When news of a new Duran Duran music video greets fans of THE GOLDEN AGE OF MUSIC VIDEO, it’s practically like the launch of a new iPhone. With the group’s legendary history of memorable music videos, the Fab Five have had their share of the bombastic and the serene, whether it be the art-school surrealism of “Planet Earth” and “Is There Something I Should Know?”, the desperate naughtiness of “Girls on Film” or “The Chauffeur”, the cinematic travelogues of “Hungry Like The Wolf” and “Save a Prayer”, the playful fantasyland of “Rio” or “The Reflex”, the cool creep of “Notorious” and “Skin Trade”, the epic apocalyptic expanse of “Union of the Snake” and “The Wild Boys”, or the genre reclamation of “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone”. Duran Duran’s greatest videos are battlefield conquests, planted flags marking an unparalleled campaign of victory in the genre. Their legacy stands tall, and their latest album, the throwback All You Need Is Now, is garnering the best reviews of their career. At this point, anyone directing a new Duran Duran video has the same task as designing a new Ford Mustang, formulating a new Coke-brand soft drink, or mounting a Shakespeare revival on Broadway; your latest will have to hold up next to the greatest. The wild boys never lose it — in fact, they own it.
Well, director Jonas Akerlund is no slouch, having directed landmark videos for Madonna, Metallica, U2 and Lady Gaga. Akerlund and Nick Rhodes collaborated on the concept and execution of their new 9-minute video/short film for “Girl Panic!”. To achieve the clip’s high aspirations, Black Dog Films brought in partners like the Savoy Hotel in London, Swarovski Crystal, and Harper’s Bazaar, whose latest issue features an amazing photo spread. Iconic supermodels Naomi Campbell, Helena Christensen, Cindy Crawford, and Eva Herzigova were recruited to play members of Duran Duran (with Yasmin LeBon dropping into an unnamed guitarist role). In the video, the ladies participate in interviews and photo shoots as Duran Duran, surrounded by rock star excess and modern fashion at the hotel. Cameos by the band as well as two famous fashion designers round out a truly astounding production. Akerlund spoke exclusively to THE GOLDEN AGE OF MUSIC VIDEO about the challenges of shooting rock and fashion legends for this memorable mini-movie.
How did this project come to you?
Jonas Akerlund: A little different than they usually do. Everything was a little different on this, actually. I was approached by the band to do a music video a while ago, but we could never seem to figure it out, time-wise. At the time I was doing a campaign for Dior in France, and I asked to use one of the songs from the new album in this campaign, and the band said yes. I used one of their songs in the campaign with Kate Moss. Nick [Rhodes] and I began talking online, he being the one I communicated the most with, and we were talking about the future and how we could work together. We talked about making a video that was a little different than the usual low-budget, here’s-a-track, write-an-idea, shoot-it process. We thought, let’s come up with a different way to do it. Let’s find some partners, make it big and make it different. That’s how it started. It took a long time before we shot it, and then it took even longer in the edit because we were dictated by the Harper’s Bazaar cover for the release of the video. The album had been out for quite some time. Usually they come with the single, but this one was delayed a little. But Nick just wanted to make something different, not just another music video.
You’re an acclaimed director in several formats, but directing videos for a band with the legendary music video history of Duran Duran could be intimidating and scary for some directors.
JA: It’s always scary to do music videos, and I’m lucky enough to have worked with the big names with high ambitions for everything they do. Of course, I grew up seeing these music videos and I always recalled how they touched me, how some of them became more than just a three-minute piece of images to music. I always have that pressure on me, not just big bands, but with any clients or artists I work with. What is good about Duran Duran is that they don’t really care about what they did 30 years ago, they look forward, and that’s what I look for in any artist. As much as I needed to live up to their standards, I also had the opportunity to create something new. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that it’s always a little pressure to live up to those standards.
Where did the idea to use those particular supermodels…how do I say this….
JA: They’ve been around? (laugh)
Yes, well, they’re not today’s average model. And several of these women have a music video legacy [Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell in George Michael’s “Freedom ‘90” video, Helena Christensen in Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” video. How did the idea to use these particular women develop?
JA: Well, there’s something classy about Duran Duran, and there’s something very fashionable about them. Those original supermodels are still active and beautiful, and we haven’t seen them together the last few years. To us, that was a more appealing than having 16 year old models in there. And for me, having the girls pretend to be the band would also be a little weird if they were 16-year-old girls. And if you think about the history of the band and the history of these girls, it kind of makes sense. These girls have a little bit of history, and they are mature enough to be able to sit there and pretend to be middle-aged rock stars.
It’s a weird concept, and it almost seems to be happening in this parallel universe.
JA: Yes, and it’s funny, we’re kind of shooting a behind the scenes of what’s happening, but it’s in the video too. It’s a little confusing (laugh), and the funny thing is that there was a real camera crew shooting a behind-the-scenes of the behind the scenes scenes! It became a bit confusing as to who was doing what on the set. It was also a matter of coincidence, too, because Nick asked if we could get the supermodels, and in the same week I was working with Cindy Crawford in Los Angeles. I just said to Cindy that I had been on the phone with Nick, and would she be interested in being in a music video with the original supermodels, and she said yes right away. I knew that if Cindy said yes, some of the other girls would say yes. It was still a struggle to put it together, though, not just scheduling, but getting the other girls to say yes. It took a lot of hard work to get it together.
What was the biggest challenge on the shoot day?
JA: Well, once we were there, I was surrounded by some of the most professional people in the business, and some of the most experienced models around. I felt like a kid in a candy store with all these cameras and supermodels, great hair and makeup, a great track, and a great location. I had everything I needed to put this together, and basically we only had about a day and a half. Most of the girls we only had individually for a day, and we had them all together for only a few hours. It was a stressful thing to get it done, and I had a lot of favors to ask, so I didn’t want to push them to much or work them too hard. They all worked really hard, though. Naomi, actually, when everybody else was tired and ready to go home, she wanted to keep going. They were all great. Some of it was very spontaneous, like the part with Stefan [Dolce] and Dominico [Gabbana]. Someone heard they were in London, so I texted them and so did someone else, so they came down and stayed for ten minutes and ended up in the video! (laugh)
When you shot the actual band, did you have that “I can’t believe I’m directing a Duran Duran music video”?
JA: (laugh) Since I’m always operating one of the cameras, I always have that first moment when I lean down and I see the lead singer singing straight into the camera, and I think, “Oh, shit! It’s him!” It happens every time. You do meetings, you do phone calls, you do fittings, and then the day comes and you look into the camera and think, oh wow, it’s those guys. And that of course happened with Duran Duran. I get that little buzz and that little reminder of why they are so great.
How much of the dialogue was scripted and how much was improvised?
JA: A mix of that, but I fed them with ideas. There was no word-by-word script for their answers, no. We had interview questions written down, and I was keen on each person knowing about their band member. And I wanted their answers to reflects those lives, but their lives as well, as well as made-up stuff. If you listen to them out of context, it’s really weird. The best was Nick Rhodes and Eva Herzigova. I wasn’t sure if she was acting or not, but she became a very cool character in this video. When you look at the four of the supermodels together, so much like a band. One guy is really cleaned up, one guy can really talk, one guy doesn’t give a shit. They become these four different characters. To be honest, it would have been impossible for me to really give that kind of direction. That came from them. My job was to feed them with ideas about their characters.
Do you have plans to work together again?
JA: We have talked a little about it. You meet a few people you like to work with, and Duran Duran is very high on that list in my world. I would never turn them down. If they asked me, I’ll do anything for them.
Have you been shooting many music videos lately?
JA: Actually, this year I shot four or five. A little bit more than I usually do. I took a long break, and then working with Lady Gaga and a few other young artists made me want to work on videos again. I’ve never stopped working with Madonna, and I’m still working with Rammstein, who I’ve worked with for years. I usually do two or three, but this year was different.
What is it about the music video format that still interests you?
JA: It’s actually that the format is erased. You can make it into anything. Like this one for Duran Duran isn’t even a music video, when you think about it. The music isn’t intact, you never see the band perform really, it’s a lot of dialogue and it’s really long. MTV back when they owned the music video scene, they would never have accepted this. Never. They would have dictated changes and made us cut it down. What’s great about the music video now is that the format is no more. We can do anything we like. We can speed it up and make it really short, we can make little movies, we can make it straight performance. For someone like me who writes all these ideas, it’s opened a lot of new doors. And that makes it fun again.
Take a look at “Girl Panic!”, as well as the behind-the-scenes videos produced by the Savoy Hotel and Swarvoski Crystal, respectively.