Jay Z the rap legend was standing in the living room of the private mansion, recording a verse for Watch the Throne, his then-in-progress collaborative album with Kanye West.
“I just very gently entered the space and everybody was quiet while Jay recorded,” Lopuski remembers now. “It was one of those surreal moments, where you just stand there, like, ‘Oh, wow.’ You both hear and feel the power of somebody who is just great at this, doing it in a very intimate space.”
Lopuski was at the mansion to make a film about the making of Watch the Throne. Everyone involved with the album had sensed something monumental was taking place while Jay and Kanye were in the early stages of the recording process, and it became very clear the sessions needed to be documented.
Kanye had first come across Lopuski’s work back when the filmmaker took stills on the set of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness” music video, and decided to reshare them on his KanyeUniverseCity blog. This led to Lopuski getting hired to help with the “Power” music video and work on a video profile of director Marco Brambilla for Nowness, which also impressed Kanye. So, when it came time to find a filmmaker to document the WTT sessions, Kanye knew exactly who he wanted.
Once Lopuski got the call, he spent a week filming the sessions in Australia, collecting material that he describes as “chaos footage.” It was raw and unrefined, but he knew right away that he had captured a truly historic moment in time. And editing is his strong suit, so he had confidence he could turn it into something special.
Unfortunately, the 10-minute documentary leaked on the internet before it could be officially released. The short film had reached the final stages of development, but the leak derailed plans, and it ultimately ended up living on blog pages and Vimeo fan re-uploads instead of receiving formal distribution. The fate of the documentary was disappointing to Lopuski, of course, but he finds solace in the fact that the documentary still made a large impact. The leak reached a massive audience and remains an influential artifact for a generation of fans.
The documentary itself, even in an unfinished form, was remarkable. Lopuski was able to capture intimate moments of Kanye and Jay hashing out ideas, recording verses, eating dinner, buying each other gifts, and previewing the album for guests. And he interspersed these personal moments with powerful, larger-than-life imagery of burning castles, cliffs, and forests. The sound effects were abrasive, and it was all tied together by a gritty aesthetic that exuded strength. The footage offered a rare look at the intimate creation process, but Lopuski presented it on a grandiose scale that suited the historic moment.
Despite the leak, the documentary proved to be a pivotal moment in Lopuski’s life. It helped him build a creative bond with Kanye West, which would lead to more collaborations in the years to come. And it informed much of the work Lopuski created in the decade to follow, including a critically-acclaimed film called We’re Gonna Be Lords and an unannounced project that is currently in development (watch his Instagram page for updates).