Director X Explains Why We Have to Thank Sean Paul for the "Hotline Bling" Video

Sorry art snobs, James Turrell had nothing to do with this.

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Oct 21 2015, 3:46pm


Photo via Drake's Instagram

When Drake released the “Hotline Bling” video on Monday morning, it became one of the biggest deals in Canada that night. Typically that’s not saying much, but since this premiere coincided with a Blue Jays playoff win and a Canadian Election that saw a changing of the guard, it’s pretty impressive that Drake was able to make such a heavy dent in the conversation with something as simple as a video. But the beauty of the visual component to “Hotline Bling” is that it continues down Drake’s new path of making content that is meant to be spliced, shared, and remixed as the fan sees fit. This started with the release of the highly GIF-able “Energy” video, and continues now with the “Hotline Bling” video, which has become so popular that a Twitter account dedicated solely to overlaying other music on top of Drake’s great dancing has amassed almost 9,000 followers in a day. The video was shot by Director X, who has worked with Drake on many of his most prolific videos, including the “Started From The Bottom” and “HYFR,” making him the obvious choice to direct the “Hotline Bling” video, which may soon become Drake’s first #1 Billboard song.

“Hotline Bling” sees The Boy dancing jubilantly across a set that’s lit in soft pastel hues, causing many to assume that this was the next logical extension of Drake exploring the art world as he drew influence from the artist James Turrell. It’s an easy connection to make, since Turrell was known for using light and space to create settings that seem to mirror the effects in the “Hotline Bling” video—and has also since denied any involvement in making it. But according to Director X, any connection to Turrell is accidental. What “Hotline Bling” owes most of it’s success to is Sean Paul. It's a direct continuation of the colourful and set driven videos that Director X learned to master from studying the original sensei, Hype Williams.

The video, which was recorded in Toronto over the course of two days, doesn’t look out of place in Director X’s catalogue. To anyone who has been watching Director X over the course of his career, the video is less of a surprise and more of a logical evolution in style for the director. The same lighting techniques are used from Sean Paul’s video for “Gimme The Light,” and the idea of having characters in boxes was implemented first in “Still In Love.” When we spoke on the phone, Director X says that while he appreciates any parallels people have been drawing between himself and James Turrell, he assures me that they are all accidental. We called X to find out that this was the first video undertaken by his new creative agency, and how much direction he gave regarding Drake’s dance moves.

Noisey: What’s the reception been like?
Director X: It’s been great, I’ve never seen anything this extreme.

Who came up with the treatment for this video?
They let me come up with this one. A lot of times Drake has his own ideas and things he wants to do, but this time it was my creative direction. That’s why you see “by Director X” in the video, Drake wasn’t really involved in the direction.

A lot of people have made the connection between James Turrell’s work and this video. Was that something you drew upon consciously?
Not consciously. You know this is really my style as far as graphically. A lot of people are picking up on the two Sean Paul videos that I did for influence: “Gimme The Light” and “I’m Still In Love.” “Gimme the Light” had a backlit set piece, although those sets didn’t look like they were emanating light like they way they are here. And “Still In Love” was people in boxes. You know I have a very graphic style, G Dep “Let’s Get It,” 112 “Peaches and Cream,” I’m one of the guys who does set driven video. And that’s because I came from the school of the master of set driven videos: Hype Williams. So this video is just a continuation of my style. But hey, compare me to James Turrell if you want, it’s a compliment.

What kind of direction did you give as far as the dancing?
I didn’t. I don’t really do that. When you do videos you’re dealing with someone who spends their life on performing on stage or in front of people, so the one thing you don’t need to help them out with is their performance. Especially after you’ve been in it for a few years like Drake has, you’ve got that part covered.

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You’ve had the privilege of working with Drake for almost his entire his career. Do you feel that you’re dealing with a different person now? He seems more self-aware now, especially with the making of this video.
Yeah I’d say that. He’s comfortable and aware and knows what he wants and isn’t compromising for different things or people. It’s really his show at this point. It’s a wonderful piece of growth really, I’m proud to have seen it happen.

Where would you rank this video among the others you’ve done?
This is right up there. Even just for sets and the way it was shot and just based on what i do, it’s a good piece of work.