To ramp up anticipation for the upcoming film ‘Blade Runner 2049’, acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario) reached out to filmmakers he respected to create three short stories - serving the purpose of dramatising key events that occurred before 2049, where Villenueve’s new Blade Runner story begins. RSA Films director Luke Scott brings us the buzzworthy '2036: Nexus Dawn' and '2048: Nowhere to Run', the first two films in the campaign, whilst Shinichiro Watanabe helmed the final animated film, 'Black Out 2022'. It’s no accident that Luke Scott was asked to be involved, as his archive of directorial work is laced with a dark sci-fi sensibility. He’s a talented contemporary filmmaker and storyteller... and it probably helps that his father, Ridley Scott, directed the original neo-noir, science fiction masterpiece, 'Blade Runner'.
As part of RSA films’ roster Luke has also directed 'Last Supper' and 'Meet Walter' for 'Alien: Covenant' and 'The Martian Prologue Campaign' for 'The Martian', as well as branded content for the 'Prometheus' campaign. In the feature film realm, Luke directed and co-wrote the 2016 sci-fi thriller 'Morgan' and second unit directed his father, Ridley Scott’s 'Exodus: Gods and Kings', 'The Martian' and 'Alien: Covenant'.
We jumped at the chance to have a chat with the man himself about his two shorts, wherein we discuss the production process, the pressure of audience anticipation and the legacy of the 'Blade Runner' franchise.
How did the Blade Runner project come about? Did the film’s director Denis Villeneuve approach you directly?
The two shorts came to me via 3AM - who I'd worked with previously on the 'Alien: Covenant' shorts - and of course the lovely people there - Chris Eyerman (ECD) and Alison Temple (Managing Partner). I'm not quite sure of the actual negotiation that occurred between 3AM and Alcon, but I was invited to get involved on these wonderful and very ambitious projects - that were, by the way, limited by a robust NDA.
The actual development of the projects was not too protracted - considering the scripts were pretty solid and the vision very clear. I'd say they were very ambitious but nonetheless doable. Once on board, Denis was able to go into some detail on his unique vision and was very generous with access to his production.
Were both projects filmed back to back? Were you using the sets from the main film or was this a separate production?
The Wallace/Jared Leto film was shot on location in Budapest maybe 6 weeks before David Bautista's. The Bautista film was shot on location also - in fact a disused limestone mine - the advantage of the immense galleries hewn out of solid rock gave the feeling of the bowel of a city - vast pillars of rock that stood in for the foundations of gigantic structures above.
The brilliant Paul Inglis and his team pulled together whatever props, dressing and repurposed set pieces he could find and defined the sub-level in the short. Some great light from DoP Pierre Gill completes the picture - David Bautista is awesome!
The shorts are a great way of reintroducing the audience to the world of 'Blade Runner'. How heavily influenced by your father's film were you when shooting? How much of the films' tone and visuals are dictated by the Villeneuve's new vision?
Standing on the shoulders of giants perhaps - I guess we were working on the dystopian vernacular coined by the first movie - and also informed by the didactic of Paul Inglis as the keeper and curator of Denis' vision. We had a great toy box to play with, but Paul was a strict master.
In terms of the 'tone and visuals' I still haven't seen Denis' film so I've anxiously exposed my belly and hope the short is an adequate approximation - and as you say reacquaint the audience with the world. I guess we'll just have to wait and see...
We read that as a teenager, you worked in the 'Blade Runner cutting' room with editor Terry Rawlings. Was that experience valuable for you during the production of these shorts? And for you generally in your filmmaking career?
It's true - I was 14 years old and spent my school holiday alongside my brother Jake Scott travelling to the edit in I think Elstree Studios (can't quite remember where). We made a lot of tea for Mr Rawlings and his assistant editor Les Healey, wound a lot of film and catalogued each take.
The one clear memory of the experience was watching the first view of L.A. and the giant Tyrell pyramids - without the optical FX - and this strange futuristic music... Then "My mother? Let me tell you about my mother!" - KABOOM! Holy fuck! I thought that was great - I think Terry Rawlings smoked about 3 packs of tabs a day and the smoke in the room layered beautifully in front of the atmosphere playing out on the Steenbeck he got hunched over. Lucky boys we were - no sunny beach holiday for us just dark, dystopian shit.
In your youth, you must have spent some time on movie sets with your father? Was there a specific moment that made you think you might want to give filmmaking a try?
Probably the first wide awake moment was experiencing 'The Duellists' - again my brother and I were enlisted, but this time as a couple of Napoleonic toffs/urchins - as toffs we were stitched into these breeches and jackets drank too much hot chocolate because it was very cold and discovered exiting the breeches was not quite as quick as you hoped ... that's not the reason, but funny as fuck. But I do recall watching several duels and was taken by how unbelievably violent they were even outside the viewfinder. One was a brutal sword fight in an apartment block - and as a sword scraped a wall sparks flew - sparks were artificially generated by an electrical short circuit wired down the leading edge of the blade and making contact on a plate attached to the wall - now that was cool as shit.
The second was a duel that went down at a ruined castle in the Dordogne region of France - d'Hubert and Feraud are stalking each other - there's a shot that looks over a valley filled with mist - in reality a bunch of SFX smoke wranglers with beehive incense filling the valley below - now that's filmmaking at its best. I love that film - and if you haven't seen it your life is not quite fulfilled yet.
In early 2017 we saw your shorts ‘The Last Supper’ and ‘Meet Walter’ created as part of the 'Alien: Covenant campaign'. How were the shoots? Were you treating the ‘Meet Walter’ short like an ad campaign?
I was 2nd Unit Director (on Covenant) - so these dropped in between our days - they were great fun to shoot - different issues and challenges - another bit of genius that is the 3AM team. ‘Last Supper’ was mayhem, chaotic in fact - but that was by design. The characters were having a party - which as individual personalities was not necessarily covered in the movie - all kudos goes to the cast for embracing a curveball in their schedules - rather than being chased by a monster, they had a party. Some of it got so blue with Danny McBride steering the proceedings - some of what was said is so unprintable you'd get arrested for obscenity - so bad that Ross Emery DoP who was on a camera couldn't control his laughter - the camera bouncing up and down - it was tense.
‘Meet Walter’ was definitely an auto commercial - I think it worked out great. The initial idea was so ambitious it would have been even better, but we were limited by our resources. The music in that was great, too.
Being able to work on franchises like 'Alien' and 'Blade Runner' is a dream come true for some filmmakers. Is that how you feel, or is there a real sense of pressure/responsibility to deliver work that maintains the tone and legacy of these films?
Absolutely. Will you deliver expectations? Can you deliver expectations? You do your very best - but it's very important to remember you also get to work alongside some of the best, most experienced and creative collaborators. The burden is shared through that trust - though if you fuck up it does tend to land in your lap.
End of the day it's important to have a good time despite the perceived pressure. It would be interesting to see how we'd all endure under the real pressure of a real job - like a pediatric heart transplant surgeon, the nurse next to her, or the giant responsibility a teacher with a group of kids facing a set of very limited options endures - now that's major fucking pressure! The pay grades ought to be switched around in this upside down world - so to answer your question 'Pressure?’ Let me tell you about pressure - it doesn't even register if the perspective is righteous.
We feel that the shorts you worked on for 'Prometheus', 'The Martian', 'Alien: Covenant' and 'Blade Runner 2049' all have a dual role, serving as both trailers and short films in their own right. What do you think about this trend of filmmakers creating shorts as promotional content for big studio releases?
I think it's quite possibly more interesting for the fans! So long as nothing is given away too cheaply - trailers tend to misinform though some really nail it - like, if I may be so bold, the trailer for 'All the Money in the World' - now that's a great trailer. I genuinely think the short film format works best for specific genres - SciFi, Action, Super Hero thingys - less so in straighter movies that don't necessarily need to extend their universes - a short for a period costume romantic drama may not quite track so well. They're for the fans at the end of the day to determine and if they want it I'll take a hack at what occurred pre-Pride and Prejudice - it's also content generation and a great way to garner insight into audience engagement - the opportunity for data gathering must be a marketers wet dream. Could also be a great way in future to beta the fuck out of a new character... many possibilities.
What is up next?
My wife's a contemporary dance teacher and choreographer - she works with all sorts of folk, from 13 to 100 years old - I'm gonna give her a big hug - then establish 'hug a teacher day'.