An All-Time Classic Madonna Video in the Making
“I hear Madonna’s gonna call it Bedtime Stories,” said the guy from behind the counter at Kinko’s. He was making copies of the latest Castillo del Lago comic for me and throwing in his two cents worth about Madonna. This was the umpteenth time I’d heard somebody speculating about Madonna’s upcoming album, and like most rumors, it went in one ear and out the other. However, Madonna’s impending album was on my mind and I was hopeful that I’d get the chance to work again with my favorite artist. (I had previously storyboarded her Deeper and Deeper and Rain videos.)
When I got back from Kinko’s I heard the word Bedtime Stories once again, but this time from my agent, Jennifer Morrison, at Storyboard Inc.
“Grant, Mark Romanek just called and he wants you to storyboard a new Madonna video he’s directing called Bedtime Story/” So, just like that, my wish had come true.
The following evening on August 10th I met with Mark at Spot Welders, a video editing company in Venice Beach, and got to observe his directorial wizardry in action. He was wrapping up the editing on his latest video, Closer, for Nine Inch Nails.
Then, as any Madonna would appreciate, Mark played the unreleased Bedtime Story song for me. I went from hearing about rumors of a Madonna album one day, to actually listening to a cut the next. I immediately took to the song, tripping out on its funky, surreal qualities. After setting the video mood musically, Mark showed me some photos of Madonna that were, at the time, going to adorn the album cover. They were very mystical… a pale, opalescent Madonna looking you straight in the eye, her white hair whipping around in the wind. Very simple, yet very striking. Mark loved them and was inspired to create the same look for her in the video. (The photos eventually did not make the final cut, except for one that was used for the Bedtime Story 12″ vinyl cover in the U.K.)
No sooner had Mark I sat down to look over the Bedtime Story script when Madonna phoned in from Florida. She went on at length about the video’s budget, concept, etc. I’ve worked on other music videos where the artist merely acts out a pre-approved script, but in Madonna’s case she’s there every step of the way as an integral part of the entire video-making process. She even sharpened my pencils for me when I was drawing the storyboards. (Well, okay, she wasn’t everywhere.)
Sitting on lawn-chairs on a patio surrounded by a cactus and palm tree garden, under a setting Venice sun, Mark and I dove into the Bedtime Story. What that means in that Mark would describe to me in great detail every video shot idea that he and Madonna had come up with. As a storyboard artist, it’s my job to get all the information I need to do my sketches, asking questions about the angles, lighting, mood, etc. We went on like this for hours, only taking a small break for dinner. Mark expressed that he was counting on me and that we had to “Impress the hell out of Madonna.” (No pressure there!)
It was 10:00 PM by the time I got back home to Hollywood. I had over 120 drawings to do, and I was seriously wondering how I was going to finish them all. Basically, for the next few days I drew like a madman and hardly slept. I would sketch about 20 drawings and fax them to Mark at all hours of the day and night. He would call me up with nice compliments like, “Your skill as an artist is incredible,” which meant a lot, but believe me, he had plenty of revisions. Whether it was Madonna’s look or the details of the dreamscape, Mark had specific visions in his head that he wanted to nail, and he was very relentless until we got it exactly right. My friends (and neighbors) Rob and Marcia from ICON stopped by during my drawing frenzy and I showed them some of my sketches. They got a bang out of seeing the video boards in progress, but I think I scared them with my bed-head hair and the sleep-deprived look in my eyes.