Video Chats: Ellis Bahl on "Ashley" by Big Sean ft. Miguel

Posted by Doug Klinger on February 14, 2014 in Interviews

Staff Post

Ellis Bahl

Everybody loves a big, flashy, traditional hip-hop video. Literally, everybody. But when you really think about it, sometimes it’s more fun to watch a dark, twisted, unexpected hip-hop video, like “Ashley” by Big Sean. Directed by Ellis Bahl, “Ashley” features two sex-crazed kidnappers who abduct Big Sean and bring him to a dingy hotel, beating the shit out of him pretty much the whole time. We don’t even get half way through Sean’s first verse before the violence begins and it's clear that this is nothing like your dad’s hip-hop videos (unless, of course, your dad is Big Sean). We talked to Ellis about “Ashley,” the ending, and whether or not Big Sean is playing himself in the video.

Doug: What role did the song play in conceptualizing this video? Were they looking for a dark video or did you decide to take it in that direction?

Ellis: I didn't want to do the video at first, because I thought they'd want a generic hip hop video to match the track. But the more I listened to it, the more I liked it. It's a great song! Sean then sent me a bunch of reference videos and they were all really dark and really good. I was so impressed by his taste that I said I'd do the job, but I still didn't have any ideas. So we got on the phone and talked and he really wanted something dark, violent, a little sexy and overall something that people would say "woah, did you see that new Big Sean video? That shit was fucked up."

I got the idea because he told me he wanted it violent and sexy but that he didn't want to be shown graphically engaging in the sexiness cause you know, he's got a fiancé. So it seemed like a logical jump that in order to get him into a sexy/violent video he needed to be kidnapped by a sex crazed psycho couple.

Doug: Big Sean's part in the video requires some pretty convincing acting. Did you and Sean work closely to get that performance out of him or he did come to set ready to go?

Ellis: We met in person for the first time on the first night of shooting, but we talked a lot about the concept and what it means. Sean is a talented performer and a thoughtful individual, so acting in this sense came naturally to him.

Ellis Bahl

Doug: What characteristics were you looking for in those actors playing the kidnappers?

Ellis: I wanted kidnappers that were odd. I didn't want them to be classically attractive, but I also didn't want them to be outright menacing. I didn't want them to be black or white either. I wanted them to also look a little removed/aloof/dead. And obviously they had to be comfortable with the content and what I was asking them to do in front of a whole crew.

Doug: The character in your Sir Sly "Gold" video picks up and reads a scrap of paper, but doesn't reveal to the audience what it says. At the beginning of "Ashley," Big Sean reads something on his phone that isn't revealed to the audience, but seems to be relevant to the plot. Is what's on his phone something else that you're going to keep secret forever, like you did with what's written on the paper in "Gold"?

Ellis: I like the idea of characters having their own internal world that we don't have access to. The things on the phone or on the paper influence the actor and help them create a narrative in their mind, but what it says is not important to the story. Also, I love how frustrated it makes people! WHAT'S ON THE NOTE???? I threw the note out, so you'll never know.

Ellis Bahl

Doug: The first time I watched this video I thought for sure they kill Big Sean at the end, but after watching it again I notice him raise his shovel just prior to the image cutting out and hearing the gunshot. Were you intentionally leaving the ending slightly open ended, or was my initial feeling correct that they do in fact kill Big Sean at the end? 

Ellis: Big Sean dies at the end. There might be a cut sometime down the road that shows a bit more of his demise, but he definitely dies. The shovel swing is his final struggle for freedom, albeit somewhat pathetic against a gun.

Doug: Would you say that Big Sean is playing himself in this video? A lot of times artists will star in their music videos but they aren't treated like celebrities by the other characters in that video - as if they artist is playing a character more than they are playing themselves. In your mind, are the kidnappers in this video kidnapping famous rapper Big Sean, or are they kidnapping a character that Big Sean is playing?

Ellis: In my mind, Sean was playing Big Sean in this video. Like a lot of people, I'm really fascinated by celebrities and the idea of celebrity. I was so excited that I got to torture and kill a famous rapper in a video, because it subverts the idea of celebrity I think. Also, in a way, it made me more powerful than his level of fame, which probably excited me subconsciously.

ashley, big sean, ellis bahl, miguel, 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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