SZA “killed her ex” and licked his heart, too, in the Quentin Tarantino-inspired music video for her hit song “Kill Bill.”
Featuring Vivica A. Fox, who played Vernita Green in the “Kill Bill” movies, the video sees SZA left for dead by her ex lover and hungry for revenge. As she sings in the song: “Rather be in jail than alone.”
The video opens with a snippet from another SZA song, “Nobody Gets Me,” and plays on a “Kill Bill” scene between Uma Thurman and Elle Driver in Budd’s trailer. The action-packed video features other odes to the Tarantino films, too, such as a fight sequence at the House of the Blue Leaves and O-Ren Ishiii’s anime. The video closes with another SZA song, “Seek and Destroy,” as the R&B star hangs in shibari (Japanese bondage).
“Kill Bill” is directed by Christian Breslauer and produced by Luga Podesta, who previously worked together to create hit videos such as Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow’s “Industry Baby” and Lizzo’s “About Damn Time.” Podesta produces through his banner London Alley Entertainment with Andrew Lerios and Mike Breslauer.
In separate interviews, Breslauer and Podesta took Variety behind the scenes of the SZA video, and explained how it all came together in a “perfect storm” at the last minute.
Where did the idea to base the video off of Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” movies begin?
Breslauer: When SZA approached me she was really just saying that her fans had been wanting a narrative heavy video for a long time. And she feels like she never gives it to them, even if there’s narrative beats, it’s never fully narrative. So she was really wanting to lean into that: less performance and kind of diving into the acting side. And obviously, you have a song called “Kill Bill,” and we wanted to have fun going down the road of: “How can we make our own little action movie and make it ours and still throw little nuanced nods to the films?”
How quickly did the production for this video come together?
Podesta: It was definitely quick. Most music videos move quickly, but this one was definitely one to write home about. We got approached by SZA’s label in the middle of December. And of course, that one was shooting in six days, the day before we broke for the Christmas holiday. So it was pretty much a quick sprint to get there. Normally for a video of this size or caliber, you’d have two or three days to shoot it. We had to shoot it in one long day because it was all that was left before the holidays. So we were on set for probably 19 hours or 20 hours.
What was it like working with SZA?
Breslauer: I never worked with her before. It’s funny because when I posted the teaser trailer on Instagram, I tagged her and it brought me to our DMs. And I’ve never realized a year ago she had hit me up about trying to collaborate on a project. I must have missed it somehow. She’s honestly a beautiful person, just super nice, super down to go all in for the craft. I think she really understands how hard she worked for the moment and all the time she put into the album. She really wanted to do the majority of her stunts as much as possible. And she didn’t have a lot of time to choreograph it, so she stuck with it, and I think the end result was really believable. She stayed to the bitter end, and it got cold. I think we wrapped at probably about 5 a.m., and I think she got there at probably 9 a.m. [the day before].
Podesta: It was really interesting to see how involved she was and how much she knew about creative storytelling. She knew what she wanted. Every decision that was made, everything that was executed throughout the day, throughout prep… she was very involved in the casting and the lighting references.
Can you break down some of the “Kill Bill” movie references that made it into the video?
Breslauer: There’s little things we noticed from the overall film world. I thought of incorporating some of those classic retro split screens that you see a lot in ’70s movies, because Tarantino has kind of made his name on grabbing from all these different genres and kind of stitching them together. So we wanted to do the same thing. Obviously, there’s katanas and sword fights, which is a huge component. We want to have stuff for the fans where they can see that we’re moving in the direction of making an action movie, but at the same time, how do we make it different?
How did you get Vivica A. Fox on board?
Breslauer: It was just so close to the holidays, people already had their travel plans. And Vivica, she was so down to do it. And she was a sweetheart. She waited around for several hours as we finally got to that scene, and she came in the last shot of the night. It was cold as hell. She came in, I gave her brief direction and she’s like, “Alright, honey, say less let’s get to it.” And she brought that intensity, that look. I wanted her to feel like a stranger.
How did the video change after it was initially shot?
Breslauer: The animation scene wasn’t in the original treatment. It was something after I saw the original cut. I had this idea and I was like, “Maybe just throw something new through the loop and be able to cover it in a different way than how we shot it.” I think I hit up [Nathan Love Animation] on Christmas and they somehow turned it around at record speed, and it’s honestly one of my favorite parts of the video now.
We hear a snippet of “Seek and Destroy” at the end. Could this be hinting at the next music video?
Breslauer: The little easter egg we threw at them with “Seek and Destroy,” SZA hanging in the shibari bondage ropes, that was her idea that she threw at me. I think two days before we shot she was like, “I don’t know how to incorporate this, but I really want this scene.” I said, “Let’s put it at the end, let’s tease another record.” And I think “Seek and Destroy” is the right record because it’s like, “I had to do it to you.” She just killed her ex and she got revenge. She’s laying here in her glory of it. We brought in a real expert, a shibari rope guy, to tie her up accurately. So what you see is fully authentic. There’s no hidden cables holding her up or anything like that.
Podesta: At first we talked about having scrolling credits going over that, but I think that it was such an iconic shot that it was hard to put anything over her.
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.