50 Cent, Eminem and Dr. Dre were watching their backs on the "In Da Club" video set, and not because Suge Knight showed up. Wet paint was the real rival.
"We had to watch where we were leaning," director Phillip G. Atwell recalled, noting the challenge of building a massive set in a few days. "By the time it dried, we were finished with the shoot."
Knight, Dre's longtime nemesis, did surprise the cast and crew when he dropped by the Los Angeles set, but he and his large entourage apparently came and left without a scuffle. "I don't know what the intention was or what was going on, he was just there," Atwell said. "I don't know what that was supposed to represent. We just kept shooting, that's all I know."
In a way, Knight's appearance (although obviously not documented in the video) fit with the concept for "In Da Club," one of the five videos nominated for Video of the Year at the upcoming MTV Video Music Awards (see "Missy, Justin, Johnny Cash, 50 And Eminem Top VMA Nominees List").
The idea, which Atwell thought up with Dre and Eminem, with whom he has worked on several videos, including "My Name Is," "The Real Slim Shady" and the VMA-nominated "Lose Yourself," was to create a fictional hip-hop boot camp. Or, as it's called in the video, "The Shady/Aftermath Artist Development Center."
One unique aspect of the video is that the set contained a shooting range. Normally, a director would never film guns, knowing how strict standards departments can be, but because the artist was 50 Cent, who has been shot nine times, Atwell felt it was appropriate. And he was never questioned.
"Creatively, I felt like we were able to put guns in a video and have it play," the director said. "And I like it when you are able to play within the standards and still give the artist something symbolic of what they are going for."
The video begins with a black Hummer driving to the facility in the middle of nowhere, but 50 himself makes a much more interesting entrance by dipping upside down into the shot of a gym. "I think I could have done better with it, but I really liked the way that it turned out," said a humble Atwell, who credits the song and not the video for the VMA nomination.
As memorable as the beginning is, Atwell considers the money shot the ending scene, when the camera moves from 50 in the club through a two-way mirror to reveal Eminem and Dr. Dre, in lab uniforms, taking notes and nodding their approval.
"Seeing 50 with Dre and Em having his back is as big a visual statement as it is a musical statement," Atwell said. "You could see what the commitment was between Em, Dre and 50 and what this project was going to be about."
The shot is also significant in that it makes clear the club is inside of the center, not just irrelevant performance footage.
Atwell was apprehensive about falling into the cliché of mentors appearing in their protégé's videos, but "it was done in a way where the guys weren't standing around, mugging for the camera," he explained. "We came up with something that added to the story we were trying to tell."
The "In Da Club" video differs from Atwell's other videos for Shady and Aftermath artists in that very little was done in post-production. "I don't think 50 is the type of artist for special effects," the director said.
Of the footage he shot, he used almost everything except for a performance scene where 50 raps in a glass box. "It's really a dramatic performance piece, but we had so much other stuff, we went light on the performance stuff," Atwell said.
Overall, the only real mistake the video makers made was in calculating the time and cost of building such an elaborate set.
"The art department was pulling their hair out, but it all worked out," Atwell said.
Check out the story behind the other Video of the Year nominees:
- Johnny Cash, "Hurt"
- Eminem, "Lose Yourself"
- Missy Elliott, "Work It"
- Justin Timberlake, "Cry Me a River"
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.