Interview: Shomi Patwary, Cinematographer for Beyoncé's "No Angel" Video

Shomi Patwary, the cinematographer for Beyoncé's "No Angel" video, reveals the process of working for the singer.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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Music video director and cinematographer Shomi Patwary was already having a great year. He's directed clips for A$AP Ferg's "Work," A-Trak's "Piss Test" remix, and more. And then Beyoncé's new self-titled album appeared out of thin air right before 2013's end. He, along with fellow Karmaloop Media colleagues Lil' Internet and Thuan Tran, are responsible for the bold, but polished "No Angel" video from Bey's visual album. But their names are relatively unknown, unlike storied directors Hype Williams and Jonas Akerlund, who also contributed to the project. Patwary spoke to Complex about the circumstances that led them to working with King B, as well as the zany, secretive nature of the project.

As told to Claire Lobenfeld.

My first project that we worked on together was Diplo's "Express Yourself" video. We went to Texas. We shot that video and it kind of blew up. I think that's what Diplo showed Beyoncé in the studio. She was like, Whoever did that video, let's hire that team out. She wanted to use the same team. Another person who did a lot of the cinematography, as well, is Tuan Tran. Tuan is the guy that I shoot a lot of videos with. He usually does the cinematography for the videos we do. He shot A$AP Ferg's "Work" video with me.

It was a familiar team "No Angel." But it was crazy. Beyoncé is on another level. I'm just like, I don't know if this is really happening or not. The next day, he comes back and is like, "Yo, we're going to Houston for seven days." Like, what? This was super out of nowhere. It was mad random. But it's a Beyoncé video. And the crazy thing is that it was originally supposed to be for the song "Bow Down." That's a much more uptempo record and it's in the same vein as "Express Yourself." We already had a team assembled going out to Houston to shoot this. We go to Texas. We're amped. Then we find out it's not going to "Bow Down"—after we've worked on it for a week.

So, we land in Texas. The producer checks his email and he says, 'They sent us the wrong song.'

Ben [Solomon], the producer, worked with Parkwood, Beyoncé's company, to get in touch with everybody in Texas, from Scarface to Paul Wall. It was kind of nuts. We're prepped. Everybody's hyped. But everybody knows you have to keep it on the low—what record we're doing and what's actually being done. Even I didn't know what the heck was going on, really. The whole operation was a secret. All I know is we had to sign a [non-disclosure agreement] and not talk about it to anybody.

So, we land in Texas. The producer checks his email and he says, "They sent us the wrong song." I don't know why they would do that. How could the engineer send you a song that's not out yet? We call him back—and it's so weird working this because everyone is keeping secrets. And he says, "No, I definitely sent you the right song." This is not the song for the video treatment. We're in the hotel listening to the song and we're like, "This doesn't even sound anything like 'Bow Down.'" The idea [for the video] was in the same vein as "Express Yourself"—just everybody wilding out. This song has a way different tone. It's not somber, but it's nowhere as tempo of a record. The treatment we had didn't fit. And how are we supposed to make all these grown rappers look? "No Angel" is much more of an R&B record than "Bow Down." And it's a much more intimating-sounding record. And all we have in mind is these legendary Houston rappers on this track, but you can't make them look tough on an R&B record.

Day one, we're panicking. I think we were supposed to start scouting [locations] that day. We had people that were going to help us do that, but we didn't know what to do. Then Lil Internet just went to sleep. He said, "I'm going to sleep this off and see what comes to my head." Meanwhile, me and Tuan are panicking. This was too good of a project to not happen. I thought we were going to be sent back to New York. We weren't going to have the Beyoncé video on our résumés. It was too good to be true. When Lil Internet finally wakes up, he says we should just think positively about it. "At the end of the day, we're in Houston and it's not like they said go back."

We found out that the reason "Bow Down" wasn't going to happen was that Beyoncé went ahead and shot a video for it [without us]. She shot in France. She was in the zone, I guess. But we still had the opportunity to do something. We just got our heads together. Lil Internet was like, "We're going to use a much more serious tone than 'Express Yourself.'" That's a challenge for him, because if you watch his other videos, they're really weird pieces of work. The opposite of serious. It was still our style, but it wasn't the typical goofy, crazy style. His style is insane. But he got into this serious mindframe and said, Let's just make the rawest video we can. We decide to go to the most hood spots we can. We've got the hood pass already with these big rappers in Texas rolling with us. Nobody's going to mess with us even though we're out-of-towners coming in. Paul Wall had the Fourth Ward on lockdown. Bun B had his spot on lockdown. Willie D. had his neighborhood. Everybody was showing so much support, it was insane. As simple as that video looks, the challenge of going out of town, not knowing anybody and having to pull off a whole different treatment is a way more complicated than it seems. We decide just to shoot something really gritty. We [ended up shooting] for five days, going to the different projects.

But it's funny, we're having all these people sign release forms. When they asked us what it was for, we had to say, 'We can't tell you.'

But it's funny, we're having all these people sign release forms. When they asked us what it was for, we had to say, "We can't tell you." You can look at the release form, it doesn't have Beyoncé's name on it but it says Parkwood. They're signing a release form with her company's name on it, but they're still not making that connection. Maybe one or two people made that connection and were really excited. But everyone else had no clue they were about to be in a video for one of the biggest artists ever. Everyone was really friendly because we're in the south, and we're not used to that. We keep going to all these dangerous neighborhoods in Texas and they're just letting us into their houses. We're going into trap houses. All kinds of crazy places and shooting there.

Our style is very run-and-gun. Budget-wise, this was the most DIY video. But [she wanted] our style, so that's cool. She didn't hire someone to imitate our style. She went straight to the source. Guys who actually know how to get that feel. Lil Internet calls Diplo his guardian angel because he always comes through with something ill. But we didn't know if this was even going to come out. Recently, we were sitting down with the producer asking him what's going on. Did it even get accepted? And he told us, "Yeah, it accepted but somebody leaked one of the videos ['Grown Woman'] and I think the album is going to come out in January now." But why January? It's Christmas season now. I wanted to finish 2013 with something huge. And then I wake up on Friday and my Facebook and Twitter are lit up. I'm like, What the hell just happened? And it's this.

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