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Rage on the Red Sea: Behind the Hard-Hitting Film for Usyk vs Joshua II


Native Foreign ECD Nik Kleverov on creative directing with Swizz Beatz, the role of AI and feeling infectious energy

Rage on the Red Sea: Behind the Hard-Hitting Film for Usyk vs Joshua II

Working on titles, graphics, design, VFX and more, Native Foreign’s ECD Nik Kleverov joined Swizz Beatz to creative direct Rage on the Red Sea, a hard-hitting film created for the Usyk Joshua II world heavyweight boxing championship rematch in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

In this interview, LBB’s Sunna Coleman speaks to Nik on his collaboration with Swizz Beatz, the inspiration behind the work and the creative connections made during this project.

LBB> As creative director on this project, what were your initial thoughts when you received the brief? 

Nik> An opportunity to work with Swizz Beatz and boxing all in one project was an instant yes for me haha. So when he hit me up to creative direct this with him, it was just about figuring out how to make it happen. He’s got a way about him that really brings out the best in people – he pushes for creativity and originality. 

Our task was to tell the story of the fight, but also the region of Jeddah where it was taking place. There is a history of legendary boxers that have been in Saudi Arabia and it’s even been graced by the likes of Muhammad Ali – arguably the most famous boxer of all time.

LBB> What was your creative process like? Where did you look for inspiration?

Nik> In order to tell these two storylines – 1. about this specific bout, and 2. the Saudi region, we knew it had to be tied together with an incredible song. Swizz sent me some reference tracks and we got to crafting the visuals. A dear friend, collaborator and Emmy-winning designer, Peter Pak art directed this for us and he brought a lot to the table to help set the visual language. 

I knew that I wanted a really high-design, disruptive feel to the piece, so we got to work on creating individual shots while crafting the edit in conjunction. Without an edit there is no compass of where we’re headed – so we got to work on that immediately, even before we got final music in. 

The storyline is in this order: establish the place and the scope of legacy while teasing the upcoming fight, then get more direct with the historical significance while ramping up the tease to the specific fighter cards. Swizz told me he wanted them to feel like “video game selection screens” where you were picking your fighters. That gave us great inspiration for these frames:

There was pre-existing footage already shot by the Whisper team with Saudi’s MOS of both Joshua and Usyk walking up to a ring they put in old town square. It was already so beautiful, that all we had to do was enhance it with graphics that elevate it even further. That is actually the calling card for the agency I co-founded, Native Foreign. We pride ourselves in authentic storytelling elevated by design.

However, especially when we inherit footage – no matter how good it is, we always do a tabletop shoot, to make sure we can put our own unique signature on a piece. So we filmed a lot of what you see in the film in a special studio in Santa Barbara, CA.

LBB> You collaborated with Swizz Beatz on the original soundtrack - what was he like to collaborate with?

Nik> Swizz is a blast in the studio. Watching him work is incredible. He always brings an infectious energy with him that translates into the music. You can literally feel it.

LBB> What was the biggest challenge on this project and what solutions did you come up with?

Nik> The timeline! We got started on this without much runway, but we knew we could still get the plane to take off. Plus, sometimes tough deadlines help you make quick decisions on things that otherwise you’d spend a lot of time noodling with.

LBB> And what were your personal highlights?

Nik> Aside from working with Swizz, I met so many great people based in Saudi Arabia like Noor and Saud because of this project. It really opened my eyes to the beauty of the region and the depth of its people. There is so much more to it than I ever imagined, and I can’t wait to learn more.

LBB> Any other creative insights you’d like to share?

Nik> So even though we had a top-notch team of designers, editors, and animators working on this project around the clock – the timeline was tight. I decided this project would be a great opportunity to start experimenting with AI professionally in my work, so I deployed OpenAI’s DALL-E 2 program to create a few very specific elements for the graphics. 
It was very important for me that the piece feel organic and authentic to the time and space, but I thought it would be interesting to see what kind of patterns and textures artificial intelligence could create- so out of the hundreds generated, I really liked this one particular pattern, so it made the cut, behind the old Saudia Airlines plane.

It didn’t come out as a render exactly like that, we did some tweaking and in-painting, but I thought it was such a nice and unexpected choice, that I had to run with it.

LBB> What was your reaction to the finished film?

Nik> Seeing the reaction of others reacting to our film was the highlight for me. When Noor from Good Intentions sent through footage of the piece playing in the arena and I heard the roar from the crowd, that gave me goosebumps. As artists, yes, we create for ourselves but more importantly we create so others can feel. Seeing smiles on so many faces gave me one as well. In the words of Swizzy, on to the next one! 

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Native Foreign, Mon, 03 Oct 2022 10:25:00 GMT