Over 24 hours and 13.5 million views on YouTube later, director Tim Erem — who produced the second, pinker half of Rihanna’s “Work” video featuring Drake — has turned off all his social media notifications. “I think I’ve probably [been] getting at least 2,000 likes the past 24 hours which is a lot for me but probably not for Rihanna,” the Swedish filmmaker offers over the phone with a laugh.
Erem — who recently helmed Major Lazer’s “Lean On” video, which landed a billion views on the ‘Tube — discusses the simple concept of the “Work” visual that he directed (the first half was directed by Director X) and also reflects on shooting the original treatment in L.A., including that time DJ Khaled popped up on set.
Billboard: How did the concept come into play? There’s been talks about a bigger video per your past interviews.
Tim Erem: The thing is this concept came — we [shot] the original “Work” video in L.A. but we added this extra set-up the night before. It was me, Rihanna and Drake sitting in the studio like 4 a.m., discussing what more we could add to add this tropical kind of feel. Drake wanted to have more of a basement party. We talked like maybe 30 minutes about it and this [version] is what we came up with. This whole pink room thing is kind of vibe-y, a part of a basement party. It was supposed to be a small part of the video but then we decided not to use the “Work” track for that video and we just chose this set-up that we added the day before. That’s why this video that I did is one set-up and it’s so simple.
We actually loved [the studio] from day one. That was also the first thing we shot that day [in L.A.]. We were like, ‘This could actually carry the whole video,’ which it did. I didn’t believe in it but people loved it and I’m happy with it now. The concept came up in the most spontaneous way ever. I sent out an e-mail at 4 a.m. to my crew before the shoot, saying like, ‘By the way I need a couch, this and this.’ If you look at the wall in the background, there’s like a pattern that looks like it’s painted or something but that’s actually a carpet we found in this mall so it’s basically shot in this mall, where we were shooting other things.
Last month, a casting notice popped up online for a Rihanna and Drake video shoot at this L.A. mall Eagle Rock Plaza that called for horse riders and undercover cops. Will footage from that shoot become a treatment for a different Rihanna song or another version of “Work”?
I can’t say that much. What I know is that I have that footage. It’s amazing. Personally, hopefully, we’ll do it for another track in the future. We’re still discussing what we want to do with it but it’s definitely something amazing that we will hopefully see pretty soon.
I also saw DJ Khaled Snapchatting on-set. Please tell me he’s involved.
[Laughs] I wish that as much as you do but no, he’s not. He just came by and hung out. It’s pretty cool that he did a “major key” Snapchat from [the shoot] but that was my highlight from the shoot.
In terms of the finished product that was delivered, was that a one-shot take with different cuts?
It’s a couple of takes. I don’t know how many but this was a small part of a bigger video. We obviously didn’t shoot it for a whole day — I’m not that bad. [Laughs] We spent like maybe 40 minutes on it. Imagine that — we spent 40 minutes on something that carried a video. Both of them are amazing in front of the camera so that’s basically what we did — we basically spent like an hour, 40 minutes, shooting it.
Seeing Drake and Rihanna interact, was it surprising to see their chemistry or did you feel like you were intruding?
No, I mean when you see [the video] like this, it feels like you’re intruding on something — chemistry is pretty amazing. They basically just one-upped it. When we say on the set ‘thank you and cut,’ the mood just changes — we’re laughing, we’re having fun. When we’re on again, their chemistry would just turn on in a second so it was pretty cool to experience but that’s also why they’re professional and really good performers. The crew was also pretty big so there was a lot of people watching them do this.
Was it surprising when Rihanna walked out in the sheer top?
Is it surprising for anyone? It wouldn’t surprise me if she came out with nothing on so it wasn’t surprising. Obviously, my producers flagged for like ‘Oh, what about the nipples?’ But I never really care about that — that’s not my issue. I focus on making something good. I don’t care about the legal [aspect]. That’s for someone else to care about.