Thursday, October 4, 2018

"Tonight, We Video" - Interview with Scott McCullough

"His music is his prayers." 

Photo courtesy of Scott McCullough

At one point during his time working for Prince, director Scott McCullough made the mistake of telling Prince what he assumed they'd do.

"He stopped and said, 'Never assume anything,'" McCullough recalled. "And he just walked away." 

It was great advice, according to McCullough, and it applies to my book and all other writing on Prince. We have our theories, but we don't really know what was in Prince's mind. All I can do with my work on Prince's spiritual journey is interview as many people as I can, study his art and present the results for the public to interpret.

To that end, McCullough and I had a great conversation about the spiritual content in Prince's music, the vibe at Paisley Park and much more. As always, I have to save major details for the book, but I can share some tidbits here.

I was especially excited to talk to McCullough because he began working for Prince on one of the superstar's most spiritual projects, the 1990 film Graffiti Bridge. McCullough helped coordinate casting, but didn't interact with Prince.

"My only connection with Prince was that he used my cell phone on occasion through his security," he said. 

That quickly changed; McCullough worked as Prince's camera operator, cinematographer and director for more than 25 projects in the early 1990s. He shot music videos like "Sexy M.F." (leading lady Troy Byer is #stylegoals), "Gangster Glam" (one word: mankini), "Gett Off (Houstyle)," "Call the Law" and, my favorite, "Violet the Organ Grinder."

"I held back on showing people because of its nature," McCullough said of the latter. "It's almost x-rated."


McCullough and I talked about the juxtaposition of sexuality and spirituality in Prince's catalog, and whether it ever became a source of internal conflict for the artist.

"He likes the contradiction, from my perspective," McCullough said. "He wants to raise eyebrows."

McCullough described a workplace environment similar to Prince's ex-wife Mayte Garcia's description in her book: A lot of footage was shot with little knowledge of how it would be used.

"I asked, 'How is this gonna work?' And you wouldn't get an answer, so you'd have to just guess and make it look as good as possible," McCullough said. "Maybe he didn't even know, either. ... We shot like another whole big section for '7.' ... That was thrown to the side for some reason that I will never know."

For one assignment, McCullough was told to film the exterior of Prince's father's house. "We're shooting the house and his father just steps out and looks at us and says, 'Get out of here!'" McCullough said. "I'm like, 'You didn't call your dad to say we're showing up?'"

McCullough quit working for Prince after a conflict with a competing camera crew in London on the 1992 Diamonds and Pearls tour.

"The next morning, I told the producer to send me home because I was done," he said.

McCullough sent Prince a thank-you letter but wasn't sure if it was received. He moved on with his career, directing commercials and film and TV projects.

"I would listen to music that [Prince] would release, and I really felt like I would love to work with him again," he said. "I'd go see his concerts and wish that I could say hi to him or talk to him, but it's not like that. ... He probably forgot about me."

Like everyone else, McCullough was "devastated" after learning of Prince's death. But he'll always have fond memories of working with a one-of-a-kind talent. And being able to ask folks like McCullough to consider Prince in new ways has been a blessing for me.

"I was part of the process and part of the history of this genius," McCullough said. "And it's really interesting to go back and think, 'What did this mean?'"