September 9, 2008

INTERVIEW - How Nick Hooker Turned Grace Jones Into a Corporate Cannibal

If you've already seen Grace Jones' hypnotically insectile performance in the video for "Corporate Cannibal" -- the first single from her upcoming album Hurricane -- then you surely haven't forgotten the experience. If you haven't yet been initiated, click the interview link below, where you'll also find a detailed conversation with the video's creator, Nick Hooker. Our chat about the filmmaking process (and the miraculous Jones herself) was captured in just one take... just like the video itself:

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TB: How did you wind up working on this video?

NH: Ivor Guest is a very talented producer and a very good friend of mine; he started working on the album with Grace, and we both became friends with her. She'd already seen and liked some work I'd done for U2. Ivor and Grace had just finished recording the album, but hadn't remixed or mastered it or anything. They played it for me and Grace just said, "Listen, which of these do you like?" Right away I jumped at the one I visually responded to the most, and that of course was "Corporate Cannibal."


TB: The video's concept is deceptively simple. How do you pitch an idea like that?

NH: Actually, I didn't. She trusted me. That's just who she is... Grace is incredibly smart, very wise. I think that's how she works; when she trusts someone, that's it! She just goes for it. So I didn't know before I made the video precisely what I was going to do -- all I knew was that I wanted to get her head, and I wanted to get her intensity. I didn't do concept drawings or sketches, or pre-visual stuff... I just found it. She only had one worry, which is that I'd hold back -- that I wasn't going to go whole-hog.


TB: Can you tell me a little about what it's like to spend time with Grace?

NH: First of all, she's hyper-charismatic. It's like a condition that she has. Also, she's been famous for a very long time, so she really understands how to master her charisma. I've been out with her at times when she's dialed it down, and she becomes practically invisible... anonymous. And then I've seen her turn it on and turn it up, and when she does that, within 5 minutes people are suddenly starting to pay attention, and within 10 there's a crowd. After about 15 it's like, "How are we going to get out of here?"


TB: What's the rest of Hurricane like?

NH: Half of it is really strong vintage Grace that you can easily connect to her earlier stuff, and then the other half is much more contemporary, and of course "Corporate Cannibal" is an example of that. It's funny, when Ivor first told me he was working with her, I noticed something... I've always loved her music and I've always thought she was amazing, but I'd never realized that every day, when I'm in New York, I'd hear her music playing somewhere -- whether it was in a bar or cafe, in a taxi, in a shop. It's just there. It's part of the soundscape of the city.


TB: What did you (and Grace) have to do to capture these striking images?

NH: Because she's a model, she has like a Marlene Dietrich thing where she knows exactly what the light's doing to her, or how she looks from two different sides... She's very confident in her beauty. When we shot, she'd just been in Jamaica for three months, so she was intensely black, like dark, dark black. She didn't have any makeup on... in fact we put a face-mask on her, like a skin, and used it to peel off every bit of dirt and grit, whatever the city had put on her face that day. All that remained was sort of the raw glow of her skin. She had a bit of lip-gloss, and that's it. There are people out there working on videos for artists out there like Madonna and Mariah Carey, and they spend weeks and weeks rotoscoping every shot and removing every blemish... It doesn't take much to make Grace look good.


TB: Did you have to film over and over to get it right?

NH: It was only one take! There were two cameras: one camera directly in front of her on a tripod, and there was a handheld infra-red camera that I was operating. If you look at the video, you'll see there's a lot of head-on stuff, and the other material is a little bit grainier and it's all from the right. That's the handheld, same take. We did other run-throughs to set up, but we just wound up filming the once. We started working at midnight, and we finished as the sun was coming up.


TB: And then after that, what next?

NH: When I got back to New York and I finally put the head into the computer, I found the key image that was going to be the cornerstone of the video. Then my heart sank, because I knew it was going to be a frame-by-frame job and it was going to take weeks and weeks! It was very labor intensive... very low-fi on the input side of things, but hi-fi on the output. But there wasn't any time pressure, and I wasn't nervous about anyone breathing down my neck. In fact, she almost forgot about it! When she came back to New York, I went to visit her and show her some raw, unedited pieces. It's funny, I was recovering from a hernia operation, and I still had the stitches in; I walked in and opened my laptop and played the clips for her, and she couldn't believe it, she went completely mad, and jumped on me -- so I'm staggering around holding her and thinking any second my hernia scar is going to give way and 30 feet of intestines are going to fly across the room.


TB: Overall, it sounds like a pretty surreal production experience!

NH: Yes... honestly it was refreshing to be able to go fast. It didn't have that quality which I often dread, in which we're in the studio and the clock is ticking and money is being spend, and every hour that goes by is another $10,000 out the window. Fuck fuck fuck... panic panic panic! It was a really truly ideal situation. There's a misunderstanding about Grace that some people have and need to get straightened out on, which is that she's just a sort of lump of clay in the hands of these Svengali types, that her work is really their work. That's completely wrong. She's very savvy, smart, sophisticated artist who really knows what she's doing. Sometimes when we were editing she'd make calls about the edits that made me think, "Fucking hell!" But then she always ended up being right. She was almost always bang-on.

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