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Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards
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How ‘A Gay Exorcism’ Gave Life to Todrick Hall’s Two Glorious Survivor Anthems
12/05/2022
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Miami, USA
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In & Out’s Roy Raz tells LBB’s Adam Bennett how he took inspiration from Tel Aviv’s nightlife scene when directing music videos for ‘Queen’ and ‘Pre-Madonna’
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For anyone doubting music’s ability to simply make us feel good, the two recent music videos for Todrick Hall’s ‘Queen’ and ‘Pre-Madonna’ serve as the perfect tonic. Strutting and striding across countless costume changes, the US singer/songwriter radiates a profound message of pride and self-love. 

Commenting following the release of Queen, Todrick himself described the song as “a statement for anyone embracing their individuality, and finding power in living their truth”. 

In addition to their inherently powerful themes, the songs’ accompanying music videos carry an additional poignancy having been filmed in Kyiv, Ukraine, less than one month before war broke out. 

Behind the lens for both videos was In & Out director Roy Raz. To go behind the scenes on the films - and find out how their inspiration can be traced back to Tel Aviv’s gay nightlife scene twenty years ago - LBB’s Adam Bennett spoke to Roy. 


Above: Todrick Hall’s ‘Queen’ tells an affirmative and bombastic story of finding strength in self-acceptance. 


LBB> Roy, congratulations on two fantastic music videos! How closely do they resemble your vision heading into these projects?

Roy> Thanks so much, I appreciate it! The main premise and vision definitely stayed intact throughout both projects, though having said that our creative licence was in a constant state of evolution.

With music videos, we often find that things change during pre-production as opposed to commercial work where most decisions are set in stone beforehand. It’s a totally different ball game! 


Above: ‘Pre-Madonna’ follows in the footsteps of ‘Queen’ with ambitious costume and set design accompanying a powerful message. 


LBB> The set and costume design for both of these videos are immaculate and beautiful in equal measure. Did you have any input into those, and as a director how did you ensure it all looked great on-screen?

Roy> I’m a visual storyteller, so the set design of these music videos was absolutely crucial to me. In this instance, the set designer Samuel Ben Shalom came together with an amazing Ukrainian team and I was in close contact with each of them throughout the process. 

Samuel is a longtime friend and collaborator of mine - I rarely leave home without him! The secret to our success has always been a very tight creative process from script to shoot. 


LBB> I read an old interview in which you mentioned setting out to ‘revolutionise the gay nightlife scene in Tel Aviv’. Did you draw on any of your experience from that for these films?

Roy> It’s fair to say that my career really took off due to my night life work. As you mention, I have a gay nightclub which has now been running for 20 years and has always been connected to queer culture and to art. 

It wasn’t until ‘The Lady is Dead’ for The Irrespressibles in 2010 that I really made my breakthrough. I don’t think I’d have been able to make that video without my experience with the nightlife scene in Tel Aviv. 


Above: ‘The Lady Is Dead’ was released in 2010 to widespread critical acclaim. 


Since then, I’ve promised myself to just do what I think is right - and these two videos for Todrick are no exception to that. 


LBB> In an interview, Todrick Hall described Queen as ‘a survivor anthem’. What’s your interpretation of that, and how did you visualise it as a filmmaker?

Roy> I saw it more as owning who you are and coming out of your shell. There have been so many stories, music videos, and movies all focused on that subject and I wanted to do something different which was still loyal to Todrick’s theme. I wanted to bring a quirkiness and whimsicality to what I saw as a kind of gay exorcism. 

I don’t think it’s too far different from Todrick’s original vision - only now it’s seen through my eyes. 

 

LBB> In ‘Pre-Madonna’, the enormous speaker dress we see Todrick wearing is an amazing visual. Where did the idea for that come from, and what do you think it means?

Roy> That actually came up in one of my conversations prior to the shoot with Todrick. We wanted Queen to be cinematic and story driven, and punctuated with 90s Madonna-inspired art direction. The boom box was a huge part of 90s culture, so we wanted to give it a twist combined with Todrick’s look and feel which has always been costume-driven. It was his world and mine combined! 


LBB> Throughout your career you’ve shot a number of striking and well-received music videos. Is there something about working on music videos which you particularly enjoy, or that energises you from a creative standpoint?

Roy> Absolutely, yes. I always look forward to and enjoy the collaborative process with artists, and the period between writing the script and the shoot is magical. I enjoy commercial work as well, but in music videos I find the creative licence is that much more freeing and I can enhance my quirks. God knows I have plenty of them! 


LBB> What was the most challenging aspect of shooting these music videos, and how did you overcome it?

Roy> The combination of Todrick being an independent artist and also the ‘client’ meant that we bounced around between creative and budget, which isn’t always easy. That being said, the decision-making was consistently fast and accurate. 

I’d also mention that we shot two totally different music videos back to back during an 18-hour days, and we combined the two on each day. That meant constant costume and location changes, combined with the choreo and all the rest of it! It was certainly a handful. 


LBB> If you had your time again, would you do anything differently?

Roy> Well, both Todrick and I got Covid at the end of the shoot - so if I had my time again I’d keep my mask on for longer!


LBB> And finally, you’ve previously mentioned that Ukraine (where both of these videos were filmed) became ‘like a second home’ for you at one point. Why do you think the country became such a great creative destination for filmmakers, and what are your favourite memories of working there?

Roy> I miss my Ukrainian crew and family immensely. 

Both of these videos were shot around three weeks before the war started. Besides the fact that Ukraine is an amazingly beautiful country, it’s the people that make it so truly special. It’s a filmmaking haven where you’re constantly told ‘let’s do it’ where elsewhere you might have heard ‘no’. That mentality of never giving up is embedded in Ukrainian culture and I think the whole world has seen it over the past few months.

My heart goes out to the people of Ukraine, and I hope we can meet again soon. 

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