On the Job Training: Part Four
by Eric Ducker
By the late 1980s, MTV had established itself as a star (and profit) making force within the music industry. Record labels knew they had to feed it new material to fill its hours of programming. Still, rap music lagged behind when it came to budget and airtime distribution. Then in 1988, MTV debuted Yo! MTV Raps, and a year later BET premiered Rap City. These shows provided a national platform for artists from around the country, but most of their videos were still made for relatively little money and didn’t have much hope for breakout success.
The upside of this situation was that rap videos became a way for innovative young directors to get started in the industry, or at least to figure out what they were doing. In the decades that have passed, some of these directors have gone on to helm films for major studios, some remain behind scenes, and some have moved on.
MTV didn’t start running the name of a video’s director in the credits until 1992, and BET soon began to do the same. And though there are databases that try to track who directed each video, they are often incomplete. The following interviews highlight a few of these directors and get the stories behind some of their classic videos.
During the 1980s, Bruno Tilley put together Island Records’ art department and eventually became the company’s Creative Director. His job initially entailed the traditional fields of print work, packaging, photo shoots and merchandise, but as music videos became an increasingly important medium, he developed an interest in filmmaking. After bringing a Super 8 camera to a Jazz Warriors photo shoot and editing the results into the video for “Out of Many, One People,” he began directing more pieces himself and commissioning others for Island’s eclectic and globe-spanning roster.
Eric B. & Rakim “Paid in Full (Mini Madness — The Cold Cut Remix)”
Grace Jones “Love Is the Drug”
Sly & Robbie “Boops”
ERIC B. & RAKIM, “PAID IN FULL (MINI MADNESS – THE COLD CUT REMIX)
Can you tell me the story behind the “Paid in Full” video?
We didn’t know anything about Eric B. & Rakim, really. The only thing I had heard was that they were really heavy guys. We were kind of nervous about them. We knew that they were flying in to England on a particular day to do some promotion and they were going to come straight to a photographic studio that I’d set up as the video set. We had rented some cameras and had rented the studio, and we put up some posters I’d designed. It wasn’t a big budget thing; we were just doing it ourselves.
They came to the studio and they didn’t know anything about the video, it had just been thrown at them. So I was trying to explain what I wanted them to do and they said they’d give me one take. I put the track on for them to hear and they absolutely freaked out because it’s got all these samples in it that I didn’t realize weren’t true to their music. This particular mix had been done by Norman Cook [editor’s note: it was actually by Coldcut] and they hadn’t heard it. They obviously didn’t like it. The A&R guy was like, “Don’t tell them it was me!” The whole thing went to chaos really. I was trying to get them to do just the spoken part, and they refused to do that. In the end they said they would only shoot something to the 12-inch, which runs at a completely different speed. I managed to persuade them to do a take. Then I got them to do another take. Once they’d done two they put their coats on to leave, and I had to drag them back in. I basically thought I’d cover this with a mid-shot, a close-up and a wide shot. I managed to get them to do the three shots. In the edit we fixed the timing.
Because of the nature of the track, I went and shot sections for each sample part. I also got some stock footage of things we couldn’t shoot, and we put it all together in the edit. I particularly wanted to use graphics in it, so I used type, which hadn’t really been seen before as far as I know. It became this sort of this new form of scratch video.
A short while later when the song was racing up the charts [in England], they used to have this thing on MTV that was like a news section. And the announcer said, “Eric B. & Rakim just left town, here’s their video—and by the way, they hate it.” And I was just sitting there watching this thinking, “You bastard.” A few days later, the same announcer came on and said that Eric B. or Rakim’s gold Rolls Royce had been set on fire. It made me feel a bit better about the situation.