As soon as he heard Katy Perry’s summertime smash “California Gurls,” director Mathew Cullen knew exactly what he didn’t want to include in his treatment for the video: sun, surf or anything that had to do with summer. And luckily, Perry was thinking the same thing.
“The lyrics were so literal that when I pitched it, I said, ’Look, I want to so something that’s a metaphor for what the song’s about,’ and I guess it was something different from what the other directors were pitching her,” Cullen told MTV News. “It was a concept that really stood out for her. Because I think, automatically, since the song has become this summer anthem, it really invokes strong visuals. And I just wanted to do something a little different.”
So Cullen, Perry and a whole host of creative types (including surrealist Will Cotton, famous for his candy-coated landscapes, who served as the artistic director on the video) descended on Los Angeles for a very hectic three-day shoot, where they created “Candyfornia,” a fictional land filled with a whole lot of sugary set pieces, mean-spirited Gummi Bears and plenty of frosting.
“What really stood out for me is the idea of California as this sugary sweet paradise, so Candyfornia is this place where desire can always be fulfilled, but where pleasure can turn dark. The kind of place where Gummi Bears aren’t your friends,” laughed Cullen, the founder of Los Angeles-based production company Motion Theory. “I also tried to inject some California iconography into the landscape: the Hollywood Hills made of ice cream, Sunset Boulevard as Sundae Boulevard, the Capitol Records building as pancakes and the Walk of Fame as a gingerbread path.”
And while folks have been marveling at both Candyfornia and Perry’s cupcake-enhanced bras since the “Gurls” video premiered on Tuesday, there are two key moments that really have jaws dropping: Perry’s nude scene on a cotton-candy cloud and those chest-mounted frosting cannons she sports at clip’s end. Sadly, Cullen can only take credit for one of those.
“The nude scene, yeah, we shot that on a closed set. Well, at least it was a closed set while she was getting on the cotton-candy cloud,” he laughed. “And though we had lots of strategically placed cotton candy, let’s just say we had to add even more in post[-production].
“[The cannons] were actually Katy’s idea. She wanted to have fun with it, and so we did it,” he continued. “We got it in two takes. I was surprised. We shot it at the end of the first day, and it had everybody rolling on the floor. She was so great to work with. A total pro, and really into it.”
Even though he set out to avoid making a typical beach video (there is a powdered-sugar beach, after all), even Cullen will admit that he’s won over by the song’s summer-friendly message: that California Gurls really are the greatest in the world. Then again, he might not be the most impartial guy.
“I am a native Angelino, so I do think that California Girls definitely have something to them,” he laughed. “Though I’m a bit biased, since I’ve been here my entire life.”
What is your favorite party of the “California Gurls” video? Let us know in the comments!