It is one thing to create a music video hoping for a potential hit and it’s quite another when you know it’s going to go viral.
It is a different kind of pressure Dubai filmmaker Len Prasad experienced when tapped to direct the new Mohamed Ramadan music video.
Since the Egyptian actor turned to music in 2018, he has released more than 15 music videos that have racked up a combined 1.5 billion YouTube streams – and counting.
Adding to the figure is Prasad's Versace Baby, which, since its release on May 12, has had an average of more than one million views per day.
You don’t need to look hard to understand the appeal.
Ramadan’s videos are slick and witty affairs, and are every bit as lavish as they are silly.
This was essentially the brief Prasad received when meeting with Ramadan in Dubai in February. A week later, they were on set for a three-day shoot.
"His music videos do have a very distinctive style and I wanted to continue with that," Prasad tells The National.
“It’s all about maintaining the energy they all have and keeping some of the signature moves while doing something fresh.”
A promise fulfilled
That new angle was to essentially make everything bigger and bolder.
Following the success of 2020's Ya Habibi, Ramadan once again returns to shoot in Dubai and the city's Palazzo Versace hotel in this ode to opulence.
From the lush resort interiors, and cruising down Dubai roads with a motorcade of supercars, to the appearance of exotic animals such as a tiger and snake, Versace Baby makes the average US hip-hop video seem more like an indie flick.
“The best part of all is that it was all done here with a totally UAE-based crew,” says the Indian director.
“So, as well showing the glamour of this place, it also shows that we have the ability to produce these big projects.”
The move also maintains Ramadan's promise to work with local creatives upon receiving the UAE's golden visa last year.
Similar to Ya Habibi, the video for Versace Baby featured a 150-strong crew, including Dubai director of photography Al Ameel and choreographer Munzer Mustafa.
The dancers were sourced from local studios and collectives through auditions.
Working with a pro
Prasad, who cut his teeth directing corporate videos and advertising campaigns in the UAE and India, including an assistant director credit for 2020 Malayalam film Trance starring Nazirya Nazim, described the shoot for Versace Baby as both intense and fulfilling.
He credits Ramadan for ensuring a collaborative spirit on set, thanks to his career background in film and television; he most recently starred in this year's hit drama Moussa.
“There were no real nerves on set and everyone was focused,” he says.
“A lot of that is because Ramadan trusted us to do our jobs and he would always make sure that we were always satisfied with all the takes.”
Ramadan’s experience as a leading action man also meant he insisted on doing everything himself. That included sprawling on the front of a luxury car while driving around Al Wasl and Business Bay, where roads were shut down for the shoot, and dancing on the wing of a private jet.
“While some of these large set pieces are obviously planned, there is also a lot of improvisation going on in the video,” he says.
“Every day of the shoot had all of us bouncing around certain ideas, trying new movements and seeing whether it works.
“Again, a lot of that really comes from Ramadan’s own acting background in that he knows through trials that the magic happens.”
Keeping it safe
One aspect that wasn’t left to chance, however, was everybody's safety.
Despite the party vibes of the video, Prasad says measures were stringent on set. This included PCR testing, social distancing while not filming and having a medical crew on site throughout the shoot.
“The way to create a safe set and at the same time being able to do what you need to do is by really everyone working together,” says Prasad.
“That was especially true when it comes to some of the bigger set pieces using the supercars on the roads. We worked very well with Dubai Tourism, the local police and the RTA (Roads and Transport Authority) to make it all organised and safe.”
The US music and film industry got a glimpse of the UAE's potential when Prasad sent the video to Brian Smaller from Los Angeles's Company 3, the colourist behind videos from The Weeknd (Starboy) and Justin Bieber (Peaches).
Prasad says he already received expressions of interest from US hip-hop artists in shooting videos in Dubai.
"Some of these emails I am getting say they are really impressed with the treatment and how polished Versace Baby looks," he says.
“They particularly like the way Ramadan flexes and his style. One person, who looks after a number of big rappers, told me Ramadan really gives his artists a run for their money.”