Express Yourself: The Making of Madonna's 20 Greatest Music Videos

The directors who worked alongside the MTV-era maverick tell their stories

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2. "Ray of Light" (1998)

"It’s probably, to this day, the longest shoot ever for a music video," remembers "Ray of Light" director Jonas Åkerlund, who traveled to New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas to shoot this fast-forward pastiche. "I think we shot 14 shoot days or so. But, we were the smallest crew. My idea was to fit the crew into one car. We found an angle, then we set it up, and then and we were talking shit for a half-hour, waiting for it because it took forever to do these shots." The clip's stationary shots with a flurry of activity had a similar feel to 1982 art-house favorite Koyaanisqatsi (which he hadn't seen) and provided a frantic energy for Madonna's embrace of contemporary house music. Åkerlund would become the only collaborator in Madonna's monumental run to garner the pop star an VMA for Video of the Year. 

Jonas Åkerlund, director: We did a few tests in Stockholm with a film camera so I could to show her the technique I was talking about, and the test actually came out so good, that it ended up the final video. So there’s a lot of shots from Stockholm in there. 

Of course, we didn’t shoot digital — we shot with a big, 35mm camera. We had this diagram that I had in my pocket for the whole production where it said how many frames per minute or per second that we needed to do in order to get the certain amount of footage. So let’s say you shoot one frame every 10 seconds or so? Then you have to do that for 30 minutes to get like five seconds. Stuff like that

We mounted the camera on a bus, I remember, driving around in New York. That was like a pretty big effort for a 20-frame thing [laughs]. Everything was like a huge thing considering how much that actually ended up in the video because it's happening so fast. Every shot was just like such a big deal. I think we ended up using everything we shot, too. The song was long — I remember in the edit thinking that the song was too long because I used up all the footage.

"At the time, I really didn’t think about [winning the VMAs]. I was there with my Swedish friends, just drinking beer and though it was great that the beer was for free. But looking back, it was a life-changing moment for me."

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