No matter how much preparation you put in before arriving on set, there are always challeneges which arise that a director has to manoeuvre around to keep the things on track. However, when the concept of the music video you’re shooting is largely reliant on the artist making an appearance, it’s fair to assume that a no-show on the day would pretty much mean the project was dead in the water, right? Not so if you’re Ryan Staake, who turned the shoot ruining absence of his ‘Co-Director’ Young Thug into Lost in La Mancha style music video Wyclef Jean, which hilariously documents exactly how things fell apart and despite it still being January, is pretty much certain to make many a ‘best music video of the year’ list. Ryan explains how he spun near-disaster into music video gold in our interview below.
So let’s go back to before things went brilliantly awry. You indicate in the video that (very aptly as it turns out) your original treatment had Young Thug setting the budget on fire. How did you get from there to Young Thug’s kiddie car concept?
I initially pitched the “lighting the budget on fire concept” when Atlantic and 300 came to me for a concept. They actually liked the budget burning idea, and we were midway through exploring feasibility and legalities of it when they sent the audio file and said that he basically wanted to co-direct this concept. After the video was released, I would later find out that the recording was actually of him discussing the idea with another director, John Colombo (he’s the guy that says “Juxtaposition”). If I had known this was another director discussing the idea with Young Thug, I would’ve surely added a title about that into the video. Anyway, I loved the audio he sent and decided that I wanted to make it part of the video itself. I planned for the intro shot to go down exactly as it did, but I intended for him to show up in a car at the end. That’s when everything about this concept changed.
All the quick improvised setups kind of felt like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
It’s one thing for you to know Young Thug wouldn’t make the shoot but given that the label kept dangling his imminent arrival, how did you handle having to work around his continued absence?
I go into shoots with a very specific idea of what I want to shoot, even down to the exact VFX plates I want. When you have that level of specific planning, and a critical component is missing, it makes things incredibly challenging. I obviously have to deal with curveballs, we all do, and you adapt. But since my whole concept was based around the performance of Young Thug riding kiddie cars, with women at a pool, etc., all the quick improvised setups kind of felt like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I remember during the sausage scene, my brother Kevin, one of the producers on the project, looked at me like “What the fuck are you doing?”. I would say overall, the day started off okay, with the hiccup of him not arriving, and then just got worse and worse, until it was so bad it was funny.
What you were able to film looks great – what was your package for the shoot?
Thanks! My DP Trevor Wineman and his team did an incredible job rolling with the punches on such a hellish shoot. We shot on a RED Epic Dragon with Panavision E-Series Anamorphics. The initial shot was done with an Impala Motion Control dolly, which was awesome – my first time using one. It felt like I was able to use Cinema 4D or After Effects camera position keyframes in reality. All of the non moco or stationary shots were handheld/easyrig. Also Young Thug’s camp requested gold bounce so we used that on the models.
The shoot wraps and you know you don’t have anywhere close to what you need to make the film as originally conceived. How did you make your way to this satirical deconstruction of the music video process?
I had a brief idea for it when we had setup the cars for the performance at night, and asked the camera operator to roll some footage, joking I could “add him in later” or something. I’m going to be listening to every instinct on set now, because I think that footage saved me, and planted the mental seed for this whole idea. After that, once I returned to NYC and began looking through the footage, and talking with label about boring reshoots, I realized that there was an incredibly rich story to the footage, and I could tell it with titles + footage. I wrote a treatment, and sent it to the label. I think everyone on my team thought I was insane, but the label was actually receptive and after some back and forth, asked me to hop in and make a first cut. They loved the first cut (for the most part) and then Young Thug sent me a drive with more footage, and I embraced it, adding it in. There were some basic requests for tweaks from label, and then finally, after 4.5 months on the project, I sent the final deliverables. Then it came out after a week and I found out via Twitter.
This is far from your first music video for a high profile artist, how typical is this type of behaviour in the industry from artists?
I’ve never had anyone this late or a complete no show. But I have said this in every interview: I OWE THIS WHOLE VIDEO TO YOUNG THUG NOT GETTING OUT OF THE CAR! That simple gesture was obviously a critical component in allowing this whole bizarre concept to ever come to fruition.
Were you ever worried about pissing off the label/Young Thug? Did they have to be convinced to go with this as the official video?
I decided to come hard out of the gates, anticipating they’d make me dial it back slightly, but when they were receptive, I just kept going… for example the logos and the snarky little comments that associated them were a late addition. I was kind of worried that would kill the project, but they understood.
Presuming all goes much better on future projects, what will we see from you next?
Features, TV shows and true VR/AR experiences.