Director Paul Hunter's favorite shot in "Drop It Like It's Hot," which is nominated for Video of the Year, is when Snoop Dogg motions "time out" as he's dancing with two of the extras. Although many of the clip's shots were meticulously planned out, that one was completely spontaneous.
"I wanted to film a lot where they didn't know I was shooting, so we captured a lot of real moments," said Hunter, whose "Hollaback Girl" is also a Video of the Year nominee (see "Pharrell Was Supposed To Battle In Gwen's 'Hollaback': VMAs Behind The Camera"). "I like to mix natural moments along with staged moments. We had regular girls, not really dancers, and Snoop was showing them the dance and he just stopped and said, 'Wait, I'm not the choreographer.' And we kept stuff like that in."
"They couldn't get it right, so I was like, 'Time out,' " Snoop recalled. "[Eventually] baby was poppin' and droppin' it."
The "Drop It Like It's Hot" dance actually originated in Snoop's studio, where he first played the song for Hunter.
"Me and Pharrell knew it was a hot record and Pharrell suggested we get Paul, who is one of the greatest directors of all time, if you ask me," said Snoop, who worked with Hunter on Dr. Dre's "Next Episode." (Hunter worked with Pharrell and Jay-Z on "Frontin'.")
"We went to the studio he calls the Tabernacle, it's like throwback to the '70s pimp era, just a cool clubhouse," Hunter remembered. "He played the record and was explaining to us how girls would dance to the song — that's how he came up with it. We didn't even tell anybody we were gonna do it, 'cause we wanted the dance to be spontaneous."
After hearing the song, Hunter's first thought was a simple black-and-white look. "I was influenced by Richard Avedon and the way he captures celebrities," Hunter said of the famous photographer. "And we wanted a '60s, Frank Sinatra feel to it — we wanted to really show that lifestyle, that class. I wanted the video to intercut from a black background to a white background, and [have the two] play off each other like a negative-space image and a positive-space image.
"I hadn't done a black-and-white video in a long time and I was really happy the label didn't shy away from it, like most labels" he continued. "To protect myself, I shot with black-and-white film so there was no way, even if they changed their minds, to go color. I didn't tell anyone. My production company was like, 'They know you're shooting black-and-white, right?' I was like, 'Uh ... kind of.' "
From there, Snoop and Pharrell each came with their own ideas, some easier to execute than others.
"Pharrell had an image in his mind to have his car tilted on one side," Hunter said. "But we couldn't get this $500,000 car on its side and we tried a bunch of different ways. So we shot it from different angles and then put it on its side in post [production]."
Pharrell also wanted a cigarette boat positioned at a particular angle, but renting one and moving it to the studio far exceeded their budget. "So we created one with [computer graphics]," Hunter said. "We took digital stills of boats and designed it from there."
Snoop had the idea of using black-and-white graffiti to capture the sound of the spray paint in the beginning, and also wanted his sons to be in the video, one playing a bass drum and other sitting on a bike.
"I actually let Snoop direct his sons," Hunter said. "I placed the camera in and stepped back. The younger one was a little shy, but the older one wasn't. Snoop's a coach, so he's very natural. And he has a warm personality and is a great father."
Together, Hunter, Snoop and Pharrell decided to match a lot of the images to the lyrics, such as wine being poured or Snoop pointing to a table of magazines. The trio also wanted to make the video feel interactive, so Snoop, Pharrell and the extras shot takes where they clicked their mouths along with the beat in the song.
For Hunter, though, the key to the video was using the unplanned moments.
"What I said to the guys a lot was, 'Imagine we're just goofing off in your living room and I'm capturing your personality, who you are and some of things you guys do,' " Hunter said. "And we kept the camera very simple and still. That's how we got really close to those guys. You could make stills out of this video and see them in a coffee-table book — that's unique."
"It just all came together," Snoop said. "You know when you've made a magical video."