A Frank Conversation: Scott and Lukas Frank on Father-Son Creative Process, Co-Directing Music Video and Collaborating on ‘The Queen’s Gambit’
Lukas Frank, the 27-year-old indie singer-songwriter-musician also known by his band name Storefront Church, had an idea for a music video concept for his new single, “Us Against Us.” He’d been learning a lot lately about self-states, the psychology concept that posits that individuals take on or are made up of different personas, and he was particularly interested in a visual representation of that, especially if those selves were kind of annoyed with one another.
It meshed well with the lyrics too, so he drafted an accomplished Oscar-nominated writer-director to bring it to life as his co-director. It was an easy ask as they’d worked together before — Lukas contributed songs to the Hollywood veteran’s TV shows Godless and the pandemic phenomenon The Queen’s Gambit (for which he also had a one-word cameo role). Plus, how could his father say no?
Lucky for Lukas, Scott Frank did say yes and they pulled off the shoot in one day at a soundstage in Williamsburg. The music video, which debuted today, finds Lukas playing five versions of himself, all riding in the same car. There’s the formal one, decked out in a suit and tie; an exhausted one curled up with a pillow; a hip version with tinted shades, cell phone and hoodie; an over-it driver; and a melancholic passenger in the middle seat in back. It’s a striking scene set against the backdrop of “hyper-capitalist” imagery.
While that may sound serious, the mood on set was anything but. “We had a lot of fun,” Scott tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It was fun to direct Luke, because being a director is being a father anyway. I always find it is a version of that most days, no matter how old the person is you’re directing. It’s a very scary thing to sit there and be in front of a camera and in front of a crew. What you’re really looking for is reassurance that you’re, A, not going to look like an idiot and that this person will be the best audience ever. That’s my job as a director a lot, and certainly my job as a father.”
Lukas, who has collaborated with Phoebe Bridgers and as a onetime drummer for Portugal. The Man, is ready to find an audience for the single and his new album, As We Pass, the first from his new label/management company Sargent House. It’s been a years-long process from finishing the album, shopping it to labels, securing representation and waiting out a global pandemic for the right time to debut the personal work.
On a joint Zoom call — Lukas connected from Los Angeles while his father joined from New York — the two discussed their creative process, the story behind Lukas’ one-word cameo and musical contribution to his dad’s The Queen’s Gambit, possible tour plans and follow-up projects and how Lukas’ recovery has impacted his music. (And pay close attention to the humorous ribbing in between.)
This is my first father-son interview of my life.
LUKAS FRANK: Ours too.
SCOTT FRANK: How about that? It’s the first for all of us.
Let’s start with the video because it makes sense that you would do a joint interview since you co-directed. Whose decision was that to jump in and co-direct?
SCOTT FRANK: Well, very simply, nothing was my decision. I followed Lukas’ lead on this. We thought it would be really fun to do this together and he had a very clear idea of what he wanted to do. I really saw my job as helping him get what was in his feeble mind.
LUKAS FRANK: I would give you a little more credit than that. We really came together with a concept for the video in a cool way. I definitely threw this on my dad last minute. We had talked about doing a video before the pandemic hit, and then we tabled it and thought we’ll just do it for the next album or something. Then as things started to become a little safer, this idea came to me last minute, and I was like, “Dad, we have to do a video in the next month. Please.”
SCOTT FRANK: Month? It was three weeks.
LUKAS FRANK: Yeah, it was [three weeks]. We had no time to put it together. He really came through for me and made it work.
Tell me about how that concept came to you, the idea to play five different versions of yourself? How did you feel the visuals of that would play with the lyrics of the song?
LUKAS FRANK: I’ve been learning a lot about self-states and how we have these different personalities and voices within us that are all in conflict with each other. I was really interested in doing a visual representation of that, and, particularly, a representation of them all being annoyed with each other. That meshed with the theme of the song, which is one of helplessness and individualism and feeling trapped in your own head.
I love that idea. How was it, then, to be on set and play different five different characters?
LUKAS FRANK: It was a lot of fun, and it was a lot of fun doing it with my dad, who knows me pretty well. We would joke about, oh, that one’s the real you, the pretentious turtleneck one or the sleepy one. There’s a lot of ribbing that goes on in our household, a lot of teasing. I think it was fun to make a tongue-in-cheek video in that way, where we’re caricatures of my different personalities. I just tried to think of five distinct characteristics of mine that felt honest. So yeah, there’s a sleepy one; there’s an irreverent, douchey one; there’s a more serious nerdy one; there’s a real basic, boring one.
And as that relates to the album, there’s a lot of aesthetic diversity to the songs on the album, and I think that comes from that same place of each self-wanting to have the stage for a moment on the album, to have their voice heard. So, that’s why there’ll be a real grunge punk one right next to a softer Mazzy Star-sounding one or something.
Scott, what was it like to direct your son?
SCOTT FRANK: It was awful because Lukas was so difficult and wouldn’t come out of his trailer. Except he didn’t have a trailer. (Laughs.) No, it was a treat, and it was really a lot of fun to figure it out together. Like Lukas was saying, it came together so fast and we had one day to shoot it. We were very lucky that we had a gentleman named Nick Castle as our producer with his company, verytaste, so we had a ready-made production group to help us. Lukas and I could walk into that and Nick took care of us so we could focus on the creative aspects.
We had a lot of fun. It was fun to direct Luke, because being a director is being a father anyway. I always find it is a version of that most days, no matter how old the person is you’re directing. It’s a very scary thing to sit there and be in front of a camera and in front of a crew. What you’re really looking for is reassurance that you’re, A, not going to look like an idiot and that this person will be the best audience ever. That’s my job as a director a lot and certainly my job as a father.
Lukas, not everyone has an Oscar-nominated father available to direct them …
LUKAS FRANK: Don’t remind him.
I’m sure you’ve been to his sets and watched him work, but did you learn anything new from him during this project?
LUKAS FRANK: I’m trying to think if I learned anything about him from doing this with each other because I have been around him on set and worked with him …
SCOTT FRANK: I’ve directed him before. Lukas has played parts in …
LUKAS FRANK: Oh, yeah. I had a one-word line in The Queen’s Gambit. I said, “Shit.”
Oh, wow, I didn’t know that. What episode?
SCOTT FRANK: Episode three. Beth Harmon introduces herself to a chess player, and when he realizes he has to play Beth Harmon, he just gives up and basically says, “Oh, shit.” That’s Lukas.
I remember you!
LUKAS FRANK: I’m honored. [Laughs}
SCOTT FRANK: He was really brilliant. Basically, all attention went right to Lukas on that.
LUKAS FRANK: Dad has a pretty collected way of working. He’s a pretty even-keeled guy. I’m not directly answering your question, but I would say that most of what I know about him as an artist comes from just watching movies with him and knowing what he likes. That’s always been our bonding thing. It’s our father-son activity; we watch movies together and we sit and talk about it afterward.
We have a shared taste and language, and there’s this inherent trust there from just that. My taste is built off of watching movies with him and him showing me all of these cool things, or us discovering things together that we didn’t know we’d like. So much of my music is directly influenced by Hollywood and films. But as a director, everyone always says how he takes care of his actors. That’s what you always hear in the interviews, and it’s true. He’s a sensitive guy. He’s a loving, sensitive, caring guy and he looks out for people. That’s what he does.
That was really sweet. Lukas, I wanted to ask about the album too, because I was really struck by what you posted on Instagram last month. You were sharing gratitude to those who surround you, writing, “As we pass through the in between spaces, as we’ve lived through the discomfort of change, as we move towards some kind of ending,” which feels like it speaks to the current times but maybe also the album? How are you feeling about just putting this album out into the world?
LUKAS FRANK: The EP that I made before this album was a very lonely, alcoholic EP, and just a very dark inward journey. I did end up releasing it just under my name, and I almost released it anonymously. So, the transition from that EP to this album, this album became about community. I got sober. It became about letting people into the process. I gave it a project name instead of my own name.
The theme throughout is about things ending as we pass, being in a transition, being inside of the process of something ending, and the discomfort of that and living with that discomfort. Or the catharsis of something you want to end, being close to the end of something. That’s the only through line in the album but it is a metaphor for itself in that I’ve been waiting for it … I’ve been working on this project for years now behind closed doors, and this is the first step out into sharing it with people, and that’s its own ending and beginning of itself. It is strange to be sharing something that’s to me now so old, but also something that I’m proud of and have been looking forward to sharing with people.
How has getting sober affected your music?
LUKAS FRANK: It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. It’s affected everything in my life positively. Not to look at it with rose colored glasses because it’s been really hard, but there’s the myth that you have to be struggling and intoxicated or whatever to be creative and that has never been more squashed by me and the people around me. Like [Zachary Cole Smith] from DIIV getting sober and making, to me, what is his most fully realized work, or the Deafheaven boys doing the same thing. All these bands around me, we came together in this sober community and I’ve watched everyone make, to me, what is their most exciting work. So, yeah, it’s one of the best things I ever did for myself.
Dad, how does that make you feel to hear that?
SCOTT FRANK: Proud. Incredibly proud. He is so far ahead of me in terms of wisdom when I was his age. It’s a hard thing to turn certain aspects of our lives around, especially when we’re so young, and to make these kinds of bold moves and commitments when we’re so young, and to recognize that we’re to have enough self-awareness to know what isn’t working. I’m just proud of him, and I lucked out when somebody picked him to be my son.
Do you have a favorite track on his album?
SCOTT FRANK: I love this one [we’re talking about, “Us Against Us”] but also “Total Strangers.” I also have “Us Against Us” permanently welded into my brain after shooting the video and listening to the song at various speeds for eight hours straight.
LUKAS FRANK: Yeah, it was double-timed so that we could shoot it in slow motion, and it sounds particularly psychotic at the double speed.
SCOTT FRANK: I find myself at various times during the day realizing that this song is playing in my head.
Lukas, you also have a track featured on The Queen’s Gambit. How did that come about? Do you present a track to your dad? Or does your dad say, “I have a scene that I need this type of music for”?
LUKAS FRANK: Well, we did it for Godless, and it ended up working out pretty well. Did you tell me what scene you needed something for?
SCOTT FRANK: I did. I gave you a spot.
LUKAS FRANK: So, both times he’s given me a scene in the script, and I read the scene and I just tried to write to that scene like I was scoring the scene myself. I would just picture it in my head and be like, okay, well, what’s the tone of what’s happening here? What would I want to hear? In both cases, it was used as punctuation to the scene, which I really liked.
SCOTT FRANK: In the case of The Queen’s Gambit, it was a very sad moment and I was looking for something. I just knew Luke would be able to play against it in a way. Not in a cheerful way, but in a way that was unexpected. The trick was to do something that felt different, but not modern in both cases. We, again, took his music and started playing it as score earlier in the episode. In this case, it was right before the very end but it segued from [Carlos Rafael Rivera’s] original score into Lukas’ music and then into the song at the end, which was great. Watching a full orchestra record his song was really fun.
It’s episode four, right?
SCOTT FRANK: Yes, it’s after her mother dies and she’s in a pharmacia in Mexico and you hear Luke singing acapella and the music comes in while she’s on the airplane in this sequence at the end. It’s a really gorgeous piece of music.
LUKAS FRANK: I read that scene on the plane, and immediately wrote the chorus melody afterward. I’ve never really had an experience like that where I read the thing and got the melody immediately. I find it really easy to come up with things that my dad would like. There’s such a specific musical language that he uses. He likes dramatic statements and I like that too. He played guitar in the house growing up. And writing “Shame” [a track for Godless featuring Phoebe Bridgers], I wrote towards what I would hear coming from his office. I think the one note that he gave me before writing “Shame” was no jazz chords. I was like, okay, cool, no jazz chords for the old Western track.
About The Queen’s Gambit, the word phenomenon doesn’t even properly capture how big it has become. How does it feel to have contributed even a small part to that because I’m told that you both sort of thought that nobody would watch?
LUKAS FRANK: Well, I have a responsibility to deflate his head at every possible turn. But it’s so cool. It’s cool to see a passion project of his that he wrote, directed and worked on for so long get this much attention. It’s awesome and it’s well-deserved validation. To have a small part in it makes it that much cooler. And be the first person nominated for an Emmy for a one-word line in a miniseries, it’s an honor and I’m moved. (Laughs.)
This is your big FYC interview. Scott, how did it feel for you to sit back and witness this phenomenon take hold? Did it affect how you want to approach your work going forward?
SCOTT FRANK: Well, first of all, I’m glad I’m the age I am and not, say, Luke’s age when this happened, because I’m not sure how it would have affected me then. I was confused and then bemused. I remember saying to my wife, Luke’s mom, when we finished cutting it, that for the first time ever in 30-some years of doing this, “I’m just so glad I got to make this. I never thought I would get to make this one. I honestly don’t really care what anybody thinks.” Then I forgot about it.
When I convinced Netflix to stupidly say yes to do it, I never thought anyone would watch it. I thought we’d have an audience and it might come out okay, but it wasn’t the kind of thing would become a part of the zeitgeist. It was not ever intended to be. While we were shooting, I was just so happy to be shooting. That was enough. I had half the budget that I had on the last one, so that was my thinking.
In terms of how it affects my decision-making matrix going forward, the things I’m working on now are the same things that I was working on before the show happened. I’m lucky in that I have a lot of things that I really love and care about that I’m working on, and they all take time. Godless was a 12-year haul. I’ve had several projects that were almost as long as that. This one certainly was. I’ve been in and out of it over the years. I feel like I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and not take too much of a message from this beyond, isn’t this a really nice thing?
LUKAS FRANK: While also breaking into the music video game at the same time.
SCOTT FRANK: As a fallback, I now am in the music video game.
Lukas, let me ask you too, now that your album is done and you’ve spent some time with it and you’re putting As We Pass out there, how has this project affected what you want to do next? Or have you already been creating more music during this time?
LUKAS FRANK: Next week, I start rehearsals to get in the studio for the second album. Since I finished As We Pass, I’ve been obsessively working on the second album. I learned so much making As We Pass that I immediately wanted to get back and do it again. But one thing, I started touring and then the pandemic hit. It was just all these things got in the way. Now I really have the time and space, and so I’ll be taking the summer to do this second album.
Will you tour for As We Pass?
LUKAS FRANK: Yeah, absolutely. The second album probably won’t see the light of day for another year or so. But in the meantime, I’m taking this last minute of things being closed to get the second album done. Then I’ll probably spend the early part or the bulk of 2022 touring off of As We Pass.
Let’s end where we started with the father-son co-directing team. Are there more music videos in your future together?
SCOTT FRANK: If he lets me. I’m available, Luke. I hope he might give me the offer. I’m always waiting for the offer.
LUKAS FRANK: We’ll see. We’ll see. We’ll see. (Laughs.) Yeah, absolutely. We’re both really happy with how this turned out. While there’s the baked in father-son bickering that comes with it, there’s also that inherent trust. We do have a good relationship as far as father-son relationships go.
SCOTT FRANK: And even though I haven’t heard any of the music on the new album, I have lots of ideas for you. Lots of ideas. So, stand by.