Of course, X is no stranger to the scene and culture, as he’s directed multiple Sean Paul videos throughout his career, and knew that everyone involved with “Work” could bring an authentic feel to what they were trying to do. In an exclusive interview with Director X, we talked to him about the creative process behind the video, how Sean Paul’s “Get Busy” visual came into play, and everything else that happened in between the steamy Drake and RiRi scenes.
Where did the idea for a double video come from?
Well, you know it is really born out of the song, right? It’s a very West Indian style record and we wanted to give them a very West Indian style video. It all just kind of made sense.
How involved were Drake and Rihanna in the creative process behind it?
I worked with Rihanna and her team on it. Drake and I spoke about it before, too. It was all about getting the right vibe and things in mind for this type of situation. How do we make this more than just the same thing?
What did Drake and Rihanna’s natural chemistry do for the video?
They’re good friends, right? They’ve known each other a long time now, since Drake’s mixtape I think they’ve been friends. There’s a real energy between the two and it’s obvious that they’re not hiding it or pretending, and there’s a chemistry that works.
Did they need a lot of direction on set?
Nah, the whole idea here is that we were doing an island theme. Drake is from Toronto, so he’s very versed in West Indian culture and how this goes down. You don’t have to explain to West Indians how to dance. So you say, “Stand here and go.” The one thing we had to decide was at what point of the song does she turn around. That’s the big thing almost for any culture, but really for West Indian culture. Dancing with a girl face-to-face is fun and great, but you really reached the level when she turns around.
You guys shot the video in Toronto?
You want to make something very authentic, and really fell like the culture someone sees when they’re watching West Indians. It’s the real thing. You just can’t go anywhere and get that. We spoke about a number of different possibilities, but the part of the culture I really wanted to bring across was the West Indian restaurant. Every West Indian community, there’s some restaurant where you can also have a party. Like a night club and throw a party. What we found was the Real Jerk.
What makes the Real Jerk special in the city?
The Real Jerk is a real piece of Toronto. It’s very classic restaurant. They used to have a location that was a lot closer to downtown, and it was just a big building. There’s certain businesses in a city that are part of the city, the Real Jerk is that kind of place. It ain’t just at a restaurant, it was at the Real Jerk. I didn’t just want to do it at a night club and have people dancing in a club. The artwork that’s in there, the bar, we worked off of the restaurant and their theme and did what they do.
There was a lot of anticipation for the video, especially after “Hotline Bling.”
It’s just a video that everyone has been looking out for for sure. Kids have been blowing up my Twitter and commenting on my Instagram. “Where’s the video, where’s the video?” If I posted anything they’re like, “Yeah, but where’s the video?” At that point it’s different than “Hotline Bling” because nobody was expecting it to be what it was. They wanted to see it, but they didn’t expect what was coming. For this, you felt like people expected this one to be great. So then it’s about reaching expectations with it.
Did that add any extra pressure?
I really just concentrate on the work. That will lead you astray if you start trying to make things for the audience. You gotta make things that artistically pushes yourself and that’s what people like to begin with anyway. I focused on that element of it, but there is a bit of consciousness like you can’t really do a house party because everyone remembers Sean Paul. You do have to keep that in min, an element of not repeating, but moving forward artistically.
So that was really something you guys all talked about before filming?
During the brainstorm time, we talked about doing a big warehouse party or even like a concert hall type thing. Are we going to do a giant party with 2,000 people doing the same dance madness or are we going to do what we did? So yeah, all just brainstorming going on with it.
Did your past work with Sean Paul help in the process with the “Work” video?
Of course. Another part of it all was for a moment we discussed the house party, but we were like we can’t do that because that’s still in the culture, that’s still in people’s minds. That “Get Busy” house party video, we need to go to another part of the culture, which is why we went to the restaurant party vibe. It’s going to be very similar because West Indians party. [Laughs.] Everyone had the time of their life. The dancers were loving it, Rihanna was loving it. You know she still goes to Crop Over back home, she’s still part of that whole culture. Her family, her friends, everyone was in the vibe, everyone was having a good time. It was a very family-like vibe, very familiar, everyone had a good time. They were all there to work, but everyone had a good time.
This was your first time making a video with Rihanna in almost a decade, right?
11 years! It was great and just really impressive. I’ve seen her around every blue moon but getting back into this environment was just great. She’s really grown into a very impressive woman, really and truly. She has the proper work ethic and I’m just very impressed to see the woman that shes become.
How did this video and process compare to other things you’ve worked with Drake on?
I don’t know where I rank it, but it was really fun. It just brought in everything from all of our cultures. Drake knows this culture so that’s a part of him and a joy we all get. He loves to share that part of life that the world doesn’t get to see—the culture or sub-culture—or whatever it is that you’re a part of that not everyone knows about, but you know they love it and experience it.
Your trademarked slow motion effects were on full display in this one, too.
It gives it something epic. I shoot everything in slow motion and then I speed it up, so bare that in mind, every shot you see where people are moving at full speed, there’s slow motion footage of that exact thing. Every second, so every second in the video there’s a slow motion possibility.