Set Design + More W/ Lord Whitney



Typically speaking, the UK is quite a grey place to be. For one day last month, however, a very small part of the country was mostly neon pink. Nicki Minaj’s video for The Night Is Still Young was directed by Hannah Lux Davis and partially shot in the UK. We caught up with Lord Whitney, the brilliant Leeds-based creative team who were responsible for designing and building an amazing set for the shoot on an incredibly tight timescale, to ask them about the process of working on such a high profile video.

Word Is Cheap: The video for The Night Is Still Young looks amazing. How did you come to work on this project?

Rebekah Whitney: Ah Thanks! We’re really pleased with how it all turned out, too…

Amy Lord: A good friend of ours who we’ve previously worked with (Harvey Ascott) was working as the UK producer on the music video – he knew that we’d previously worked on large-scale high-end projects (such as working with Rankin on fashion films and shoots), and he asked if we were up for a challenge, which of course we always are!

RW: We’ve been building Lord Whitney in Leeds for the last 5 years, and so we’ve built up to working with bigger clients on larger-scale projects including editorials, fashion films and immersive events all over the country. In the last couple of years we’ve moved away from a lot of the smaller projects and prop builds which we initially worked on after University…so this music video was something we were totally ready to jump into!

Lins Wilson: As a studio, we’re good at pooling resources (both materials and people) and love collaborating, so we very quickly and excitedly pulled a 30-strong team together to make this happen. We’re so lucky to know so many talented folk.

We do really thrive under pressure though, and often create our best work in this way. You can’t beat a bit of adrenaline to see you through.

WIC: The director, Hannah Lux Davis, has a very distinct aesthetic running through all her work – what was the concept you were presented with and how closely did you work with her?

AL: We got asked to create a kind of Pan-asian / New York-esque street scene for a section of The Night is Still Young. We were sent a few references and ideas which we then worked on and sent back to Hannah. It was definitely a process of collaboration – we’d send ideas and images back and forth and she liked what we were coming up with. It felt like we worked together easily and were on the same page which was great.

LW: …and helpful considering the time frame!

RW: We looked at and referenced some of Nicki’s previous videos to check we were working along the right lines – we wanted to make sure it would be something that both Nicki and Hannah loved as this seemed really important to get right. Hannah told us that Nicki loves pink, and was after something really bold and colourful. So we did just that!

LW: Because it was a really tight turnaround it meant there wasn’t loads of time to go through concepts, designs or planning in too much detail; we actually saw the original moodboards AFTER we’d designed the set! So it was important to work closely with Hannah and communicate frequently – which was a fun challenge considering the time difference between LA and Leeds, but it worked really well.

RW: We do really thrive under pressure though, and often create our best work in this way. You can’t beat a bit of adrenaline to see you through.

WIC: Only part of the video was shot in the UK, did that mean having to work to a tight schedule for when Nicki was in the country?

LW: Yes!! We had to work around Nicki’s tour dates and her day off happened to be in Leeds, which is how it all came to be that Harvey, Prime Studios and Lord Whitney got involved. The whole thing was commissioned, designed, sourced, produced, built, shot and de-rigged in just 6 days! Including Easter weekend – there’s nothing like places being closed over Bank Holidays to give you a good sourcing challenge!

AL: Pulling together a huge team last minute was another fun challenge but it worked out amazingly well actually. We pulled in people we’ve previously worked with, but also through various networks we had the pleasure of being introduced to some really talented people.

RW: Everyone dropped what they were doing to form a super-mega-team. We really do think ourselves lucky to have had an opportunity to work with a group of such talented, like-minded creative people from set builders to graffiti artists to prop makers. It was a privilege, as much as it was an exciting opportunity for everyone involved.

LW: It’s great that we can be doing work like this in Leeds, or London, or Manchester, or wherever. We work all over the place and we’re used to transporting whole sets and teams to wherever it’s needed…It was kind of nice to be working on this down the road from our studio though, it made my job a little easier!

WIC: This is your first music video, but not your first music related project is it?

RW: We have a lot of friends in music, and quite a lot of our first Lord Whitney projects after we graduated included band promo shoots, props for videos and some (much more lo-fi) music videos. We’re really inspired by music in a lot of ways and it’s part of our everyday life.

LW: We love that we’re a part of such a powerful and talented music scene.

AL: Creating worlds is a massive part of what we do at Lord Whitney and there’s a huge scope for creativity and escapism through things like music video where we can let our imaginations run REALLY wild.

RW: Or other projects related to music, like ‘Mock n roll’, which was a big self-initiated project born out of a collaboration with another very talented illustrator and friend of ours, Jack Hudson. We’d worked on a project together called ‘A Step into the Third Dimension’ and it sort of evolved into making 20 album covers for fake musicians and bands which was heavily inspired by the awesomeness and outrageousness of the 1980s.

LW: We got a bit excited and took it as far as commissioning musicians to create songs for each of the artworks. There’s some incredible songs including 80s-inspired power ballads and euro-pop electro tracks. It was really fun for everyone and got to work freely and creatively.

AL: It’s all very tongue-in-cheek, like a lot of our other work. We’d still LOVE to make music videos for all of the songs, that would be so good!

WIC: Are music videos an area of work you’d like to explore more? If so, are there any musicians or directors you’d love to make a video with in the future?

RW: Absolutely! We hope to get involved in a lot more, not just with video but stage design, costume, we love every aspect of music.

LW: I know it’s something I’ve always been inspired by – that idea that music can allow for anything and everything – creatively, but also across every artform from graphic design and type, to costume and performance.

AL: We totally loved working on this video, I think it’s been one of our favourite projects to work on so far as a studio. Working in new creative fields is something we’re always looking to do.

RW: We’d love more opportunities to directly collaborate with directors, having input on overall concepts as well as designs and art direction. We’re real ideas people. Concept and design go hand in hand on our projects.

AL: Our dream would be Michel Gondry, he’s incredible! Chino Moya’s recent videos for St. Vincent and Will Young are beautiful – those colours, wow! Dave Ma (who did Foals’ Miami video) is great. Lorenzo Fonda’s and Danny Cohen’s work are awesome too.

RW: We would love to work with bands like Metronomy, Hot Chip, Wild Beasts, OK GO…people who are into really creative, playful videos and are up for a bit of a laugh. Oh and dressing up too!

LW: Amazing ladies like Bjork, Bat for Lashes, Grimes, FKA Twigs and Paloma Faith we’d LOVE to work with too! They’d definitely be up for a bit of our madness…

RW: Of course we’d love to work with Hannah again, as it was a pleasure working with her and her team. We clicked really well, so we’ll see what the future brings!

Luke Bather

I live in Manchester and I make Music Videos. Sometimes I write things and I think all this coffee is giving me chest pains.

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