Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Punit Dhesi Interview, Pt. 1 | Behind the Lens

This is the first installment of what I hope will become a regular feature. Behind the Lens is a feature where I speak with contemporary music video directors about their work. You may know Punit Dhesi from his work with Fashawn and Evidence, or from his stellar video for Gangrene’s “Under Siege”. I had the pleasure of talking with the Fresno-based director last week.

AM: What made you decide to become a director?

PD: I think it kinda fell upon me, I really didn’t make a conscious decision to do it. I used to DJ…actually I was working as an engineer in a studio where Fashawn used to record at. I used to work for his manager, this guy Hecktik [Aren Hekimian] and I would engineer for him. At the same time, I knew a little about video stuff and I’d never done a music video yet. One day they needed to do a video and I was around. They said, “Do we know anyone who can do a video?” and I said, “Yeah, I know how to do it. We can do something.” Fashawn is 17, I’m 18. They had a camera and we just went out and did it. It wasn’t that great but it wasn’t do bad either. We just kept building. We did another one, one with Planet Asia and just kept getting better. More people started calling. Even up to the “Our Way” video with Evidence, we were just fucking around. I didn’t take [any] of that seriously at all. I definitely didn’t think we were going to be on TV. I won an award for that video [California State University’s Media Arts Festival for Best Music Video]. It took off more than I expected, and that’s when I said, “Okay, I could be doing this”.

AM: Is the video for “Sunny CA” a homage to Xzibit’s “What U See Is What U Get” ?

PD: It’s funny because for that video, we didn’t plan anything out. We made it up as we went. Before we even did it, Fashawn said, “We should do the ‘What U See Is What U Get’ type of thing”. And honestly I didn’t even remember that video. But I said, “Yeah”, and after we did it, I realized [“Sunny CA”] was like [“What U See...”]. The first location we shot was Fashawn coming out of the apartment. That was just the spot we met up at, we were going to meet up there and go somewhere else. And he ended up knowing someone in the apartment so we just decided to shoot there. And from there we made the whole thing up.

AM: What do you use to shoot and edit?

PD: The camera that I use is a Canon XHA1, a basic HD camera. I edit with Final Cut and my MacBook Pro. Those are my tools for the most part. The first video I shot with the camera was the Chuck Dimes video; before that I would just borrow cameras.

AM: The video for the Soul Assassins’ “Classical” has a really distinct, moody look to it. How did you achieve that?

PD: I used a lot of color correction on there, but it was all intentional. I had that vibe in my mind before I shot it. Afterwards it was just playing with the programs enough to find the colors I already imagined. There was a certain location I had, it was actually for a different video I was supposed to do. The song “Therapy” for Alchemist, with Evidence, Blu and Kid Cudi. That location and how I shot that video had a lot to do with the treatment that I wrote for “Therapy”. I recycled it and added the Chinese lion dancer to it. Actually the drumming part of that video, that’s me.

AM: Let’s talk about “The Far Left”. Why reference “Subterranean Homesick Blues” for an Evidence video?

PD: That was all Evidence. After we did the “Our Way” video, he liked the way it came out and he said, “Let’s do one for me”. This was me branching out, because until recently it was all just this association with Fashawn. I had a completely [different] idea in mind, but his album [The Layover] was coming out real soon. He hit me up on a Thursday and he needed to shoot the video in three days. And he needed the [video] back after seven days. We were talking, I was telling him my idea and he just cut me off. He said, “I got it! The Bob Dylan one makes sense. That’s what we’re doing.” I didn’t know what he was talking about for the longest time until he sent me the YouTube video. He sent it to me the night before we had to shoot. We stayed up all night with this guy, Aloy, from The Seventh Letter/MSK [an L.A. based graffiti crew], he’s a graphic designer. We showed up at Alchemist’s studio in Santa Monica with all the blank cards and we stayed up all night. [Aloy] drew up all the cards and when the sun came out, we went to Venice Beach and shot the video. As soon as we got back to Alchemist’s spot, I started dumping all the footage.

It was supposed to be one take, but for lack of rehearsal we couldn’t pull it all off in one take. Evidence’s part is all one take, but for Fash and Al, I cut up two different shots. It worked out alright, it was cool.

This is the first part of the interview. Stay tuned for the second half later this week.