Kyle Anderson
August 09, 2013 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Your all-time favorite music videos? Odds are this man made at least a few of them — including his latest collab with Jay Z, ”Picasso Baby.” The clip, filmed in a New York gallery with famed performance artist Marina Abramovi´, shows ”a very warm, human, open, joyful side of Jay,” says Romanek, 53. ”We had 30 hours of film for a 10-minute piece…. But that’s a real high-class problem,” he laughs. Below, the director shares the behind-the-scenes tales of some of his best-known work.

Nine Inch Nails, ”Closer” 1994
”It was a pretty ballsy and extravagant thing to do at the time. We made it with an old camera from 1919, and the whole thing was hand-cranked. I personally spent a couple of days dragging those prints around a parking lot, spraying aerosol shellac and holding lighters under it.”

Beck, ”Devils Haircut” 1996
”We wanted to capture that iconic Midnight Cowboy [idea] of New York City. The part where the car hits him, like Midnight Cowboy‘s ‘I’m walkin’ here!’ scene — the car’s brakes went out, and it really hit Beck and f—ed up his leg pretty badly. That’s actually in the video.”

Fiona Apple, ”Criminal” 1997
”She was, like, 19 or 20, and the record was so precociously mature and sexy. That [style of lighting] has been copied quite a bit since then, but we did it in a crude, dumb way with a $9 lightbulb. That same house is also in The Big Lebowski, in the scene with Ben Gazzara.”

Janet Jackson, ”Got ‘Til It’s Gone” 1997
”The Joni Mitchell sample put me in the mind of some sort of ’70s thing. I had found an obscure book about a magazine in apartheid South Africa called Drum, and something just clicked; we built this celebration based on that photography.”

Johnny Cash, ”Hurt” 2003
”He was not in great shape, so I was presented with this challenge: Do I prettify the situation, or do I take a cue from Johnny’s legacy and just be honest? The latter was the only choice. But between takes, he was very funny and spry and making all sorts of risqué jokes with June.”

Jay Z, ”99 Problems” 2004
”Jay said, ‘I’d like to do something about where I grew up, but I want it to look like art, like great street photography.’ There was a great book called Brooklyn Kings about black motorcycle gangs, so we found some of those actual guys and brought them in. It took three months to cut.”

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