You would think the biggest challenge director Ray Kay faced on the set of the “Poker Face” video would be reining in Lady Gaga’s extravagant costume requests. But actually, that honor went to a pair of truly unruly Great Danes.
No matter how many times Kay and his crew attempted to shoot the opening scene of the video — in which a spandex-clad Gaga emerges from a pool and removes a mirror-encrusted mask — the two dogs wouldn’t cooperate, not even when their trainers got involved. And needless to say, it nearly derailed the entire video.
“Never work with animals or children, that’s the age-old Hollywood rule, and it’s true. Things just don’t go according to plan when you work with them, and that was true in our situation here. Those dogs just wouldn’t sit still, and they wouldn’t do what we wanted them to do,” Kay told MTV News. “So there were two dog trainers on each side of the shot, trying to hold the dogs down in the position they were supposed to be in, but they just kept getting up or looking in the wrong direction. … So, actually, we never got the shot in-camera the way it’s shown in the video. We had to combine different takes of the dogs to get the shot the way it was in the video.”
But it was worth it in the end. The image of a dripping-wet Gaga flanked by a the pair of Great Danes has become an iconic one, and the “Poker Face” video — which is nominated for Video of the Year at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards — has succeeded in turning Gaga into an international sensation. And that, Kay said, was the goal from the very beginning.
“When we shot the video, she was definitely not the star that she is today. … She was a very edgy artist, and there was a chance she could’ve been seen as being too edgy for the public,” he said. “So what me and the record label wanted to do was take the uniqueness of Lady Gaga and combine it with a glossy, commercial expression and create a Gaga World. That was my task. I brought in the glossiness. … When you watch that video, it’s a great blend of what I usually do and what she does. It’s a blend of Italian Vogue fashion edge and hip-hop glossiness.”
And in keeping with that glam theme, originally, Kay had intended to shoot the “Poker Face” video on a beach in Ibiza, with Gaga emerging from the surf “sort of like Halle Berry in [the 2002 James Bond film] ’Die Another Day.’ ” At the last minute, that plan was scrapped, which left the director scrambling to find a suitable location. They finally found a Malibu mansion, and, over the course of one very long day, they made magic.
Of course, if you ask Kay — who’s worked with Beyoncé and the Backstreet Boys — that magic had more to do with Gaga than anything else.
“That video is so much Gaga. She was the one who made the video so unique. I was just trying to help her create that world,” he said. “So many people think artists are just products of the record industry or there are people behind them that create looks for them. But she’s the best example of anyone I’ve ever seen of someone who really created their own style and really is that personae. She is amazing.”
The 2009 MTV Video Music Awards air live this Sunday, September 13, at 9 p.m. ET, but New York is celebrating the VMAs all week long! Stay tuned for party coverage, concert reports, behind-the-scenes updates and more.