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Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” is the year’s biggest hit, sitting at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for ten weeks so far. But at the time of the release of Roddy’s album, Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial, there still weren’t plans in motion for a music video.
When Blank Square Productions co-founder and director Christian Breslauer heard the album, though, he knew “The Box” was special, and immediately began writing a music video treatment for it. Roddy, who had already worked with Breslauer on “Ballin” and “Tip Toe,” quickly agreed to collaborate again. Blank Square co-founder Edgar Esteves, who served as an executive producer on the video for “The Box,” reveals they actually shot a different version before settling on the final. “We shot an entire video inside of a box,” he recalls. “We shot a video of people trying to smash Roddy out of this box that's impenetrable.”
In the middle of this process, though, “The Box” surprised everyone by becoming a massive hit. So they re-thought their original approach. “The song was breaking the internet, and we wanted a video that matched that vibe,” Breslauer explains.
“We had a great video, but the problem was that I wrote the treatment before the song was a big number one record,” he adds. “By the time we were shooting it, we realized that the video was still a good video, but it wasn’t a home run. Everybody felt the same way, and that’s when Roddy threw some more ideas at me and we re-hit the drawing board, because the initial one was just my ideas.”
The final cut, Breslauer says, was a product of both his and Roddy’s ideas. “When Roddy approached me, he’s like, ‘Hey man, I really want to direct it with you.’ But he goes, ‘I don’t know if that's something you do, being a big director.’ And I was like, ‘As long as you meet me halfway with creative ideas, I'm always down,’” Breslauer explains. “So he threw in some setups, I threw in some setups, and we bounced ideas off each other. He definitely has some great ideas. Some of the best setups in the videos, like the racing setup, [were] his idea.”
Although the music video arrived a little later than some fans had hoped, the timing ended up being perfect. As Esteves points out, “It actually worked out and it kept the record at number one.”
While “The Box” is still going strong—it’s currently closing in at 50 million views on YouTube—Blank Square doesn’t plan to let their foot off the gas yet. In the past year, they’ve worked with artists likeMarshmello, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Lil Baby, Trippie Redd, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Russ, Diddy, and Chris Brown, and they have much more on the way. Edgar Esteves and Christian Breslauer both spoke to Complex about what went into making Roddy Ricch’s latest music video and what’s next for the growing production company. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
How did you connect with Roddy Ricch?
Edgar: We first connected to do the video for Mustard’s “Ballin.’” Due to permits and stuff like that, we told them that there was a possibility of us being shut down, but we shot the video and got to meet Roddy that day. Then the next day, a few hours into shooting, we got shut down. That’s the first time we ever met Roddy, and from there, we stayed connected. We knew we were going to do some work because he was a fan of our work. Atlantic Records hit us up to see if we wanted to do a song called “Tip Toe” featuring A Boogie. We had Christian direct that, and he knocked it out the park. Roddy loved it so much that he called Christian to do all his videos.
“Roddy sent over his ideas and he wrote the drag race, the basketball game, and the box factory.”
What was your role in the shoot for “The Box?”
Christian: After we did [the “Tip Toe” music video], the album dropped, and I took some initiative. I said, “I’m going to listen to the album tonight, and write treatments to my favorite songs.” I listened to “The Box” the night it came out, and I said, “Man, there’s something special about this song.” So I wrote a treatment and sent it to them. They got the treatment and said they love it, but Roddy had some ideas as well. So Roddy sent over his ideas and he wrote the drag race, the basketball game, and the box factory.
When we did the “Tip Toe” video, we developed a vibe of constantly trying new setups. Then I said, let’s level that up and do more setups and come up with some crazy transitions into each one. He was like, “Hell yeah.” I was taking some of his ideas, taking some of mine, and weaved them together.
Edgar: I’m the executive producer, which basically means I’ve got a company with all my resources where Chris is the Spielberg and I’m the Steve Jobs—the behind-the-scenes brains. My whole company is built on my friends and family. There’s about 28 of us now. Everyone’s either related to me or related to Chris or our best friends from childhood.
How much creative input did you have on “The Box?”
Christian: I always have creative input. When Roddy approached me, he was like, “Hey man, I really want to direct it with you.” But he goes, “I don’t know if that’s something you do, being a big director.” And I was like, “As long as you meet me halfway with creative ideas, I’m always down.” So he threw in some setups, I threw in some setups, and we bounced ideas off each other. He definitely has some great ideas. Some of the best setups in the videos are his—like the racing setup. Basketball was his idea.
I had some more of the off-the-wall ones. I would take an idea of his and be like, “Let me elevate it.” He’s obviously not a filmmaker, so he doesn’t know how to come up with a crazy concept and make it interesting. I think that’s why it was a cool relationship as far as creatively collaborating with an artist.
Edgar: When you’re a music video director, you definitely get a lot of direction from the label. We’re always open to hearing suggestions, but what I started realizing is that if you build with the artists and have real relationships with them, you get the chance to do whatever you want. That’s why our videos turn out so amazing. I learned that through the success of Russ, who we started doing videos for early on, as well as Lil Baby. We had this understanding that we’re about to try to create something beautiful and amazing, rather than just get people whatever they want.
“We incorporated some new technology that they’re using on the Fast & Furious movies to make it believable and real. I know for a fact no other music video has done that yet.”
What was a memorable moment from the making of “The Box?”
Christian: It was like a three-day shoot. Honestly, my favorite moment might’ve been hearing the words, “We're wrapped,” because I was pretty stressed out. I knew how big the undertaking was, with the amount of setups we were trying to do and the amount of moving parts. So finally knowing that at the end of the day, I killed all the shots and I got everything, that was very exciting. But as far as a favorite setup to shoot, I would say the car stuff was a blast for me because I love those action shots. We incorporated some new technology that they’re using on the Fast & Furious movies to make it believable and real. I know for a fact no other music video has done that yet.
Edgar: The funny story is we actually shot “The Box” the first day. We shot an entire video inside of a box. Christian wrote the treatment when the album came out, before his song was a hit record. He just gravitated towards that song because he thought it was going to be amazing. We actually shot a video of people trying to smash Roddy out of this box that’s impenetrable. And we started shooting anamorphically and Roddy didn't understand what [shooting] anamorphically was. He wanted the video to be full-frame instead of anamorphic. So we saved two scenes, the present scene and the trap house scene. But everything else in that video was scrapped. That’s why we took two more days to shoot the rest of the video.
Is that why the release was delayed?
Edgar: Yeah. That’s why “Boom Boom Room” came out first. We scrapped 60 percent of the first video and then he went on tour. We were trying to find a date in between tour [to work on the video]. He had these two off dates, and when he came to L.A., we just kind of squeezed them in and put the work in to make sure it was all prepped and ready. It actually worked out and it kept the record at number one, so the timing was perfect.
How long did this process take?
Christian: I sent the treatment the night of his album release [December 6]. I think we started talking about the video around Christmas time, and then we started shooting the video January 8 or 9. And we had a great video, but the problem was that I wrote the treatment before the song was a big number one record. By the time we were shooting it, we realized that the video was still a good video, but it wasn’t a home run. Everybody felt the same way, and that’s when Roddy threw some more ideas at me and we re-hit the drawing board, because the initial one was just my ideas. I knew we needed something more and we went back and forth on it. I’m thankful they decided to stick with me and let me see it through, because I knew, if given the proper tools and time, we could make it really special. The song was breaking the internet, and we wanted a video that matched that vibe. It was full of cool viral elements that keep people entertained.
“The song was breaking the internet, and we wanted a video that matched that vibe.”
You’ve worked with a lot of big names: Roddy, Lil Baby, Diddy, and more. What do you think attracts major artists to your company?
Edgar: Our production company stands out because me and Chris both direct, we both [serve as] the director of photography. We know how to operate a camera. We’ve been the PAs, we’ve been the grips, we’ve been the gaffers. We’ve done every position in this thing. That’s what we instill in our directors, and we make sure that everybody who joins our squad understands production so they could play any role that we need them to.
Christian: Me and Edgar have different styles. Edgar can literally pull up on set without a treatment. Just give him a camera and he’s going to make you a video that’ll get a bunch of views. But when he has the time, he can dig into his bag and make something really creative. Now me, I don’t do as many videos because I really like to pick my projects. I think the coolest thing about my work is, I don’t necessarily have a set style. I could do a crazy action music video, but then I can hit you with something like “The Box.” I like to keep people guessing with my videos. You never know what you’re going to get when one of my videos drops.
What has been your favorite project or favorite video to work on so far, and why?
Edgar: As a director, my favorite project is probably Russ’ “What They Want” or Russ’ “Losin’ Control.” Those are the first two videos we ever did for him. “What They Want” was shot in 40 minutes in Atlanta, and now has over 250 million views or something like that. And “Losin’ Control” is a beautiful song. I heard it on SoundCloud, and it had 10,000 plays. I reached out to him, and I told him I wanted to shoot it. Now I have two plaques in my house for both of the songs. It’s amazing to see a song go from nothing to a major success.
Christian: It's tough because the young filmmaker who loves doing this in me would probably say the Trippie Redd video [“Under Enemy Arms”] because I was on Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper set with a tank and doing all that. But then, the overall experience of “The Box” was insane because it was a huge record. It was a lot of pressure and an open slate to be creative. I would say my favorite video is always the one that I haven’t done yet, because that’s the one I’m most excited about. I can be crazy excited about a video that I think is amazing, and then I look back on it a couple of months later and it’s not even my favorite video [anymore]. But I remember when I thought it was the craziest thing I’ve ever shot. I still love the medium. I still love the game. That’s why I think my videos feel that way, because every video I do, I’m putting my heart and soul into it.
What are your goals for Blank Square moving forward?
Edgar: I think music video directors are the strongest when they find talent early in their career and build with them as their image develops. I started realizing that finding artists super, super early like Russ, Lil Baby, Roddy Ricch, and growing with them is a better path than to start with bigger artists who already have their creative visions. So we’ve been able to help shape the images of these superstar artists.
The goal for the future is to start a multimedia company, along with Blank Square. We created a music label called Do Everything Records, which now has an artist signed to Warner, and we have a joint venture through that. Me and Christian opened another company called TenNinety One Studios, which we’re going to be looking to do our first feature later this year.
What’s the most important thing you want people to know about you or about the company?
Christian: I’ve been making movies since I was about seven years old. The fact that we made it this far, constantly creating, is honestly the hugest blessing. That’s why, no matter if my videos are big or small or what, I always like to make sure that people can relate to them. I’m always trying to tap into what I think other people would like to see, as well as what I’d like to see. I just hope people continue to enjoy them because I really want to shake the whole game up. And for the company, I would like young creatives who might be in a small town thinking that they might want to be a filmmaker and it’s an impossible dream to know that me and Edgar are two guys who battled through a lot of adversity. It’s possible. I always tell people to link up with people in your town and shoot videos. We’ll always be looking.
What videos or projects are you working on next?
Edgar: We’re doing a few videos for Wiz Khalifa and Jordan Hollywood this weekend. [Editor’s note: Edgar informs us this ended up being postponed due to coronavirus concerns.] He has a new album dropping. We’re always doing more videos for Russ. What’s really interesting right now is we’re doing some movie stuff. What’s coming up is the new Fast and Furious 9. I can’t really say those names.
Christian: There’s some cool stuff that I can’t really talk about. I’m between a couple of things. I’ve been approached to do a feature film that I’m considering, which would be amazing. I got something cool coming up with Alesso. We’re shooting next week. I think that is going to be another cool one that gets some nice conversation going. I can’t say too much, but just know within the next three months there’s going to be lots of crazy projects that’ll have my name on it that are all different.