With all the work you’ve done, do you consider yourself a director or a photographer?
Not a lot of people know that my background before photography was film. I went to USC Film School and studied film in Italy, and at 22, I was actually getting into making an intense little film that just fell apart like little movies do sometimes. I kind of became a photographer in reaction to that, to continue on the craft of the medium. So even when I was just a photographer, I still had at least one part of my heart in directing. Being someone who enjoys the visual medium, whether it’s photography or film, I’m just happy there’s a camera in front of me.
When did you transition into music videos?
I started doing videos in ’97, but they were little videos I did here and there. I did a video for the Black Eyed Peas in 2000 called “Get Original” that won a bunch of awards, but it never really kind of stuck; it was pre-Fergie. The first video that I did that really became a big deal was Snoop’s “Ups & Downs.” Right after that, I started working like a mad man in that world. At that point I was doing around 20 record covers a year. Now the whole thing is upside down—I’m only doing about one photo shoot a month, rather than 7, 8, 9, 10.
I have a lot of work in my stable. I can show you just as many things that are not as dark. But yes, my work tends to lean toward the darker, cinematic kind of intense stuff. That’s the stuff that I respond to, imagery-wise. I like to take chances visually.
What was your inspiration for “Run This Town”?
I think it brought a lot of controversy, because it was not what people expected. But how many more “Big Pimpin’” kind of videos can you make? He already made the greatest one ever. You can’t make another one. Why would I go and try, at a time when video budgets are a tenth of what they used to be, when that’s not really even Jay anymore? I’d rather go and be inspired by world militias and look at youth culture around the world, and some of this riotous new energy that we have and grab some of that, wind it through ’Ye and Ri and Jay, try to create this rebellious movement that makes you feel uncomfortable and is raw and ever-evolving. I’d rather take that chance than try to copy Hype or do videos that have been done before.
What was the process behind Jay-Z’s Rhapsody commercial, in which you re-created all of his album covers?
That was tough, man, because I only shot one of those covers, and Jonathan Mannion shot, like, seven of them. They were shot over the course of 10 years in different locations, and we had to re-create them in a studio. It was really, really challenging—one of the hardest jobs I ever did. I know pretty much how Mannion lights, and to try to be respectful of his work was really important to me. I think it was a good homage to his work, as well.