You know Brett Ratner: the big-budget guy who directed Rush Hour and X-Men 3 (next up: Beverly Hills Cop 4!). But before he broke into Hollywood in the late '90s, this kid from Miami was one of the most sought-after music video directors in the biz. A new DVD that dropped yesterday called The Shooter Series Vol. 1: Brett Ratner collects most of the director's videos for the first time, along with some of his commercial work, NYU student films, home movies, a behind the scenes documentary and more.
To give you a taste of his resume, we selected six of our favorite Ratner-directed videos—including bangers from Wu-Tang, D'Angelo, and Public Enemy—and asked the man himself to give a little commentary about how each classic came together. Believe us, the man's got stories for days...
Interview By Brendan Frederick
Public Enemy "Louder Than A Bomb" (1992)
DIRECTOR'S COMMENTARY: "I was friends with Russell Simmons, I met him through a mutual friend when he just started Def Jam Records. I did a short film at NYU called Whatever Happened To Mason Reese, and Russell hosted the screening for me, but the only people he knew were rappers. So all the rappers had come to see my short film. So skip to a few months later, and Russell said to me, 'Let's go to The Public Enemy concert in Miami with U2.' We're backstage, and Chuck D says to Russell, while I'm standing right next to them, 'We want Brett to do our next video," 'cause they saw my film and they liked it. So, Russell goes, 'Brett who?' They were like, 'White man Brett, your friend Brett," and Russell was so proud."
"So I go on tour with them, to film this documentary-style video. I went with a bunch of my friends, and it was just so much fun. That's how Bono got in the video. The footage was shot in Arizona, when there was a huge controversy because Arizona was the only state that didn't celebrate Martin Luther King Day. I had enough footage for like, five videos, and I spent a month cutting it. I finally finish it, I hand it in to MTV, and the day they aired it was the first day they started putting the director's name on the videos. So that was a defining moment in my life—then all of a sudden every rapper was calling Russell, 'Yo, we want Brett to do our video!'" I had been telling girls I was a director for years, but finally they believed me."
Redman "Tonight's Da Night" (1993)
DIRECTOR'S COMMENTARY: "Redman wanted to shoot it in Jersey where he lived, in the worst area—it used to be a Jewish neighborhood, and his house was across the street from a Jewish cemetery. So, I show up and park outside his house at 5 o'clock in the morning. He was sleeping, and I wouldn't knock on his door because I was scared! So I went around the neighborhood and shot all these faces in black and white, for four hours. He finally woke up at 11 [laughs]. We go down to this one abandoned house in the neighborhood where everyone sits on the stoop. I remember the part where he goes, 'Would the packed pistol posse put their fingers on the triggers?' The packed pistol posse, who was his crew, pulled out their pistols and pointed at the camera—my DP said, 'That's it, I'm leaving!' I said, 'What do you mean? No one got shot! C'mon!'"
"The best part of the Redman story is, three o'clock in the morning, he says, 'I want a white bitch to roll up and buy some drugs for me.' This is when you could just do hardcore videos, and I'm like 'You wanna portray yourself as dealing drugs?' 'Yeah, man, that's real, man!' The only problem is, we ain't gonna find a white bitch in the middle of the night in the street. There was no women on my crew, so Redman goes, 'What about that white bitch?' And I said, 'That's my mom!' He goes, 'Well use that hoe! Put that hoe in the video' So, my mom is in the Redman video, at the end of the video, when the car pulls up, buying drugs from Redman."
Heavy D "Nuttin' But Love" (1994)
DIRECTOR'S COMMENTARY: "That was the video that kinda blew me up. I was considered Russell's guy, but his friends, who were also his rivals, like Andre Harrell at Uptown Records, didn't take me seriously as a director. So Andre Harrell calls me into his office one day, and he goes, 'All right, I'm gonna give you a chance. I'ma let you do a Heavy D video,' who is the crown jewel of Uptown. Up until this point, I was doing the hardcore underground shit, and he was doing the pop stuff, really. Before this, every rap video had around-the-way girls in it. They were all girls with fat asses, with crazy hairstyles that you could only get in a special barbershop and beauty salon in Harlem. There was not accessibility for the mainstream. So I said, I'm gonna put models—every color girl, every race in it, period."
"At the time, Russell was doing the Def Comedy Jam, and I saw Chris Tucker—him and this guy named Talent, who were the two guys in the Heavy D video, were the two funniest fucking guys I'd ever seen. So I went to Chris, and I said, 'Chris, I want you to be in the Heavy D video.' He'd never done anything before on film, he hadn't even shot his Def Comedy Jam episode yet. He said, 'How much you gon' pay me?' I said $500. He goes, 'I want $1000.' I could only afford $500, so he goes, 'Can I keep the wardrobe?' The video was the biggest hit on MTV, so three months later, I sent Chris Tucker the other $500 that he asked me for, and he never forgot me. When he was doing Money Talks, and they fired the director a week before they were supposed to start shooting, the studio called him, and he was like, 'I remember this cool white boy, Brett Ratner.' There were certain videos that were milestones for me, and that was definitely one of them."
Jodeci "Freek N' U" (1995)
DIRECTOR'S COMMENTARY: "When I saw Hype's video for Jodeci's 'Feenin',' which is my favorite record ever. And that video fucked me up, I was like so on his dick. So I was begging Andre like, 'Gimme Jodeci, man!' They were recording an album, so Andre brought me to Rochester, and left me to live with them in the studio for an entire month. I moved in the studio while they recorded that album, and literally, Missy Elliott and Timbaland and all those guys were all around there. But Devanté was a fuckin' genius. He was always watching porn like, 'I'ma be a porn star one day!' and just makin' records and smoking weed. Now, when I got there, he said, 'We want this to be the first single,' but it wasn't called 'Freekin' You' at this point, it was called 'Fuckin' You.' I told Devanté that they're not gonna put out a record called 'Fuckin' You,' but he said, 'Nah man, they gonna have to play this shit. We're motherfucking Jodeci!' I called Andre and said, 'You gotta get up here and get them to change this, 'cause this record is incredible, but its called 'Fuckin' You'."
"And so I end up shooting the video, and at the time it was the biggest R&B video ever. They gave me $650,000, and the group said they wanted to be in the Jacuzzi with bitches. I said, 'You are the four ugliest guys I've ever seen in my life. Your videos have only played on BET and The Box. As big as you are, you've never had a video on MTV. There's no way that they're gonna play a video with you ugly four motherfuckers in a Jacuzzi with some girls.' So I did the same thing—kind of what I learned from Heavy D—and I said, 'You guys are gonna be doing what you do best. I'm gonna put you at the Apollo Theatre with your hardcore audience singing every word of that song. I'm gonna get four supermodels in a $25,000 a night penthouse at The Plaza Hotel, and I'm gonna have them singing your lyrics like George Michael. You're not gonna be near any girls at all!' [Laughs]"
D'Angelo "Brown Sugar" (1995)
DIRECTOR'S COMMENTARY: "I get a call from this guy named Kedar Massenburg, who was D'Angelo's manager at the time. I listen to the whole album, and I'm like, This guy is the fuckin' greatest singer since Marvin Gaye. Then I went and played the single 'Brown Sugar' for Puffy, Russell, and Andre—I'm not exaggerating. They say, 'That is some art nigga shit! Don't do that, man! That's gonna brick bigger than anything you seen ever! This is the wackest record we've ever heard in our lives.' I said, 'You guys are smoking some fuckin' angel dust or something, because, I'm tellin' you, this record is incredible.' I thought they were wrong, but I still was a little nervous. So I said to Kedar, the only way I'll do this video is if I could hang out with D'Angelo for a week. I want to get to know him, because the best videos I've done are the ones where I get to know the artist."
"All he talked about was playing the keyboards, and by the way, I have that Fender in my house, the one from the video he played—he gave it to me. So, I went and I got the coolest club, and all these beautiful girls and I set a rule: any girl that's in this video has to have an outtie belly button! Anyway, long story short, the video comes out, and if you thought Heavy D blew me up, this video took me fuckin' outta here, because the next call I got, was from Madonna who said, 'I gotta work with you." I was supposed to do the D'Angelo "Untitled" video that Paul Hunter ended up doing, where he was nude, and I was so bummed out that I didn't get to do it because I knew it would be iconic. He was actually staying at my house when he did that video, working out like a mad man."
Wu-Tang Clan "Triumph" (1997)
DIRECTOR'S COMMENTARY: "It was the first million dollar rap video. When Steve Rifkind asked me, I said, 'Are you sure about this record? There's no chorus!' He says "Trust me, its gonna be the biggest record of the year. Only Wu-Tang could pull this off.' So, I set up the video—Joseph Kahn was my cinematographer. I hear that they want eleven Suburbans—they each want their own. They each also want $50,000 worth of gear, and they told me all their designers. So first day, these guys are walking in one at a time, and each guy walks into the dressing room, and walks out with plastic bags filled with all the clothes. I called Steve like, 'They're stealing all the clothes!' He's like, 'Don't worry, let them have it.'"
"It's a five day shoot, and it's crazy. The greatest fuckin' experience, they're eating mushrooms the whole time. Ol' Dirty never shows up. I was like, Oh my god, this is fucking insane! The most fun I ever had. After shooting ends, they all leave to go on tour in Europe, but Ghost never would travel, because he had diabetes. So he checks into a hotel, and they said, 'Yo Ghost, you watch Brett, and watch over that edit, man. White devil could fuck it up!" So, we're in the edit room, and we call the group on speakerphone. And it's the funniest thing, this is embedded in my memory. They're all on the phone like, 'White muthafuckin' devil, man, tryin' to rob us motherfucker!' And Ghost is looking at me while on speakerphone, just winking at me like, I love you man! [laughs]."
"So three days into the edit, I get a call that Ghost had had been kicked out of like eleven hotels, and I'm like, 'Why were you kicked out?' He's like, 'I don't know man, I got fucked up, and I just start breaking shit. Can you come get me? I got no place to stay.' So I let him stay at my house. Suddenly my phone rings, and it's Steve Rifkind, 'Whats going on?' I go, 'Nothing, I'm just bringing Ghost over my house 'cause he got kicked out of the hotel.' Then there's silence on the other end of the phone. I say, 'Whats wrong?' He goes, 'I gotta call you back.' Five days later, he calls me up and goes, 'Are you okay? Oh my God, you scared the shit outta me, man. How can you let this guy stay at your house? I don't even let these guys know where I live!' So a month goes by, and I would edit all day, and Ghost would just chill at my house until we finished. A month later, I'm with my girlfriend in the backyard, and the cat starts going fucking crazy and starts digging into the dirt. We dig up a bucket of fried chicken. Ghost buried a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken in the backyard. How fuckin' freaky is that?"