuss his career. 

Scott, B.A. ‘61, tuned into TVM’s Zoom event from the United Kingdom to discuss his journey from McGill University English literature student to co-writer of works like Don’t Look Now (1973) and The Queen’s Gambit (2020). With over 70 students virtually present, Scott answered questions from TVM president Tory Fortunato and then from several participants. Questions pertained to screenwriting, the whiskey industry, professional recommendations, and Scott’s favourite London museums. Scott’s answers consisted of fond McGill memories, brutally honest advice, cheeky one-liners, and praise for the Tate Modern

The conversation commenced with Scott recalling his time at McGill, particularly at The McGill Daily. Scott’s duty as features editor was to publish one poem weekly, a role that eventually got him in trouble as he kept selecting poems by a student who had already graduated a few years prior, and was therefore ineligible for publication. One could argue that this instance with the poet in question—Leonard Cohen—proves the age-old adage, “real recognizes real.” Aside from the Daily, Scott participated in McGill theatre and local stand-up comedy, citing a lucky occurrence in which Charlton Heston watched him and his friend perform and praised them on live radio that night. Subsequently, the two embarked on a two-year comedy tour.

Scott recalled how after several years of performing, he and his friend wished to grow in their careers. 

“We said, ‘This isn’t a job for grown-ups.’ So we decided to stop being children,” Scott said. “We sat down and we wrote a screenplay, though we did [something] more important than that. We sat down and we read four or five screenplays of movies that [we’d] seen.” 

This emphasis on the importance of learning and studying both one’s craft and the film industry itself permeated Scott’s stories and advice throughout the Zoom event. Scott continued to reflect on the strategies he picked up over years of working in the entertainment industry.

“I learned a trick when I was working in Hollywood […] doing a lot of script doctoring,” Scott said. “I said, ‘Look, I’m the only British writer who is wholly and entirely collaborative. I will collaborate with anybody who comes in with a good idea.’”

Besides touching on the importance of collaboration in an industry so dependent on stealing, Scott stressed the utility of possessing particular traits—largely, patience. 

“The biggest hurdle in anybody’s career to overcome is idiots, and there are a lot of them around,” Scott laughed. 

Scott did not limit his stories to industry advice. Many excited viewers asked about Scott’s work on The Queen’s Gambit, especially noting how long it took to be greenlighted. 

“Each year, I failed to get the movie made,” Scott recalled. “It always came back to the studio from the financing entity, saying, ‘Chess doesn’t sell tickets.’” 

As it turns out, chess very much did sell tickets. This tale of perseverance within the industry was one of many highlights in TVM’s “Conversation with Allan Scott.” With enthusiasm and just a smidge of sass, Scott walked his Zoom audience through highlights of his career, silly moments with fellow producers, and many pieces of advice imperative to the film industry. It seems inconceivable that one day you might be walking through the doors of the Arts building, and the next, on set of Netflix’s biggest limited series. Yet, Scott shared that all that one needs to make those in-between steps is collaboration, patience, enthusiasm, and of course, not taking “no” for an answer, whether it is greenlighting The Queen’s Gambit, or publishing poetry by some random, talented McGill graduate. 

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