Wrap-Up man Baba recently met up with photographer, film and music video director Anthony Mandler. Anthony has worked with the likes of Jay-Z and Rihanna and most recetly Drake on his 'Find Your Love' Video
TWU: Okay, so first question. You began your career as a photographer.
TWU: When did you realise you had an eye for photography and film.
D: I think I got my first camera at 12, I grew up in a household of filmmakers. I was studying film at a young age and I went to a high school in LA where I could actually focus my major on to cinema. That was really where my love was and when I moved to USC film school and arts school in Italy all I cared about was the image, the visual, pushing things, understanding why and creating a bigger and deeper reservoir of creativity within myself. I studied architecture and art and then photography and then film.
TWU: So you’ve always been artistic?
D: Pretty much, pretty much.
TWU: So when it comes to the process of making video or coming up with a treatment, what processes do you go through from beginning to end?
D: Usually it’s um a multi-step process because what I’m trying to do is analyse the artist. Where is the artist? what have they done? Where do I think I can take them? You know there are some artists I can’t help. It would be fun to go on a journey with them but at the end of the day I am more interested in taking the artist from a to b. You listen to the song, you’re in the studio or they send you the track, sit with it, and listen to it an ungodly number of times and then its really about going through files of imagery and picking little pieces. You start to collage this little piece that gets bigger and bigger and then writing it out. If they love it, we go make it. It’s a war, I always call shoots wars because the budgets are smaller than they used to be. You’re trying to do everything in one day or two days or three days and for me it’s all about gathering the most amount of information. I’m less of a precious director, I’m going to try and do this in one shot or five takes or I like two, three cameras shooting, humongous amount of film. I Like the idea of picking the brilliance within all the mass, that’s more my style.
TWU: Do you prefer making videos for the songs you like or is it about the artists themselves?
D: Well, generally speaking I prefer to like the song, if I can’t connect to the song it’s hard to create something. I’m fortunate where I can kind of sit back and cherry pick the stuff that I want to work on and generally I’m only working with artists that I really love. I spend most of my time with people that I’m fans of, people who’s records I’d buy if they didn’t give it to me.
TWU: So have you have any like nightmare video shoots or have you said to anybody “this is what I envision for your for your video” and they have been like, “errrr no”.
D: Well usually you don’t get the job at that point, I mean you know a lot of times what they want but initially I think it should be done differently so I’ll try to write what’s within me. I think that when you get the job there are certain artists you have to deal with differently, I deal with Rihanna one way, I deal with Jay another way. Everybody has their own little style of pushing back. It’s rare that an artist will say, “Yeah, whatever you want.” There’s going to be arguments, it’s going to be combative and it’s going to be hopefully end in a healthy discussion. You know Rihanna and I go at it all the time. Its always, “I think it should be red and I think it should be blue”, if it’s a healthy discussion then we get to a place where the creativity stays first. That’s always the objective, you know?
TWU: Okay, as you mentioned Rihanna, you guys work together quite a lot. Why do you think you work so well together?
D: That’s a really good question. We just hit it off the first time we met each other and I think that she respects my unwillingness to budge to the system and to protect the creativity. I love working with her because she’s really willing to try and do anything and she wants to change, she wants to grow and she doesn’t want to stay in the same place. If you look, it’s only been four years, five years, you look at where she’s gone, you look at the evolution of her style, the evolution of her music, you know the personal ups and downs and how she’s now climbing through all of this to the place she was before. I respect that immensely, I love that she records a song like ‘Te Amo’ and actually wants to do a video for it, and isn’t scared, doesn’t care what other people think and is willing to have a love story with woman when maybe it’s not as pc as the opposite. You have to appreciate that, that’s what this is about.
TWU: Working with Jay Z on D.O.A, what was what was the process making that video? What was your thought process in making that one?
D: Well the song was all about Jay taking back the reigns and saying, “listen it’s not just auto tune that has gotten out of hand, its everything. It’s the attitude, it’s the clothes and it’s the way you act when you’re out on the streets. Just everything you’re doing, meaning the rest of the industry doesn’t apply to who I am. So this is the song where I take back the reigns” and anytime you have a guy like Jay Z who can say that and back it up, nobody can argue with him. Now we have a place to play which is incredible because whenever your dealing with anyone that is truly one of a kind, visually you’re able to create stuff that nobody can duplicate. So our mantra was “how do we make a video that nobody else could make but Jay Z?” How do we put characters in it and scenarios and a stylistic sense that nobody could pull off but Jay? That was probably my favourite video I did last year.
TWU: It was a very, very cool video.
TWU: In the trailer he has a fro, was that a conscious decision to keep the hair? What was, what was the…
D: Yeah, yeah, yes. Because when Jay records he always grows his hair out so the idea was at the end of the video he shaves his head and it’s like he’s saying “I’m back”, that’s the beginning of this next chapter. That’s why the first single, first video, it made shooting very tricky because we had to shoot that scene last, the barber shop scene.
TWU: Are there any other artists that maybe you haven’t made videos for, dead or alive that you wish you did?
D: I grew up on those Madonna videos and I was so blown away by how every year, every video it just seemed like she was resetting the bar every time and nobody was even close. It inspired me to want to be part of this medium. I saw how you take cinema and music and how you create this new third world, this new dimension. I used to love those Massive Attack videos, watching MTV, I kind of grew up in the 80’s. But certainly when I was in college in the 90’s, late 80’s everything that was coming out of England at that time was visually stimulating, it was beyond anything that we saw in America. The Uncle videos, the Massive Attack videos, all the Jonathan Glazer stuff and you know Walter Stern and The Verve, all that stuff inspired me in this medium.
TWU: Okay, so how has the art changed since then?
D: Well the key to this is how has the commerce changed because they work together. As the commerce goes down the ability to take risks and essentially absorb either failures or hits changes. If you are taking risks and trying to be artful you run the risk of failure and failing in a commercial sense means the building doesn’t stay open. If you’re, you’re talking about a baby band it doesn’t matter, take as many risks as you can, that’s brilliant but when you’re talking about taking risks with the JayZ’s, and Beyonce’s and Rihanna’s those are the builds, those are the artists that keep the building open, keep the roof up, the lights on. And as there’s more kind of risk versus reward, they are willing to take less chances and it’s up to the artists to push back.
TWU: I saw the video, the new Drake video that you did for Find Your Love.
D: Which cut? There was about four of them. Was there guns and fire in it?
TWU: Um, it was the, the end bit there was, he was there and er….
D: Yeah, did you see a gun?
TWU: No I didn’t see a gun.
D: Ah you saw the wrong version.
D: You saw the wrong version, you see that’s the problem…
TWU: You see that’s the one, that’s the one I’ve seen.
D: Where did you see it?
TWU: Online. I did really enjoy it. I thought it was a great video.
D: Did you fully understand what was happening?
TWU: I understood towards the end.
TWU: He was kind of being shafted by this woman but falling for her at the same time. Is that what you were going for?
D: Well I mean essentially it’s a story about forbidden love right? It’s a story about what happens when you lose sight of right and wrong. So Drake is playing a character that’s in Jamaica that is recording an album and he falls for a girl that he’s told he can’t fall for and he continues to pursue her regardless of what other people are telling him. He loses sight whether it’s through arrogance, confidence, inability to hear what people are trying to tell him. In that there’s a there’s a kind of a reverse, she turns on him. The problem I have is that there’s a lot of imagery in there that is part of the storytelling that has been cut out in that version. It has been censored out, whether it’s guns or bullets, or sound effects or things that create the whole story. So here, I bet if I showed you the uncensored version you would understand exactly what is happening.
TWU: I though the shots in the studio, I thought those were great.
D: Right. Incredible old studio in downtown Kingston we shot in, yeah an incredible little space.
TWU: you’ve seen the whole thing. But for people who’ve only seen that chunk, I don’t doubt they’ll still enjoy it.
D: Did you hear what the minister of tourism in Jamaica said?
D: There’s been a lot of publicity about the minister of tourism in Jamaica. He wants to condemn the video saying that it’s an inaccurate depiction of Jamaican culture and the Island. He said that it’s irresponsible and that the artists respect Jamaica. It was kind of like a nice mild threat.
TWU: That’s unnecessary.
D: Well I mean there’s a cultural conflict in Jamaica right.
TWU: It being a very artistic country to be honest, you would have thought they would have allowed for artistic integrity.
D: Sure but I mean the country has a duality. It’s got the historic Bob Marley, kind of classic Rasta culture and the beaches and the beautiful, incredible scenery but it also has a really dark side, right? it’s a culture. This is all right before there’s this kind of social outbreak there and them hunting Dodo.
TWU: And last question, you’re also doing a film.
D: I am.
TWU: It’s with Plan B, Brad Pits company right? Is that an avenue you would like to pursue a little bit more, kind of go down the film route?
D: Yeah that’s always been my kind of passion and where my hearts been. I started there and went out into photography and came back through videos and commercials and now I’m kind of filtering my way back through. It’s an exciting process working with Plan B and Summit. We’re still in development, it’s a movie called Vlad about Vladian Paler, so it deals with the origin of Dracula. And takes the historical and the mythological and weaves them together. It’s really exciting; it’s going to be an epic war, gothic thriller.
TWU: Thank you very much.
D: Of course man.
TWU: I really appreciate it.