'Hotline Bling"s Director X talks video's success and working with Drake

TORONTO -- Through the seemingly endless stream of parodies and fan adulation for Drake's viral "Hotline Bling" video, perhaps no one has been more surprised by its success than its Toronto director.

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"It was incredible," said Director X (real name Julien Christian Lutz) of the reaction to video, which has surpassed 245 million views.

"I was really blown away. I didn't expect it to be so big. It's crazy."

X, as he's often referred to, has been directing videos for some of the world's biggest recording artists for 20 years now. They include Kendrick Lamar, Usher, Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj, Timbaland, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys and John Mayer, to name but a few.

He's also getting into big-screen projects and is directing his second feature film, "Center Stage 3: Dance Camp."

He shot "Hotline Bling" through his production company, Creative Soul, in Toronto in September. It was his third time working with Drake after "Worst Behaviour" and "Started from the Bottom."

"He's a great collaborator," said X. "He definitely knows what he wants and even has an understanding of what's going to work. It's a good experience working with him.

"It's good to be working with someone that's more of a partner than just some guy who shows up and then stands in front of the camera and leaves," X continued.

"He's involved, top to bottom, beginning to end. He's not leaving anything for someone else to figure out for him."

"Hotline Bling," which debuted in late October, has become a sensation, largely because of Drake's slow body-roll dancing in it.

But it was X's artistic vision that emphasized the moves.

The video starts with a shot of curvaceous women working in a cubicle-divided call centre. It then cuts to Drake (whose real name is Aubrey Graham) doing a series of shimmy-shuffle grooves on a minimalistic, illuminated set featuring light boxes and stairs.

Overall, the goal was "just doing a big performance piece," said X, noting he was asked to do something along the lines of his "Temperature" video for Sean Paul.

"I have a graphic style, I like sets, I'm very into architecture and design," said X.

"You pull things from, you know, 'Look at that building, the way they built the wall.' You're pulling all these different influences and mixing them with your own ideas and coming out the other side with something."

The Brampton, Ont., native got his start as an intern at MuchMusic in the mid-'90s.

"I was just beginning to look at music videos. I didn't really know there was a career," he said with a laugh.

"Then I found, 'Oh, this is really a thing,' and I was already pursuing it. But it was like, 'Oh, there's a life here.' There were no grand plans. It's just what I wanted to do."

He studied and learned a lot on his own, through books and hands-on experience in New York, where he worked under hip-hop music video pioneer Hype Williams.

"The main lesson I really learned from him is when he told me that (a music video) has to be about something. That was eye-opening," said X.

"And that's what the Drake piece is about: the sets and the colour changes. 'Gimme the Light' (by Sean Paul) is about the sets. You can make something about something, even though it's not in the narrative sense.... It doesn't have to be a story, it can be about shoes, it can be about a colour."


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