'NSYNC's "Gone" has none of the fancy special effects or postproduction gloss of the other nominees for Video of the Year at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards. The black and white clip is an exercise in simplicity, beautiful for its natural imagery and intimate moments.
"One thing about the video is it just feels honest and pure," said director Herb Ritts, who has made equally picturesque videos for Janet Jackson ("Love Will Never Do"), Chris Isaak ("Wicked Game") and Britney Spears ("Don't Let Me Be the Last to Know"). "It's a bit iconic. You could probably see this video 10 years from now and feel the same thing. It's timeless, the way it visually hooks you and leaves you with something."
In other words, "Gone" is the anti-'NSYNC video. The group's clothing isn't changing as they dance. The guys aren't hanging by strings. They are singing and, basically, hanging out.
"I think people that didn't know what 'NYSNC was about or wouldn't think to listen to them appreciated the visuals," Ritts theorized. "After the video, they had fans where they didn't have fans. I had rappers tell me, 'That was a cool video.' It's interesting how a video can influence your image, even a group already [with such an image]."
Originally, "Gone" was not going to be so simple. Jive Records wanted to do a period piece with Justin Timberlake, the main voice behind the tender ballad, playing Charlie Chaplin.
Ritts, who is also a famous photographer, liked the idea, but only as an introduction to the video. He felt the clip should center on an empty house where happier times were spent between Timberlake and the woman who was "Gone." Their relationship would be told in flashback, while the singer wretchedly strolled around the house.
"When he's in the kitchen for instance, you see this party scene, then boom, to him sliding down the old refrigerator that is still there," Ritts explained.
'NSYNC and their label gave Ritts' treatment the greenlight, and the director immediately began what would become his most difficult task: the search for an actress to play the love interest.
"I looked at 20 books and just didn't see anybody," Ritts said. "I know people from my photography work, but I needed someone who was fresh and unknown, not someone too model-ly or too exposed."
Ritts finally saw a Xerox of someone he thought looked perfect for the role, but there was a hitch. The 17-year-old Croatian named Corrina was visiting her parents in her homeland at the time. Still, the director was able to track her down to request footage.
"Some friend of hers did a video of her in her backyard, and we got it the day before we needed to book her," Ritts said. "It was some sort of '80s, disco funky thing, but you could really see how great she was. She was right for it."
Corrina had no problems with the flashback scenes, but for the opening bit, Ritts hired a physical comedy director to teach her how to communicate with facial expressions.
'NSYNC, however, were naturals. Although they had just flown in from a tour date the night before and were heading back out two days later, Ritts said the guys, especially Timberlake, were focused and energetic.
"Justin was amazing," Ritts said. "He really looked like an actor. His timing was fantastic. He had the innocence and the sweetness and the charm and they really did connect well with it."
Timberlake and Corrina continued to connect through the entire shoot, having fun with Ritts' offbeat ideas, like the just-buzzed singer painting the brunette beauty's toenails.
As for their much-discussed kiss — which Timberlake's girlfriend at the time, Britney Spears, told Cosmopolitan "devastated" her — Ritts didn't allow much leeway for the smooch to be anything but work.
"I was directing so much, 'Turn this way,' 'Turn that way, 'Justin, touch her hair,' they didn't really have time to think about it," Ritts said. "And I think that's good. Then you catch those moments that are suggestive, but not blatant. It felt right."
Ritts, who only directs a few videos a year, is known for meticulously preparing for shoots. For "Gone," the director had sets made for every scene. Even the outside lawn was an inside set.
From the beginning, both Ritts and Timberlake wanted the video to be shot in black and white.
"It made sense the more you heard the music, and the music was very important," Ritts said. "It just made it cooler, and the blacks and the whites with the tones were strong. It created a mood."
While the director did not manipulate a single frame in postproduction, he used different cameras, films and speeds to create different looks and effects.
During the birthday party scene, for instance, Ritts pushed the film to 60 frames a second to create the special flicker in the birthday candle.
For the intimate scenes with Timberlake and Corrina, the director of photography used a small handheld camera "so you really caught those moments," Ritts said.
"It was really adorable," he added. "There was something so genuine about that video that really made sense."
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