Category Archives: Spotlight

Wendell Scot Greene Directs Adriana Evans “7Days” Music Video

This experience with Wendell at the helm, was a complete
joy. The whole process was pretty stress free. We really clicked creatively. Wendell took painstaking time to learn about the details of Afro Cuban culture and to represent it beautifully. It was very important to me that my heritage be represented unadulterated. So many times Latin American culture is homogenized. The “just add maracas and a sombrero” principle is applied in too many videos. It really demeans the power and individual beauty of the varied spectrum that is Latin America. So what we did was very specific to the beauty of the African influences in Cuban culture. The relationship that African mysticism plays within the culture, the sensuality and the importance of rhythm and nature were the some of the things represented in this video. Wendell’s use of vivid and bold colors created an exquisite canvas that really suits the explosive nature of the song. I am so happy with the outcome of this project. Wendell Greene is a dream director that is sensitive to the creative visions of the artist. The “7 Days” video was one of my most pleasant video experiences.

– Adriana Evans

Interview with director Wendell Scott Greene
MVW: Let’s talk about the pre-production for the music video and how it all started.

Wendell: Paul Stewart, the CEO of Next Thing Records, was working with various hip hop artists and was looking for someone to film a behind-the-scenes on the road DVD project. After I shot the PSA for Chris Robinson, his assistant, Risa Machuca recommended me to Paul. We hooked up and but that project didn¹t work out. But then Paul told me about a project he was putting out on his own record label for Adriana Evans. I listened to the first single “Remember the Love” and he set up a meeting with Adriana and [producer] John Scott and we hit it off really well. She asked me to write a treatment for “Remember the Love” and then when I met with them again, they said how much they really liked it, but they were getting a great reaction from the street on another song and wanted me to write a treatment for “7 Days.”

Before writing the treatment I asked to see Adriana’s other music videos. The first was “Seein’ Is Believin’ directed by one of my heroes, Paul Hunter. And the second “Love is All Around” was directed by Julie Dash ( Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason to Stay Here’) Well how do you try and follow after that kind of talent? So I decided to showcase the Adriana Evans that up until now had not been seen in her music videos by visually supporting the elements you hear in the song: rock edge fused with Afro Cuban percussion and culture.

During the pre-production, my DP Johnny Ching and I did location scouts all around the city. But since L.A. has been filmed so much we realized a lot of the locations we were coming up with had already seen in other videos. And with this being Hollywood, some locations wanted more money than our meager budget would allow. We managed to find the right locations to keep it “street” and yet still allow her natural beauty to shine through.

MVW: The bedroom scenes look great.

W: The bedroom scenes were really crucial to making the entire video work, because this is a song is about passion. Therefore we really needed to create a realistic and intimate setting for Adriana to perform so the audience would truly believe that they’re seeing a woman who’s been away from her man for seven days! Arika Jacobs, served as our art director. She was recommended to by Lex Halaby, and she did an excellent job of transforming that barren loft apartment above a record distributor’s warehouse into a sanctuary of beauty and sensuality. She and her team came through in a major way. And then Adriana just took it to whole other level with her performance!

MVW: How was it working with Johnny as far as accomplishing the look in the video?

W: He’s great! Johnny’s an excellent DP. He‘s technically proficient and he combines those skill with the soul of an artist. I like to refer to him as my “twin” (laughing) At first I was tempted to DP this video as well as direct. But I remembered Hype Williams saying that working with a cinematographer is like having “two directors, like having two brains”. And of course, he was right. So I decided to bring Johnny on board as DP which allowed me to be able to see the whole picture and concentrate most of my attention on Adriana and getting the best performance from her and the other actors. We shot a lot of digital stills of the locations in pre-production and Johnny and I did lot of instant messaging back and forth discussing movies, video and ideas. It really helped being cinematographers and speaking the same language.

I also think Johnny did a really great job of creating the right moods with his lighting. 1st AC Alexander Yellen and 2nd AC Justin Weiss were top notch pros. And Johnny’s gaffer, Alexander Brown was fast, thorough and efficient in executing the lighting plan.

MVW: The different looks worked well and added variety to the video because it wasn’t just the same old thing.

W: Thank you. We really wanted to transport the viewer to a different place and the different wardrobe changes and varied environments helped to create and sustain the atmosphere so that at times you would actually feel like you were with her in Cuba. I spent a lot of time doing research while in pre-production and then going over the looks and the locations we used were a big help, too. I have to give a great deal of credit to Adriana, for the education on her culture and for keeping me honest.

MVW: Did anything come up that wasn’t originally planned for the video but was just something that incorporated into the video while you were shooting?

W: No, if anything it was a case of having to eliminate shots I had planned. What you see in the video was what I wrote in the treatment so outside of a few shots of palm trees in silhouettes there’s wasn’t a great deal of “oh, this is a good shot, let’s just grab it” kind of stuff. We did spend part of another day traveling the city taking stills of murals, the inside of a Cuban restaurant, and photographing drums and percussion instruments in a local African drum shop. And while those shots were tight, I ultimately decided against using any of it in the video

By the way, during the introduction of the video when Adriana is walking in slow motion in the tunnel, you’ll notice that the lights are flickering. Now usually when you use film under fluorescent lights you have to shoot it at a specified frame rate so the lights won’t flicker. But since I wanted the introduction to feel ominous and work with the music, the pulsing flicker of the lights seemed like a good idea to help add to that feeling. It would be cool if you would mention that so people won’t think that we didn’t know what we were doing (laughing). It was intentional as was the greenish tint we added to the lights during telecine.

MVW: Do you want to talk a little bit about the wardrobe and makeup?

W: I learned one thing from working with Daniel Pearl and Malik Hassan Sayeed, that although you might want to film a female artist in a gritty urban setting, no matter what, you can’t have her looking that way. You have to go all out to make sure she looks beautiful! And in support of that you need to have top notch professionals working as your “Glam Squad.” I was happy to have Sarah Benjamin on board as our make-up artist. As you can see when you watch the video, she did a flawless job. Terrell Mullins was our Stylist and I was very pleased with the high level of enthusiasm he showed when we outlined our plan have Afro-Cuban culture reflected in the hairstyles and wardrobe. Together they did an amazing job.

MVW: How many days was the shoot?

W: We shot two full days and then Brett Juskalian, the 2nd unit DP, and I shot one additional night. Bret shot the scenes you see of overlooking the city, and the traffic the sped-up stuff. Like Johnny, Brett a DP to watch. My heroes on this shoot were Jonathan Scott and our PA Charlie Chesire, they really came through when the chips were down.

MVW: What format did you shoot the video on?

W: We shot this video in 35mm, framed for an aspect ratio of 1.85.1,; a full set of Zeiss Standard primes from Otto Nemenz. Thanks to a generous donation from Curt Cressman at Kodak, we were able to shoot our day exteriors using the Kodak EXR 5248, 100 ASA film stock. We shot the night exteriors and interiors using shorts ends of the 5279 Vision 500T and EXR 5298

MVW: How did you like working with Dave Hussey on the coloring of “7 Days”?

W: I love working with Dave and I held out to work with him because he’s such an amazing colorist. Unfortunately, December was his busiest month ever. He had just done the Jennifer Lopez video, the John Cougar Mellencamp video, a project for Dave La Chappelle and he was doing his first feature Digital Intermediate for Francis Lawrence’s film “Constantine” so he was swamped.

But somehow he managed to work us into his schedule and I have to give respect to his producer and scheduler Denise Brown for all her assistance. What really helped our cause was being prepared. After we shot the video Johnny and I got together at his place and worked in Photoshop to set up the looks we wanted. Then he posted the reference stills onto his web site. So when were able to get into telecine suite with Dave all he had to do was pull up the reference stills on his computer and match the look. And then we could move on and make other adjustments.

Dave did an incredible job of coloring this video and I always learn something new from working with him and he’s always very positive and encouraging. And I think he really appreciated that we came in prepared and knowing the looks we wanted. This approach definitely saves you time and money but you’d be surprised how people come into telecine without a clue and just try to wing it.

MVW: What about the black and white scene?

W: Oh, the scene when Adriana is standing with the older Cuban lady sitting in the chair? Yeah I love that shot, it’s my homage to photographer Gordon Parks. It was inspired by a photo I saw in a fashion magazine. The photo shoot had taken place in Cuba and I just loved the composition. I showed it to Adriana and she really was into it. The original photo was in color, but I decided to make it look like an old sepia tinted photo that you might find in someone’s family photo album. I had Logan add that flash bulb effect to help evoke an old school feel.

MVW: Logan Hefflefinger edited the video for you?

W: Yes. Logan works as an assistant editor on dozens of spots and music videos with Editor Livio Sanchez at Whitehouse Post; including several videos for Director Chris Milk, but “7 Days” was his first music video as an editor. I want to make sure that people know that this video came together because of relationships formed from reading interviews just like this one on MVWire. Chris [Milk] had said in an MVWire interview that Logan was going to be the next great editor.” So when I read that I decided to give him a call see if he’d be down for working with me and as things turned out he was really excited to get involved. So MV Wire is the reason why we hooked up and I can’t wait to get hired to direct another video so we can work together again. I also have to give credit to Michael Vaglienty at Giant Steps who did the online edit in Flame. He’s another solid professional.

MVW: I need to go back and review some of our own content!

WG: (laughs) Definitely! MVWire is a great resource for learning and sharing information with people who love music videos. Nearly every person involved on “7 Days” was a result of networking with people here on MVWire. So I have to stop and say “big up” to you Will for helping make that possible.

MVW: I appreciate that. So what’s next?

WG: Last week I had two very positive meetings with video commissioners at two of the major record labels which hopefully will lead to being able to direct videos for their artists. I’m reaching out to meet with other video commissioners and labels to let them see what I have to offer. In the meantime I’ll continue working hard every day and learning all I can so as to get better at my craft.

Credits:

Director: Wendell Scot Greene*
DP: Johnny W. Ching
Art Director: Arika Jacobs
Stylist: Terrell Mullins
Make-up: Sarah Benjamin
Flame Artist: Michael Vaglienty- Giant Steps, Los Angeles, CA
Colorist: Dave Hussey -Company 3, Santa Monica, CA
Editor: Logan Hefflefinger -Whitehouse Post, Santa Monica, CA
2nd Unit DP: Brett Juskalian
Executive Producers: Adriana Madera Evans, Jonathan Scott, Paul Stewart
Label: Next Thing Records

* Wendell Scot Greene can be contacted at
wsgreene@hotmail.com


Robert Schober Directs Frausdots “Dead Wrong” Music Video

The Frausdots appropriately titled couture, couture, couture (Sub Pop Records) features dreamy, melodic tunes by longtime Angeleno musician Brent Rademaker. Enterprising music video director Robert Schober (Holopaw) tries his hand at shaping this atmospheric piece on a very low budget. Lots of insight below. The Frausdots are currently planning a tour of the United States.


MVW: What is the story behind the production of the “Dead Wrong” music video?

Robert Schober: I had already done a video for Michael Johnson, who’s a friend, and his band Holopaw. I was looking for another band to work with for my reel and he told me about his absolute favorite band on Sub Pop Records called Frausdots. I could easily check them out because they live in L.A. So I got a hold of some singles and was really, really into them. They were doing a series of free shows at Spaceland in Silver Lake so I went to see them to see if they’d be interested in doing a free video. They seemed interested so I gave them my reel but I didn’t hear from them that week so I went to another show. They just hadn’t had time to look at it but were still interested. They saw it a couple of days later and were really excited.

Brent Rademaker and Michelle Loiselle, who are the main part of the band, and I started looking at a lot of fashion books and at photo shoots they’d done and looked at old New Wave record album covers that they like. They showed me a picture of a Roy Lichtenstein painting and talked about how about they wanted to see people put into an environment like that but make it look different than stuff they’d already seen. We decided to do it with a green screen. Leigh Watson at Revolver got me in touch with a DP named Bobby Era. He’s directed a few videos that I’ve seen and I really like his work. He had a DVX to shoot it with and Revolver got us a green screen and some interns come help assist in gaffing and gripping. I couldn’t track down a studio space that was going to fit into my tiny budget so my girlfriend helped us out with place to shoot. She works at a big medical complex in Culver City that her boss owns. They demolished the third floor, which is a massive space that looks like a studio and gave us permission to use that after hours. We set up the green screen and shot it all within four hours basically from 8:00 to midnight. That was all the time we had to get as many shots as possible.

MVW: The washed out black and white look really works well with the effects and gives the video that 80’s look that you were talking about.

RS: Yeah, it’s like looking at a Joy Division album cover or old black and white photos of Ian Curtis or somebody like that. Most fashion photography is done in black and white. Lots of these albums were independently distributed and produced so they used a lot of black and white photography and four-color graphics on those record covers.

It was a conscious decision to go black and white for that look but I also knew that shooting digital green screen the edges were going to be rough and weird things would go on with the colors on the edges no matter what we did with it. Everything is pulled in shake. I got the absolute best pulls I could get for it being DV. All that stuff is less noticeable when you go to black and white and it helps the contrast.

It worked out for the best because of the limitation of how I was shooting my green screen and also using that aesthetic it would make the most sense to shoot it that way.

MVW: I had not heard the band before but it’s a good song and the visuals are a great fit.

RS: Brent has played in a lot of bands, like Beachwood Sparks, which is kind of a psychedelic band that’s been on Sub Pop for a number of years. In the 90’s, he was in a shoe gazer grunge type project with his brother called Further. This is the first project where he is in charge. It’s a record that he has wanted to do for years.

MVW: How did the editing process work?

RS: It became a two step process because I synced all of my shots together, making sure that everything was the exact length of the song. Then I threw them into a time line in After Effects and rendered out the frames I wanted then went back and timed the effects to the music. The first few cuts of the video were based on maybe four or five shots. It was too slow and hard to watch but I wanted to get the aesthetic nailed in place first and then go in and get things going with the music. So it was kind of a backward process of filling in frames until it looked right.

MVW: There could be endless versions of this video.

RS: That was kind of the idea, I guess, to fill in different locations or themes, then try out several of them and render a low resolution draft of it then flip through and see which one I liked the best. Since there wasn’t any narrative and it wasn’t very closely story boarded, it was kind of a process of just seeing it all fit together as it was being done.

Credits:
Label- Subpop
Producer- Leigh Watson (Revolver)
Director, Editor, Graphics- Robert Schober
DP- Bobby Eras (New York office)
Location Manager- Maeve Sullivan
Edit Assist – Gene Strocco (GS3 productions)
Hair/Make Up – Vanessa Price


The UVPhactory Creates Live Action Animated Music Video For Hip Hop Artist Peter Miser

At the heart of Scent is a robot, trapped inside a human world, whose perception of reality is slightly different from that of the humans’, but is it any less real (or fake)? The enormously talented Peter Miser tapped on the creative genius of UVPhactory to creat this visually stimulating video. Creative director Alexandre Moors and Animator Ryan Bradley were both on the UVPhactory team that created Scent of a Robot.


Alexandre Moors, creative director on Scent of a Robot:

MVW: Alexandre, could you talk about working with the animation team? How did you incorporate the robot with the live action?

Alexandre Moors: I think one thing that helped was that we started shooting at least a month before we started modeling anything so in that way we were about to actually model a 3-D base on the location we found to do the shooting that made things much easier we had some 3-D animators that were actually on the set taking measurements of the space and so some of the spaces we were totally rebuilding in 3-D and the same thing for the color pallet it definitely helped to do it that way. The challenge was we kind of defined the style as we were working. We had some pretty clear views that we didn’t want to like a cartoon in 3-D and I think that came across pretty well. Even though a challenge was to integrate the cartoon look with the live action footage.

MVW: There were a couple of scenes, one for example was the one where he (Pete) goes into the kitchen and his little girl is sitting on the table and the girl turns into a robot. I thought the transition was amazing.

AM: Yes, that is a good example of how we recreated the whole kitchen in 3-D and also when I was trying to do the video, I didn’t want the look to go too crazy even though it’s jittering and junk everywhere, I was trying to keep it with flat colors as much as possible. Red and white make the transition possible even when moving from the robot character to the live action one; even though they don’t look alike they have the same color pallet so your eyes don’t jump from one to the other and you can assimilate one into the other… so that worked pretty well. Also for the robot, I was trying to render this kind of pixilated vision that a robot might have. Like at first, in the first 5 frames in each live action sequence it’s like highly pixilated and then it gets refined and gets the video look.

That also helps because if it were just like cutting from one to the other it would have been too much of a change. You first see the image, like, defined with 5-6 big squares of colors and then the definitions pick up making the transitions possible.

MVW: Have worked with live footage and animation before?

AM: I always mix the medium in my previous work so I’ve always worked with the blue screen or incorporating the cartoons based on live action footage and treated and drawn those. And also that’s probably 50% of our work since Ryan and I are both on UVPhactory we have really pushed the company to live action and special effects sales so that’s what we’ve been doing all year: shooting people or things on blue screen and then putting them in a street environment or visa-versa. So I guess these days it looks like it’s our expertise.

MVW: Could you talk about the production of the video?

AM: We had a lot of prep before we could start production, schedules, and things like that and that went on all summer but once the robot was designed, the whole office jumped into it and I was really impressed how much and how quickly we produced it. For me it was not so particular, I’m the crazy director but I’m experienced in doing live action and directing things for the company these days. Shooting a commercial or things like that but it was the first time for me to shoot and direct a 3-D shoot, which was pretty exciting. I usually put my camera, angle, and lens on a real set. But to be able to do it in 3-D was such a thrill and it kind of changed a little bit the way people work because they told me that they usually want a pretty well defined story board then they build the 3-D and since I’m more of live action it’s like let’s build the set first and then I’ll pick the camera and move. It allowed us to really pick some crazy moves I wouldn’t have thought of if I had to think about it before but the way we did it we built the whole office in 3-D the subway station and train and everything and all the characters were moving in. It was like a train set and all those guys moving so it wouldn’t be interesting if we shot it from the top or if we do a 360 or a spin off so it was a little bit more work for them and some thought we were going crazy but I think that’s also why the video looked good.

Ryan Bradley , Animator on Scent of a Robot :

MVW: As you developed the robot, how did you work with Alex ?

Ryan Bradley: Actually he worked with one of the other members of the company, Bashir, on illustrating the actual robot and how it should look like. They both sat down and started sketching out robots for a good couple of weeks. They both kept feeding off of each other and working on it and came up with the robot you saw. I had minimal input into that. I just saw a couple of them and said I don’t want to animate that or yeah I do want to animate that or that’s going to be impossible or that’s going to be cool…The live action and the directing was all Alex. I had little to do with the live action. The dancing was mine… my little baby. And then some of the motivations of just making the character move throughout the rest of it were just the story that everyone had developed. I would do something like say make the robot drunk like in the last scene, make him stumble around and I would do it the way I felt it would look good and I would show Alex and he was like okay maybe if you hit here instead and did this and maybe if he fell a little earlier, make sure he falls in this spot so it flows into the next scene and that is the sort of interaction we would generally have from scene to scene.

MVW: The actual dance sequence was pretty intensive. Where did you get the idea?

RB: We looked to Pete for some of it. We know that he had a good collection of Hip Hop videos so he brought in a couple of his favorite guys, we watched a couple of his videos there and we had actually bought one of those “How to” videos about Hip Hop dancing, which takes you through step by step and I was studying that for a while. I just did some of the moves and worked with the editor Damien Baskette. He developed and kind of edited together some of the different clips of videos that we really liked. If we liked the footwork here or the arm movements from the dancers, he edited a nice little sequence for reference for me and I would study it. We went through that and I animated the robot and improved upon it as best as I could, given how the robot could move and such because the robot can’t move like a human can so I had to do some leeway… that’s just the imaginative work part of it I guess.

MVW: What were the steps were taken to create the animated robot?

RB: The first step obviously was the sketches and from that part, one of the principals took the sketch and put it into 3-D which we used a program called Softimage XSI 4.0 and he modeled the robot to make it look like the sketch the best he could and then he passed it to another principal, Damijan Saccio, who actually put the bones in the robot, the bones give the robot the ability to move. Like the robot has an arm but then you put an arm bone in it so it can actually move. Then he set up what’s called the rig so I could animate it easily and then he gave that robot to me and to Jake Slutsky, another animator. I took the base robot and started animating it while Jake Slutsky took the robot and actually put the textures on it, made it white with the red stripe and made the visor look with the green glow inside of it and all that. And he did that separately while I animated it and then I took my animations and pasted it on the textured robot. We did all that in the Softimage program.

MVW: Well it came out great. How do you get a robot to have a robot look and hip hop moves?

RB: The animation actually took me longest, even longer than the dance scene is what I call the walk cycle, animation in the street. The robot will take one step and then you cycle that over and over again and make him walk from place to place. That took me so long to get the right balance of a smooth laid back hip hop guy with a rigid sort of robotic movement of the robot. If you watch him he looks like he has this really cool little walk but it’s also where he likes to coddle almost, kind of like pauses in between. It took me so long to get that but I was kind of happy about that the way it came out in the end.

UVPHACTORY utilized Adobe After Effects 6.5, Apple Final Cut Pro 4.5, Softimage|XSI 4.0, Adobe Photoshop CS and Adobe Illustrator CS during the course of this project.

Credits:

The UVPHACTORY creative team responsible for the live action shoot and the remarkable animation included Principle/Co-Founder Scott Sindorf; Principle/Co-Founder Damijan Saccio; Creative Director Alexandre Moors, Senior Producer Brian Welsh, Director of Photography (Live-Action) Nick Tramantano, Senior Designer/3D Animator/Compositor Jake Slutsky, Lead Character Animatior Ryan Bradley, Designer/3D Animator/Compositor Bashir Hamid, Compositor/Designer Colin Hess, Editor Damien Baskette and Production Assistant Alexis Stein. UVPHACTORY directed the project.


Flaming Lips Frontman Wayne Coyne Discusses The SpongeBob Music Video

See the SpongeBob & Patrick Confront the Psychic Wall of Energy music video!

Wayne Coyne, the leader of The Flaming Lips, talks about expanding his role with the band by sharing directing duties last month with Bradley Beesley (Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 2). The Flaming Lips’ new track SpongeBob & Patrick Confront the Psychic Wall of Energy was written and performed for the movie soundtrack to the SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, which was released in November. It might seem an odd fit for an anarchic band like the Flaming Lips to participate in a kid’s movie, but the playful, positive quality of the track and the lighthearted, goofy images can be enjoyed by all ages.

Music Video Wire: I understand you directed the SpongeBob & Patrick Confront the Psychic Wall of Energy music video.

Wayne Coyne: Yeah, as much as directing these sorts of things has to fall to somebody, I’m the guy responsible for it. Luckily, I was able to work with Bradley, who has collaborated with us in the past. He knows tons of people in Austin so the group we worked with was competent and experienced, and could make all the crazy sets and props we needed. I think the producers actually wanted it to come from the mind of someone who was already viewed as being as absurd as possible. Who else could get the Flaming Lips to dress like giant pieces of food inside a Styrofoam mouth full of bad teeth? If a big time Hollywood director asked us to do it, we would have been humiliated. Of course, when we do it to ourselves, we’re just doing stupid things like we always do.

MVW: Could you talk about writing the treatment and the pre-production for a music video that was going to be attached to a kid’s movie.

WC: Since SpongeBob Square Pants is for little kids the audience is mostly kids with their parents, there could have been some hesitation on the part of the producers in calling the Flaming Lips to contribute to the movie. Even though I think what we do appeals to children, it is still pretty much weird adult stuff. It’s not disturbing but we do play by our own rules. When Stephen Hillenburg (creator of SpongeBob SquarePants) and I talked over some ideas, it was clear that what SpongeBob and the Flaming Lips could do together had some limitations.

Writing the treatment was easy, but then I thought, if they’re going to give us a bunch of money and I can use Bradley and all our people, we could do something truly absurd. But I wanted to do something that when you saw it on the page you would be able to picture it in your mind. A lot of times music videos have a style to them, like some special mood or lighting, that can’t be described in words. You can say we’ll put this light on the band and it will make them feel epic, but everybody has a different idea of how that will look. When we said we were going to dress the band as pieces of a giant krabby patty, with me as a piece of cheese, Michael as a tomato, Kliph as the bun and Steven as the mystery meat playing music inside a giant salivating mouth, there might have been some variations, but you pretty much get it. I wanted the producers to read it and think we were crazy to do it, but our philosophy is: do what you really want first instead of holding back. When you call on the Flaming Lips that is pretty much a given.

MVW: Incorporating the “behind the scenes” footage in the finished video was a nice effect.

WC: We wanted to document it so the audience could see how much fun we were having and that these things are not meant to be big, serious, artistic statements. There were times when we looked pretty miserable because you can only stand there getting that fake spit we concocted thrown at you for so many hours before it starts to show. But when you can see the crew having fun with it, it gives the whole video a perspective of sincerity, especially when you see the crew is genuinely smiling and laughing.

Life is just too short not to like what you do. The people we work with feel the same way. They’re into taking chances, having fun and working hard but not putting the work above the idea of enjoying ourselves while we do it. That said, I think it is serious and takes a lot of art and costs a lot of money and we have a responsibility to promote the movie.

MVW: When promotions sent me the SpongeBob CD I was surprised to see that there were several noted artists that played on the soundtrack.

WC: You never know how these things are going to go. We did Austin Powers, Batman and quite a few other movie soundtracks that were not actually played during the movie. Things change because these projects are developed so far in advance. You simply sign up for it. After talking to Stephen Hillenburg, it was clear that, for the most part, the soundtrack would be his taste in music. He gets to do whatever he wants because SpongeBob SquarePants has turned into a billion-dollar icon. We were getting ready to go up to Dave Friedman’s studio anyway to do some DVD 5.1 remixing of Soft Bulletin so we thought we’d see what we could come up with while we were there. We contoured the verse/chorus thing of a tune Stephen had been working on that SpongeBob could do. We sent it to them and they liked it. Next thing we knew we were in those giant bubbles, because we didn’t have any idea we were going to be making a video.

 


Anonymous Content Music Video Director Sanaa Hamri

What do Lenny Kravitz, Prince, and Jadakiss have in common? They all have worked with director Sanaa Hamri. Sanaa has always sought inspiration from the content of her songs; dutifully mirroring their messages in reels. Each time she gets behind the camera, something uniquely different is captured. This time, Sanaa presides over a trichotomy of style, genre, and talent; bringing together the star-crossed matrimony of music and video. Kravitz saunters through the San Francisco streets, accosting smiling strangers, and singing softly to the four winds creating an aura of placid respite. Jadakiss is cast in cinema verite, socratically delivering a litany of acerbic interrogatives. The narrative-driven “Musicology” evokes vaudeville sensibilities and princely charms. These three widely different works surely put feathers in Sanaa’s cap; although feathers of decidedly different plumage, tone, and style.

View director Sanaa Hamri’s reel at Anonymous Content
Music Video Wire: How was it working with Lenny Kravitz on the Storm music video?

Sanaa Hamri: I have always wanted to work with Lenny and Prince. They are the two artists that I really feel connected to. Lenny and I met in LA and talked about the concept, which was to not really be stuck to a concept, because I didn’t want it to feel contrived. It’s a day in the life set in the San Francisco/Oakland area. The video has a little edge to it because everybody there is just “being.” Lenny and the other characters are not conscious of the camera.

It’s harder to do a video when you’re just shooting randomly and have to catch moments that seem natural. Even when everything is story boarded and perfectly designed it’s difficult to capture moments that feel completely natural, because people freeze up in front of the camera. The key here was to create an environment that feels like we’re just hanging out. We were able to infiltrate the different neighborhoods and make the locals part of the video. There were no actors. Casting was done there using real people. It was a big risk for the record label to take but they had faith in my capabilities and Lenny wanted a video like that as well. The video is a lot more difficult than it seems and required a lot of thought and spontaneous creation to make it feel fluid and easy.

MVW: It’s like trying to create a documentary but you’re making it up as you go along.

SH: For example, the kid on the bike with the foil rims was in that neighborhood when I scouted it three days before so we told him we were shooting on Saturday and to please come by. We didn’t have phone numbers on him, so we didn’t know if he would show up at all. When he showed up, it wasn’t like, “Go into hair and make up.” It was just like great! He came! I was praying that the kid would show up because I loved his bike. It was a very spontaneous creation and we had to have faith that people were either going to show up or not.

MVW: How did you shoot the scenes as he was walking down the street?

I did everything hand held because that gives an intimate, voyeuristic feel to the piece. Cameras on dollies or cameras on cranes or steady cams would feel contrived and wouldn’t make it feel like he was really walking down the street. This is an introspective piece where you don’t know whether he is actually seeing the images then and there or if it’s what he saw a the previous day. It’s part of that moment when you’re walking alone and just being yourself.

MVW: What about the look of the film?

The look is super-saturated but with a gray and blue color tone to it, we did that in the transfer. That cinematic effect was exactly what I was trying to achieve, something not too glossy and overly lit, which I generally don’t like. The song tells me what the look is going to be versus me imposing a look on the piece. It was for the mood of the piece, I mean the song’s called “Storm.” The blue and gray tones make the reds go very deep so it’s super-saturated but not in a pop kind of way.

MVW: The time lapse is a nice effect for the video.

The time lapse is supposed to give the dramatic effect of time passing, and you’ve interviewed me before, I always talk about time. In this piece, time is really eternal. So everything passes by quickly but it’s still there. I just heard time lapse at the beginning and I heard time lapse at the end, book ended it and felt that it worked well with the piece.

MVW: So Jay Z was already on the track, did you have any contact with him at all or anything about the video?

Jay Z is retired so he’s not doing videos or anything like that, but just because he’s retired doesn’t stop us from creating and doing new concepts. Lenny surprised me when he started to rhyme Jay Z’s rap. And it looked so good and it was really funny, it was just a great moment. Since this was a spontaneous creation, we decided to put him and some of our friends up against the wall and have them rhyme.

MVW: It came off great. I was surprised to see Lenny doing this type of song but when he started rhyming, I thought, this is definitely a new direction for him.

SH: Lenny embodies both sides. He’s mixed; his father is white, his mother is black so he embodies everything. He never had the opportunity to do this type of video and I think that’s one of the reasons he wanted to work with me because I see every side of him. This enabled me to take this particular side. A lot of people are shocked to see Lenny in this type of scene, but it’s his scene as much as the rock scene is. It’s just what he has and has not explored. He seems very comfortable with it because it’s part of him.

MVW: And it comes across on the video. I read that Crash was your DP, have you worked with him before?

SH: That was the first time. It was really interesting working with him because we had to develop a style of camera work together. The look and style we used is mine so Crash had to take on my way of shooting things. It wasn’t a challenge for him but we had to get into a kind of zone.

MVW: How do you edit a piece like this, especially within such a short amount of time?

SH: To edit a piece like this in two days is pretty much unheard of because it’s a four-to-six day edit. I had a support team help me because I wouldn’t have been able to do it by myself. The editing process is where the video takes place and is key to the work. I prefer to do it my self and feel that I do the best job.

MVW: The story line for Musicology video is great. There are really two videos, one with the performance piece and one with the story of the young fan mimicking Prince’s moves. What was it like actually working with Prince?

Working with Prince is very collaborative so he allows the creative process that I go through and is definitely supportive of creating in freedom. Prince is independent and
does whatever he wants to do so he’s very big on that. He wants people who are on his creative team to be able to do that. We talked about the concept, I wrote a treatment and we shot it. He’s very easy to direct because he needs no direction. He’s done this long enough to know what it takes to do a great video. Prince was extremely supportive.

MVW: The young fan dancing with the vacuum cleaner was great. Did you have that all storyboarded or was that spontaneous?

SH: This was not like the Lenny video; this one was storyboarded. The kid is a metaphor for Prince as a child. We wanted to show how back in the day, old school style, kids just listen to music they like over and over again, just having fun in the bedroom type of situation. So I think that was personal to Prince.

MVW: How did you approach editing those pieces to make them work together as one?

It was a very easy edit because all of Prince’s performance was very on point. He hit every line and looked good in every shot so it wasn’t really hard for me to cut a performance piece together. Then I build up the story of the kid until he shows up at the concert. The kid is more like an abstraction of Prince’s mind being in the concert than whether he’s really there or not.

MVW: Was there a lot of art direction in those locations, for example, inside the old record store?

The entire video has a retro vibe, but we weren’t trying to emulate the 60’s or 70’s. The idea was to take the old school vibe and add it in the most modern way. The art direction has hints of retro, however it is in the present day.

MVW: How were you able to convey the concept of Jadakiss Why music video in a written treatment ?

The treatment came from the lyrics of the song and actually reads exactly like the video plays out. Using the lyrics made it easy but it’s also very powerful because of the subject matter. I like to convey some sort of message in everything I do. Jadakiss was a perfect opportunity to speak to the media, speak to kids, speak to the masses, speak to the radio channels, speak to the TV channels all in one video and that’s what’s exciting about it. When I wrote the treatment I was conscientious about following what Jadakiss said. I wanted to create a visual piece that people can watch because it’s cool and get something out of it at the same time.

MVW: Describe the process as far as knowing what you want to shoot and how it will look in post?

SH: I know what I want to shoot and what it’s going to look like. I would never put myself in a situation not knowing what the outcome is going to be. Also I have a technical background as an editor. I try to be as creative and free as possible when I’m directing. I only do things in one or two takes unless something technically goes wrong with the lighting or the camera move or whatever. Editing is all about timing and knowing what to put where and how you’re going to use it. You need to be able to see the entire piece in your head before you shoot it, because if you don’t you won’t be able to create a complete piece that conveys your story clearly.

MVW: He just did his thing, there was really no acting involved. He had a message and just went for it and it comes across on the video without being contrived.

SH: Once you get the artist comfortable in front of the camera, you really get to feel them and see them. That’s what a music video should be, regardless of all these concepts and effects, and the direction, and the directors, and everybody’s egos. That’s not what’s important, what’s important is that we really see who the artist is and what they stand for, whether it’s a political issue or whether they stand for champagne and tits and ass. The point is to see the person that they are.

MVW: The biggest challange is to capture the natural feel that you work so hard to achieve with out the viewers realizing what they are seeing.

SH: It should always be that way. It should never feel difficult. When a person watches a music video, they should just be in that world for three-and-a-half to four minutes. They shouldn’t think. Once they start thinking too much about the shots and “I wonder what happened” and blah, blah, blah then we’ve failed. Our job is to suspend reality for that time. That’s what I strive for in my music videos. I’m not trying to showcase or show off talent or technical abilities or anything like that. It’s about creating a mood or a time, it’s for the artist.