STORIES FROM THE PARK
PRN Alumni Foundation is comprised of the former employees of Prince, Paisley Park, Paisley Park Records, PRN Productions, NPG Records, Love4OneAnother, any and all of Prince’s companies spanning his impressive nearly 40 year career.
There have been, quite literally hundreds of us in Prince’s employ. The Foundation represents our collective voice.
We are musicians, engineers, managers, lighting directors, wardrobe designers, stylists, makeup artists, drivers, bodyguards, admin staff, valets, drivers (and more!)
This ‘Stories From The Park’ chronicle is a way for our colleagues of all tenures and job types to share a little bit of Prince’s magic with you through our individual voices.
We hope you enjoy getting to know us…we feel as if we’ve known you, Prince’s fans (fam) forever <3
With love and gratitude,
PRN Alumni Foundation
Spotlight: Scott McCullough
"IF SCOTT’S IN THE ROOM, HE’S WORKING FOR ME"
HOW ONE SMALL AD CHANGED THE DIRECTION OF SCOTT McCULLOUGH'S LIFE
Interviewed by writer: Tony Kiene
As a teenager growing up in the Twin Cities, Scott McCullough was always a big fan of hometown hero Prince. In the mid-1980s, when he enrolled at the University of Minnesota to study architecture, Scott used what leisure time he had to frequent some of the downtown clubs. Occasionally, Prince would “slip in through the back door” at one of these spots instantly generating a palpable buzz throughout the crowd.
"People would whisper ‘Prince is here,’” recalls Scott, “He was larger than life, even here at home.” As cool as it was in those years to see Prince out and about, Scott didn’t imagine that he’d ever dwell inside Prince’s universe beyond those few fleeting moments.
Back on the West Bank of campus, it didn’t take Scott long to realize that architecture might not be his calling after all. Not sure what to do with his life, he started to reply to want-ads in the Star Tribune. And, one of the ads he stumbled across just happened to be seeking extras for a Prince project at his newly constructed Paisley Park Studios, which still had not formally opened for business.
THE EDUCATION OF SCOTT McCULLOUGH
Through May and June of 1987, Prince’s celebrated Sign "☮ " The Times Tour rolled through fourteen cities across Europe. Yet in spite of its success, Prince made the decision not to take the show to the states in favor of recreating the experience via a live concert film. Though footage from The Ahoy in Rotterdam (plus a couple other European dates) was used, most of the performance scenes were reshot on location at the Paisley Park soundstage.
Scott, who was cast as one of several hundred extras, couldn’t believe his good fortune. Still, as excited as he was to see Prince perform in his “new house,” he never dreamed it would be a life changing experience. As luck would have it, Scott knew one of the Assistant Directors on set, and thus was called upon to help “work the crowd.” Happy to help the AD team, Scott couldn’t have known at the time that dealing with all these extras would ultimately augment his own career development. But it was when the cameras began to roll that Scott truly started to discover his milieu.
“Since it was a film,” he explains, “the process naturally resulted in cuts, retakes, and other stops in action.” As Scott absorbed it all, he was immediately intrigued and thought to himself, “So, that’s how they do it. Hey, I can do that!” Perhaps the defining moment for Scott however was the “fantasy” element to everything. “The lights, costumes, music, the roar of the crowd; Prince! It was as if I’d been dropped into a scene from Alice in Wonderland.”
Now that Scott had an idea of what he wanted to do with his life, he learned how to work a camera from top to bottom. He also changed his major to filmmaking as his new ambitions began to take shape. And, since it was not lost on Scott that the Twin Cities offered immediate access to a throng of artistic talent, he wasted little time seeking work on his own.
Out at a club one night, Scott befriended a couple of musicians from an aspiring Minneapolis band. Upon telling them that he was looking to make a music video, they agreed to split the $600 cost. So, after rounding up about 100 extras and getting Club Casino to donate its space for free, Scott had his first video in the can. Even though he cringes at the thought of watching it some thirty-plus years later, it actually garnered him some local awards.
Scott was now building an impressive portfolio reel of music videos and other short projects, but he didn’t stop there adding to his résumé by joining film crews on local commercials and other promotional shoots. He says, “I did whatever I could to learn every aspect of the business. I worked as a grip. I was a PA. I was game for whatever.” Before long, fate would step in again and lead Scott back to Paisley Park, this time in an official capacity.
NONE OF YOU HAVE TO BE HERE
Toward the end of 1989, Propaganda Films – the outfit that helped launch the careers of Michael Bay, David Fincher, and Antoine Fuqua among others – selected Minneapolis as the site for a music video by the English band Bros. Scott, who’d become quite adept at attracting and dealing with extras through his own endeavors, was brought in to help cast.
By this time Scott’s solid reputation, coupled with him impressive work on the Propaganda set, led one Casting Director to share his name with Lynn Blumenthal, who was slated to cast Prince’s next movie, the long awaited sequel to Purple Rain. So, right after finishing the video, Scott made his way out to Chanhassen to serve as a Casting Coordinator on the set of Graffiti Bridge. Hence once again, at least in Scott’s mind, he was “living the dream.”
By day two of filming, many of the extras were complaining about things such as camera time and their placement in proximity to Prince. In recognizing that this behavior couldn’t fly any longer, Scott called all the extras together and declared, “Ladies and gentlemen. You have the extraordinary opportunity to work in the presence of an icon. This is a time you’ll never forget. For each one of you there are ten others willing to take your place at a moment’s notice. None of you have to be here.”
Just like that, remembers Scott, they all pretty much fell in line. Moreover, they came to trust and respect Scott as he repeatedly stood up to protect the female extras who were being harassed by some of the crew members in town from Los Angeles.
Scott himself spent two or three months on the set never getting the chance to work with Prince per sé. That said, he made sure to observe Prince’s direction and soon established a few mantras that would later serve him quite well. Like, for example, “Don’t mess up,” and his favorite “You’re not there, if you’re not working.”
It also occurred to Scott that being on the set of a major motion picture might connect him to other people who could help his career. As such, not only did he make it a point meet folks from the camps of Mavis Staples and George Clinton, he was soon invited to work on the Eric Leeds video “Little Rock.” That in turn brought him to the attention of Eric’s brother Alan, who at the time was still vice-president of Paisley Park records. And, after his work caught the eye of yet another individual in Prince’s employ, Scott got the telephone call he’d been waiting for.
DIAMONDS AND PEARLS
Nineteen ninety-one proved to be a huge year for Prince, highlighted by the opening of Glam Slam, appearances at Rock in Rio II and the MTV Video Music Awards, and culminating in the release of the multi-platinum Diamonds and Pearls. In between this flood of activity, Prince also earned the honor to headline the opening ceremonies of the International Special Olympics at the Metrodome.
Scott, hired to film the rehearsals for this performance, kept telling himself, “This is your chance. Don’t mess up.” When he arrived at Paisley Park it didn’t take long to see that there was no additional crew, just him and a camera. To make matters worse, neither his sound recorder nor light meter were working. Wrestling with both extreme excitement and anxiety, Scott wasn’t sure what kind of quality, if any, he’d be able to capture.
Nevertheless, he understood that there was no use in complaining. He was a professional now and he’d have to do the best he could with what was available. That night Scott couldn’t sleep at all, anxiously waiting to see how his images would transfer. To his relief, both the rehearsal itself along with interviews featuring members of the New Power Generation came out rather well. And although he might have been shorthanded, his work clearly must have impressed Prince because Scott was invited right back for more. In fact, Scott’s ability to often do more with less soon earned him the nickname among the band “MacGyver with a camera.”
Among the first projects he filmed was a video for Carmen Electra. Then, one particular day he was summoned to Paisley Park to direct a music video for Prince, the details of which were unknown, as least to Scott.
The video in question turned out to be the rather memorable “Gangster Glam,” part of the “Gett Off” Video EP which was released on home video by Warner Bros. Still, in the moment, Scott had little idea what it was he was supposed to direct. He’s quick to point out that this was not at all unusual, but usually quite exasperating. Always the team player, Scott forged ahead.
“We started in Prince’s office,” recounts Scott, “just arbitrarily filming whatever.” After shooting a couple rolls of film, everything moved outside where again he found himself perplexed.
“Prince, Tony, Damon, and Kirk were roller skating around the parking lot. A few of Prince’s cars were lined-up. Everyone is doing their own thing. It was just a mess.” During a break, Prince nods to Scott and asks, “You’re the director, what do you want to do next?” When Scott informed him that – up until this point – he had no clue of what exactly they’d been trying to capture, Prince looked him in the eye and said, “Don’t worry about it. We’re just having fun. We get what we get.”
Scott’s frustration was lifted and he embraced Prince’s advice. The next day the shoot moved nearby to Prince’s home on Galpin Blvd. and ultimately into the backyard by the pool. “It was so much fun, yet so surreal,” notes Scott, “Here is Prince doing push-ups, strutting around the deck in his ‘mankini’ with matching suspenders and designer shades. Then he jumps up on top of his yellow BMW and screams as loud as he possibly could. It was so funny. Tony and I just howled with laughter.” Prince actually claimed credit as the director of “Gangster Glam” under the pseudonym Paisley Park, but Scott didn’t mind.
Scott also served as the Director of Photography for most of the other videos on the “Gett Off” EP including “Violet the Organ Grinder,” “Gett Off (Housestyle),” and “Clockin’ the Jizz.” Prince even offered him a small role in the principal video for “Gett Off.” He explains, “Prince and director Randee St. Nicholas wanted me to open the door for Diamond and Pearl at the beginning of the video. I modestly declined and said, ‘Thanks, but I’m not your guy.’ He was cool with that.”
In the early summer of 1992, Scott joined Prince and The NPG on tour in London to film live segments for another home video release associated with Diamonds and Pearls. To that point, and in a relatively short period of time, Scott was either Director, Director of Photography, Camera Operator or Film Editor on dozens of music videos and related projects for Paisley Park, many of which have never been released.
Scott always liked to think that he had a connection with Prince, but of course, it was hard to know for sure. He did take solace in the fact that Prince often told others that “If Scott’s in the room, he’s working for me.” Knowing that he wasn’t going to work for Prince forever, Scott still wanted the ride to last as long as possible.
He had been especially excited about the shooting to take place at the legendary 19,000 seat Earls Court Exhibition Centre, where Prince and The NPG were scheduled to play for eight nights that June. Prince wanted Scott to film from the stage and gave him free reign to move around as he saw fit. In addition to Scott’s camera, another camera unit had been contracted to get footage from the floor of the venue.
During the first night of filming Scott returned to his designated staging area to reload his camera. When he noticed the raw film was missing, a Production Assistant informed him that someone from the other camera unit claimed they “needed it”; Scott was being sabotaged. This wasn’t the type of thing that you’d bother Prince with, but the producer was told this has got to stop. But after three consecutive nights of the same shenanigans, Scott had enough.
“I really wanted to stay, but under the circumstances I didn’t see how I could,” admits Scott, “I thought about going directly to Gilbert Davison, who I was always really cool with. But I was so discouraged by it all that I decided instead to simply pull the plug and fly home. Unfortunately, the actions of that company were simply representative of petty territorialism that permeates my industry.”
A few months after returning from the UK, Scott made his way to Glam Slam one evening, which after all “was still the place to be.” Upon arriving he heard that Prince was behind the club filming the video for “My Name is Prince.” And, when Scott stepped outside to say hi to everyone, Prince instantly spotted him from his car.
Prince wanted Scott to stay around to shoot the next scene, a request which he happily accepted. It just so happened that the same production company from the recent London fiasco was filming that night. Reluctantly, they turned over the camera to Scott with but a single roll of film. Undeterred, he found a way (as he always did) to make it work.
When he handed the camera back, the production manager said, “Send me an invoice.” Without breaking stride, Scott simply countered, “No. That one’s on the house.” To Scott’s way of thinking, he was doing a favor for Prince because Prince asked him to. Nothing more. As an aside, Scott is eager to report that it didn’t take much longer for the company in question to go under. “They just didn’t get how this business is supposed to work.”
LA IS CALLIN’
Scott had done some additional work that later appeared on the 1993 home video collection 3 Chains O’ Gold, but beyond that his time with Prince was over. Scott took his talents to Los Angeles where for the last two decades he has made his mark primarily in the arenas of commercials and more recently feature films. The awards received for his work are too numerous to count. At present Scott has about a dozen film projects in various stages of production, including director of the World War II film The Mission (working title), which starts filming soon.
When he reflects on how he got his start in the business, he wonders where he might be today if he had not answered that ad to be an extra in Sign "☮ " The Times. Not only does he treasure the time he spent with Paisley Park, but values all the hard lessons he learned along the way. Still, there is one memory that makes him smile every time it enters his mind.
“I was just scrambling around to set up a shot, when Prince, while talking to someone pointed at me and said ‘See him. That guy is the s#@%.’ That was pretty cool. Let’s be honest, what greater compliment could I have been paid."
For more information of Scott McCullough visit scottmccullough.com
© Tony Kiene & PRN Alumni Foundation