Video Chats: Jameson Stafford on 'Cucci Galore' and 'Happy New Year' by Kid Rock
Posted by Doug Klinger on February 19, 2013 in Interviews
Time management is always an issue when it comes to making music videos. However, Kid Rock and director Jameson Stafford took that to another level when they conceptualized and shot Kid Rock’s videos “Cucci Galore” and “Happy New Year” within the span of six days. We talked to Jameson about how they were able to do that, the sweet Cindy Crawford cameo in “Happy New Year,” and how to hide from FilmLA.
Doug: You worked on the “Only God Knows Why” video back in ’99 with Kid Rock. Is that when your relationship with Kid Rock began?
Jameson: I was going to USC Film School, and I was in between semesters. Kid Rock had just started to get some radio play, and I knew Uncle Kracker - who was his DJ at the time-from high school. I randomly ran into those guys in Hollywood when they had a show at the Roxy. At the time, I had a gig at Paramount and life was good, so I wasn’t looking to change anything. But I said, “Hey, I’m going to film school,” and I had a pretty sweet Sony – one of the first mini DV cameras. I was like, “I can come on the road and just shoot with you guys and maybe do a documentary or something.” They were all, “Yeah, yeah, let’s do it.” We were all at The Roxy drinking and I thought, “Yeah, I’ll never hear from these guys again." Then couple months later everything started blowing up. He was at Woodstock, and he did the MTV awards with Aerosmith and Run-DMC. I don’t know if you remember that video, but it was pretty amazing. I’m watching all this stuff happen and I’m thinking, “No way these guys are calling me back.” Then the phone rang and it was Rock and he said, “Hey, are you ready?” and I’m like, “Ready to do what?” Then I packed my bags and went on the tour bus and ended up shooting all that footage. Everything you see in that video was shot through my eyes, through my camera as I was running around the country with those guys for six months. It was a pretty wild experience.
Doug: Since then, what's the relationship been like with him? There was a bit of a gap in work that you guys have done together.
Jameson: When I got off the road, I really needed a break, so I started a couple internet companies. The developer in me had to get out. I ended up doing a very heavily music-oriented internet company called Iventa. I did all of this web stuff and still shot video whenever I could. I worked with Metallica a little bit and shot videos for Erykah Badu and Jada Pinkett Smith on her Wicked Wisdom project. I also continued to work with Rock, including some touring and an incredible live performance video from Baghdad a month after the invasion in 2003. But yeah, as I got deeper into the business, there was definitely a gap in my film projects. Then I sold those companies. One just fully completed about a year ago. So I got back in gear and got back into the film world. As I was doing that, Rock was back in LA for a few weeks, and his house is only a couple of streets over from mine. I was over there one night having some beers with him and Sean Penn and they said, “Hey, do you want to make a quick Internet video about us and our relationship and how we are very opposite ends of the political spectrum?” Rock is very republican, although he is not really conservative socially, he’s definitely conservative politically. Penn is, of course, very liberal socially and politically. I said, “Well, yeah. Why don’t we just make a short film out of it?”
We ended up shooting that in August, and it turned into a film called Americans. It turned out pretty cool, and it got a lot of attention and great publicity. I edited it and we finally posted it to YouTube on October 10th. We shot principal photography on a single day in August, but then pick-ups were insane since I ended up having to chase both of them around because they were never in the same place at the same time. A lot of the footage you see in that film was actually composited here on the green screen. That just took a lot of work. Once it was public, I was beat and I remember thinking, “Oh, man. I can’t wait to just kick back and relax for a minute.” Then I got a call from Rock and he said, “Hey, do you want to shoot these music videos?” I was like, “Uh, yeah…” So he says, “Well, get on a plane and come to Hawaii.” So I went to Hawaii, and we spent a fair amount of time talking about the concepts. Got back to LA - I want to say October 17th - and completely changed the concepts again. Completely redid everything. By the time we had settled on it, it was maybe October 19th. We shot “Happy New Year” on Friday the 24th, and we shot “Cucci Galore” on Sunday the 26th. I’m talking starting from no treatment. Four days to write and do pre-production on two big videos. And to make things even more stressful, we had planned to shoot "Cucci" in Vegas right up til about the 22nd, then it flipped back to LA. All things considered, it was probably the craziest six days of my life. Then we, of course, had pick-ups. It was a pretty wild ride.
Doug: So there’s not much room for, “No, this isn’t going to quite work. Let’s tweak this a little bit,” type of thing? It’s basically like, "Just go."
Jameson: Yeah. There was no room for much of anything. The idea that we had going into it was that “Cucci Galore” was going to be like this dark, crazy world that might be real or might be fantasy. If you listen to the song, it’s about the Playboy mansion, so we wanted to kind of go away from that. We wanted it to be something so over the top that you would almost forget about the lyrics. You would just be like, “Wow. Whatever I’m looking at, this is nuts,” and not even think about the Playboy mansion or the Pamela lyrics or any of that. So we came up with this idea that Rock would actually work in this mansion that just totally aped the Playboy mansion. We ended up shooting at this Bel Air estate, and it was bananas. At night the place would transform into Rock’s underworld circus. We cast all these little people, contortionists, fire eaters. We rented a pony. It was a scene.
Doug: The videos feel huge though, like lots of money was spent in those four days.
Jameson: It was a fairly big production as far as today’s music videos go. We were shooting two ARRI Alexas. We had a crane. We had a huge crew; a ton of extras. It looked like a feature film set. Going into it, when you’re on that compressed of a time frame, you’re running on pure adrenaline. Just locking down location was literally taking place through Saturday, when we were shooting on Sunday. Meanwhile, we’re talking to FilmLA, who runs all the production in Los Angeles, and we’re hearing conflicting stories about when you can shoot, and how late you can shoot. I’ve got somebody sitting at the location scout’s office, and they’re apparently talking to somebody from FilmLA. First of all, I hear we can’t do it. I hear we have to shut down by 10 pm. The whole treatment was written for a night shoot. Awesome. This was in the summer, so it doesn’t get dark until nine. I thought, “Well, that’s out the window.” I call and talk to management and I said, “Look, we just aren’t going to be able to do a night shoot. We’re going to have to tweak the script. We’ll shoot day for night wherever we can.” Then I get a call and I hear, "oh, you know what, all we do is we apply for this emergency permit on the day of shooting, 100% guarantee we’ll be able to get it, and then we’ll be able to shoot an extra 3 hours or something like that." I call my DP – Brian Garbellini, who is a really talented DP – and I said, “Hey, dude, do you think we can do this if we shoot some day for night, and then we stack our shots, and we have an A unit and a B unit?” He says, “Yeah. You know what? I think we can do it.”
So I called everybody up and said, “Let’s just go with the treatment as written. Let’s do the night shoot. It’s on.” We roll in, we start shooting around noon, and we’re just doing some day for night stuff around the mansion, and everything is cool. Rock was coming in from Vegas, I think he had a party with Maxim or something the night before. I was just happy to see him actually show up on the set. So we’re shooting, and probably around two o'clock, my producer taps me on the shoulder and she says, “You know what? We’re not going to be able to get that extension.” I lost it a little, “What? That can’t happen. That absolutely cannot happen. We’ve got hundreds of people here. We’re spending tons of money, and we cannot do that. Go make it happen.” It wasn’t coming together. Then I started sending everybody out to talk to them. This is on a very chaotic production day. We’re shooting, I’m getting pulled in every single direction. Meanwhile, I’m trying to farm these people out to go talk to the FilmLA people. Finally, I find Jason Chen and Shanna Little, who basically “became” the producers, and ask them to bring the FilmLA reps to me. They had a police office on set, and he came over. I was like, “Dude, please. This is a lot of money here. This is my career. This is a big deal for everybody here.” He says, “You know, I really can’t do it.”
So we’re running through the shots. There’s a shot that’s intercut with the first shot of the video where you come into the mansion, and there’s a crane going back and forth on the front porch. Rock is up there performing with his band and we’re pushing in and out of closeups. So I decided to pop that shot off as quickly as possible. We’ve got a crane and the ARRI is up there, and we’ve got lights on top of it, we’ve got Kino Flos all strapped around the camera. I mean it was intense. This cop is yelling at me like, “Get this shot, and that’s it!” and he’s chasing me around the set. The crane is going, Rock is singing, playback is rolling, and about a minute into the song, all of the sudden the whole set goes dark. They pulled the generator in the middle of the shot, in the middle of the song. There are a few moments as a director when you think, “Oh, God. What? How do I maintain my calm when things are going this poorly?" They maintain that they didn’t pull the generator, but somebody did. Officially, I don’t know who pulled the generator.
Doug: So what did you guys do?
Jameson: So suddenly we’re sitting there in dark silence. I pulled aside Rock’s manager, Lee Trink, and I was like, “Grab all the little people and go around the back of the house.” Kinda funny to imagine this Pied Piper scenario playing out. Then I picked up my megaphone and shouted, “That’s a wrap! All right, everybody go home! Wooo!” Everybody starts to dissipate, and I grabbed the band members literally by their shirt collars and I was dragging them through the front door into the house. I rounded up my DP and my Steadicam guy and I said, “You guys need to get this shot.” There was the shot at the table, and that was supposed to be prepped extensively. We had all these props. I mean it was supposed to look nothing like that. My DP says, “I am not going to shoot Rock without lighting,” and I’m like, “We’re going to shoot something, dude. Just do what you can.” Literally, he was holding lights in his hand while we were shooting that scene. David Shawl, who is my Steadicam operator, was like, “We can do it. We can do it. Come on.” He jumps over the table, and we’ve got everybody hoisting the Steadicam rig over because the table was enclosed like a diamond. I mean it was really an awesome effort on the part of everybody to get that shot to happen at all. Literally, the performers and everybody came through the back door. The band came through the front door, and we shut the doors and we were like, “Go.” Brian is holding lights in his hand, and David didn’t even have time to rehearse it as a Steadicam operator. He’s trying to navigate through this table. Inside the table there are servings trays and other obstacles. He did an awesome job of getting through that without bumping into anything.
As we are getting the shot off, FilmLA finds out what’s going on, that we’re in there shooting. They come in and I say, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. We’ll go.” Then they were cool because at that point we’re not out there with lights on the lawn freaking out the neighbors. They said, “You know what? Just finish that shot. You have three minutes.” Of course, the track is four and a half minutes. So they were cool, but not that cool. But we queued up another shot, did another take, and that scene made the video. Thank God. There was a whole pool scene that we were supposed to shoot after that, and the band was all in their swim trunks and what not. Luckily we ended up getting some of that in pick-ups. There was a lot that was still left on the schedule for that day.
Doug: That table scene is literally what’s used in the YouTube thumbnail. The one that you guys are holding lights for and locking out FilmLA. is the one that’s used to highlight the video. That’s so great.
Jameson: Literally, if you can imagine, it was the most chaotic environment you could possibly picture as a filmmaker. But everybody did an awesome job. Richard Flores, who was our colorist, worked magic in making that scene look good. When I first got the footage back, I was about to go for a long swim in the ocean without a surfboard. I remember thinking, “Oh, my God.” It was barely lit. Brian did a great job with what he could, but nearly everyone was outside breaking down the main set, so there was virtually no crew. He was literally holding lights in his hands with no gloves, just toughing it out. He is one of those DP’s that just does it. Richard did an awesome job of really punching that footage up and making it look good. We saved it and came away with a fantastic story and it ended up looking great, I think.
Doug: Amid all this chaos, do you ever have to concern yourself with acting? Kid Rock is a very seasoned actor, he’s going toe to toe with Sean Penn in that Americans short that you did. He’s been in major films. Do you ever have to concern yourself, because the set is so chaotic, that you're not going to have enough time to get the actual performances that you need to get out of Kid Rock?
Jameson: I try to make sure that there is a little bit of acting in each music video that I do, particularly in Kid Rock’s case because he is a great actor. Sean is incomparable, clearly one of the greatest actors of all time, but like you said, Rock stepped up and went toe to toe with him. I think the more that he’s doing that, the more film opportunities will open up for him. He’s funny. He’s got a really good, natural sense of comedic timing. If you watch the intro to “Happy New Year,” we did all of that totally improv. I was in Detroit shooting pickups and we were writing some lines for the “load-in” scene, but I wasn’t in love with them. So I went and talked to the band and I said, “Imagine if life didn’t quite work out the way that it has. Imagine you jumped on the Kid Rock bandwagon and you were playing in some shitty VFW hall on New Year’s Eve. How would you feel? What would you want to say to him? Maybe take some things that you have been wanting to say to him and just kind of lump them in there and come up with some funny lines.” We lined the band up, there were like five of them. I said, “You know what? Let’s just run through.” Then they started egging each other on. I’d shout, “Next!” One would come through and just make up a line. Then they would try to out do each other. It turned out really funny. Stefanie, the drummer, dropping the drum at the end was priceless. I couldn’t have asked for something better than that. We had Rock smoking a cigarette and doing all these things and he says, “Hey, what if I had a flat iron and I was ironing my hair?” I said, “Yes. Please go get it. If you want to do it, I’m definitely down.” It was priceless. By the way, that whole opening shot was totally composited. Most of that stuff isn’t really there. There was a VFW hall in Sunland that served as the plate, but I had to make the “Vets Hall” signs, tweak the addresses, etc. Then I had to composite the van into the scene and make the “Shotgun Bobby” stencil in Photoshop and apply it to the trailer. Then I composited in that rickety marquee with the “Happy New Year” letters – which I had to find one by one. But yeah, basically it didn’t look anything like that.
Doug: Both of these videos kind of start from that place of Kid Rock being significantly less successful than he actually is. Was that something that you guys were trying to toy with there?
Jameson: Yeah. I like that personally because if you listen to a lot of the old Kid Rock songs and look at his image, and if you really get into his backstory about how he got to where he is, a lot of his story and appeal is that dream. He started with nothing, and you’ll read different things about that, but for all intents and purposes he really did. He went through hell and back to make this happen for himself. I think when you’re hearing him in his older stuff talk about, “I’m kid Rock. I’m this and that,” I think people hear that and they’re projecting that onto themselves. Like, “I’m going to be that someday. I’m going to tell everybody to go F themselves. I’m going to be flying in jets with Playboy Bunnies and everything.” I like the fantasy of bringing him up from nothing and then taking him into some crazy world. Obviously, we did that in “Happy New Year” with the beer goggle scenario, and then we did that in “Cucci Galore” with kind of the whole underworld crazy carnival at night that goes on in the mansion.
Doug: You mentioned the beer goggle scene. I’m interested, was that always intended to be Cindy Crawford?
Jameson: It was, yeah. We had a connection with Cindy. Actually, originally it was going to be Cindy Crawford, and then the guy at the very end was going to be George Clooney. Then Clooney got busy, and he couldn’t do it. We went through a couple different people for that role. We first went with some people that are more comedic actors that are very well known. Some people internally weren’t really down with that idea, so we thought, “Well, if it’s Cindy, we’ve got to kind of rival Cindy with somebody really good looking,” so we cast through a bunch of different people. We came up with Alejandro Montesinos, who is just one of those guys that your brain takes a split second to process, “Okay, I get the joke because he’s that good looking.” We tested it with a bunch of people, and they immediately got it and started laughing. So it worked out really well. Those scenes with Alejandro, by the way, were not actually shot during principal photography. They were all composited.
Doug: Really? How did that work?
Jameson: All of the shots of Cindy were shot on the set, but we ran out of time couldn’t get Rock’s reaction to Cindy, and of course Alejandro wasn’t even cast yet. If you look at the shots where Rock is in the gold suit, and he’s shaking his head when he first sees Cindy, then if you look at the shots where Alejandro appears as Cindy’s fantasy, I had to composite all those shots. I had to take the background from behind Cindy dancing, split it out, cut her out, merge them together, and then composite the shots with Rock and Alejandro on top of that. So they’re not really in the dance hall or even anywhere near Cindy when they’re wearing that costume. Cindy was awesome, by the way. She’s just one of those people. She walked into the room and everybody knew immediately. Production just stopped for a moment as everyone watched her move through the crowd. She was really fun to work with when we were choreographing the dance moves and the infamous bathroom scene. It was amazing, surreal. I had to pinch myself a few times. Joy Nash, the girl who played the pre-Cindy, is also an awesome, very funny actress. She did a fantastic job, and I expect you’ll see her again. And the breakdancer, Kid David, is incredibly talented and was just featured on the new Microsoft Surface commercial. Overall, “Happy New Year” was a really fun production. It wasn’t as chaotic as “Cucci Galore,” although that was fun too. “Happy New Year” went smoothly. We got Rock and Cindy in and out of there fast, so they were pretty happy. Everybody had a really good time.
Doug: You mentioned that you played the video for some test audiences. I have not heard that frequently happening with music videos. Is this your first experience with something like this?
Jameson: We did it because we had a little bit of a delay on releasing “Happy New Year.” Kid Rock had another video, “Let’s Ride,” that was supposed to be released before “Cucci Galore.” Then it got pushed due to issues with legal clearances. “Cucci Galore” was not supposed to be the first video on the album – in fact it wasn’t even a single, so it was meant to be an underground video that would drop between singles. In any case, “Cucci” ended up dropping first. “Happy New Year” was supposed to come out immediately after that, but then the problem was they had to slide “Let’s Ride” into rotation. So “Happy New Year” ended up dropping two or three weeks late. Since we had some time, and because the Clooney replacement process was a bit chaotic, we thought, “Let’s just make sure that this sells.” Because we had started with such a different idea, we just weren’t sure. Cindy is famous, and she’s very recognizable. We knew you would recognize Cindy. Then we thought, “Would it be weird if you flipped the camera and it’s somebody you don’t recognize immediately?” So we just wanted to test that and make sure we didn’t have to go get somebody in front of the camera that was very recognizable. Fortunately everybody got it. We played it for a bunch of girls and they were all like, “Oh, who’s the hottie?” It was funny because everybody was like, “Who is that guy? He must be famous. Who is he?” He’s a well-known model, but he’s not a famous actor – at least not yet. Maybe this will help him get there. Honestly, lot of people thought he was Enrique, which was fine with us.
Doug: Was that an official process that you guys went through with an agency that does test audiences, or did you just show a bunch of people that you knew?
Jameson: It was a bunch of people drinking beers at my house. It was very informal. Of course, we shared it with the label and with Rock and his management. Everybody got it, so we all thought, “Great. Done.”
Doug: No need to wait for George Clooney.
Jameson: No, no. It turns out he was busy directing his own thing. He did a short film himself for Caliche, the rum that he created with Rande Gerber, Cindy’s husband. A little factoid. You’ll probably notice, if you ever stop the video, there is Caliche rum all over the place.
Doug: That works. You hear that a lot, just stuff kind of randomly placed in the background and stuff. If in exchange for that you get Cindy Crawford to be in your music video, that’s completely worth it.
Jameson: Oh, totally. Some people at the label were asking, “Why are we giving all this product placement away?” Then they heard it was to get Cindy in the video, and that was the end of the conversation. Completely worth it. So there is a lot of Caliche and a lot of Jim Beam. But in fairness, Rock really does drink a lot of Jim Beam.
Doug: Were the videos budgeted individually? Since they were both kind of shot at the same time, was it kind of just one budget for the weekend? How did that break down?
Jameson: It was one budget. I wish we could’ve had a little more time to shoot them with at least a week in between. But the way it worked out, we carried the same crew all the way through, which makes a huge difference. We didn’t have to rent the crane twice. We didn’t have to rent the cameras twice. We were able to get everything on a weekend rate. Financially, it was great. Then the rest of the money went to production value, props, art, extras, everything. It worked out really well. That said, I wouldn’t recommend to anyone that you plan and shoot two large music videos front to back, in the course of six days, with only one day between the actual productions. Adrenaline is great, but sanity is better.
Photos Copyright Top Dog Records, Atlantic Records.
Photos by Paul Joyner, Jesse Kaplan, Matt Tackett, and Jordan Haro.
cucci galore, happy new year, jameson stafford, kid rock, video chats
Doug Klinger is the co-founder/content director of IMVDb and watches more music videos than anyone on earth. You can find him on twitter at @doug_klinger.
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