The first time director Philippa Price heard Katy Perry‘s pop earworm “Never Really Over,” she had a unique vision. “What came to mind was a bunch of couples stuck together forever, like literally attached to each other,” Price says. “And then the world of the video evolved from there.”
With a view count on YouTube soaring past a cool 60 million since its May 30 premiere and the track hitting No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Never Really Over” seems like Perry’s comeback — and after all, it is her 19th top 20 hit. So when Perry, who concocted the track alongside producer Zedd and the production team Dreamlab, set out to create a video for the future hit, she turned to a like-minded creative who could help her spin a unique, groovy world.
“This was my first time working with her,” says Price, who is represented by MAAVEN, the company also credited as the video’s production house. “Her peeps reached out to my peeps, and the rest was history.” While this is the first time Price directed a video of this scale, her impressive resume consists of the official “visual” for St. Vincent’s Masseducation track “Pills” and a pair of videos for Banks (“F**k with Myself” and “Gemini Feed”). In addition, Price also serves as the creative director for Rihanna’s lingerie brand Savage X Fenty and directed the visuals for the singer’s high profile performances at both the 2016 Brit Awards and 2018 Grammys.
When it comes to her collaboration with Perry, Price explained that while she didn’t create a storyboard for the “Never Really Over” video (she says storyboards “kill the magic”) she notes that her particularly creative process hinges heavily on color. “Color is a very important aspect in everything I do,” she explains. “So I established a color palette for this video which was translated through all of the styling and production design.” Cue the extravagant costumes and soft, bright lighting. “It was stunningly colorful in real life.”
The lush color came partly thanks to Mother Nature. Shot on location over the course of two days in Calabasas, Calif., the team took over the picturesque King Gillette Ranch. Located in the Santa Monica Mountains, the property (which was named after its original owner, the inventor of the safety razor blade) was formerly a seminary and is currently a hotbed of film and television shoots which eagle-eyed viewers might recognize. NBC’s weight loss competition series The Biggest Loser is also shot on the ranch, as was the long-running ’70s series M*A*S*H.
While its visuals might be starkly reminiscent of groovy ’60s imagery, Price notes that she originally wasn’t aiming to present a specific timeframe. “It kind of just evolved naturally, I wanted it to feel like its own reality entirely and not make it clear when or where we are,” she says of the video’s evolution and early creative trajectory. “I didn’t have any specific ’60s references up front, but I love that era so it is naturally ingrained in my creative subconscious. So while I never intended on it being so flower power, I do remember when we were shooting the field scene being like, ‘Holy shit, are we remaking the 1960s-era I’d like to buy the world a Coke commercial?'” Once those flower power visuals did emerge, the team quickly embraced them with Perry noting at a recent YouTube premiere event, “I would say that this video, things that I’m touching on are kind of a time like the age of Aquarius, new age, esoteric, California, healing, hippie, medicinal — all of those keywords.”
Another major facet was framing the video’s choreography, an important throughline of Price’s portfolio. “Choreography is a huge part of most of my work, so I worked very closely with Jasmine (Albuquerque) through the whole rehearsal process,” she says of the Los Angeles-based choreographer who’s also worked on moves for videos ranging from the aforementioned St. Vincent to the singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart. “We came up with the choreography and shots pretty simultaneously, so when we’re on set it really flowed.”
Perry and Albuquerque aside, there was another important figure in the production that stood out to Price. “The coolest guy of the whole shoot was our snake wrangler,” she remembers. “He had this wild protective gear outfit on with two big ski poles and to go out in the field for about two hours to scan it for snakes before we sent all the dancers out. Watching him do it from a distance, he said he could hear them underground? Honestly, I swear he was a snake in a past life.”
With a snake-free shoot behind them, Price went into editing mode, the hardest part of which was “squeezing two days’ worth of footage into four minutes. There was so much that didn’t make it in the video, it was sad.” And when “Never Really Over” premiered, the global response was immediate and not lost on the director.
“It was pure wow. Like, ‘Did this really happen?’ It’s always a weird feeling when you release a project into the vortex of the World Wide Web. You let it go and hope the world loves it the way you do.”