Beyoncé didn’t have to go as hard as she does in the “Countdown” music video. Directed by the singer and Adria Petty, the video is a kaleidoscope of references, from Belgian modern dance to Audrey Hepburn to Flashdance. Which is why “Countdown (Snuggie Version),” a 2012 shot-for-shot homage made by and starring Ton Do-Nguyen, is twice as impressive. Every lip curl, scowl, and hip shake is precisely copied by Do-Nguyen, who was then 16 years old and shot most of the scenes cloaked in a blue Snuggie. Though it’s clearly set in various dens and basements across his hometown in Pennsylvania, the video is meticulously edited, raising the bar for fan edits to come. It went viral, reaching Facebook feeds everywhere and eventually finding its way onto Beyoncé’s blog. “Brilliant,” Bey wrote at the time. “I think he did this video better than I did :)”
TikTok and other video-editing apps have made it easier than ever to create content inspired by celebrities, with filters and tools that do the work instantly, but back in 2011, Do-Nguyen had one digital camera, one iPod Nano, and some proficiency at the editing software formerly known as Sony Vegas. “I learned so much by copying Beyoncé,” the now-25-year-old laughed recently. “And copying the editors that worked on that music video.” Empowered by the viral success of “Countdown (Snuggie Version),” Do-Nguyen now has a career as a freelance video editor, working for record companies like Def Jam and stanning Beyoncé on the side. “I always say to people, ‘I want my own Homecoming’ — I want to be able to direct a concert documentary for somebody,” he says. “It’s crazy looking back — the video opened up so many doors, even to this day.” Do-Nguyen, who’s now based in New York, broke down the behind-the-scenes of his iconic video, starting with how it all began as a birthday present for his friend.
I feel like I’m speaking to internet royalty right now.
Oh my God, stop.
Is it fun for you to take a little trip down memory lane? I don’t know how often you think about it at this point.
Thank you. I mean, it’s kind of crazy because it does resurface every few months. It’s so funny because when it does, it’s kind of taking on a life of its own. Sometimes I don’t even know when it happens. I get an influx of new followers and I don’t even know where it came from. And it’s like, Oh, it just popped up on TikTok.
How did you first get the idea to re-create Beyoncé’s “Countdown” music video shot-for-shot?
It was a birthday present for my friend. In high school, we used to make videos for each other all the time, like for birthdays. This one I delivered very late. It was kind of an inside-joke situation, because at that time, I really loved my infomercial products. That’s where the Snuggie came in. That was the time of Bump-its and all that. But then we also really loved Beyoncé, and that video was just, like, insane when it came out.
I was working on it sophomore year of high school, going into junior year. I put it up, and then it blew up the week after. The original “Countdown” video came out October 2011 and I think we started around then. The intention was my friend’s birthday was gonna be that November. And I finished … July 2012.
What was your first step when you decided you wanted to make it?
Because it was such a match-to-match situation, I literally laid out the actual music video in the editing program. I wasn’t even on Adobe Premiere back then — I was on Sony Vegas. So, I laid it out and made a very makeshift shot list. From there, I literally had the music video on my little iPod Nano so when we would go to shoot it, it was like, “All right, we gotta rewind and then get that shot.” Whatever was shot during that day went right into the edit. There were points where I didn’t even touch the video for like, weeks, months, then I would get back into it, do another shot.
So did you go scene by scene?
I would couple it off, like: Okay, so this certain scene, let’s learn the choreo, let’s try and get the shot. I drew out little storyboards. Learn the choreo for that, boom. Let’s film it, boom. Let’s get it into edit. Let’s match it, boom. It was very much like, Let’s just move as it goes along.
Did you use multiple cameras for the scenes that are shot at different angles? Or were you resetting over and over?
Resetting. For the multiple camera angles, it was multiple takes and just moving the camera around. You can see how it was a super-long process, especially back then. I was still learning a lot of what I was doing. It was a lot of learning to match what Beyoncé did to the best of my ability and to the best of the production, which was no production.
A lot of trial and error. How many takes did a scene require on average?I would say like five to ten — because at a certain point, you’ve just got to say, “All right, let’s keep it.” Especially some of the scenes where I had my friends in there, it was like, yeah, we can’t keep doing this.
At what point were you like, “It’s time to recruit the backup dancers”?That was from the jump because it was a birthday thing. I was quite a diva. There’s certain scenes where we did shoot it, and I was like, “He’s not doing it right.” So, I reshot it with myself. But it’s like, you know, no hard feelings.
How long did it take you to learn the choreography?
Honestly, sometimes I look back on the video and I’m like, I still didn’t nail it. But like, let’s get the shot and it’s all in the edit. There were some where I was like, “Ugh, let me try and get this kick down.” Then there are some moments where it was just like, “Let the edit carry it because I’m not a dancer.”
I think that so many people weren’t expecting you to come out with these moves. They’re on point — even the facial expressions. Do you remember some of the moves? When the song comes on, are you like, “Yes, this is my moment”?
Honestly, okay, so I do remember some of it. But at this point when the song comes on, I think of the Homecoming version and stuff like that. Because it’s become such an essential song, I can seriously enjoy it. There was a certain point where I was just like, “Guys, don’t play it.” But that song is just brilliant. Brilliant.
I read that you also used the Snuggie as a blue screen. What was the whole journey of casting the Snuggie?
That was such an interesting thing because especially with the effects — with the changing colors and all that — I was just using what I knew. And I was like, okay, the Snuggie is basically a big old blue blanket. Why not?
Do you still have the Snuggie?
It’s in a closet somewhere. It’s not trashed.
The whole video has this DIY quality to it, but then the editing is slick. It’s professional. What was the process of editing it? Did you have to learn a lot of techniques, hacks?
I had already been pretty proficient with Sony Vegas since middle school. My friends were always making fun videos with ourselves. But I did have limitations as to dealing with a video that’s, like, nine screens at the same time, but you can only have four video tracks. I would have to render, rerender, export, and use the exports to layer all of them. That was something that I was just trying to work around when I was trying to re-create this and I took my sweet time doing it.
What was it like doing the effects? Was there one effect that was particularly hard to get?
The one that took days — literally days — to get down is the one where there’s ten of me in a row. Having the ten of me all laid out and then panning across all ten of them, going to close-up, and then having all ten of me move along. That was a nightmare.
Even with the end, at first I was shooting it point-blank with the music. And then I was looking back and I was like, Wait, that doesn’t look great. I learned in real time: Oh, they shot it by slowing down the music, and then speeding up the footage in post. That was a whole ’nother technique.
How much footage did you have in total?
I would say days, days. When I was finally done, I was like, thank God. Put it up and then honestly, could not have expected it to do what it did. At that time, I thought I was gonna go to college, study psychology, whatever, but I always loved making videos. This was the push for me to be like, I’m gonna go to school, and I’m gonna go to school for making videos and learning media. That was the reassurance that opened such a door in my life. To this day, I think I got my first internship off of that video.
What was your reaction when Beyoncé noticed it?
I have a vivid memory of that. I was at my friend’s place, the friend whose birthday I made the video for. At that point, it was starting to blow up already. I remember a few people were tweeting it out. And then, next thing you know, Beyoncé posts. I screamed. We’re freaking out. My friend’s dad came in and he was like, “What is going on?” We screenshotted on her computer, I put it up on Facebook. Beyoncé is still, to this day, my everything.
Parkwood [Beyoncé’s entertainment and management company] reached out to me. It was so fantastic because they invited me to their office and they invited me to a few other events — like, I got to go to the premiere of Life Is But a Dream, Beyoncé’s HBO documentary, and see her in person. They were going to offer me an internship, but I was 16 at the time and I had put on my YouTube profile that I was 18, because you don’t know who’s on the internet. I was like, “You know I’m a minor?”
Do you consider yourself part of the Beyhive online?
Absolutely. It’s so funny because even the other month, I was posting some of my Ivy Park photos on Twitter — I follow a lot of Beyhive Twitter — and there were some people that were in the replies like, “Wait, you’re the Snuggie?” And I was like, “Yup, that’s me.”
Yeah, I feel like a lot of people, whenever I look at the videos, all the comments are like, “We want to know what he’s doing now. Where is he? Is he getting the Ivy Park boxes?”
I want the box. I want the box. Listen, let’s get that word to Adidas.