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Sundown on Sunset: Lexi Godfrey
Music by Sean Patrick, West Hollywood, California
Lexi Godfrey did not think about it at the time, but she became a true pioneer in the art of filming music videos.
From humble beginning and tiny budgets, making ‘pop promos’ for singles, she has produced some of the earliest and best-known MTV-generation video hits.
I sat down with Lexi and her dog, Jack, in her Hollywood Hills home, and talked about her part in some of the best work of the genre.
SP: How did you get started in what was to become such an integral part of the music business – making the first real music videos?
LEXI: Basically, Lion Television, at the time, joined up with Trident studios, and I was fortunate enough to become the personal assistant to Tim Emanuel, who was managing director of what had become Trilion Video. Also there was Dave Thomas, who was director of Trident Audio Productions, which was Queen’s management. I was just in the right place at the right time.
SP: This was obviously much before MTV. How did the music video move from just a promotion to an art in itself?
LEXI: There was a show called Top Of The Box, where a band would go on the show, and record a song in front of the cameras. Queen’s song, Bohemian Rhapsody was too long and intricate, and just couldn’t be done in the format of the show, so it was decided to do an independent video and submit it that way. Because it was so new and different, they played it even though it was off-format, and it went to number one for thirteen weeks, as a music video. That was the first genuine ‘promotional video’ ever, and it started everything. It was directed by Bruce Gowers, and we all had a major part in it. There was major enthusiasm that went into the project; I mean it was such a great song. Not that we knew it was the birth of things to come, but it became a new business in the industry.
SP: I think the world remembers that song. It was an enigma as a single, and it’s incredible that it also became enigmatic as a video, as well.
LEXI: Yes. At first it all was just promotional. The bands didn’t really have any say in the direction; they just hired a company to do the video. Soon after Bohemian Rhapsody, we became very busy, working with Mike Oldfield, The Rolling Stones, Keith Richard, Rod Stewart, and the whole thing grew into its own art. Later, I left Trilion, and formed a company called MGM, which was David Mallet, myself, and Russell Mulcahy, which was one of only three companies at that time in the business of making music videos. We did “Video Killed The Radio Star”, which was of course the first music video shown on MTV. Another first was Ultravox’s “Vienna”, which was the first music video shot on 16mm film. Russell directed that one and I produced it.
SP: It’s interesting that MTV was basically created around this new form of art!
LEXI: Oh, yes. They were all just commercials, basically, for the song itself, but soon they were being shown all over the world on their own merit. “Soul Train” was one of the first shows in America to play them. Initially it was a way for the record companies to save a lot of money, because they didn’t have to send the bands around the world on tours; they could market the songs through the videos much cheaper. Later of course you couldn’t make a single without also making a video to go with it.
SP: Wow that’s something we never thought of as a kid in the US, because MTV had just taken off; the whole thing being a way to save money on tours.
LEXI: Yes; of course throughout the whole business, you needed a great song. You couldn’t have a high-end video selling a mediocre song, so it’s always been about the song itself. Later, I left MGM, before they went under, unfortunately, and worked with Godley and Crème, two of the members of the band 10cc. With them, I produced “Every Breath You Take”, “Wrapped Around Your Finger” with the Police, Herbie Hancocks’s “Rocket”. We shot the Syncronicity tour twice. There were so many and we were so busy; Duran Duran’s “Girls On Film”. “A View To A Kill” was great fun to shoot. It reminds me that I really should make a list!
SP: Of course, it became its own sort of Micro Movie genre.
LEXI: Oh yes. I mean I’m not involved with it now; I do commercials now, but of course everyone like Radiohead, Coldplay…nobody to this day does a single without a video attached to it.
SP: Younger people today have no idea they were ever separate! There was a big experiment with it, wasn’t it, when you worked on “Truth Or Dare”. How did you hook up with Madonna?
LEXI: It was all sort of accidental. In the UK, you worked usually with one director. Over here, I usually had my own company, but we worked with other companies and other people all the time. Alek Keshishian, who directed it, approached me to be his Producer. At the time I was working with Propaganda Films. That was a tough one for me; I’m the sort of person that needs to see the big picture, and though that movie was a first, and Madonna was huge at the time, I didn’t really see where it all was going. We were all on call 24 hours a day, shooting crazy stuff, and it was hard to see where everything would end up fitting.
SP: Well, I hate to say it, but so many of my friends just loved her, and I loved a lot of her singles, but it bothered me that the film was ostensibly a “Documentary” but it was all staged. To me, and this is my own opinion, it came across very convoluted, and contrived.
LEXI: Well, she of course was paying for it; and she had the creative control. I’d gotten pretty good at putting together bids, and at first everyone really wanted to be a part of that project, at least in the concept. It was so long, unlike the usual three to five minute video, and we were going on tour everywhere, to the extent I didn’t feel like I was really able to do my job adding any creativity to it. Nothing like it has really been done since. The industry didn’t move that direction, so “Truth Or Dare” just sort of stood on its own, and the regular music video business went about the path it was already on.
SP: Where did you go from that film?
LEXI: I continued to work with Lol Crème for a further five years, and I moved more into commercials, which were very fun, and jolly good money. On top of that, I love laughing, and those two, Godley and Crème, were very, very funny guys together!
SP: Who do you remember as being the most fun to work with, speaking of laughter?
LEXI: Oh, I loved the Police! I’d worked with them so much and they were great fun. There are of course a lot of stories throughout my career that I shouldn’t repeat (laughs). There’s no point in spending your life doing something if you don’t love it, and if you’re not laughing. In the first place, I don’t know how we did it in the early days. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was shot for about forty five hundred pounds; really nothing.
SP: Any funny mistakes?
LEXI: Oh, I can tell you this, getting back to Ultravox, and how “Vienna” changed the way things were shot, they were so much fun to work with. None of us knew we were on the cutting edge of anything; we were just trying to create art, and there was so much passion behind it. It’s very funny, because we had gotten the track from Chrysalis, and we started coming up with ideas based on “Venice” (laughs). We’d gotten the cities mixed up. We got asked why we had gondolas in our treatment, and we were so embarrassed to have built our first ideas on the wrong city! In the end, we shot that in just over twenty four hours!
SP: Sounds like a mistake I would make!
LEXI: It was very fun. We were young, and we went all over the world. There was the time we went to Israel to shoot “The Power Of Love” for Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Both Godley and Crème were Jewish. Lol called up his mother, and said, “Mum, the good news is I’m going to Israel. The bad news is I’m recreating the Nativity!” (we both laugh).
LEXI: Working with Godley and Crème was fantastic. Every video they did was different. Whereas, here in America, most directors are hired because of the last thing they did, meaning they’re looking for something similar. In a sense, if you haven’t already done it, you’re not capable of doing it; you’re pigeon-holed. That was the joy of working with Kevin and Lol: they’d just come up with this stuff, and we’d do it. If they wanted an elephant, or a camel, we got an elephant or a camel. It might be absolutely outrageous, but I never said, “no” to them. Nothing’s really changed has it? Bands have much more say in what they do, and the recording industry is much different, but it’s still about that creativity, and coming up with the ideas. To me that’s the key. You have to try it. If you want to get anywhere, I don’t believe there’s a “no” in life.
Sean Patrick is a musician, writer, and WeHo News’ Sunset Strip reporter. Catch his latest atwww.SeanPatrick.us.