Doug Menuez is a documentary photographer and director who creates imagery, showcasing what we all have in common. From monumental events chronicling the beginning of life, the end of it, and the small moments in between, whether still or motion, Doug’s storytelling method piques our interest. He recently shot his first music video. While still being a witness to life, this time, Doug documented a love story. We wanted to hear all about it. Here is what he shared.
The star of the music video is artist Nicki, Tha Great. We’ve seen her images in your ongoing “Wild Place” series documenting the creative people of Kingston, NY. How did this latest project come about?
After our Wild Place shoot, we stayed in touch. Last year, Nicki asked me to direct a music video for a different song, and I was thrilled to be asked. I’d never done a music video, but I love her voice and music and thought, why not go for it. But after we brainstormed and a script got done, our cast, locations, and other production elements were in place — COVID hit. A few months later and after we had figured out and practiced CDC protocols for safe shooting, Nicki got back in touch with a new song she recorded called Rage and a love story idea involving a party where she runs into her ex-girlfriend. It sounded good to me, so we jumped on it.
Tell us about the pre-production/concept phase of this project. Did Nicki have a clear picture of what she wanted to see in the video? What was your focus in telling this story?
Nicki is very clear in her ideas and yet totally collaborative and open to ideas. It’s a joy to work with her. She gave me the song, lyrics, and a super brief synopsis. Then we spent a lot of time by phone, kicking around ideas. Her Mom Tina got involved with ideas for hair and wardrobe as well. It’s a love story about a failed relationship that gets a second chance when the ex-lovers reconnect by chance at a party.
We figured out how to solve the party scene. Then, my focus was on capturing the essential human emotions everyone who has had a breakup can identify with: that deep longing and loss, the pain of being alone, and the rush of happiness of getting a second chance and reconnecting in a relationship. I decided to keep it very simple with a narrative that might be more traditional than the usual music video. It’s very tight storytelling that supports the song and Nicki’s quiet yet strong persona. I love the hook too.
You have said that part of being a documentary photographer means being ready for anything. Shot during COVID, this project presented some obstacles in creating a party scene. What was your solution? How was it received?
I was confident and comfortable we could be safe with a limited cast and crew, which we did accomplish in the end. So yeah, the big challenge was how to shoot a party scene safely with dozens of people. I got a vision that was a bit weird, but Nicki loved it, so we went ahead with this minimalist idea of using mannequins as stand-ins for humans. We then put spandex silver skinsuits on the figures for a uniform visual that made them look like sentient robots from the future. It was fantastic because the visual focus was immediately about the two characters, Nicki and her ex, interacting while these beautiful, haunting beings are looking on.
And no one got sick, thankfully, because we practiced strict protocols with masks and the rest.
This video, produced in a “grassroots” style, used many of Nicki’s friends and family. Why was that? Did this make it more challenging to film?
This project was truly a labor of love and an all-volunteer production. Nicki is just starting and, at the time, did not have any distribution or record deals. But we all believed in Nicki and her talent and wanted to help. So my friend Aaron Rezny donated his studio, and his veteran assistant Ward Yoshimoto pitched in with lighting and all kinds of help. My longtime DP and assistant Luke Carquillat and his partner put the crew together, including all the digital gear, lights, and grip. Leica Camera donated equipment, so it was all shot on the Leica SL2.
Thankfully, Nicki’s Mom is super talented in so many departments. She sews costumes, does elaborate hair and makeup, and has terrific production chops. She handled moving and dressing the mannequins with help from her daughter Starr, and Niki’s friend Satin Martin did BTS coverage as well as playback and a little of everything else. We had to get it done in one day so, we ended up shooting 14 hours. And Luke did the edit.
Nicki’s song was picked up by Sony, and today is release day! Is this the first of her songs released by Sony?
Yes, this is her first released by Sony, and we are all pretty psyched this happened. I’m super excited for her and hope she keeps growing her audience. She’s worked so hard for this and deserves all the success in the world.
Have you now been bitten by the music video-directing bug?
I would definitely shoot another one in a heartbeat, and it would be great if Nicki’s video leads to another gig. I’m standing by!
Special thanks to French Kiss Bakery Productions, Lynda Goldstein/Pix Productions, Aaron Rezny Studio, Leica Camera USA.
Following Doug on Instagram for more imagery reminding us of our shared humanity.