MVW: Could you tell me about the treatment & working with Alicia Keys?
X: Alicia is from a generation that grew up with music videos. When you work with someone in this age range (20’s), they already have a pretty good idea formulated in their head of what they want their video to be.
In a nutshell, the idea she had was, she wakes up and this guy didn’t call her so she gets ready, her friends come over and she goes to the show and performs. This was a basic idea, which is fine since not every video need to be about explosions and excitement.
The song really provided the emotional story line. We had to decide how to get her personality in timing with the song. As you notice there is a flow that goes through the video. We don’t stay anywhere for long, it progresses without you having to see what the progression is.
The artist is smart and the song is obvious, so let’s have fun and show little pieces of what she is all about. You see her in bed, and how she sleeps. Her hair is out; she has the stuffed animals and these fuzzy slippers because she is home by herself. You see what she looks like after she wakes up and had breakfast. When she gets dressed you still see a cleaned up version of a dressed down girl who wears her hat on the side and is just really cool to the outside. Even the art direction of the house became about who she is.
When meeting her for the first few times, I told her I wanted to see the real person, not the super cool artist. I find with a lot of artists that their personal style is a lot more interesting and cool than the dressed up version. Alicia is an individual. She has a style of her own and is not afraid to show that. The elevation of this video is all about getting the artist personality across.
MVW: How do you bringing out the artists true personality?
X: My approach to any video is like a high school project. Where everything is routine and carefree and you have fun. This is the approach I take. I said to her, you are Alicia Keys, I am Little X we are going to do a video that looks good. People are going to like the song. They are going to play it regardless of what it is, just because of who you are. The key is “how do we make it interesting?” Most videos to a lot of people are like commercials and commercials come with certain type of thinking about audience. My videos are not commercials they are more like high school projects.
MVW: Your style comes across very relaxed in this video.
X: Hopefully this is what the song is. The slippers and pillows, I bought in Little Tokyo. When my Art director saw them he came back with more stuff like that. Just enjoying the process and making everyone feel very involved, makes for a good environment. This comes across in a much bigger way when everyone is having fun.
Each step of the process is very important. Before I met with Alicia I had sort of an idea of what it was going to be. After meeting with her it started coming together, where she is going to be, how it’s going to flow.
MVW: I liked some of the ideas you used to make it interesting.
X: That comes from me wanting to do something creative myself. I don’t watch as many videos as I once did but I have done super fast cuts. A lot of people do that on television, that’s cool but I have done that already so I didn’t want to do it this time. The song moves slowly so we decided to make it one long shot at the opening of the video instead of several cuts. It’s different, people want to see something else, and there is no rule to videos.
MVW: Was there anything that Alica conveyed that she wanted during the music video?
X: It was very cool because it was collaboration. Even though it was my camera it was her video so I had ideas but ultimately it came down to her.
MVW: Where was the location of the video?
The house was in downtown LA. It was one of those things that worked out nicely. We had this loft location for another video that didn’t work out. We just walked outside to get those shots of the graffiti wall.
MVW: It brings her back to being the everyday person because she goes from being in the really beautiful house to walking outside with her friends. She is just like everyone else.
X: She is like that! That is her personality. One day I pulled up for a meeting and she was just sitting on the sidewalk by herself at one point. No one would fault her if she had three security guards all the time. She is real cool, just herself and that’s what you feel in the video.
MVW: There is a lot of pressure shooting a music video.
How do you keep everything in perspective?
X: What happens on set really is that you flow with it. You can get mad about it but it’s not going to change the fact that you’re going to have to think about it better. Think about what you have done and move forward. You’re never going to get what you planned for so there is no sense in getting mad about it.
What is important about the artist / director relationship is that they set the tone for the crew. A positive director is going to create a positive scenario as with the artist.
MVW: Do you find it just as challenging to make a simple video as one with a lot of effects?
X: There is just as much artistic merit in making a person standing in a room interesting for three minutes as throwing cars off a cliff and blowing things up.
MVW: You have to focus on what you do as an artist.
X: Art is giving of your self and wanting someone to receive it. The people that are receptive to art are meant to be receptive to it. To be an artist, you have to be yourself. Being your self with your art, this is what I want to do.
I respect directors as artists. The business is shaped in a way where everyone is vying for the same jobs and it is very competitive, so you have to do what the other guy is doing. However, I don’t care what the other guy is doing. I enjoy what the other guy is doing. I am not going to compete for it, that’s not what this is all about.
MVW: Do you think that being over technical sometimes interferes with your vision as a director?
X: It depends on how specific you are. Francis, Fincher and others are extremely knowledgeable and technical, which defines a big part of their directing style. There are other times when your technical knowledge is really more beneficial when communicating. I might understand lighting, etc. but I don’t understand it like my DP does, that’s why I hired him. On a job like Alicia’s it is much more about working together. I have these ideas, what ideas do you have? Everyone is going to get a chance to be creative that’s really what it is all about. It’s a high school project.
MVW: How would you explain the process of becoming a director?
X: It’s a growth process like everything else. Sometimes you need to be a little anal because you’re trying to learn a bunch of technical things. Just like a dancer you have to learn the steps, one, two, three and four. As time goes on you don’t need to count because you are just dancing. I like to think that I am dancing with my work.
I tell a director when they first start that they need to read and get involved, that’s how you learn. Know how to edit and understand all of the different functions to the point where you feel capable.
It’s not that deep its just videos. No one remembers the bad ones. Conflict is made to be forgotten, like everything else in life. It’s what comes from it that people remember. Even those videos that are not made well you learn from them and move on. The less you worry about a video, the better it will be.
For people that are not shooting as much, it’s a learning process. I remember when I first started and it was a long time that no one gave me anything. I shot a video and it was just a video. I read and thought a lot, so when the next opportunity came around I had lots of knowledge in my head that was just ready to explode.
Production Co.: HSI
Director: Little X
Executive Producer: Inga Veronique
Producer: Jil Harden