Director Nigel Dick Talks Guns N’ Roses, His Career and The Future of Music Videos!
Nigel Dick has had a lot of success in the entertainment business. He’s worked with a variety of eclectic artists including Alice in Chains, Guns N’ Roses, Oasis, Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys to name a few.
To Guns N’ Roses fans, he was the director responsible for their first five music videos including Welcome to the Jungle, Sweet Child of Mine, Paradise City, Patience and It’s so Easy (never officially released). He sat down to talk with us about his career, his time with Guns N’ Roses and more! Big thanks to Nigel for the interview and you can check out his website here:
1. You had a number of different jobs including architectural draughtsman, a clerk, a busker, a cab driver, a construction worker before entering the entertainment industry. What made you decide to work in the industry?
I’d played guitar endlessly and written songs since I was a young teenager and wanted to be in a band but, like every kid, was told to get a degree and a ‘proper’ job. But, when I graduated with my Architectural degree I couldn’t get a ‘proper’ job and wound up working as a taxi driver and a bunch of other shit jobs in shit industries. Eventually I had so little money I figured I might as well be doing a shit job in an industry I enjoyed so I got a job as a motorcycle messenger for a punk label, got free tickets and albums to make up for the lousy pay and the shitty hours, and I haven’t looked back.
2. You’re also a musician yourself. Who were some of your influences growing up? What do you think of the state of rock music today?
Major influences as a teen were Led Zeppelin, Free, Rory Gallagher, Donovan, Paul Simon. In my early 20’s I’d graduated to Bowie, Etta James, Stevie Wonder, 10cc. Rock music today seems very vibrant but sometimes when I see new acts I’m perplexed by the lack of passion.3. You’ve also branched out into writing and making feature films. How does that compare to directing music videos? Do you have a preference?
Francis Ford Copolla once told a director friend of mine, “If you don’t want to kill yourself in the middle of making a movie you’re not trying hard enough.” Certainly making movies is very stressful and the political maneuvering is beyond ridiculous. I’d hate to spend my life making large studio pictures, I’d have ulcers. Having said that I’ve threatened to walk off some music videos too because of the insane posturing and politicking. I take what I do very seriously and I’ve made a living from it for many years…if you don’t want to let me get on and do what I do best then don’t hire me.
4. How did you end up meeting Guns N’ Roses and directing their first video? What was your first impression of the band?
I’d directed a number of videos for Great White who had the same manager and he asked me to shoot “Welcome To The Jungle.” My first meeting with the band was awful – they’d just come from the funeral of a close-friend. They certainly didn’t want to talk to anyone about videos – least of all me.
5. Can you share some personal recollections of the band members during the filming of the videos? Any funny or interesting stories? Were the band members involved in the storylines, or basically following your instructions on what to do.
The storylines were always presented to me by Alan Niven, their manager. My job was to flesh them out and make them work. Generally speaking I think their reaction to me was to take direction from me and just get on with it so they could leave and go party somewhere else. A few days after one of the later shoots I bumped into Axl in a parking lot and said Hi and held out my hand. He walked by me without a nod and didn’t say a word. That remains my abiding impression on the closeness of our working relationship!
6. Whose idea was it to have 2 versions of the “Sweet Child O Mine” video? Was Axl involved in the direction of the video? Why were 2 versions made? How did you choose the location for the filming in Huntington Park?
The location was chosen by Alan Niven. To my knowledge Axl didn’t have much to do with the planning of the video as again Alan dropped the general idea of the video into my lap. When the video was finally released it did huge business – much larger than anyone had anticipated and after a few months of wall-to-wall video play the plan was hatched to edit a second version in black and white using all the footage we hadn’t used in version 1. Depending on your perspective it was either a clever way to revisit the hours of unused footage or a cynical ploy to keep the airplay going. I think it was a bit of both!7. Where was the opening scene of the Welcome to the Jungle video actually shot? Which crossstreet if you recall? Was Izzy the drugdealer in the video?
It was shot on La Brea somewhere around 4th street I think. And yes Izzy was the drug dealer.
8. Who has all the extra outtakes video from the Welcome to the Jungle, Sweet Child, and other videos? Do you think the extra takes from the videos will ever be released to the public?
I’m asked this question in every interview about every video I’ve ever made. Upon completion of the job the dailies are always returned to the record label who usually lose them. A few years after working with the Gunners I got a call from Geffen who’d not only lost the dailies for one of their videos but the master tape too! Luckily I’m religious about keeping copies and a new “master” was struck from my clone.
Isn’t that scene still in the video? If it was removed I have no idea why – there was nothing risque about it at all.
10. What are your memories of working with Axl Rose? Was he the lead creator behind a lot of the videos you worked on for Guns N’ Roses or did all band members contribute ideas for the videos?
Let’s just say Axl and I never exchanged Christmas Cards. I remember one pleasant lunch where we talked for ages about the Electric Light Orchestra but mostly I was handed a short scenario by Alan Niven which he’d presumably discussed with the band and told to flesh it out and make it happen. Incidentally I don’t have bad memories about this process – it was very efficient and pushed me into an attitude of working with bands whose approach and music I didn’t necessarily like or understand which I think was very healthy
11. Were there any songs the band wanted to do videos for or shot but never released? I had heard there was a video for Mr. Brownstone shot, but never released.
I seem to remember some of the scenes from November Rain coming up in discussion before we shot Patience but as I’ve now said a number of times the manager would give me a call or buy me lunch and tell me what would happen in the video and then I’d put my special sauce on that.
13. Most proud GNR video and why?
In some way I’m proud of all of them. As I’ve hinted above I was not a ‘natural’ GNR fan so I had to remain wide awake and watchful and make sure to observe and document the things that made them tick. Up till this point in my career I was simply living out my own rock n’ roll fantasies on film and inserting other bands into that mould. Here, for the first time, I was observing a club of which I wasn’t a member and which I didn’t fully understand and creating a world for them so that other people could get a taste. In essence that’s what all videos should be about. I watched “Welcome To The Jungle” recently and started to really understand what made them work as a band for the first time! This from the man who was not only there on the day but also made it happen. Go figure.
14. Was it hard to get everyone on “the set,” ready to go when you were ready to shoot?
Ask the manager.
I’d now have Trump on the TV screen screaming insanities!
16. Were you surprised that MTV initially refused to play Welcome to the Jungle?
Not really. It wasn’t the first of my videos to be banned and it certainly wasn’t the last.
17. What was the hardest video to shoot with Guns N’ Roses? What made it difficult to shoot?
None of them were easy.
18. Was there ever any talk of you directing any videos for Guns N’ Roses when the Use Your Illusion videos came out?
Nope. The minute Alan Niven was fired I knew I was toast.19. When you saw the videos for November Rain and Don’t Cry in the early 90’s were you surprised to see the grand scale of them or did you know that this is the direction Guns N’ Roses was heading?
I’d heard that Izzy was leaving the band and, to my surprise, he rang me up one day. He told me that Axl was wanting to spend thousands and thousands on videos and he was against it and had quit. I was certainly a bit upset because the vids I made were all relatively cheap and built the band. Then when the big bucks arrived I was history. I’m used to it now. It’s happened many, many times!
20. Another band you worked with, which we are huge fans of is Alice in Chains. You worked on there Down in a Hole video. Do you have any fond memories or stories from that shoot?
Every moment of that shoot – which stretched over a few months – was a nightmare. The only happy memory I have from that show is the 1964 Gibson acoustic I bought in a pawn shop in Kansas City while waiting for the first attempt to shoot them – which was subsequently cancelled. That guitar sits in my edit bay to this day and I play it every day.
I’ve worked with some assholes and some sweethearts. I’ll reveal which is which when I finally finish my book!
22. Do you feel that music videos have as much meaning today as they did 20 years ago when MTV was still playing music?
TRL (total request live) was the undoubted hey-day of music videos but if Taylor Swift releases a new video the web goes nuts for 72 hours and Good Morning America plays a clip from it so I think you can argue that they’re still just as relevant for established artists – but perhaps not so much for emerging talent.