In Random Reels, we talk to veteran directors about the projects that defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what we’ll ask them to talk about.
The director: For over a decade now, Dale “Rage” Resteghini has made his living in the music video business. As the director of clips for Soulja Boy, Fall Out Boy, Jim Jones, and Diddy, Resteghini has help define what it means to make a successful music video in the post-TRL YouTube era. With about 400 videos under his belt, Resteghini has dabbled in all manner of musical genres, even turning in tour documentaries about Guns N’ Roses, Anthrax, and Fear Factory.
The A.V. Club: “Crank That” has over 220 million views on YouTube. That’s insane.
Dale Resteghini: As a matter of fact, there’s a company called Visible Measures, and they quantify the reach for videos, and even up to 2010, the overall global reach of Soulja Boy “Crank That” surpassed, in double digits, everything from Lady Gaga to Michael Jackson to the Twilight Zone franchise.
How I did that video was, after spending my first couple of years doing a few hundred rock and metal videos and hardcore videos, I crossed into doing hip-hop videos for New York artists like Cam’ron and Juelz Santana and Jim Jones, otherwise known as a group known as Dipset. The big push that led me to “Crank That” was a song I did for Jim Jones called “We Fly High (Ballin).” That became a crossover hit all over the world. So Smurf, who was managing Soulja Boy at that point in time—I should say, every director, every label, wanted to sign Soulja Boy because he, at 16 years old, pulled one of the biggest hustles ever known in YouTube at that point in time. He was able to take 50 Cent songs and images and put his artwork or type his name over 50 Cent’s name. He created so much noise and sold so much music, his fans became instant and every label was bidding to sign him.
Smurf, who was best known for managing acts like the Ying Yang Twins, said that he was looking for a hot director and of course Brian Barber and Hype Williams and all these guys wanted to get it, but he wanted to just go with something fresh, something new. A friend of mine referred me to him and then we met face to face in Atlanta, and he explained to me what this whole movement of Soulja Boy was. And so after discussing the story about how he discovered Soulja Boy, we decided that would be the concept for the video.
The video was very self-explanatory. Smurf, a.k.a. Mr. Collipark, was the guy in the video that you see with the two kids and he’s in the car, driving around trying to find him.
It was also Smurf who helped me decide to take my little-known name of Rage and make it more of my official director name. He was like, “You know what, I need to come out with something big and I know you’re going to kill it, but Dale Resteghini is too long.” And of course he was right, because it was. I would go to different events and awards shows and I would meet with artists and they would not be able to pronounce my last name for whatever reason, so he said, “Man, I like Rage!” It became a really big plus for me.
So on that set I met Soulja Boy for the first time. At 16 years old, not knowing about what a horrible childhood he’d had and what his personal situation was like, and I don’t want to go into too much personal detail—but it’s amazing that that kid at that point in time had the fortitude to be able to do what he did. I mean, he had Beyoncé doing his dance. He had everybody doing the Crank That. He was just so eager and he was soaking up all this information like a sponge.
We shot in Atlanta over the course of two days, and we had all the big stars at that point in time that were in Atlanta come on through, from Jibbs to Bow Wow to so many others.
That video ended up premiering on [BET’s] 106 & Park and MTV, and it shot to the top of the charts. Had that video been released today, we would be at a billion views. Because that came out in 2007—there’s not too many videos from that era that have over a hundred million views. They didn’t have that holdover like they do today. And, again, I think there’s some way that you can put an asterisk next to it and assume that would be 700, 800 million views now.
I’m happy to have that be part of my hundred million view club. It was great and I ended up doing other videos for him: “Kiss Me Thru The Phone,” which actually is also over a hundred million views—an animated video for “Yahh Trick Yahh.”
He was a great kid. He’s still doing his music thing on a different level, and he’s a businessman with a sneaker line and a T-shirt line, and a clothing line. But that video made me a household name for every label that didn’t know me at that point in time. That video was the one that made me the flavor of the month, so to speak.
AVC: Let’s talk about your process. With something like this, how far out do you get asked to do it, do you send storyboards, and how does it all come together?
DR: It used to be you would have a month to a minimum of a few weeks to turn something around, but I was out at an event last night, and I was asked by James Cruz, who’s Puffy’s manager, to do a video for Puffy this week. Generally it just happens the way it happens, whether you have 24 hours—which I’ve been asked to do a video for in that short of a time—or several weeks to a month.
On the creative side, sometimes an artist will have their own idea or the label will have an agenda from a creative standpoint, but oftentimes I sit, listen to the song, and I personally am moved a lot by the sound of the song. Many other directors are inspired by actual lyrics, so I approach it a little bit differently.
Across the board, tone-wise, I am inspired to make the sort of visuals that I hope to create the biggest possible net so that artist can make as much money as they can with their music. I like to layer in on all my visuals, so whether it’s “Crank That” or something by Mims or a rock video, I like to make the videos as big as possible because that’s just the way I am. I don’t think small. Nothing I do is small. Not that small is bad by any stretch, it’s just that personally, I’ve learned that you always have to go with what you feel is going to be best for the artist, and that’s how I rock it.
A lot of times when I was coming up doing music videos for rock bands like Unearth and Hatebreed and E. Town Concrete and All That Remains, these budgets were maybe $5 grand, $10 grand, and I was shooting these on film. This is long before digital technology was where it’s at, and long before MySpace and what became Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. So when you’re shooting on film, if you’ve only got five rolls of 16mm film, each roll of 16 is maybe 10 minutes of time, and if you had five rolls of 35, that’s only four minutes of time. So I learned if only had 15 minutes to make a video for a band, I had to basically shoot to edit. That’s what helped me become great at what I do, because I never relied on having endless amounts of money or resources to make what I had to make in the timeframe I needed to. That’s a skill set that I’m proud I had to learn, and that’s paid big, big dividends, even now. So whether my budget is $3,000 or $30 grand, I still know what I need to do in order to make sure that artist and that label has a video that’s quality.
AVC: In the “Kiss Me Thru The Phone” clip, there are a lot of quick cuts. How is a hip-hop video different from, say, a Fall Out Boy video or something else? Is there a different aesthetic?
DR: No. That particular situation there was that since that was a international hit with everybody getting caught up with the fever of doing the dance, and how the story unfolded about finding him, learning about him, and then ultimately signing him and ending up at the big show—it was a lot of information that needed to be told. Those cuts, the slide edits, some of the jump cuts, some of the slow-mo stuff right next to the real-time stuff, some of the speed rams, and to then cut with his actual narrative and his performance with the camera—all of those things just needed to be done in an artful way where nobody got lost.
DR: In the case of the Fall Out Boy video, it was American Beauty meets some really cool other independent films, and it was very linear and very natural. The band was performing in front of the girl’s house, which was also the same location where she was getting ready, and it was a lot easier story to tell.
The conditions for that particular video weren’t great, though. It was very, very cold, as you can see, and we had to go to Big Rapids, Michigan for that video, because I was supposed to do that original video at a stage in Brooklyn, but when they were driving down to see me, they got into a bus wreck and it almost killed a couple of them. It’s unfortunate because the $6,000 that I had for that video was already spent the day of the shoot because we had to pay deposits, we had to pay crew, and we didn’t find out until that day that they weren’t going to make it. So the money was gone. The manager at that point in time—still is, Bob McLynn at Crush Management—asked me, “Hey, can you still somehow make this work when they’re better and out of the hospital?” And I’m like, “Sure.”
I happened to be doing another video for a band called Dirty Americans in their hometown of Big Rapids, Michigan, and fortunately, Fall Out Boy is from Illinois, only a few hours away. I asked the lead singer if I could use his house for the Fall Out Boy video and that’s how that came to be. We flew in our lead girl, Laila, who was also in a video I did for a band called Most Precious Blood, because we needed a girl who could act, and who had that really cool, young teen, hot look. That video came together on the heels of a bad situation and it all worked out. And that was shot on 35mm.
AVC: What’s the process for casting girls? There are some video babes in the Gym Class Heroes clip.
DR: It’s one of those things where it’s almost like an ad agency. Ad agencies and labels tend to want to approve everything, so in those kinds of videos it’s not so much about acting as much as it is having the look that the label wants or the artist wants to have. We basically go through a casting call. We go through several different casting companies, unless there’s a girl we know personally. Over the years you develop relationships with certain talent that are just great and you know you like to work with because they always come through and deliver, but a lot of times, labels and artists want to weigh in on the kind of girls they want in their videos. So it’s open to a degree, but they definitely want to have their final say.
AVC: In the “Cookie Jar” video, Travis McCoy is all up on the girls. Is that something you have to have them approve in advance?
DR: Exactly, yeah. And oftentimes in hip-hop, sometimes artists want to put their own girlfriend in and sometimes it doesn’t work out the best way. Like in the case of the Jim Jones video for “We Fly High (Ballin),” he wanted to put Chrissy in the lead, and now she’s a big star on Love And Hip-Hop along with him, and she did a good job, but she wasn’t the label’s first choice. He fought to have her in the video and sure enough, she was in the video.
AVC: How many times do you run the song during the shoot?
DR: On average, about 20 times. With a band, you do each band member. I give each band member their own solo, so sometimes I’ll have the bass player, guitarist, or drummer doing their own parts close-up. Then I’ve got to do it as a wide, and there’s the singer. So it’s about 20 with a band.
AVC: How did “This Is Why I’m Hot” come about?
DR: That song became a hit, and I actually helped push the label into making that the single because I felt it was going to be a hit. He as an artist doesn’t have a lot of charisma, but he could nail that video.
Here’s a great story for the Mims video, which is also featured on VH1’s Pop-Up Video. That video was done on a mostly rainy day in New York City. And in New York City, when you’re filming a video in the street, you need to have permits. They don’t allow you to do playback, they don’t allow you to put lights on sidewalks, and all these different things unless you have the police with you. There’s separate divisions of what they call “movie cops.” We had a patrolman on his first day on movie duty, and he was going completely by the book. And in New York, when you’re filming, all the cops know that there’s that gray area where they’ve got to just let you do what you’ve got to do. Even though it says no playback allowed, everybody knows you need to at least have a boombox or a small speaker out there so the artist can do what they’re doing. He was like, “No. No playback.” And I’m like, “Okay, we need to have a light here.” “No. No lights.” We couldn’t put the light on the street. We had to keep it on the sidewalk. But the thing is, we needed that extra foot or two just to give us that room. And because there was just no room to get the shot we wanted, it made everything go so slow.
We tried to warn the cop, like, “Look if you don’t let us do what we need to do, like every other cop does”—and again this was his first day, he didn’t know all the rules—“if you don’t let us do what we’ve got to do, there’s going to be a problem.” He didn’t know what that meant.
So it’s 4 o’clock in the morning, he’s standing about two feet off the building wall, and we’re in front of the building that was maybe 12 stories tall. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a full can of paint comes crashing to the ground about eight feet from him, and he was like, “What the hell, what’s going on!” I said, “Listen, we’re in uptown Spanish Harlem, drug territory,” and they see a cop car and a cop, the local gangs got pissed and they dropped the paint. That was their way of saying, “Hurry the fuck up, shoot what you’ve got to do, and get out of here so we can make our money.” Once the cop understood that he was like, “Oh my god, now I get it. Go do what you’ve got to do.” So from that point on, we could do everything we wanted to do to get the video done.
That’s one of the most crucial parts of that video that people like to hear, because it’s just those things they don’t teach you in film school. You don’t know unless you do it that this is just part of life and culture and production in New York City. It wouldn’t happen if you’re down in Midtown, but then again you’re dealing with another set of circumstances like all the people running around and continuity issues. Production in New York City can be amazing, but if you’re dealing with an independent budget, you can’t control the environment. And so it’s always a challenge.
AVC: What about “CoCo”?
DR: That was meant to be just a street single that I had one of my younger directors do. I did the big video, which never came out, [though it] still may come out. It was a song called “Yum Yum” about oral sex. I’ll just put it that way. It was a big-budget video, and we shot it old-school style. Busta was in it. It was about $100,000, and it was supposed to be the lead single to launch his career after signing to Busta Rhymes’ label.
Then Busta said to me, “Yo, Rage, I gotta shoot this video, ‘CoCo,’” and I’m like “Okay, cool, I’ll get one of my younger guys to do it because it was like $5 or $10 grand.” I hired a guy that had been on me for a while to direct the video. He had produced a few videos for me, and so I figured why not give him a good look, and I figured that’s done. Done and done. Everybody loved the “Yum Yum” video, we’ll give him the “CoCo” video because it’s a street single that’ll let the world of hip-hop know that a new artist is out. Busta Rhymes hits them with the street single, then we hit them over the head with the big crossover video, and that’s how it’s been done for many years.
But then I get a call about a week later from Busta, 2 o’clock in the morning, he’s like, “Yo Rage. I hate the ‘CoCo’ video.” I’m like, “Oh my God. It’s a low-budget video. How can you mess it up?” I really wasn’t a part of it. I figured I’d pass it off and it’d be fine. But sure enough I look at it and I’m like, “Oh my god, this really is not a good video.”
From a creative standpoint, I feel like what I do, my framing and my composition—to me it’s logic and common sense. It’s one plus one equals two. But everybody corrects me and says, “You’re really good at what you do.” I’ve never been impressed with myself that much, but going back to the “CoCo” video, it was a bad video. I said to myself, “How could someone look at this and say, ‘This is a good frame’ or ‘This is a good shot,’ and how could you not go in for a close-up?”, so I took it on the chin. I said, “Okay Busta, you know what, I got you. You’re my boy, you’re my client, I’ll take care of it.”
So in about three hours, I shot the “CoCo” video. One of my PAs lived in that apartment in a not-so-good area, and I asked him if I could use it. The sun was just low enough where it was peeking through the window, and we had some fake props come in and we had some real props come in, and we had a couple of people come through. I shot that in three hours and it ended up becoming what it became.
AVC: If you shoot videos with coke or guns in it, for instance, do you worry that you’re essentially glorifying a lifestyle? Or at least perpetuating it?
DR: I see myself no different than a documentarian. There’s so many filmmakers and documentaries done about all kinds of lifestyles and people that have done bad things and good things. I decided to take the job of helping tell this guy’s story of how he made his money and what he’s into, and that’s it. I’m not the first, I’m not going to be the last, and it’s just part of what entertainment and pop culture is.
Busta was on set for that particular day as well. He’s like, “Man, the first framing…” I think it was the where he’s seeing his reflection in the glass amid the coke and the money and the guns, and he’s like, “Yo, Rage, this is the shot.”
I’m not one to criticize and I’m not one to take higher ground on something. We’re not going to get into that stuff. But the bottom line is, I took the job as a person who needed to tell a story, and I did it the best way I could. And the way I did it, it came out great.
AVC: In “I Run This” and in the Soulja Boy video, there’s a lot of blurring of logos. If an artist is wearing a Superman logo and you know you can’t show a Superman logo, why not make them change the outfit?
DR: Artists have become more and more empowered throughout the years, and they feel like there is nothing they can and cannot do. No one is going to tell them what they can’t wear. Some artists are great with listening to suggestions. The label will be right there and say, “You can’t wear this logo,” and they’ll say, “No, I want to wear this hat,” and that’s how that gets done. Some artists refuse to listen to the requests of the label or legal.
It’s an extra expense to have things blurred out. That’s the short answer. Some artists just refuse to listen to what they’re being told from a legal standpoint. It’s sort of sensitive ground, because I’m not going to walk up to a powerful artist and tell them what they can’t wear. It’s somebody else’s job to do that, and if they can’t convince them to do it, then that’s what it is. If it was me, it would put me in a bad position where the artist is looking at me like I’m trying to tell them what to wear. But then again, that’s only some artists. Some artists are totally cool with listening to you about what they can and cannot wear.
AVC: You shot a Guns N’ Roses video that was never meant to be released. Can you talk about what happened there?
DR: Ultimately they didn’t want it to come out, but somebody released it, and that’s what you’re seeing online. That same video is the one that played on all their LED screens on their tour in 2010 and 11. I don’t have the specifics as to why it was not released. Axl [Rose] decided not to release it because of some of the issues and somehow a year or two ago it was released. Somebody gave me a call and said, “You know your Guns N’ Roses video is released?” I didn’t know that, went online, and sure enough, it was there.
I’ve done videos where you spend several hundred thousand dollars and the song’s peaking, and then suddenly by the time the video is done being edited, it’s not active at radio like it used to be and they decide to scrap the video because the single’s not popping at radio anymore.
For an up-and-coming music-video director, there are a lot of things that they need to be aware of on the business side. A lot of times labels and artists don’t care about your particular vision. They just want to have somebody to come and shoot something that can service them well for promotion for that particular artist’s upcoming tour and album.
Radio being involved, the right promo being involved… I’ve done videos for artists at a hundred thousand dollars where that artist didn’t want to spend $5,000 promoting the video. If nobody’s promoting the video that you spent time and labor making, the chances of it really getting traction and getting a lot of views is pretty slim.
Online is where everybody goes to watch music videos. And every Tuesday, there are thousands upon thousands of videos being released and dropped by everybody, and if your video—visually and from a marketing standpoint—isn’t able to stand strong when that tidal wave comes in, chances are it’s going to get washed away and no one’s going to see it.
AVC: How has the web changed the way videos are made? And how do you make sure something gets watched?
DR: If anybody knew that, it would be the billion dollar answer. There are so many variables.
I put Curtis LePore in a video for a song called “Catpong” for a new group called Galactic Tiger, and that got 6 million views in about two months. Some would think, “Well they should have 60 million views, because Curtis has X amount of billion Vine loops. He’s known for all his YouTube videos.” So, 6 million is a lot, but it’s not a lot.
Young Thug has a video out and it’s got 72 million views, and, from a visual standpoint, they didn’t use any lights. From my perspective, it’s very amateurish, but because he’s got a fan base, they watch it and they say it’s good. The bar of entry is so low at this point. That’s why there are so many more directors and photographers and videographers than there have been at any time, because access to the gear is so cheap.
With the music-buying public not being anywhere near what it used to be, the music business doesn’t make anywhere near as much as it used to. Still, there is so much content out there, so much music out there, so much visual content. It’s not controlled like it was back in the day. If somebody says they’re on set today, that could just be an iPhone and a flashlight. It’s not the same as someone else being on set with two 10-ton trucks and a 50-person crew, and three-day shoots. It’s all a matter of perspective on what’s good nowadays.