By Sarah Stockman
Photos courtesy of Dave Meyers
At the 34th annual MTV Video Music Awards in August, Dave Meyers won Best Director and Video of the Year honors for Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble,” from his fourth studio album, Damn.
The Palisadian has now won 17 VMA awards since 2002, but this was his first win for Best Director and second win for Video of the Year. He previously won in 2003 for Missy Elliott’s “Work It.”
“These [awards] are the most meaningful,” Meyers said. “They are the ones that I mentally count.”
His winning video was released on March 30 to great acclaim. Brad Wete of Billboard characterized it as, “A poignant exercise in irony and also filled with messaging that could be perceived as anti-conformist.”
Matt Miller of Esquire called it “The greatest music video in years.”
The video consists of a series of intercut images beginning with Lamar standing in a cathedral dressed as the Pope, a shaft of light illuminating his white vestment. The video quickly cuts to Lamar in a beauty salon, then back to the church, then on a car roof playing golf in the Los Angeles River. One of the most iconic images of the video is Lamar recreating Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, with Lamar occupying the seat held by Jesus.
Meyers was nominated for a Grammy on November 28 for his work on “Humble,” in the Best Music Video category. The Grammys will be held on January 28.
Meyers, who grew up in Berkeley, started making music videos while in high school. The first video he shot was for Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story.” His friend acted out the story while Meyers did the camerawork.
Meyers moved to Los Angeles in 1990 to attend Loyola Marymount University, where he studied film production. After graduating he worked as a production assistant, but what he really wanted to do was direct.
A chance meeting with Good Will Hunting director Gus Van Sant was just the inspiration Meyers needed.
“I ran into Gus Van Sant and he was just finishing a movie To Die For ,” Meyers said. “He was also doing music videos. He told me to practice doing movies through videos.”
Meyers sent out a reel that included his Slick Rick video from high school and was approached by rapper Coolio’s manager.
“The video I did in high school I put on my reel and that got attention,” he said. “I got Coolio’s manager at the time [who said], ‘We have to give him a job.’”
Meyers’ first video was WhoRidas “Shot Callin’ & Big Ballin’” (1996). “My second video was the Coolio’s manager video, even though I officially ‘got’ that video before the first,” he said.
Since then Meyers has directed hundreds of music videos, working with artists ranging from Janet Jackson to Jay Z to Britney Spears.
When Meyers began his career, music videos were made for MTV.
“The MTV generation was a generation of fitting in,” Meyers said. “Most artists wanted what the other guy was doing [so] videos had a homogeny to them.”
Then, in 2005, YouTube burst on the scene and changed everything.
“YouTube brought about the democratization of all things,” Meyers said. Now anyone could make a video that might get millions of views at a much lower price.
“There was an adjustment period,” Meyers said. “The first wave was a complete crash of the budgets [because] a $10,000 video could get 10 million views.”
While the music industry sorted itself out, Meyers started directing commercials, including the famous Apple iPod commercial featuring a solid black figure holding a white iPod with headphones dancing against a brightly colored background.
Meyers has found that commercials are not as appreciated as music videos. “They’re kind of an invisible medium. Even me, who works in commercials, will fast forward through commercials,” he said. “Commercials are meaningful in the commercial world.”
Despite getting lots of commercial work, Meyers found he couldn’t stay away from videos. As he puts it, “They were always my calling card.”
When he reentered the music video world, everything had changed. “The MTV days were about fitting in, and now it’s about standing out,” Meyers said.
It now takes him longer to create a video. Instead of 40 music videos a year, he’s down to 10. “The intention is there from the start to do something special and different. That requires a heck of a lot more prep time than the last decade. I used to write a page of text and I’d get the job. Now I have 14 to 20 pages.”
Although Meyers is mostly only credited as the director for these videos, he says he is much more than just director. “All in all, it’s pretty much just me. You only get celebrated as a director. I spend three to four weeks writing, sometimes with a staff of writers, to really procure a vision.”
He also has to take into account the artist’s vision for the video, although that level of involvement depends on the artist.
“Sometimes the artist, like Kendrick [Lamar], has instincts and ideas. Missy [Elliott] and André [3000 from Outkast] were like that,” Meyers said. “There are artists who offer up where they want to go [and] there are other artists who like to be taken on a ride.”
The final decision and its consequences lie with Meyers. “Ultimately when it comes down on the day, making the vision hot, that responsibility is pretty much mine,” he said. “I won’t let the artist convince me of something that sounds terrible.”
Meyers moved to the Palisades eight years ago when he married his wife, Nancy, who works as a federal law clerk. She “wanted to have a more family-friendly neighborhood.”
The couple has three children, the oldest of whom graduated in June from Palisades Charter High School and attends college in Atlanta. His younger kids are in third grade and kindergarten at Palisades Elementary.
Along with music videos and commercials, Meyers also directed the 2007 film The Hitcher, and hopes to do more film work in the future.
He recently shot a music video with Camila Cabello for her single, “Havana,” and another with Maroon 5. In between, he shot commercials for Google and Norwegian Cruises. “There’s a couple of exciting ones coming up I can’t tell you about yet,” he added.
Meyers enjoys his work: “It’s nice to build those relationships and go on those adventures.”