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How to make an iconic music video

Music video maverick Director X has been on top for a decade. He teaches us the tricks of his trade

When the video for Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” (ft. Charli XCX) came out earlier this year, it was nearly twice as sassy as the song itself (which was already quite sassy). Honing in on the 1995 cult teen movie Clueless and looking flawless in all yellow-and-black checked suits, Chanel polo shirts and acid house smiley shoulder bags, the throwback homage was a stroke of genius for the rapper. If the style and execution seemed familiar, it’s because it had the signature of DNA's Director X all over it. He’s the Canadian music video big shot responsible for most of your favourite pop and hip hop music videos since 1998, from Aaliyah’s “I Care 4 U” to Drake’s “HYFR” and Iggy Azalea’s “Black Widow” (ft. Rita Ora). His glossy videos pay close attention to aesthetic detail, with ice-clear narrative precision and mega-bucks star power. If you’ve ever thought of making it in the music video biz, he’s probably the first person you should speak to – here are his top tips on how to make a music video that blows the others out of YouTube. 


When I was a kid it was almost impossible, but now anybody can be a director with the technology that we have now. If you’ve got a camera and a computer you can do almost anything that anybody else can do, so you’ve got no excuse. You’ve just got to go out and shoot, that’s all. You should upload it onto YouTube and show it to your friends, your family, your enemies, your fucking enemies friends and your friends enemies. You should show it to your accountant, your business associates, you should show it to strangers. I used to walk around with a VHS in my backpack and be like ‘Hey! What are you saying? Do you want a VCR round here? Can I interest you in a VCR? Can I show you this thing I did?’”


“It was a lot of fun working with Michael Madsen for “Black Widow”. I actually found him on a flight from London. I was going through immigration and I saw him there because we’d just been on the same flight. I approached him up at the baggage carriage and explained that I was doing this music video based on Kill Bill (2003) and that Iggy Azalea is going to be in it. He’d never heard of her – he’s a grown-ass man! But he told his sons and said, ‘This director’s approached me and wants me to do a video with Iggy Azelea” and they were like, ‘Oh my god! You have to do it!’ So that was it.’”


“People are tweeting me all the time asking me to give them my phone number and asking me to email them – it’s fucking pathetic! It makes me disappointed in this new generation when I see that kind of hustling going on. I can’t even tell you when I’ve been approached in the street with a kid showing me their video saying ‘You’ve got 5 minutes? Look what I did!’ That never happens – people just try and get to me on Instagram and Twitter and I don’t respond to that shit and I don’t respect that hustle at all… you don’t have a hustle! It’s the wrong attitude. You have to get in front of people and show them your work.” 


“I interned for Hype Williams in New York with Big Dog Films when I first started out. That internship turned into me doing storyboards for them and it took off from there. Hype Williams was definitely my mentor. I was very fortunate to work in that environment but it took a lot of work and a lot of persistence to get into that company. He taught me a lot of what I know today and I would not be here without Hype – there is no question about that. From what I know artistically, from what I’m making, on a million levels I would not be here without him.” 


“Justin Bieber was fine to work with! He was a good kid. Although I worked with him in 2012, (on "Boyfriend") right before he started going a little crazy and feeling the need to express his manhood. Of course, I would still do a video with him now. You have to remember that all that type of stuff stays at home as this is a professional environment. You’re coming to work and there’s a lot of money being spent. Most people understand that when they release a video it’s theirs – they’re paying for it! Some of them might be a bit late but for the most part it’s all got to be pretty professional. Lots of people think it’s this crazy time but actually we just shoot it. From beginning to end, it usually takes about two weeks to create.”


“I don’t think about making a video go viral before I make it. If you think about it like that it doesn’t work. You know when somebody is trying too hard to be your friend and it makes you think, ‘I don’t like this person. Stop trying to be my friend, you know what I’m saying?’ People can tell if you’re doing that with a video and they don’t like it.”


“Working with artists is not like working with actors. The artists are always playing the same character. Nobody’s going to know any shit about the artist better than the artist. Whether it’s music or it’s shows… they already have it handled. For instance, Iggy Azalea really knows her game and she really knows what she wants. I really enjoy working with her, it’s almost like working with a creative director. She’s very sure about what she wants to do and she understands herself. With ‘Fancy’, we were going back and forth and talking about different ideas and it just suddenly came into her head. When you think about her look and her audience, it really was a stroke of genius on her part. After that, it was just about getting it together for execution.”