When Justin Timberlake is on the line, you take the call. And when he rings to say he's breaking his musical hiatus and wants you to film his first-ever lyric video, you make sure you give him the greatest lyric video ever.
That was pretty much Laban Pheidias' plan when he got the totally-out-of-the-blue call two weeks ago for a meeting with JT to discuss making the lyric clip for the singer's comeback single, "Suit & Tie."
"I've done quite a few lyric videos now and I've been trying to up the level each time, but this is the first one where you could take the lyrics out and have the story stand on its own," said Pheidias, 41, of his goal for the eye-catching, black-and-white clip that pays homage to the suited and booted elegance of the Sinatra era while adding a modern feel.
The professional skateboarder-turned-director has made a name for himself with a series of envelope-pushing lyric videos for the likes of Adam Lambert, Sheryl Crow and Alicia Keys, each adding a polished twist to the genre that began with fan-created YouTube homebrews.
"My intention was to make this fully realized and a lot of it has to do with Justin," he told MTV News. "He pays attention to detail and him being so excited and passionate about the project was really good for me. I wanted this to be able to bridge that gap and go up against official videos."
What he is still amazed about is how quickly it all came together.
Pheidias got a call two weeks ago that Timberlake wanted to meet and discuss the video. That was a first for him, as no artist he's worked with had ever asked to sit down and talk about a lyric video's concept and execution before. Timberlake had been impressed with Laban's work on the light painting clip for Keys' "Girl on Fire" and thought that Pheidias would do the best job bringing "Tie" to life.
"He asked, 'what can we do to make this the best lyric video possible?,'" Pheidias said of Timberlake.
And then, the very next day, he met up with Justin, hopped in the singer's pimped-out 1960s GTO and they cruised around Hollywood to get the iconic car shots in the clip. "Every time you see him smile or laugh that's a real moment," he said. "We were just having a good time getting these shots and telling jokes."
The crew shot from 7 a.m. until well past 10 p.m. and Pheidias said Timberlake was a partner in every detail, from the fonts and color of the lyrics that dance across the screen, to the graphics and the set-up of the shots. "He wanted to be part of every part of it," he said. "And I really respect that. He's not jaded and he has lots of energy and it really brought the project to life. I would look at him and he would know exactly what we had talked about before and I would get my shot."
During that initial meeting they discussed the aesthetic feel they were going for, which was retro, but with a modern feel inspired by 1940s film noir. Throughout, Pheidias tried to not show Justin's whole face, but to give just glimpses of it, so that when you saw it in full it was more special. That's why the shot at the end, where Timberlake is driving and suddenly looks over his shoulder and gives a heartfelt laugh feels so real. Because, Laban said, it was.
Hoping that this could be his leap from lyric videos to the bigs, Pheidias said he worked tirelessly over the past two weeks to edit it down, pulling three or four all nighters to get it just right.
"I was editing right up to the point where it had to be uploaded to New York [on Wednesday]," he said of the deadline for MTV's sneak peek at the video. "I'm totally ready to keep tackling bigger projects now."