As Dirty Dancing Turns 25, Greg Gold Reminisces About Directing The “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” Music Video With Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes
Twenty five years ago this month, a summer movie called Dirty Dancing took the whole country by surprise with a period tale of love at a summer resort between a teen girl and her dance instructor. This slice of 1960s summertime fun not only gave the world a host of quotable quotes about putting baby in a corner or carrying a watermelon, but a soundtrack that exposed an 80s audience to classic songs by the Contours, Otis Redding and Mickey & Sylvia. The album gave Eric Carmen a hit with “Hungry Eyes”, and even Swayze scored his only appearance on the Billboard Top 40 with “She’s Like The Wind”, but the biggest hit from the film was the song-that-launched-a-thousand-lifts, Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes’ “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”.
The song’s music video toggled back and forth between film footage and the two artists, the latter shot in several film stocks with dramatic lighting for a nostalgic feel that director Greg Gold delivered in spades. We spoke with Gold by email about the experience of shooting the video for this iconic hit song.
Do you recall how the job came to you?
Actually, in a very unusual way. Jennifer had toured with my wife, Sharon Robinson, also a singer, and knew I was a video director, so she recommended me as someone she’d be comfortable to work with.
How were Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes to work with?
Well, they are both wonderful, friendly people with legendary talent. I spent some extra time with Bill because we ended up shooting the video twice, the first time without Jennifer because she had gotten sick, if I remember it right. Bill and I took a walk together down Olivera Street near where we were shooting, and all I could think of was that I was hanging out with half of the Righteous Brothers. I found Bill to be extremely warm, I remember he characterized himself as just a kid from Orange County when he first got discovered. Jennifer is a fantastic person, who, as I said before, I knew. They were both consummate professionals on the set. No complaints there.
The mixed media, different stocks of film was a real go-to music video style in the late 80s, having been pioneered by directing teams like Peter Kagan/Paula Greif and Leslie Libman/Larry Williams. How did you decide to go with that look?
There were lots of reasons. Super-8, which we shot extensively on this show, produces soft colors and a grainy quality that reeks of nostalgia. Dirty Dancing took place in the ’60s, so it was a natural choice. Also, I was looking for a loose visual quality to contrast the straight movie footage I knew I’d have to intercut my stuff against; the fact that I could employ many small, inexpensive handheld super-8 cameras to gather footage was a big plus. We pumped big lights through large windows from the exterior, with no fill light from the interior side because I wanted that high contrast look that the super 8 stock uniquely delivers. The results were great. The dancers, at times, depending on angle, look like moving line drawings…and Bill and Jennifer appeared intimate and mysterious. We shot black and white as well. Having to integrate the movie footage with some kind of performance meant we had to mix at least two types of film anyway. Starting with that as a premise, I let it inform the overall style of the piece.
Our choreographer, Michele Simmons, had done a great job absorbing the choreography from the movie, making it her own and casting extremely accomplished dancers, so slow motion was another technique that produced some pretty satisfying imagery.
I was never happy with the integration of the movie footage, but did cut a version that was just Bill, Jennifer and the dancers that I thought worked pretty well. I’m sure it was never broadcast.
Were you surprised that it was such a smash hit? The film was actually a sleeper hit from what I recall.
Any thing you recall from the day of shooting? Any anecdotes from the experience?
Propaganda [a video production company] was just really getting going at that time, and in order to get enough operators to man the super 8 cameras, in addition to my DP, Renato DiGuiseppe, I invited a bunch of my fellow directors, so the footage was actually shot by Renato, Dominic Sena, David Hogan and David Fincher. I remember Fincher shot a lot of stuff on his back going after low angle shots, and Dom positioned himself to maximize rim light. You could see how everybody was thinking at that time.
Leonard Cohen came by and hung out on the set.
The crew got paid twice because the record company failed to cancel early enough when Jennifer couldn’t make it. The poor folks from the record company kept asking me, rather hopefully (desperately), if I thought the piece would work fine with just Bill, and I kept having to emphasize the fact that the record was a duet… so we shot anyway. Some of the setups had a double for Jennifer, shooting the silhouette side to hide the double’s face, which was predictably a nonstarter. We ended up reshooting the entire show about a week or two later.
All this was quite awhile ago and subject to my memory, so all or none of this may or may not be true!
Check out the video (and Ryan Gosling’s “big move” from CRAZY STUPID LOVE as well), and check out all the latest on Bill Medleyand Jennifer Warnes at their respective websites.
Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes – Time Of by