This morning, Rihanna released the official music video for “Sledgehammer” in IMAX, making it the first of its kind. In the out-of-this-world visual, directed by Floria Sigismondi, Rihanna portrays a beautiful, mystical being coming into her own all by herself. It’s not far-fetched from the pop star’s IRL personality, but we don’t typically see Bad Gal RiRi draped in a silky garment with ink markings across her face and no eyebrows (looking stunning nonetheless).
While the video transports us to another galaxy, Sigismondi revealed that it was actually filmed in the Trona Pinnacles desert located in Southern California. According to her, the whole “middle of nowhere” environment was significant in setting the tone for the production. “The great thing about that location was it kind of already took you there,” she says. “We were surrounded by nothing, so there weren’t any distractions. It already kind of puts you in a mood.”
We had the opportunity to pick Sigismondi’s brain to learn more about the concept for the video, what it’s like to work with Rihanna, and what the director is working on next.
Given that the song is featured on the soundtrack for the upcoming Star Trek: Beyond film, how did you come up with an original concept for this video?
It’s supposed to be a stand-alone piece for the soundtrack film, so what I did is, I extracted some elements from the film that kind of gravitated toward me. It was the form and the rocks and the nebula. I extracted those elements and built a story around it. I always had this image of a person turning into stars. There’s something beautiful about having the universe inside of us.
What is the main storyline?
The idea is that she’s sort of like this ancient alien, this otherworldly character, kind of like a mystical being, living in this otherworldly planet. And she has the power to harness and manipulate the elements. So that’s how I use the sun, the rocks, and the earth itself. She conjures energy and light and ultimately embodies the power to transform into the universe itself, the stars and the planets.
Tell me about your experience working with Rihanna. What was that like?
She’s fantastic. It was amazing to watch her perform. In every take, she kind of gives you a little surprise and gives you something new. Or she’ll stop singing and just give a look into the camera. Just all those little magical moments, it was really wonderful to see and to be part of. And her endurance—I mean, we shot for nine hours straight in the desert, and I don’t know if we even stopped for lunch. We just went and went and went. It was a great experience.
How did you both work together to come up with the treatment? How did you combine your visions?
A lot of it was just imagining what it would be like, and just sort of creating the character and having her navigate through this otherworldly place. And then just using that transformation. The video’s about breaking down walls. The lyrics [are about how] she’s a sledgehammer, and she’s breaking down boundaries, so I wanted the video to have that. We just talked to her a little bit about what that was—like was that actually banging on a wall or what was that about pushing the boundaries? I think when you look at the video, the overall arc of it has that story. Just kind of pushing through that. The theme of the film is just about exploration and of the unknown, so there are all these really great underlying themes.
Photo courtesy of Floria Sigismondi
How much control did Rihanna have over her image and character?
We had talked about it before, so we were just there for play. It really wasn’t about that. We described to her what the character was like and what she was doing. With heavy visual effects, you have to imagine a lot of it. It was just about communicating that and then just letting it go.
I like how with this visual, the whole thing is solely focused on her. With most sci-fi things, I find that other characters are involved in the story, so it’s cool to see something where the attention is on a woman harnessing these supernatural abilities.
We as people, I believe, have so much more power than we use. And there was something simple about just focusing on her, but then it’s not. There’s just so much magic in us, and that’s what I was kind of holding on to in the video. Just watching the character harness that beautiful power and transforming herself. The idea of the microscopic and the cosmic. Everything is in the little things, and everything that is in the big, in the sky, in the cosmic.
Throughout your entire career, who has been your favorite musician to work with?
It’s a little hard to pick a favorite. It’s like asking, “Which one of your children do you like best?” [Laughs] They’re not my children, but you know... I’ve had different experiences with them all, and a lot of my work kind of maybe depicts a moment in my life that I’m just kind of intrigued with. I had a really long relationship with David Bowie spanning like 18 years. So when I look back at the videos that I’ve done, and the times that I’ve spent with him—we’ve done like four videos together—they were all quite magical experiences. Also, what he’s taught me as an artist: to trust yourself and that you can actually spend your life doing exactly what you want to be doing. He didn’t come forth and say it, but just by watching him and seeing what I was able to do.
Photo courtesy of Floria Sigismondi
What other projects do you have coming up?
I’m involved in many films—they’re all at different stages—but two of them are in testing. One of them is called Bouncer, from the Alexandro Jodorowsky comic book by the same name. It follows a little boy who witnesses his parents being brutally murdered, and has to find this man called Bouncer who, in turn, he realizes is his uncle who he never knew he had. And so he’s got this quest to find the murderer, and that’s when it gets really interesting because it’s all related, and it’s very Shakespearean and larger-than-life characters. The other one’s called Delivery Man, which is a novel written by Joe McGinniss, and that takes place in Las Vegas. It’s a male character who comes back to Las Vegas as sort of a stepping stone, and we realize so many other things about his past. It’s just kind of the morality barometer of kids that grow up there, what that would be like. I’m also putting together a third photography book. I’m actually in the middle of editing that.
Can you tell me about it? What pieces of your work will it contain?
My first book was Redemption, and that was five years before. It feels like I almost need to do them, as it’s almost like expelling them, kind of acknowledging what I’ve done in order to move forward. It seems to be every five years.
That’s a great way to keep track of everything in your portfolio over the years.
You don’t just lose track of stuff, you lose track of time too. It’s kind of good actually to look back, and acknowledge it, and let it go.