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How Calvin Harris’s Go-To Director Built An ‘Ice Kingdom’ For ‘Faking It’

Emil Nava braved ice, sweat, and tears for his most challenging video to date

From the summery, tropical heat of “Feels,” to the clubby, Rihanna-centric bliss of “This Is What You Came For,” Emil Nava has been the go-to director entrusted with bringing Calvin Harris’s music to life onscreen. But for their 14th and most recent collaboration, the two faced their toughest challenge yet: building a crystallized wonderland for “ Faking It,” Harris’s moody collaboration with Kehlani and Lil Yachty. Or, as Nava described it to MTV News over the phone, a “fantasy, otherworldly” “ice kingdom.”

“With this one, Calvin asked if I could make an ice kingdom. And I was like, ‘Well, I love a challenge,’” Nava said. “I think the go-to for someone else would be to go to Iceland and have all of these things already built, [but] I’m not a post-heavy director; I’m very live-action and real. And Calvin wanted it to feel very premium and very high-end. We knew that the only way to do it was to actually build it out of ice.”

So Nava and his creative team got to work arranging the construction of elaborate ice sculptures resembling art installations. Sounds simple enough, but the magnitude of that decision set in once Nava realized they’d have to shoot the entire video — multiple sets and all — in one day.

“I can honestly say this was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done. And I don’t say that lightly,” Nava said. “Obviously [the sculptures] start melting the moment they’re on the set, so we had to construct, build, and shoot all of those sets on the day.”

Conor McDonnell

He continued, “I told Calvin this the other day, actually — I can happily say it now that the video’s out and has gone down so well — on the first scene, I honestly almost thought I was going to start crying because I was so stressed. My art director was saying no one’s ever done this before. It was so stressful watching them melting in front of you.”

The crew had an “insane” amount of sets to get through, so they ended up utilizing two neighboring studios. A set would be built at one studio, they’d film it, then jump to the other set while the set they’d just been filming was quickly torn down and replaced with a new one. Not only that, but Harris, Kehlani, and Lil Yachty were all filming their scenes on the same day. Kehlani and Yachty each had multiple looks to be styled for, and Harris was on a time crunch to get back to Las Vegas for his nightclub residency. It was, as Nava recalled, a “logistical nightmare.”

“Coordinating the artists was crazy enough, and then we add in this whole layer of the set just melting in front of our eyes,” he said. “We were just doing everything on top of each other.”

Nava admitted “there really was” a moment when he thought twice about doing everything live-action. In fact, for the very first scene they shot, with Kehlani in the smoky bedroom, he knew CGI was “the easiest way” to get the shot he wanted.

“But I felt like there was this magic that came with building it, that all the artists felt,” he said. “It would’ve been a whole different feeling if there were green screens. People were so excited, all the crew. It had a really electric feel to it the way that we had built it.”

For that first bedroom scene, Kehlani was tasked with jumping backwards off of a 10-foot platform, sans harness or wires, onto a big airbag covered with smoke. She had the option of getting a stunt double, but she refused. “She was really like, ‘I’m doing it, let’s do it.’ She was such a pro,” Nava said. “She jumped backwards off of that platform not only once, but five or even six times to get it perfect. I don’t know many artists who would’ve done that, if I’m honest.”

While Kehlani was bravely free-falling, Lil Yachty was braving the cold on top of his ice-sculpted sports car (in the newly released behind-the-scenes video above, you can hear him joke about being “one ass cheek short” after sitting on the ice). The idea for the car came to Nava while he and Harris were excitedly talking through the video’s treatment, but they had no idea how challenging it would be to get made. They kept getting quoted more and more for the car, and it started to feel less and less likely to happen. So when it finally arrived on set for Yachty’s first scene of the day, “everyone just couldn’t believe it,” Nava said. And when they finished up with it, well, they had to give it a proper send-off.

“We finished on that set and we were wrapped and I couldn’t believe the car was going to be wheeled away and melted,” Nava said. “So it was only on set that we decided to get out the sledgehammer and just let [Lil Yachty] go to town on it. He had so much fun. … I even got to have a good smash at it as well, so it was a really epic moment.”

The whole video, in fact, is just another “epic” reminder that Nava and Harris are continuing to push boundaries by creating whole worlds inside of their videos.

Conor McDonnell

“I think it was a real special moment for us, this video,” Nava said. “[Harris] is constantly pushing himself with his music, and evolving. He still makes massive hits but he’s always carving a new lane. And that’s what I really try to do with the visuals. We’ve done so many different types of videos, from narrative to performances, and I think we’re in a zone right now where we’re really creating whole worlds. Like with the ‘Feels’ video and with this video, we’re trying to create these whole environments and landscapes and worlds that feel completely unique to each song.”

As their concepts get bigger and their ideas get bolder, the costs and the risks become more of a consideration, but that’s something Nava’s more than willing to accept.

“I guess,” he said, “just end with the saying ‘go big or go home!’”