Unsure if it was the right place, I knocked on the heavy, metal door of what looked like an abandoned restaurant. While waiting for a response, I glanced over to my friends Chris and EJ, who were just as puzzled as I was. We were in a desolate commercial area of South LA, an area that seemed too quiet for a music video and an area where you shouldn’t be knocking on random doors at night. After a couple minutes, an ogre of a man emerged.

“What do you want?” he grunted.

“Where here for the Waka Flocka video,” I responded.

He condescendingly glared at us with the same disdain a bouncer would give guys who were trying to talk their way into an exclusive club. “Who do you know? Who do you work for? Where’s your business card?” Intimidated by his large presence, I fumbled around with my words, trying to provide evidence that we belonged there. Luckily, I had texted my friend Rod, who worked at Warner Bros Records, while we were walking to the venue. Rod eventually came to our rescue and let us in.

To the general eye, music videos, especially rap ones, seem like giant parties with dancing, girls, and a lot of debauchery. Well, they aren’t as glamorous as they look. It’s actually a pretty tedious process, filming the same sequences over and over and over again to produce about 10 seconds of usable footage. Plus as a video extra, you’re pretending to have the time of your life, and after faking it for about 20 minutes, you’re pretty much over it.

“Round of Applause” was my second shoot (my first) and I wanted stay behind the camera rather than in front of it, focusing more on capturing behind the scenes content for my blog. Chris, EJ, and I were, not surprisingly, the only Asian Americans there, which was the usual case at “Hollywood” functions. Asian faces aren’t prevalent on screen, so just getting through the door at some of these things made me feel like I’ve accomplished something. We patiently stood around for about an hour as the production crew set up their equipment, video girls got primped, and Waka’s entourage smoked some “medicinal” to get in the mood. The venue itself was buzzing, which you couldn’t tell from the outside, but its interior didn’t resemble a high-end club of any sort. Additionally, there were only 30 extras on set. I honestly thought that this was going to be the lamest party to be ever featured in a music video and questioned how much money the label gave Waka to film this.

Finally, shooting began, and we watched them film an opening sequence with Waka and his co-star. Waka Flocka is a pretty big dude in person, standing over 6 feet tall. Add the fact that he makes some pretty aggressive rap music, you would think he would be really intimating, which I is what I thought. However, he’s actually a pretty goofy guy. He joked around with his entourage, ran and hid from the director to play games on his iPhone, and he even gave us his email address so we can challenge him to Call of Duty on X-Box. Still, I wouldn’t test his street cred, but he totally changed my initial assumptions (it’s all entertainment).

Drake on the other hand was such a diva. He didn’t interact with anyone on set and walked around with his nose to the air. While the girls were making googly eyes at him, most of the guys were boasting that they could easily beat up Drake if given the chance; such a contrast in perceptions. At one point during the night, a girl I had met asked if I can snap a picture of her with Drake,She and I walked over to him and she gave Drake a tap on his shoulder. Drake, who was speaking to one of his cohorts, turned his head to look at the girl for a good second, turned back to his friend, and just walked off. What a douche. I enjoy the man’s music, but I just can’t stand him as a human being. He also makes the worst faces when rapping.

Chris, EJ, and I were at the shoot for about 5 exhausting hours. My friends seemed to have had a great time, being able to meet some rappers and dance around with good-looking girls. I find it really satisfying to provide my friends with memorable experiences like this. One last drawback of music videos is having to listen to the same damn song on loop for hours. After that night, I couldn’t listen to “Round of Applause” for a few weeks or I would’ve pulled my eardrums out. Ultimately, I could only stay behind the camera for so long, as the bright lights beckoned me into the scene.  When the final cut came out, we were wildly excited to see if we got even a second in the video, we were nowhere to be seen. We did make the behind the scenes footage (1:00 mark down below)! Success.

Behind the Scenes- we’re at the 1:00 mark, gray jacket in the background


Actual Video:

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Rex Pham

Originally from the Bay Area, who then moved to Los Angeles, then out to New York City. NYU Stern MBA c/o 2014. Inspired by the grind of NYC to create something that has value. Lover of all things digital, culture, and brand strategy.

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