Luke Scott can’t claim to have got into filmmaking via a conventional route. As children, he and his brother Jake found themselves playing roles in their father Ridley’s films. As one famous story goes, they wore child-sized space suits on the set of Alien, doubling for adult astronauts, walking across the background of shots to make sequences appear larger.
The Scotts have evolved into a filmmaking dynasty. Jake, Luke and their sister Jordan have all ended up as celebrated directors, although each has carved out a style of their own.
Luke’s directing career encompasses decades of commercials, some of the most innovative movie marketing of recent years and a feature-length sci-fi film, Morgan. But his directing career has been put on pause for the time being with the announcement of the Ridley Scott Creative Group earlier this summer, which brought together RSA Films and all of its associated brands under one umbrella with Luke as the Global CEO.
As RSA Films marks 50 years in the production industry, LBB’s Alex Reeves sat down with Luke to find out more about the man holding the tiller for his family’s businesses as the Creative Group looks forward to its next 50 years in filmmaking.
LBB> You obviously had such a filmmaking-heavy upbringing. Did you always assume that you’d end up in it?
Luke> No. To be honest, I think I enjoyed the access. I was very fortunate in that respect. Directing is a great job. I would never be so arrogant as to say everyone should do it. But I can talk about what the real challenges are, having that kind of access.
Now I’m more mature I don’t struggle with it, but as a younger person growing up there was a struggle within that about self-determination. I envy (and I use that with a degree of humour) the hard-beaten path that a lot of my peers would had to take. Getting going I still had to have the passion and the drive to get there, but of course with that comes the access I was afforded. But there was also resistance.
This is an existential question: is it something that I’ve earned or assumed? Is there an entitlement attached to it? It’s a question that I will never be able to answer so I’ve chosen not to care about it of late. But I’ve been dealing with it for a long time.
LBB> You still had to make the tea when you were running on Ridley and Tony’s sets!
Luke> Yeah. I did some shitty jobs. I didn’t walk in saying ‘action’. It doesn’t work like that. You have to actually know what you’re doing. I didn’t just become a director. I did a few different things.
For me, one of the advantages is that my summer jobs when I was a 14-year-old kid were working in the production company or on films. So rather than going on holiday I would come to Soho - my brother did too - and we’d work either at RSA or at a film editor’s, making tea, getting flowers, getting people’s lunch, getting folks’ dry cleaning. Whether or not I was any good at it, I don’t know.
I was once told by a director, Marek Kanievska, that the reason for doing these things that it’s all about detail. If you can do those things right and with the greatest of care then you can apply that thinking to anything, which is film. If you don’t care about the detail you’re sloppy. And this job is about being very specific.
LBB> You grew up surrounded by this filmmaking world - when did you realise that you wanted to be a director?
Luke> There’s a narcotic effect. The draw is very powerful. My early memories of being on these sets, stages and locations, it’s great fun. It’s like running off to join the circus. I never thought, ‘I want to be a director’. It was more a case of doing a bit of this, a bit of that. Being a runner or a production assistant, over time you get to experience different aspects - the camera department, art department or production, or post-production, side of things. I had an experience in all aspects, with quite a level of immersion. That’s why I ended up as an art director for a time.
I would say that I wasn’t a very good art director. I could formulate ideas. In terms of my organisational abilities and all of that, I was probably totally crap and therefore not suited to it, but I loved the act of building sets and getting in early.
LBB> And you were exposed to some of the very best art direction going. Your dad’s films are famous for their production design.
Luke> My tutor, effectively, was a wonderful man called Norris Spencer, a great production designer. I worked with him very closely for many years. I don’t know what it was that he saw in me but we enjoyed each other’s company and I helped him while he himself got into directing and I became his art director.
LBB> Was there one film where you think you two particularly clicked?
Luke> Actually it was the first time I really got to work with him on 1492: Conquest of Paradise. He trusted me. As the process went on he gave me more and more responsibility, doing crazy things in the Costa Rican jungle, building all these mad experiments that we ultimately transformed into sets. That was when I realised this was great. It was hard work, adventure, but it was so creative. Not your average experience.
I did a lot of research in the maritime library in Greenwich about life at the time, a lot of analysis of paintings, and things like chandeliers from the time. That was fascinating.
LBB> Growing up, obviously Ridley and Tony did both commercials and feature films. What did you think of the commercial side of things?
Luke> I worked on a couple of Ridley’s [commercial] sets, did some art directing for him. That was good. The one I remember was for BT with Bob Hoskins. I had to build all of these sets and I kind of fucked up going over budget. But they were very good sets.
LBB> So you never sneered at commercials, having seen the feature film world?
Luke> Things were different back then. Movies were this Hollywood-land and the British film industry was not really much going on in that space. Certainly not for a young filmmaker like me. Of course Ridley and Tony were in Hollywood doing their thing, but it felt so far away. How do you get there? Also, I was aware of my own limitations as an infant filmmaker. There weren’t that many opportunities. I remember your choices basically were to get yourself a Super 8 or a Bolex wind-up 16mm or, if you were lucky, you could score yourself a 35mm with a couple of rolls of film like we did once.
LBB> These days, with technology, there are so many options for young aspiring filmmakers. It must be difficult at a production company with all that talent to sift through.
Luke> It is tough. There’s so much good talent and not all that good talent wants to come here. They can beat their own path however they want to.
LBB> That’s a struggle in so many industries now, to attract talent when it’s possible for people to do things themselves.
Luke> Disruption has definitely happened. The argument is compelling. I actually believe that it’s really healthy and, dare I say it, production companies like [RSA] may be, in the future, anomalies.
The individual creative mind is a very powerful thing. There was this phrase going round a few years ago - technology is ‘democratising’ creativity. Of course it has. But what comes with that democratisation, which is a great thing, is this socialist view of filmmaking: everybody can make it and you don’t have to be an expert to do it if you’ve got a story to tell. You might not get it right first time but you can keep repeating. I think that is one of the great things that has happened to this kind of industry. But that democratisation is disruption and how that affects business is extraordinary.
Talking about advertising and where brands are going to show up, TV has been massively disrupted by your Netflixes, Amazon Primes, Apples and Hulus. This is a global arms race unfolding. And that arms race is about engagement. That arms race is about not disrupting what people are viewing, giving them more than what they want, continuously, 24-7, ad-nauseum and whenever they want it. So how do brands show up in the way they traditionally showed up in advertising?
TV is obviously there and it’s so much background noise. Remarkable shows like Love Island really are an incredible mirror on our society, I think. While everybody would say it’s so evil, it’s genius programming. I enjoyed the last season, not so much this most recent one. The last season was natural. What they had was a remarkable bit of casting and I think they may have overcooked it this year.
But in terms of how a brand shows up, there are numerous possibilities. For the broadcasters that’s brilliant - music, sunglasses, accessories, swimwear and so on, the beauty and health aspects. It’s an extraordinary view into the future of how certain brands will show up. Obviously within those ad breaks that sit around it everything is associated with beauty and youth. But for a brand that doesn’t necessarily have much relevance in that space, what are they going to do? Or maybe they don’t want to be associated with that space.
LBB> This all ties into the philosophy of the Ridley Scott Creative Group about how it’s all entertainment, even the branded stuff.
Luke> Absolutely. There’s no difference to us, really, whether we’re making a two-hour movie or a 30-second commercial. The only difference is time and money. Scalability-wise, the same problems apply. There’s never enough money and there’s never enough time!
I think the advertising industry - or whatever we call it now - has some problems in terms of where that kind of thing shows up, whether or not the 30-second, 60-second commercial format has a value. Of course it will continue to in the sports events space or the Love Island space. But should brands be embracing the fact that there are so many other kinds of platforms and so many other places that they can go? We’ve experimented with this kind of thing - how brands can show up in culture and how they can best show up in culture, particularly when you have such a sophisticated consumer these days.
LBB> Was that part of the impetus behind forming the Ridley Scott Creative Group?
Luke> The Ridley Scott Creative Group is not a new thing. It was about putting it all under one umbrella because, of course, it’s all there. Ridley Scott has this legacy and effect and one could say is one of the great directors of our time - a visionary and an immense figure in advertising. [He] influenced so many people and the way in which the group of companies does things. We thought this wasn’t joined up enough.
We as a group have an overwhelming capability with global reach. We can do pretty much anything so long as it’s of a particular standard. I won’t say anything to do with budget because we can do low-budget stuff as well as high-budget stuff. It was about staking a claim to that. It’s about entertainment. While on the film and TV side there’s no problem there, this is about trying to communicate this idea to brands that, ‘you too can be a part of the entertainment world. Come on in!’ They’ve done it before and should feel like they can continue to.
LBB> 3AM is perhaps the most interesting part of the Group for that, setting a good example to clients in that regard.
Luke> That’s where I’ve been focused for the last few years. I stepped away from commercials for a long time and got stuck in with 3AM. Essentially what they’ve been doing is disrupting how movie marketing functions. While the trailer still exists, the notion borne from Ridley was ‘I don’t want to do a trailer.’ This is what we did for Prometheus originally. Trailers give away too much. So we wanted to create some salience around this movie that gives nothing away.
One of the first things I did was with a TED talk with Guy Pearce for Prometheus - a monologue introducing us to this character. He’s a character that actually features very little in the movie; in the movie he’s 80 years older! It was very successful in terms of each reach and we could then assume a pretty good audience. So this could work.
LBB> Yeah! I don’t know why more movies aren’t using that model.
Luke> I don’t know either. I’ve done many of them now and the latest one was for Blade Runner: 2049.
I think the best example was The Martian. I was Second Unit [Director] on The Martian anyway, so I was able to get all this access to the actors and everything while I was doing my day job. We made these funny little films that were really fun to do. We just rattled through them and they didn’t cost much.
I think it can be applied to advertising. We did a commercial for Alien: Covenant for AMD [the semiconductor company]. It was linked to Weyland[-Yutani, the fictional corporation in the Alien universe], and the production model of Walter, the Michael Fassbender character. That was the moment when I thought, ‘Fuck. This is brilliant. This is prototyping ideas.’ And AMD realised that the potential for this is insane. You could build narratives for things that have never happened. We could begin to inform their own engineers about some of the problems we face in the present, for the future.
I try to talk about this whenever I can for brands because I think it’s worth understanding. Products and services now are one thing, but products and services of the future - how we can improve the world that we live in, how do you want to show up in that?
LBB> I think it’s interesting talking about the worlds of Alien and Blade Runner because they both have big, evil corporations in them (Weyland-Yutani and the Tyrell Corporation). Is there something there that’s complicated to navigate?
Luke> There is. Corporations could do better. We could all do better because we’re all part of it with our desire for consumption. Not too many people choose austerity and don’t want a new pair of trainers. But that is an issue. I’m not saying we’ve all got to be do-gooders but consciously, there is a responsibility. And the way to communicate that is through audio-visual mediums and try to effect change for the better. Brands and filmmakers have a duty to push that.
Sometimes you get glimpses of it with these momentous cultural events like Childish Gambino doing This Is America. Fuck. That is extraordinary. It represents a marker: ‘Wake up people. This is what’s happening. If you don’t see it after this you’re a moron.’ I was really heartened by that.
LBB> The Creative Group has the Ridley Scott name above the door. And you’re his middle son leading it. How do you feel about that responsibility?
Luke> It’s an enormous responsibility. I accept the challenge because I recognised through my work at 3AM that there was a better way to conduct ourselves in terms of a business model. Is there a better way to utilise our talents and recognise what those talents are? It’s been a very interesting process of soul searching. What is the Group about? What, at the heart of it, does it exemplify?
I love football and I realised a long time ago that a football team is about the club. It’s not about the individual players. What I think had happened over a time is that we’d forgotten that the key thing in the company, which is the ability to produce and produce well. We have this inherent skill that has been invented from within in the company over the last 50 years. For me it was about updating that and trying to understand what the marketplace really is looking like.
It felt like a great challenge. It does mean I have to step away from directing for the short term. I’ve got some great people with me: my brother Jake and my sister Jordan. Ridley himself is still very close. We communicate about everything we’re doing.
My job is ideological rather than strategic. It’s about understanding where we’re going as a company. It’s much more emotional than I could have imagined. While we’ve been around for 50 years, it’s looking forward to how we’re going to show up in the next 50 years, which is key, and to make sure that the Ridley Scott legacy remains, endures and grows.
Ridley has always been the spiritual leader, as was Tony, but I think Ridley is more focused on getting his next picture done. He turned to us and said ‘where are we going?’ There’s no way I could step into his shoes, of course, but I woke up to it and thought, ‘Fuck! He’s right!’ We need to protect this and ensure that all this effort over the last 50 years doesn’t go overnight.
The focus can become very blinkered because you’re doing what you’re doing, making stuff, and meanwhile the world is changing. The world is becoming so much more expansive and interesting. There are so many different kinds of opportunities out there that our skillset can be applied to.
LBB> Do you think you’re best suited to guide that as the middle child - the negotiator?
Luke> Possibly. I’m just a damn sight more intelligent, maybe! [laughs] No. Jake and Jordan have very unique and incredible talents. I would like to think I’m quite plastic in the sense that I want to try new things.
The last thing I really loved doing was the Blade Runner 2049 films and, boy, I was loving that. It’s the reason why I do what I do. Den [Denis Villeneuve] is a great director and he’s letting me play in his sandbox. I feel very honoured by that.
But to step away from that was like ‘can I do it?’ I decided I can because there’s another thing here with a greater objective. I’m not doing it for me.
LBB> Well, it’s not called the Luke Scott Creative Group…
Luke> No. And that’s fine! I’m down with that because one of us needs to step up and I chose to and they agreed. I think it was a mutual decision!
LBB> You mentioned football. What else do you live for outside of work?
Luke> Football is one of them. I’m an Avid Fulham fan. I go to every home game if I can. I’ve been known to move schedules around for it. I love the ground. We’ve got a big season ahead of us.
I do a lot of different things. I do a lot of boxing. I’ve had a few fights over the years in the ring. I train three times a week. So don’t fuck with me. No. I’m a very nice, balanced human being.
LBB> Is that where you channel all your aggression?
Luke> Not really, because I get into meditation. Boxing is chess. If you go into it to be aggressive I think you’re missing the point. I’ve only won a fight because of thinking, not aggression. I’ve only lost a fight because of aggression. You need aggression to do it but it’s the mind that works the best.
It keeps you fit, keeps you sharp, and it’s a great way to start the day.
I’m absolutely passionate about archery. Again, it’s a meditation. It’s the time that you can escape your reality. You have to be so focused. It’s about the process that has to be repeated so accurately and if you don’t the arrows start drifting off. So if you get the result, you know you’re in the zone. It’s about peace.
One of my objectives is to write a book. That’s a real thing for me. Possibly this role I’ve taken on will allow me to do a bit of that. Writing is part of my skillset as a director and it was always my passion.