NEW YORK — Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis had just days to prepare to shoot the music video for the 25th-anniversary recording session of “We Are the World,” the revamped version of the classic tune meant to raise funds for post-earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. In this, he was exactly like producers Lionel Richie and Quincy Jones and the 85-odd participating artists: No one had any time to prepare and you just had to go with it.
Or, as Haggis put it in an interview with MTV News, “I embraced the chaos.”
That’s pretty much what he was still doing when we caught up with the “Crash” director in a Manhattan editing suite on Thursday afternoon (February 11). He and his team were working on essentially no sleep as they scrambled to put the finishing touches on not one but two versions of the video: a three-and-a-half-minute version for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics and a seven-and-a-half-minute version that encompasses the uncut song. When we spoke, Haggis was just minutes away from streaming the finished footage to iTunes, where it will be available Friday.
Despite the lack of sleep, Haggis talked excitedly about the process of shooting the video in Los Angeles earlier this month, as artists from various genres and generations came together in support of a common cause.
“It was interesting seeing Pink and Tony Bennett working it out,” he said. “They were jamming. They had a lot of fun.
“You hear these stories about people checking their egos at the door, and it really is true,” Haggis continued. “They came and stood forever and were glorified extras a lot of the time. They just stood in the corner and waved. It was hot and it was crowded. When there’s chaos, there’s friction. Where there’s fiction, there’s drama, and I knew I’d have fun things to shoot. Unfortunately, there wasn’t as much drama as I expected. People really got along very well.”
Haggis said the finished song and video will include artists not present during the initial shoot that still wanted to take part in the charity effort. But he declined to name names, wanting the full revelation to take place during the opening ceremony. Participants that Haggis did want to make mention of were the Haitian film students he flew in from the island to participate in the shoot, as well as a behind-the-scenes documentary.
“The most important thing to me was that we include the people of Haiti in this and it just not be a bunch of well-meaning, wealthy folks from Santa Monica and Brentwood and Bel Air,” he said.