Swill Magazine Issue 5 - Out Now

A look into the life of this multidisciplinary producer, from making Beyoncé clips to playing in brutal sludge metal band, Lo!

Jordan Kretchmer

Arian – Shaprio – Wide BW – 8

A former steel city on Australia’s east coast doesn’t spring to mind as a location likely to attract a world-famous pop juggernaut. But Newcastle, in mid-northern New South Wales, was indeed where Beyonce chose to shoot one of her video clips back in 2013. When executive producer Adrian Shapiro got the call to do it, he wasn’t at all convinced it was a legitimate offer. 

“It was pretty wild. An agent called and said, ‘we’ve got this project and it’s really fast-moving, if you’re available.’ I kind of jokingly said, ‘what is it, a Beyoncé clip?’ And it actually was.” In less than a week, Shapiro helped to coordinate the project. “It was a Belgian director named Pierre Debusschere. He needed to do the film clip in secret while she was doing concerts in Australia.” 

A stack of NDAs later and two film clips were immortalised and released as part of Queen Bey’s seminal self-titled visual album. ‘Mine’ sees Beyoncé as a high-fashion Mary Magdelene-esque figure, surrounded by painted dancers with flailing limbs strewn artfully across sand dunes. While ‘Ghost’ sees Bey staring straight down the barrel of the camera to deliver a monochromatic manifesto. 

“There’s that saying, ‘no matter how busy you are, you’ve got the same amount of hours as Beyoncé.’” Shapiro and his team saw that IRL. “She worked so hard, it was 12, 14 hour days. And then she would leave and then go to a performance and she was really lovely with the crew.” Getting-shit-done is Shapiro’s modus operandi on these projects, tasks grand or gritty. Despite Beyoncé having a private chef, one day while filming in Sydney, she wanted to eat something a little different. Shapiro ran to a small restaurant in Newtown to get her some takeaway. “It’s funny to think that they never knew they were cooking for her.”

While his production credits have gotten him running the rooms for the likes of Beyoncé, Ben Lee and Fleet Foxes alongside fashion brands such as Bassike, cracking the nut of any creative brief is what really gets Shapiro going. “Being a producer is all about bringing ideas to life,” he says. 

Like an orchestral conductor, a producer doesn’t look at a single instrument but instead keeps the rhythm and pace of the whole project going, making sure everyone’s working off the same song sheet. “It’s crucial to curate the right team to bring out the best in their work,” he says. “I rely a lot on my instincts and decisiveness. There’s a lot of psychology involved in it as well. You’ve basically got to make sure all these personalities can work together and bring the beast to life.” 

A background in immersive art production has seen Shapiro bring large-scale pieces to life across the world. A house that rains from the inside and a giant fibreglass burger are some of the pieces Shapiro has helped create, alongside artist James Dive. “The idea [was] the fish were trying to catch humans on the land. So we created this burger with a big hook on it and lined it into the ocean,” says Shapiro. 

While the concept was impressive, the behind-the-scenes of getting it there is where the real work comes in. “The area where we had it, there’s big telecommunication cables under the water, which is one of the main points of where the internet comes into Australia.” The artwork in isolation is eye-catching, but the knack of pulling off the logistics is where Shapiro shines. 

On top of all that, he’s also a bass player in metal band Lo!. “We’ve had the band for 11 years now,” says Shapiro. “We’re kind of all brothers. It’s really nice.” The music is dense, loud and down tempo, often described as sludge metal. “The contrast between playing that heavy music and then working in this industry, but also just my general persona, is very cathartic,” says Shapiro. “Being able to play music that’s heavy and screams when you don’t get to scream in  life is an amazing feeling. I walk offstage and I feel very calm and relaxed.” 

What ties all these pursuits together is an unwavering positivity and hands-on approach. Shapiro approaches his bread and butter work of advertisements with the same pride, patience and appreciation as working with pop royalty. “With commercials, to be able to tell that story in 30 seconds is a real art. To tell a tiny narrative is a really, really tricky thing. And I think that’s where I fell in love with ads.” 

Coming back to the craft of filmmaking will also be a vital tool for his industry, with the advancement of AI. “It’s definitely something that’s been discussed a lot,” says Shapiro, who reflects on the leaps in advances from its inception to now. “Personally, I feel like the craft element and the humanity of filmmaking is really powerful. Though we can’t ignore the AI stuff,” says Shaprio. “But people are smart and don’t necessarily want to sit there watching an AI-created film that doesn’t have the heart.” 

“I often say to my younger producers, just pretend you’re a duck. Just let it fall off your back,” says Shapiro. While we could all stand to make as much out of the day as Beyoncé does, more importantly there’s also always time to step back and relax. “Then I say, just keep going and take a deep breath.”

 

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Words

Jordan Kretchmer

Pictures

Andrea Veltom

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