How To: Make the “Pro Nails” Video

December 06, 2007

Kid Sister's new video for breakout single "Pro Nails" debuted on MTV this Monday and quickly spread to every website on the internet, mostly on the strength of the song. But a lot of credit has to go to veteran director Ruben Fleischer who shot the video on a shoestring budget and sold the Fool's Gold executives on the genius concept of finger dancing. We talked to Ruben at length about the making of the video and got some of Andreas Larsson's behind-the scenes photos from former FADERer and current Fool's Gold man Nick Catchdubs, all of which you can see after the jump.

Photos by Andreas Larsson

This is your first music video in three years, why did you pick this one?

In the process of making music videos, you usually have to write a treatment and compete against a lot of other people, and usually you end up putting a lot of time into ideas that don’t ever get actualized. In the case of this one, it was so nice to be approached by Nick Catchdubs saying, “We want you to make this video. Come up with an idea.” And because the budget was so limited, it didn’t seem to me like they were in a position to have a lot people competing. So, I just thought, “I’ll come up with an idea that I really like and then we’ll just be able to go make it.”

So what was the gist of your treatment for the video?

The thing that I was most excited about was the finger dancing. That, and Kanye West—obviously. Getting to work with a mega-mega-star in a twenty-five-hundred-dollar video is just unusual, you know? It just doesn’t happen. I don’t know if anyone else can cite examples of that. I’m not aware of them.

Did you know Kanye would definitely be in it when you took on the project?

I just kind of assumed he would be. I think that’s why they wanted to make the video: to capitalize on the exposure that he would bring to it. The video, in just one day—just on YouTube—has been seen 126,000 times in a day. And I can’t imagine that that would’ve happened had there not been Kanye.

Were you a fan of Kid Sister/the track when you first took it on?

I didn’t know Kid Sister before getting sent the track, but I love Chicago juke music and you can hear traces of it in her music. Actually, that was an aspect of my original pitch that I was excited about that they didn’t respond to—the idea of including some of the juke music. But we tried to put a little in at the end with the combo of “Switchboard”—that was our little ode to juke at the end. And DJ Gantman—who’s a real juke DJ—did a cameo, which was really cool for me, given that I’ve always been a fan.

Let’s talk about the filming a little bit.

Let’s just talk finger dancers first and then we’ll get into the filming and the other stuff. The finger dancing is something I’d seen on YouTube. There’s a bunch of really incredible, hot, finger dancing moves to be found on YouTube. I don’t know how I came across it, but it was before the “Pro Nails” video. That’s why I was excited when [I was asked to do the video]; I was like, “Oh, I can put some finger dancing in this video and it’ll be cool.” Initially, Melissa [Kid Sister] didn’t respond to the idea and they didn’t want any finger dancing, but I kind of convinced them that in order to do a viral video, there had to be a hook to it. I thought that could be the hook.

But, uh, finger dancers—the awesome finger dancers that are on YouTube are in, like, Israel and Austria. It seems like kids who are really into breakdance culture and just sit around in their rooms and practice breakdancing moves with their fingers [are overseas]. Finding finger dancers in Chicago was—I don’t know if they even exist. It’s not a widely known art form. But I posted some ads on Craigslist, looking for people who have nimble fingers and saying, “This is what finger dancing is. I need to do a video with finger dancing, do you wanna learn how to finger dance to be in this video?” And one of the best guys to respond was this guy AJ who’s a magician and happens to have really nimble fingers for all of his sleight-of-hand stuff. He said he’d be willing to take a crack at learning how, so he studied the finger dancing videos online and practiced and sent me some test stuff that he had done, and it was really awesome. He taught himself how to finger dance just to be part of the production, which was really cool.

Whose hands are doing the worm?

That’s AJ.

Where’d you get the little finger shoes?

AJ actually went out to a Toys ‘R’ Us and bought a doll from High School Musical and we took its shoes. We shot a bunch of it in white and then Nick Catchdubs painted a pair red with nail polish—so we actually got a second pair of shoes.

Is Kanye finger dancing?

Yeah, Kanye showed up at like midnight, he’d had a super long day. He was rocking his leather gloves and was just all, “So, what’s this all about?” And I said, “Finger dancing blah blah blah,” and he had always really liked that idea I think; when I originally sent the treatment he was always a supporter of it. And so, he just said, “Well, let me give it a try,” and he just started doing it. Who knew?

He’s a natural.

He is! I’m so psyched that he can do it so good.

I’m assuming Kanye came in the outfit that he’s wearing?

For sure—he came camera-ready. I really gained a lot of respect for Kanye: he woke up in Atlanta, did some performance for BET in the morning, got on a plane, flew to Chicago, did some Grammy performance and then came to our set at midnight. He had been running since he had got up and was in two different cities and came and brought the heat at midnight and still gave us everything that we could’ve asked for.

So he was camera-ready but all the other ladies had wardrobe and styling?

Yeah. Their aesthetic was definitely a combination of Melissa [Kid Sister] and [her friend] Samantha’s vision. We talked about fly girls from In Living Color as far as the dancing style and the styling.

When did you guys wrap? What time was it?

Probably three or four in the morning. The night after everyone had wrapped, me and my Director of Photography Damian drove to Pro Nails, which is an actual nail salon in Chicago, and we shot the sign which starts the video at like three in the morning. Damian was standing on the roof of my car with a tri-pod shooting that sign—that’s how the night ended for us.

You know, I started out doing everything by myself and it was just through struggle that it got done…The “We Know Something You Don’t Know” video—the breakdancing animals video—I found all those dancers on Craigslist. I’ve gone on to doing million dollar commercials and having a tv show and whatnot, and so part of the main appeal of this video was getting back to doing it how I started out. Purely based on people’s enthusiasm and excitement and willingness to contribute—and it was really cool to get back to that feeling where it’s not about the money. Because when you tell people from the onset, “I have no money,” then they know where you’re at and they’re not going to ask for it because it doesn’t exist. Then you know that people are doing it truly for the love.

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How To
How To: Make the “Pro Nails” Video