WL goes behind the scenes for the making of the music video “Things Can Only Get Better.”
By John Arundel
It was well past 3 a.m. and the music and strobe lights were still pulsing inside the Miami Beach nightclub. Washington-based director and producer Nicholas Cambata was making a high-energy music video, calling out directives to a cast of actors, dancers, extras, stylists, cameramen and grips, running on his 38th sleepless hour of Red Bull and pure adrenaline. Not to mention Cambata and his weary crew from 8112 Studios were well into their 900th replay of the hit tune, “Things Can Only Get Better,” the first single from Howard Jones’ 1985 album, “Dream into Action.” The scenes shot at W hotel’s Wall nightclub took 14 hours to shoot and would ultimately occupy only a minute or two of the final cut, but Cambata aims for excuse-less perfection for his 8112 clients, and this night was no different.
“We’re four years old, I never went to film school, and so I tell people that these four years are like my undergraduate schooling of sorts,” said Cambata, a soft-spoken and thoughtful 32-year-old graduate of American University, where he studied Business. “I guess we’re fortunate, then, that in the entertainment world we’ve dealt with some of the biggest names at this point, like Lady Gaga and 50 Cent.”
On this night it’s Howard Jones, the British musician whose feel-good tune about life getting better at one point long ago reached #6 on the U.K. singles chart and #5 in the United States on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Spin magazine wrote at the time that the song mimed the best of the Anglo soul movement, with “a clean slap-bass line, precise horns and synths, and some well-paced and inviting singing.”
Then into the dust-heap of 80’s Top 40 memories the song went, only to get the occasional play by the programmers on “80’s on 8” on Sirius XM or the rare spin by a radio jock old enough to remember just how big Jones the one-hit wonder was at the time. Enter Cedric Gervais, the celebrity disc jockey who’s all the rage on the club scene these days. Gervais flies in private jets and has a worldwide schedule of engagements worthy of a globe-trotting diplomat, charging fees well into the five digits for performances.
As a teen DJ growing up in Marseilles, France, Gervais loved the tune the first time he heard it. And after Cambata and his 8112 team produced his widely-acclaimed, racy “Molly” video last year (which catapaulted into the Youtube stratosphere with six million total views), Gervais and his management company contacted Cambata about producing another chart-busting video.
Cambata worked closely with a trusted and acclaimed group of pros, with Douglas Sonders and Shawn Lucas serving as executive producers, Amanda Deprez as creative producer, Bobby Bruderle as director of photography and associate producer Pergrin Pervez handled branding and sponsorships.
“The last video we did for Cedric is now on rotation on MTV every other night,” Cambata said. “But most people haven’t seen it on MTV. They’ve seen it on You Tube. I have the video on my Facebook and Cedric has it on his Twitter, so I just use these as another form of distribution.”
Making highly impactful, memorable video comes naturally for Cambata. He’s filmed TV commercials for Lady Gaga and 50 Cent, won an MTV Video Music Award for best dance video, and has hung from truck trailers, helicopters and high speed boats to shoot TV ads for Acura and Geico. In March, he shot a webisode of The Tonight Show’s Jay Leno giving them a tour of his expansive collection of antique cars and motorcyles, and in mid June he takes over a mansion to shoot a music video with rising pop star Stephanie Stack of Alexandria.
Teaming up with Gervais, 34, seemed like a natural fit, as both of their personal brands appear to be on an upward trajectory. A cross between actor Dolph Lundgren and Ralph Lauren Polo model Nacho Figueroas, the French deejay and producer is on the make, with a string of commercially successful remixes and videos under his belt. Gervais has produced a number of acclaimed club remixes, including Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake,” and this Summer he moves into motion pictures with his first confirmed acting role starring alongside Mark Wahlberg and The Rock in Michael Bay‘s forthcoming film, “Pain & Gain.”
His first single, “Burning,” was with Ultra Records in 2006, and his debut album The Experiment, featured the single “Spirit in My Life.” He’s worked with Lenny Kravitz, Steve Lawler and Rachel Star, among others. His 2009 single “Mauri’s Dream,” was a club hit, and two years later Gervais released his second album, Miamication. He’s had two record labels of his own, Sleaze and Sleaze Industries, from which he released 8112’s infectious single “Molly”
Molly was a one of 2012’s biggest commercial dance songs, garnering hype and success for Gervais. The track reached number one on the Buzz and Cool Cuts charts, but also caused controversy between Madonna and Deadmau5, when Madonna made comments about the track while on stage during the Ultra music festival in Miami.
From the beginning Cambata and Gervais had their hands full, from location scouting in Miami, to writing the script, sound design, visual effects, lighting, styling, production and editing. 1980s-era props had to be located for the scenes shot at the W Miami Beach and in the artsy Wynnwood neighborhood, and the requisite “making of” video had to be produced concurrently. A DeLorean car also had to be tracked down, and the owner convinced to drive it down Ocean Drive for a few seconds of footage.
“Obviously, going back to the 80s presented us with some challenges,” Cambata said, “and one of those, of course, were the props. We were going into thrift stores and onto eBay looking for stuff…It finally came down to me going to my parents house, where I had all my stuff as a kid. I pulled out the old comic books, VHS tapes and 8-track cartridges and we styled the apartment. In the end it looked amazing.”
Before shooting began, there was a late night bull session and dry run of sorts, held in a suite at the Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay. New members of the shoot crew were introduced to Red, a video camera package which can cost over $250,000. Favored by directors like James Cameron and Michael Bay, 8112 owns one of them.
“It’s absolutely mint, one of the best cameras out there,” said award-winning producer Vincent DePaul, who just filmed “Walk a Mile in My Pradas” with Red. “The Red camera makes filmmaking so much easier because of the great advances in digital technology which allows for close ups and full-screen images at the same time. I’m a true believer.”
In the shooting of “The Amazing Spiderman,” for instance, the camera was used throughout filming, including hard-to-get scenes of Andrew Garfield traipsing up skyscrapers, providing depth of field views of Spidey.
“With every production that we do, we try and push ourselves technologically and creatively,” Sonders said. “We like to try and use new camera systems. In this case, Nick and I have had a long fascination with [Point of View] filming. So our camermen built a rig to accomplish POV with Red.”
After the lights and visuals and sound systems were in place, checked and double-checked, a line of several hundred Miami models, dancers and extras appeared outside The Wall’s front door, hoping for some face time with Red. They patiently lined up against all four walls of the club, and waited for hours to be called for their appointment with Red.
“The energy on the set is exhilarating,” says Olessia Rabin, an interior designer from Washington who flew down for the shoot.
Once the music started, there was little prompting needed for the dancers, all seemingly veterans of the Miami Beach club scene and fans of Cedric. The hardiest of the lot danced before Red for more than six hours, starting and stopping with every “Action!” and “Cut!” called by Cambata. ”
Gervais waited patiently for his scenes, passing the time in a corner with his willowy Argentine girlfriend, a model in Miami.
“Nick and his team do absolutely the most creative stuff,” he said. “We are his biggest fans.”
At about 6 am, shooting begins anew, with scenes captured from an apartment and on the streets of the artistic village. The crew looked tired, but trudged on.
“This holds the record for the longest straight production schedule that we’ve ever had,” Cambata said. “I have not slept in 50 hours. It literally wrecked a number of people on the crew.”
The resulting video was released on June 3, and Cambata appears pleased.
“It makes you realize that you can do things on a national level,” he said. “And that we can do it as creatively and as efficiently as any production company out there.”