One direction’s ‘history’ video: the directors tell us about the ending that got cut
2016 began on a bittersweet note for One Direction fans. The band had given their final pre-hiatus live performance on Dec. 13 — on the “X Factor” stage where it all began — and there was a sense of stillness (boredom, even) among the fandom. So when the band suddenly released a music video for their Made In The A.M. track “History” on the morning of Jan. 26, it came at a time when fans really needed it. That promise of “this is not the end”? It had never felt better to hear.
One Direction music videos often have an air of goofiness to them. There’s the YOLO-like hijinks in “Live While We’re Young,” the elaborate role-playing in “Best Song Ever,” the NASA takeover in “Drag Me Down.” The “History” video has that, too… only this time, the silliness came via vintage footage of the guys from their five-plus-year run as a band. Those clips were juxtaposed against simple shots of Harry, Liam, Louis and Niall singing the rootsy singalong jam against a plain brick wall, celebrating their journey and honoring one of the most special relationships in the world: the one between them and their fans.
To find out how the “History” video came to life, MTV News spoke to the video’s three directors: Ben Winston, Calvin Aurand and Gabe Turner. Each of them has a long and storied, uh, history with the band — Winston and Turner have directed and produced many of 1D’s previous videos, and Aurand has been the band’s official photographer for four years. The trio discussed the celebratory vibe of the vid, the boys’ unwavering professionalism and, perhaps most importantly, the final scene that got left on the cutting room floor.
MTV News: Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me about how the concept of this video came about.
Ben Winston: Obviously the song is an incredible song — it’s my favorite one on the album. It’s just the one that resonates the most because of the fact that the boys are taking this little break. And so, when they decided this was going to be the single that was going to come out around the time of the boys’ last appearances, we all sort of thought ‘Well what could we film?’ And the truth of it is, there was very little that you could try and do apart from look back, as the name of the song insinuates. It’s about history.
The boys in the last five years have had the most unbelievable time and run. There’s so many memories, and the three of us have been involved in so many of those memories. So rather than trying to create anything too new, we got the boys just singing the track down the lens, but then we went through all the old footage that we had from the original documentary that we made for cable television when they had just come off ‘The X Factor,’ to their first time on the road in America, to filming their movie, to all of the different things that they’ve done. And we found those lovely bits that showed the camaraderie between the boys. It was just quite a beautiful thing to look back on to see how much they’ve achieved.
MTV News: Were you aiming for a more celebratory or emotional mood? What did you really want people to feel after they watched it?
Calvin Aurand: I would say both. It is celebratory because it’s been an incredible ride for everyone. It’s been a joyous thing. It’s always been a really positive experience. But obviously the emotion of it lies in the fact that they are taking a little break, and in the moments in the video where they hug and such, where you can kind of feel that it’s not just the fans that are emotional, but they are too. They love their fans and they love what they do, and I think the video was just trying to share with their fans that they feel the same way.
MTV News: What was the whole process like of digging through the archives for that old footage, and how did you pick out which ones you wanted to use?
Gabe Turner: We wanted to cover the journey from start to finish. We wanted to start off with their original auditions and then gigs that they’ve played, because obviously they’ve played live all over the world in front of huge audiences. So the idea really was just to pick moments that accentuated their ride and their story and how they very quickly became such a huge phenomenon. So the idea was really just to put the building blocks in place and in a very small bit of time, try to tell quite a big story. It’s worth mentioning that we have the very best editor that we possibly could have in Claudia Wass, who has edited most of the boys’ videos, or I think pretty much all of the ones that we’ve done.
BW: That was the nice thing, actually, looking back. I remember when we first started filming, when they were two weeks out of ‘The X Factor’ and we’re traveling around in the back of a van, and it was like a six-seater van with the five boys in the back, a security guard driving, and a manger in the front seat. And then I would be in the back of the six-seater filming them as we drove around, and that was it. They weren’t the One Direction that we know now. It sort of brought back the memories of how crazy that time was and what a beautiful experience that was seeing them becoming the people that they became. And it was the same for Cal — Cal did the equivalent in America, and some of it was from their first trip in America. We both had a really wonderful opportunity to film them at a time before they were megastars, and I guess that’s why it was quite nice to put it in a video called ‘History.’
MTV News: It does show off their journey incredibly well. When you were going through the archives, how mindful were you of including footage of Zayn?
BW: It speaks for itself. He’s in there, of course. He was a big part of the band, so of course he should be in it.
MTV News: Besides the old footage of the band, you also shot them singing the song against this big brick wall. How long before the hiatus was that shot?
GT: That was shot in L.A. and it happened in November. We just learned over the years that they perform really nicely with wide lenses, and allowing them to move as much as the cameras move in and out of the shots. All three of us have got experience working with them and watching them perform, and I think we feel that we know how to get a good performance out of them and how they’ll look good. And the simplicity of that big wall and that kind of epic scale while they’re there doing their thing… it seemed to make sense. It’s nice to shoot them on those wide lenses and at that angle because they look heroic when you do that. So it was simple but I think it’s quite epic.
MTV News: What was the mood like on set? Was there anything that felt “final” about it?
CA: I don’t know if you could say that there is anything final about it because, you know, they’re on a break. I would say that moment of this video… it was November and there were still several weeks of work left. It wasn’t until December 13 when “X Factor” in the UK was kind of the last day of work before holiday. So it was, in some essence… they’re professionals. They know they have a video to shoot and there’s lots of people on set who are there to do a job and they show up and do theirs. I think that comes across in their performance. When someone yells ‘action,’ they get up in front of the lens and do their thing and they do it incredibly. They always have. They’re all just great guys who always bring it every single time, which in some essence has made our lives easy because you put a camera on them and they’re ready and they know what to do. And they’re positive — and when it comes to all of the people involved, everyone’s been a family. So everyone’s in good spirits and everyone’s working together and just trying to make the best possible product. So I hope that shines through, because that’s always the ultimate goal.
MTV News: How would you describe the way the four of them work with one another?
CA: I would say, from day one, they’re brothers. That’s what they are. And they’ve been that way since day one. I’ve just never seen them to be anything but brothers. They have each other’s backs and that’s what they do. I mean, I don’t think you can accomplish what they’ve accomplished without understanding the common goal and then going and making it happen. And I think ultimately, too, they’re all so focused on the fans. If you watch their social accounts — and their personal social accounts, I’m not talking about the One Direction account, I’m talking individually — they’re always so gracious to the fans and know how important they are to them. So I just think that that’s kind of the commonality. That’s always been the one truth from the beginning.
MTV News: I love the bit in the video where they have their arms around one another and they’re doing this silly little dance. Was that rehearsed or was that just an improvised moment?
GT: I think it was something that everyone was doing behind camera so they kind of did it.
BW: We were all dancing just as much as they were. Because this was our last video that we were doing for a while… so we were all having a bit of a party behind the camera. So I imagine that all of us, we were all doing the can-can and they joined in.
CA: It was a celebration on set. And at their last show in Sheffield, it was too. A big group of people from their camp got them riled up onstage during the last show and it wasn’t something that was sad; it was something that was happy. Everyone’s together and proud of what everyone’s accomplished, but at the same time, knowing that it couldn’t be done without the fans. I just think that that ultimately is the vibe of One Direction: It’s always been a celebration.
MTV News: The shot at the end where they wave goodbye and walk off in their own directions — no pun intended — was pretty emotional to watch. What was it like shooting that scene?
BW: Well actually, I see that a bit too much has been read into that one. I think too much has been read into that ending where they walk off in different directions. Because actually, they do run back together at the end. But I don’t know why… Gabe, why did we cut that last shot where they run back together at the end?
GT: It just didn’t look that great. But there certainly wasn’t any… it wasn’t supposed to be them walking off, it was just kind of like an, “OK, see you in a bit, guys!”
BW: Yeah, we probably should’ve included that ending, because people have read into it.
MTV News: Wait, so originally you shot them coming back together?
BW: Yeah, originally they ran in separate directions and then they ran back together and that’s actually how it was planned.
CA: I think ultimately it’s just an end to a video. There shouldn’t be anything applied deeper than that.
BW: No, there’s nothing meant by that ending whatsoever. And it’s Gabe’s fault! (laughs).
MTV News: I think once the hiatus is over, you should release that clip to celebrate their comeback.
BW: Yeah, we’ll release that footage of them coming back together. That’s what we’ll do!