'Work' director Tim Erem details Rihanna and Drake's onscreen chemistry
"The original 'Work' video was something completely different," director Tim Erem tells EW.
Rihanna fans got a pleasant surprise when the “Work” music video that came out Monday actually turned out to be two in one: The first, helmed by “Hotline Bling” director Director X and teased last week, features Rihanna and Drake dancing with each other in a crowded bar. But when the song ends, it soon starts up again, leading into another music video that features only Rihanna and Drake dancing in a pink room.
Swedish director Tim Erem, whose past work includes videos for Major Lazer and Tove Lo, handled part two, which was actually intended to be a small portion of the original video. They shot the clip inside a Los Angeles mall, which fans witnessed back in January. “It was like a big Foot Locker store,” he tells EW of the space that became the pink room.
Erem has Rihanna and Drake to thank for making that pink room more than just a pink room. “You just put them in front of the camera and they’re like the two coolest, most interesting artists you can see,” Erem says. “Doing this with someone else would be the most boring video you’ve ever seen. But these two artists can carry a whole video in one setup.”
See what else Erem had to say about filming the video — and the chemistry between Rihanna and Drake — below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Was it always the plan to have two videos in one?
TIM EREM: No. [Laughs] The original “Work” video was something completely different. This pink room was basically just a small setup of that whole original idea we had for it. We just decided not to [use that footage] for “Work” anymore even though we shot it. We decided to change the track, and they obviously still needed something for “Work.” We don’t know what’s going on with it. It’s for sure one of my best pieces I’ve ever made. Hopefully it’s something that people will see soon. They liked the pink room, but wanted something more to it. We were actually surprised how much it can carry almost the whole track. So we decided to actually go for it, and then they decided to do one more video for it and make it into two videos.
Why did you guys decide to replay the song twice instead of making the first half of the song Director X’s video and the second half of the song your video?
I don’t know, actually. I haven’t thought about it that way. The reason for that is probably because I don’t think either me or the other director would actually be up for doing something together. I think that’s the story behind that. I haven’t seen the other video. I don’t know if it’s good or really bad. I don’t know if it’s really bad for me to be mixed with that video. I’ll take a look at it later.
Did you and Director X have any communication at all?
No, he came on the project way later. We never talked. As long as I have my own video, I’m fine. They can do whatever they want. Rihanna can do whatever she wants. I support her. I love that girl. As long as my part of it looks good.
How was working with Rihanna?
She’s the best. She’s the coolest girl I’ve ever met, honestly. You can’t expect that A-list celebrities will be the nicest people. But this was something different. I don’t think she’s aware of her size. She’s just an amazing person. The first two seconds I met her, she was the happiest and most open person I’ve ever met. She’s really smart and down-to-earth as well. I did not expect all of that. She’s, like everyone knows, the coolest person alive. It’s impossible to talk s— about her.
How much direction did you give her? Was there choreography?
We had someone doing the choreography, but the idea was to always be freestyle. Never to actually do something planned. The choreographer was always standing there. She just helped Rihanna build everything up and make it better the next take. Drake and Rih’s performances are so amazing, the chemistry between them is amazing. So you just put them in front of the camera and they’re like the two coolest, most interesting artists you can see. Doing this with someone else would be the most boring video you’ve ever seen. But these two artists can carry a whole video in one setup. They can just do one of these takes and you say, wow, this is so cool. We were shooting, and everyone was like, open-mouthed. They’re like, wow.
Can you talk a bit more about the chemistry between Drake and Rihanna?
These are just two friends that are really close to each other. Just put them in front of the camera and that’s what they do. You start recording and the whole chemistry just changed. Everyone’s asking, are they together or they this or are they that? No, they’re friends. They’re just amazing performers and they’re really close to each other. So everything was natural.
They’re having so much fun in the video. Did they do anything to prep for shooting?
They just jumped on. They f—king jumped on. I could never do that, but they did. Go in front of the camera, and a few minutes later, they were doing that. The second they’d turn on the camera on, it’s like something different and then you turn it off, and… That’s how it works. It’s not like there’s this sexual kind of thing. They’re good at what they do. They’re like the best performers out there.
How was working with Drake?
I love him. We start out talking about the idea and he really wanted to do something tropical and we had this other idea for it, which was like the opposite. It started out so different. Because we didn’t want to go to for the tropical thing first. We were talking about something different, like…. Let’s do something that will surprise everyone. [Laughs] That was the original thing, and then when we started talking to Drake, he was like, no, f— it, I actually want to do something that has to do with this track and the same feeling so that’s when it turned into this pink room and the other video. Drake is like the coolest. Like Rihanna, they’re personal. It was like hanging out with your friends. That’s the cool thing about both Drake and Rihanna. We had so much fun together.
So why pink?
We changed that color like five times. It has nothing to do with anything. It just happened. I think we started out with like a yellow and blue color. And then we just started changing the colors. The idea behind the setup came up at 4 a.m. the day before. Me, Rihanna, and Drake sat in the studio and we were like, how do we make this a bit more tropical? Basically, we sat there in the studio at 4 a.m. or something, and figured this out. I sent out an email to my team the day before the shoot — I’m like f—, I really want this room to be added to the schedule tomorrow. Can we get this and this and this? So we basically took this Foot Locker store in the mall and took the store and just built it into something.
What kind of atmosphere were you going for?
We liked the basement party kind of vibe. That’s what we did. We built it up like the quickest way I’ve ever done a setup. The turnaround was like a day.
Was there any pushback about Rihanna’s see-through top?
We were like, f— it. My producer sent us a flag for it, like, “Oh, you know you see the nipple?” Yeah, we see that nipple. It’s just like me and Rihanna and her team, we were like into it. Just decided to go for it. We don’t care about that. It’s a nipple. Everyone has seen nipples. It’s not the first time anyone has seen Rihanna’s nipple either. [Laughs] That’s the top she wanted to wear.
Are you happy with the way your video turned out?
It’s always hard to be too happy about something. Probably in like a year, I’ll be psyched about it. But right now — I am happy about it. I for sure like it. I still have this other original video that we shot that is my baby that is amazing. So hopefully you will be lucky enough to see that one soon as well. I’m happy with it. I just hope that everyone likes my part of it better. [Laughs] That’s the most important thing. Everyone should like mine. Why would I want anyone to like someone else’s work better than mine? [Laughs]