Dave Meyers made a mistake when directing the restaurant scene of Missy Elliott's spectacular "Work It" video. He forgot to replace the wine in the rapper's glass with water.
"She certainly didn't complain," Meyers recalled with a laugh. "We shot that take maybe seven times from different angles, so by the time that was over, she was trashed. She was so smiley. ... And just then, coincidentally, Janet Jackson came to visit us and bless us with her presence. Missy was talking all kinds of gibberish to Janet. It was really a good time."
To hear Meyers tell it, the vibe on the set of "Work It," which is nominated for Video of the Year (see "Missy, Justin, Johnny Cash, 50 And Eminem Top VMA Nominees List"), was as fun as the end product itself. (Check out photos from the video.) At least until it came time to shoot the opening scene.
"Missy was not feeling those bees," Meyers said of his co-director. And when the beekeeper let them loose, neither was the rest of the crew. (Amazingly, only one person was stung.)
"It was very interesting working with a million bumblebees swirling around the set all day," Meyers continued. "While we were shooting other scenes, the bumblebees were attracted to the light and the beekeeper was going around with this stinky f---ing vacuum cleaner. It was the weirdest, most eccentric experience in Hollywood. The guy drives around with open buckets of bees in his truck on the freeway. And they're in the backseat inside. The guy is just immune to bees."
The incident was a prime example of life imitating art, considering Meyers and Elliott's concept for the video was to depict a place where anything can happen.
Meyers and his production designer came up with idea for the bees while brainstorming for a shocking way to start the clip. Fortunately for Elliott, the director came up with a way to shoot the scene without allowing bees to crawl on her face.
"We actually had a head that we had made for the 'One Minute Man' video and refurbished it with the new Missy look. We put a bunch of bees on that face and then shot Missy [separately] and very laboriously put the two together in post-production."
Most of what makes "Work It" such an enjoyable piece of eye candy are the effects Meyers used, such as using cables to raise the dancers from the ground and drag Elliott in the park scene and then erasing the lines digitally.
Meyers carefully planned those things, along with Elliott's head spin and gravity-defying lean, before arriving on the set. There was one post-production effect, however, that he came up with after filming.
"I lit [the salon scene] one way and got to post-production and was like, 'It's the only set that kind of looks normal,' " Meyers said. "So I was like, 'Let's f---ing freak it.' She was wearing a green jumpsuit and I turned it red. All of the things you're not supposed to do, I did. It came out looking so edgy. I did the negative polarization in there as well and did the little post effect where it blinks back and forth between the two just as icing on the cake."
The adventurous effects in the video are enhanced by Meyers' attention to detail. For instance, just for the split-second shot when Elliott's date looks through a glass and sees a woman resembling Halle Berry, the director spent days searching for a look-alike and eventually flew a model from London to the Los Angeles set. His Prince look-alike is an imitator from the pop star's home city of Minneapolis.
"I didn't want to go wrong on that, because that's what makes it so fun," Meyers said. "He doesn't look like an ass, he looks eccentric."
Meyers can't take all the credit for the clip, however. Elliott constantly pushed him to come up with creative concepts and was hands-on as far as the video's other remarkable element — the dancing. Elliott, with help from choreographer High Hat, handpicked the breakdancers from New York and attended all of the auditions for the other dancers.
"All her videos have a good sense of rhythmic movement, and this one we even have the dancers play the extras," Meyers said. "If you notice in the dining room scene when she lifts her glass, everyone behind her is lifting their glass in syncopation. It's a subtle touch that took it over the top. Same with the salon scene. That's Missy's forte, finding dance styles."
Elliott also deserves credit for the tributes to Aaliyah and Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes on the back of her jacket and hood of the car in the video. The day before the shoot, she was shopping on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood and met an airbrush artist who was selling similar pieces. She convinced him to spruce up the set that night.
Clearly what makes "Work It" work is the rapper's open mind to unconventional ideas others might consider controversial, like — as Meyers described it — "the guy slapping the white off the slave owner." ("That's the Berkeley in me trying to come out a little bit," the director joked.)
The pinnacle of that creative partnering is when Elliott's face is seen on the body of a young student sitting in a corner wearing a dunce cap.
"She says in the song something like, 'Duh duh,' and it reminded me of something a little kid would do," Meyers explained. "Missy has such a performance in her face, so I got the idea of a little kid in a corner, a Bart Simpson, but Missy-style. So we did the head replacement and it just has that extra funky vibe to it. It just goes with that same vibe of coming from left field, like swallowing the Lamborghini.
"That's something Missy demands out of me every video," said Meyers, who also directed Elliott's clips for "Get Ur Freak On," "One Minute Man" and "Take Away." "She's a visual connoisseur. She doesn't know how to make the visuals happen, but she knows how to appreciate them. I like to take her to another place. It keeps our relationship fresh. And if I repeat myself once, she'll catch it and go on to the next guy."
Check out the story behind the other Video of the Year nominees:
- 50 Cent, "In Da Club"
- Johnny Cash, "Hurt"
- Eminem, "Lose Yourself"
- Justin Timberlake, "Cry Me a River"
The 2003 VMA action comes to you live on Thursday, August 28 starting at 6:30 p.m. with the MTV Video Music Awards Opening Act.
Catch all the sizzlin', star-packed VMA action direct from Miami on August 28. MTV News' preshow kicks things off at 6:00 p.m. ET/PT, followed by the big show at 8 p.m.