With all of the media coverage, you’d have to be living on a desolate island to have not heard of Beyoncé’s groundbreaking visual album Lemonade that debuted on HBO back in April. The “Beyhive” has been in a frenzy ever since, searching for the mysterious “Becky” and soaking up every sonically daring note and messages of strength, forgiveness, and acceptance.
But did you know about the album’s ties to Baltimore? Three Baltimore School for the Arts’ alumni played various roles in making the 65-minute film. We caught up with Mayfield native Nathan Bailey on how he went from working weekends at Greg’s Bagels to art directing large scale projects like Queen B’s “Hold Up” video and American Horror Story season six.
How did you get involved with the project and what was your role?
I got involved through the production designer of “Hold Up,” who is a friend of mine. We both went to Emerson College in Boston but years apart, and were introduced through mutual friends. One day he called me out of the blue, and asked me if I was busy right now and I actually wasn’t at the time. He said, ‘Well I’m designing a music video for Beyoncé. Do you want to art direct for me?’ And I was like, ‘Of course I do!’ When I came onto the project, I didn’t know about the larger scope of things or of this bigger thing called Lemonade. They were keeping it very secretive, even to us, which is common in a lot of my jobs. Some of the projects I work on, they will give us just enough information to get our job done without too much information to spoil anything or for any information to get out prematurely.
What kind of direction did they give you?
I was the art director, or the second person in charge of the art department. So the production designer designs the look of everything, then the art director kind of steps in and fills in the gaps and makes the production designer’s vision become a reality. The production designer gave us a general feeling and environment. We were going for something that felt gritty and real, but at the same time was a little bit dream-like. In the entire scope of Lemonade, which feels very documentary-like, the “Hold Up” section is the only traditional music video and that was intentional. We looked through a lot of street photography of the South and street art was a big inspiration.
When and how long did it take to shoot?
It took a couple of weeks to shoot. The production designer and I were responsible for the underwater portion that comes before “Hold Up,” where she reads the poem in the Victorian room underwater as well as the part where she is in the yellow dress, going around breaking windows.
Was production a secret? How do you keep something so big under wraps?
Yes, it was very secretive. We weren’t and still aren’t allowed to talk too much about the project.
Please tell us more about the baseball bat Beyoncé uses and the decision to name it Hot Sauce.
I was actually in charge of designing the look of the bat. As far as the choice to put the wording “Hot Sauce” on there, that was Beyoncé’s creative decision. We went through a lot of different drafts of the bat, but eventually we ended up just using a natural wood color so it felt more real and not part of a dream, like she actually just took the bat from a kid off of the street.
Do you have any good stories or memories from the shoot?
Oh my god, I have a million. It was a crazy shoot and it was really fun to be a part of. I mean, we had explosions and wind machines on set. It was wild. But probably my favorite memory was actually meeting Dontae Winslow, a fellow Baltimore School for the Arts alumni on set. One day I was wearing an Orioles hat and he asked if I was from Baltimore. As we started talking, I thought, ‘Man this guy looks really familiar’ and we hit it off. People with that Baltimore connection always stick together.
Another highlight was getting to work with the special-effects guys. I got to work really closely with the monster truck driver, who came in at the end of the video where she crushes all of the cars. I coordinated a lot of the vehicles and got to figure out how they needed to be arranged for safety purposes so the truck could crush them properly.
Dontae Winslow and Nathan Bailey on the set of "Hold Up." -Courtesy of Facebook
What has the reception been like for you?
It’s been amazing! I mean, I knew the power of Beyoncé, but I had no idea that working on this project would get me the attention that it has. BSA was over the moon that three of its alumni were a part of it [Winslow and Christian Siriano]. It’s pretty crazy. About a year ago I got into the Art Directors Guild, which enables you to take bigger jobs and work on bigger union stuff. Taking that step has really done a lot for my career. This job, in particular, has really gotten me a lot of exposure.
How did you learn that “Hold Up” was nominated for a VMA?
I saw it myself online the day it was announced. I was expecting and hoping it was going to be nominated so I just checked the MTV website. I was super excited. A VMA nomination is nothing to take lightly; it is such a great accomplishment. “Hold Up” actually ended up winning best female video, which is no small feat. In our industry, anything that wins an award is part of your body of work and résumé.
Did you know that Beyoncé actually broke the record for all time VMA wins at this year’s award show?
I saw that! It’s funny I was thinking about it and Beyoncé has 21 “Moon Men” and Michael Phelps has 22 gold medals. She is kind of the Michael Phelps of the VMAs.
What did it mean to you to be a part of a such a huge nominated project?
It felt really great, especially at this young point in my career. Film-making, art direction, and production design are all long careers that take awhile to reach the top so being so young and being recognized for my work makes me good and energizes me for the future and what I still have to give this industry. I feel really fortunate to be a part of such an amazing project.
Okay, last Beyoncé question. Do you know who Becky is?
I do not. I don’t and I haven’t met her, but I guarantee she lives in Los Angeles. There are a lot of them in Los Angeles.
And now you are working with American Horror Story?
Right now I am the assistant art director on American Horror Story season six. I’ve been a part of the entire season from day one. The theme this year is really secretive, which has been really fun to work on and I’m looking forward to the first episode premiering. It’s really fun to see everyone’s guesses.
What is your day-to-day like working on the show?
A lot of my day-to-day is interacting with the production designer and the art director to get the sets prepped for the next episode. As the assistant art director, I’m not so much involved in the day-to-day filming of the show. The art department always has to stay a step ahead, so I’m more involved in prepping for the next episode about a week or two in advance.
As far as art direction goes, I can’t think of a more fun show to be a part of. Were you always a fan of the show?
Before I even got the job, I was a huge fan of the show. I have seen all of the seasons since day one and I remember thinking, 'Wow, this would be a great show to work on.' So honestly it was really a dream job come true. And really you are fortunate to be on any Ryan Murphy show. All of his work is amazing and I feel lucky to be with such a great group of people.
What has been your favorite season of American Horror Story?
Well the first season is amazing because it set the tone and all aspects of it were just really well done. But being an art director, I think my favorite seasons in terms of design were Asylum and Hotel. Those sets were absolutely incredible. So I would say in terms of story, the first season is my favorite and in terms of visuals and art the second and fifth seasons. But, once everyone sees the sixth season, that will be the new favorite.
American Horror Story season 6 premieres on September 14th on FX.