On the Job Training: Part Ten
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.
Mitchell Sinoway was known as an editor within the music industry with credits including three Madonna concert films and Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. When he began transitioning into directing, Warner Bros. approached him to do the video for Ice-T’s “Colors” from the film of the same name. The two continued to work together on videos until Ice-T began directing his own. Sinoway continues to edit concert films, documentaries and television shows.
Ice-T “Colors,” “High Rollers,” “What Ya Wanna Do?,” “You Played Yourself,” “Lethal Weapon” (co-directed with Ice-T)
ICE-T “HIGH ROLLERS”
Where did the concept for “High Rollers” come from?
Ice-T wanted to basically tell the story of that song, which is about this guy who is a drug dealer that is making it big and then in the end the guy gets shot. It’s a morality tale, pretty much. He was pretty moral about that lifestyle and thought that it was not the way things should go down, because he had experience with this stuff prior to his recording career. He was on the streets for a while.
He came up with the Superfly/Scarface character from the video?
Yeah, that was pretty much his idea and I just tried to fill it out. We came up with some little vignettes to highlight the high life, as they say.
What was the experience like on set?
That video was done in one day. It was done really quick. We found locations, we found this house we shot in, I got some cars, he got some of his cars, and his friends got cars that we used for the opening. Those were all his cronies in the video. His manager at the time was in it. We just banged right through it.
How did you pick the house where most of the video is set?
I think it was like in Sherman Oaks in the Valley. We looked at a bunch of different places. We just wanted a big house that was kind of tacky.
Whose idea was it to intercut actual news footage into the video?
That was Ice’s idea too. He wanted to bring it to a real street level. He wanted to show not only that crime doesn’t pay, but also how brutal the fucking cops are. He just wanted to make it real in that sense.
Especially later in his career, Ice-T became a big public figure, but even before he became really famous it seemed like he wanted to start a dialogue with the media. In the “I’m Your Pusher” video it starts with a news broadcast, in “High Rollers” he’s being interviewed on TV, in “Lethal Weapon” he’s at a press conference and smashing televisions. Was that something you two ever discussed?
I think he’s always been savvy about the media. He knew that he could be bigger than just the recording career and he had good people that were pointing him in the right direction. Though I think the newswoman [in “High Rollers”] was a little cheesy. I was young and we had to do it really fast. But, I wish I had had a different person.
What’s funny about that scene is that the rapper seems so much more comfortable on camera than the actress.
Yeah. I look at that and I cringe. But you move on.