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Shortly after the releases of videos for both A$AP Ferg’s “New Level” and Pusha T’s “M.P.A”, we had a conversation with director Shomi Patwary about how it all started. The Bengali-born, Virginia-raised filmmaker has shot videos for Mark Ronson (seen above), Beyoncé, A-Trak, A$AP Rocky, Belly and The Weeknd.
Jeff Hamada: Are you self-taught or did you do the film school thing in Virginia?
Shomi Patwary: I’m self-taught. My parents used to be really conservative concerning the arts, I couldn’t even bring up the idea of attending film school. I got my bachelor’s degree in computer science which taught me coding and web design. I started a small multimedia firm in Virginia Beach right around when The Neptunes were gaining worldwide recognition. I was really lucky to work with all the Star Trak artists early in their careers; they were all local with global reach.
I designed the first We Got It 4 Cheap mixtape cover for the Clipse, I remember printing them out in my college lab using up all of my printing quotas. We would offer our clients multimedia packages starting from cover art and full page websites, to studio behind the scenes that would go in the video sections. Filming came out of necessity, we would be in The Neptunes Studio at Mastersounds filming behind the scenes on DV tapes and uploading them online before youtube existed. I still have all these Mini DV tapes back in VA, I really need to get a convertor and digitally archive them all.
SP: Clipse, Fam-Lay, N-E-R-D really put me on when I was still in college, having them as clients back then when Pharrell and Chad Hugo were everywhere on the radio was pretty good timing for me.
JH: Can you describe an early video you made, when you first started making things, that you would never want anyone to see now.
SP: Oh man, there are so many of these early videos, one of the funniest ones would be for a rapper named Conrizzle. If you can find it you will notice cameos from Drake in the video, not something either of us would want to show anyone. This is from back when Drake was still on Degrassi, he was in a group with my friend Nickelus-F, and Conrizzle used to produce for both of them. Drake flew all the way down to Virginia from Canada to show us love. I think we shot the video on a Panasonic DVX, I wish I could find those tapes now, I may have recorded over them for another client.
JH: My first good video camera was the DVX100; it’s crazy how quickly that era of technology became useless (aside from maybe in the skate scene). I rarely took the time to properly stripe a DV tape before shooting so broken timecode was my recurring nightmare.
SP: DVX100, VX1000, Canon GL2 were the cameras for us back then.
JH: I know your brother’s a producer, do you make music too?
SP: This whole journey started from producing music, I would make beats on Fruity Loops using Timbaland and Neptunes drum kits, it couldn’t get any more VA sounding than that. I remember when Magoo, of Timbaland and Magoo, was one of my managers. He persuaded me to get out of the production side of music and pursue the multimedia aspect, seriously life-changing advice. My brother is 7 years younger than me. I would take him to The Neptunes studio when he was like 15, he would hear so many insane beats that never came out. I think some of those sounds from back then subconsciously fused into his style of production.
JH: I was just listening to Luv 2 Luv Ya in my car like last week and wondering what happened to Magoo.
SP: Magoo was smart and went into the real estate game when it was in its prime.
JH: Does anyone call you A$AP Shomi? Are you in yet or what?
SP: Yes, this has happened, it was actually FatJew (who used to be one of my co-workers) that called me A$AP Shomi first.
JH: I read the story about how A$AP Yams really put you on, and how your brother was the one who jumped on stage past security to get Yams attention in the first place. Would you have ever done something like that if he wasn’t there?
SP: I would have never done what my brother did, my brother is the polar opposite of me. Yams knew of my work from the Star Trak era and respected it, we were both hip-hop nerds and clicked instantly.
JH: The first time I Googled your name was immediately after I saw “Multiply”, it’s still one of my favourite videos from everything the A$AP Mob has put out (along with Abteen Bagheri’s video for “Peso” and that epic “Trillmatic” video). What’s the trick to capturing something that feels authentic and effortless?
SP: The idea is to capture reality. We shot majority of “Multiply” in Harlem right next to Polo Grounds offices. When you are with people who feel at home, you just have to focus on capturing the moment as truthfully as possible. We added a bit of a fictional twist to it by creating this idea of opposing gangs, this came from me and Rocky watching an 80s movie called “Colors”.
JH: I saw your Vimeo comment that you shot with a little GH4? What lenses were you using?
SP: The GH4 and MOVI had just came out when we shot it, so I wanted to try out that combination. I’m sure everyone hears this all the time, but it really isn’t about the tool, it’s what you do with it. I was just using the regular Canon 24mm L series and I think a Carl Zeiss 50mm Distagon.
JH: Have you ever seen A$AP Rocky trip on a curb or do anything that would make him look remotely uncool?
SP: Haha, haven’t caught him slipping yet. I know there is a video of Ferg tripping on stage during a concert but he gracefully made the fall look like it was part of the act.
JH: Is it easier or more difficult to shoot with someone who is an authority on what’s cool? There’s gotta be a certain added pressure there.
SP: I think it’s easier, especially when you have similar tastes. The real problem is that Rocky and I will both get so crazy with it, we create this insane treatment that isn’t realistic within the budget, and we have to figure out other ways of executing it.
JH: You shared director credits on the video for “Lose Yourself” with Diplo, how was that different from you directing the video and just being open to his suggestions? Did he get really hands on?
SP: Diplo is very hands on, even from a technical perspective, he wanted to shoot during certain hours of the day to get a certain look for the video. Nothing about that video came out the way we originally envisioned it, the treatment for that video was maybe 3 sentences long. Diplo did have ideas for unique locations in Jamaica, he’s been there so many times, I know that he wanted to avoid a documentary look even though production was handled like a doc. We pretty much came up with ideas on the spot, there wasn’t any pre-production meeting or tech scouts.
JH: In another interview you talked about the Beyoncé “No Angel” video and how up until the last minute you thought you were shooting “Bow Down” because they’d sent you the wrong song. What have stressful moments like this revealed to you about yourself?
SP: I have never been on a video shoot that has gone according to plan, I don’t mean this in a negative way but nothing seriously ever goes as intended. One of my strengths have been to able to just improvise, you just have to get used to these surprises.
JH: Do you feel like filmmaking is your calling, like you’ve found the thing you’re meant to do?
SP: I think filmmaking is part of my story, I’d love to push things further and create something much more interactive. I’ve been working with Cinema 4D lately, just messing around with primitive 3D renderings.
JH: What’s next for you?
SP: I am currently having a multimedia exhibition at an art venue called Work Release in Norfolk, Virginia. It is a multimedia collaboration with my cousin Navid Rahman who is an illustrator. We are taking some of my video loops and projecting them on my cousin’s illustrated murals. I also premiered one of my videos at The Whitney that Himanshu and Dapwell from Das Racist put together a few years ago. I would really like to step into the art world more, I’m working on a few interactive video projects, hopefully I can showcase them at a gallery next year.
JH: That sounds really cool. Maybe we can end this with a couple goals, what’s something you’d like to accomplish in the next couple years? And what’s something you want to accomplish in your lifetime?
SP: In the next couple of years I would like to release a full-length feature film. I would eventually love to have other directors signed to my production company and build a unique creative collective.