The 71st Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards are in full swing, with stars set to hit the red carpet in Los Angeles, tonight. The men and women behind the magic started making their appearances Friday evening with Beyoncé‘s art director, Andrew Makadsi making his Emmy debut in the category of outstanding production design for a variety special for Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé. Gongs are not at the forefront of his mind. Instead, he’s focused on channeling his gratitude, manifesting it in a way that serves a higher purpose–others. “When I put my head on the pillow at night, I think, ‘Man, I’m not giving back,’” he starts. “We all have a destiny to fulfill–just like Beyoncé does, or anyone in this world.”
Born and raised in Zahlé, “The Sorrento of Lebanon,” Makadsi comes from a line of men who work in the car business. “If he were a traditional man, my dad would have forced me to inherit it,” he reflects. Instead, Makadsi was encouraged to nurture his creativity. “I was lucky, but my art classes were limited. My imagination was all I had,” he remembers. “It wasn’t the age of Instagram. TV and magazines were the doors to the outside world. I would spend time looking at music videos, not understanding the whole branding of artists and just consuming it.” At 18, his parents decided to move to the US. “Lebanon was not safe. My dad’s work was in Beirut and there were bombings happening. That was a tipping point.” The family moved to New Jersey and Makadsi enrolled at the University of Toledo in Ohio. He studied film and TV broadcasting and remembers being fascinated by the culture and the city. From a distance, New York was beckoning. “I set my mind on it,” he remembers. He landed his first experience as an interning editor on a documentary of New York fashion week, which led to an editor job at the production company Industrial Color. “It was smack in the middle of the rise of fashion films,” he shares. “The industry was waking up to the internet. Fashion influences music – at an aesthetic and taste level. Fashion introduced me to music.” From working on Victoria’s Secret commercials, he soon found himself freelancing, including for Kanye West and Jay Z. Beyoncé was just around the corner. “My first experience was the On the Run Tour–I was brought in to create visuals and video content. It was thrilling and I knew how lucky I was. I loved the team. I loved the impact.” He was hired for new projects and was made the solo art director three and a half years ago.
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Research is key to his craft. “If we’re choosing Nefertiti, we’re diving deep into her life to understand what every detail symbolizes. There is a thin line between appropriating and making a gimmick out of something that is or was real,” he says. For Homecoming, the concept centered around a bleacher-style pyramid structure (with more than 150 lights above) that filled the stage to allow the cast to create a kinetic backdrop of bodies, musicians, and dancers. More than 100 performers brought the set to life. “Beyoncé’s an artist–she knows what she wants and a lot of the creative comes from her. She is the mastermind,” Makadsi says of his boss. “I never imagined I would be part of such a cultural and political movie. People are empowered. We grew up seeing the same heroes, the same standards, and the same skin color. Now, you have people from all over celebrating their beauty, power, and excellence. Of course, there is beauty in everyone. It’s just the rules we make and how we normalize–many are left out. That’s the power of music, fashion, and imagery.”
Originally published in the September 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia
Read on for a Q&A with Andrew Makadsi
What is it like working for Beyoncé?
I’m so lucky. She’s an artist–she knows what she wants. A lot of the creative comes from her. She is the mastermind. We’re a team. It’s like an orchestra and she’s the maestro.
What do you strive for, creatively?
My goal is to be original. It’s finding beauty–and this is for me–in situations or in happenings that are not seen as beautiful. I try to draw from that. I think that this is how I differentiate my work. When we design, I just challenge myself to find an ugly font (for example) and try to make it beautiful. Or, if people are shooting HD, why am I going to use VHS old video. These “broken” rules. We grew up seeing the same heroes, same standards, same skin color. Now you have people from France or the UK or South Africa that are celebrating their beauty and their power and their excellence. And there is beauty in everyone. It’s just the rules we make and how we normalize–a lot of people are left out–these projects are very important. It’s the power of music and the power of fashion and imagery.
You spoke about giving back.
I always ask myself – how do you give back? Living in the city is so consuming, you don’t have enough time. When I put my head on the pillow, I think–man I am not giving back. We all have a destiny to fulfill, just like Beyoncé does or anyone does in the world. Even if I touch five people. I would be happy. I get encouraging messages–these make me so happy. I’m trying to show people, I was not born into this. I worked my ass off every day.
When you close your eyes and think of Lebanon, what do you see?
Now, I look back and I see nothing but beauty. Maybe I had to do some growing up to understand that. Architecture–or simple things that make our culture what it is. I don’t think I am going there enough. We’re a big family and I have a responsibility now especially as my grandparents are growing older.
What is your opinion of social media?
I was so lucky to not grow up in the social media age. Maybe I’m not the new generation but I do see a disease–or not a disease but a flaw and the pressure to prove yourself. Social media is such a new concept. We don’t teach it in schools. Your parents don’t teach you about it. They don’t tell you how to navigate it, deal with it, live with it. I don’t have the answer. Listen, you can make art that is for social media; people have made careers out of it. Social media is just one medium. Watch television, movies, go to museums. I talk to kids and I ask them when was the last time they watched a movie and they say, “I don’t know; I just watch Youtube.”
Do you compare yourself to others? `
No and do not compare yourself to others. Once people start that, “Oh she’s getting likes because she’s wearing a red dress–then we are all going to look the same. We’re become politicians. The voters dictate their decisions, right? On Instagram, the likers are dictating. That is so toxic to me. As a creative. If you are a filmmaker, or a fashion designer, you need to log off. What makes you different is your voice and what is in your heart. Go in there, grab it, and show it to the world.