Thankfully though, all of the artists were present and correct, and fastidious preparation from Oscar and the team at Pulse meant that not even exuberant off-camera shenanigans could stop the shoot from spinning as planned. The shoot took place in Atlanta, Young Thug’s hometown (and, coincidentally, the latest stop in LBB’s American road trip).
LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with Oscar to find out more about this vertiginous music video.
LBB> What was the initial brief like and what about it appealed to you?
OH> The brief for the video was very open and it talked in terms of mood more than any real specifics. They just wanted something creepy and for the guys to look like ‘bosses’. It also mentioned how they wanted to do something a bit away from the typical hip-hop performance video – that was probably the clincher for me. Also this brief came in right at the height of the ‘Wyclef Jean’ hype so the idea of doing a video with Young Thug felt dangerously alluring.
LBB> As you mentioned, Young Thug’s last music video turned out to be an interesting process for director Ryan Staake – did you discuss it at the beginning of the process?
OH> It was joked about near incessantly throughout production. But I was assured by label and management he would show and he duly did. Regardless though, all that talk does plant a seed of doubt and we were ready with a plan B in case we got another no show.
LBB> A lot of it was shot in camera with a specialised camera rig - can you tell us more about that? What was involved with the rig and how did you pull it off?
OH> The rig was something I originally had very crudely mocked up with bits of wood and my iPhone shortly before the brief came in. Once I wrote this idea around it and things started getting more serious, my regular DP Ruben Woodin Dechamps and I built and tested a full-scale version with the kind help of George Rumsey at Panavision. It worked really well and actually that test was the first real opportunity to see what the rig actually felt like with people and action moving around in front of it. It was invaluable in storyboarding the film and blocking out the action as it was super hard to visualise narrative progression with such an unusually and constantly shifting perspective.
LBB> How much post did go into the final film?
OH> The main body of the film is eight or so shots stitched together. You can probably fairly easily guess where the transitions between the normal and upside-down sets are if you watch it with a technical hat on. As well as the shot stitching – the mouths on some of the paintings start rapping too, which unfortunately didn’t actually happen in real life either.
LBB> A shoot like this must take an immense about of planning - what did it involve?
OH> Yeah, it was a real mindfuck to wrap your head around. What made it really hard was the lip sync aspect; the film being a continuous sequence meant that for every ‘piece’ of the loop we had to hit our in/out points perfectly so that we stayed in sync with the track. To control the move reliably in this way we effectively had to take apart a motion control rig and hook it up to our slightly sketchy, homemade spinning rig setup. This sounds like a smoother solution on paper than it actually proved to be. The ‘mo-co’ element was super powerful and our move was actually really slow and precise so it was a bit of a bastard in practice - like hooking up a rotisserie chicken to a Lamborghini engine.
Then of course we had to build an upside-down set, identical to our normal set. Nailing food to the ceiling isn’t easy I tell ya - we had pork and potatoes raining down on us the whole time we were on that set. Even just transposing where stuff needs to go on walls to match between the sets required a lot of mental wrangling. But then I think the hardest challenge was matching the camera position. My god. So fiddly.
Beyond the techy stuff, it was hard trying to figure out the right speed for the camera and for the narrative progression; it was a balance between spinning enough to allow for narrative progression but not going so fast that you whizz past the action and performance elements too quick. As well as trying to make sure the camera is pointing at Thug, Meek and Carnage when it’s their time to perform. It was pretty complex. I also really liked the idea of embracing periods of dead time in the video – 20 seconds of staring at a boring corner of wall and ceiling. I think it’s a very un-rap-video-rap-video and I like it for that.
LBB> Tell us about the narrative - what’s going on?
OH> A man is being served a lot of food by a number of butlers – he then eats himself to death (or is poisoned/killed by the butlers… whatever you prefer) and is then fed by the butlers to a pair of cannibalistic twins who live on the ceiling. I wanted it to switch from seeming like the butlers are working for the man to revealing that they are actually working for the twins on the ceiling. Thug, Carnage and Meek are in the space throughout but kind of drift above the narrative rather than being directly involved in it. I was imagining them as the lords of the manor, ominously overseeing proceedings, hence all the paintings.
LBB> What were your most memorable moments from the shoot?
OH> This was my first experience working with proper, superstar rappers and I didn’t really know what to expect… but they really are everything they say they are on their records. We had heavily armed entourages, bags full of cash, endless blunts, Purple Drank, girls... the lot. That was pretty wild for me – I didn’t know where the reality of all that began and ended… I do now.
When we were shooting with Meek, we noticed that he looked a little uncomfortable lying with his head back on the ‘ceiling’ so we offered him a bit of fabric to put under his head as a little pillow. He turned this down and immediately called one of his entourage over with his duffel bag full of cash and proceeded to use a fat stack of hundred dollar bills as a pillow instead. I enjoyed that a lot.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
OH> Just a load of thankyous really! Huge thanks to everyone at Pulse for everything they did to make this video happen. From brief to release it really stretched out over a pretty incredible period of time and the patience and work everyone put into it has been staggering. Massive thanks to the Atlanta gang who really went above and beyond to get this done – it was ambitious as hell and everyone put in a serious double shift. Shouts to my regular DP and PD Ruben Woodin Dechamps and Luke Moran-Morris in the UK who did a lot of the early and vital legwork on the tests before the job went Stateside. And one final extra special shout to Jon Evans who tireless made all the incredible paintings you see in the background - he absolutely smashed it with very little time.