Behind The Lens with Rik Cordero

The music video is probably the most effective and essential tool an artist can use to promote their career. The advent of Youtube, Facebook, and other social networking and blog sites have made it easy for artists to deliver a visual interpretation of their work directly to their fans immediately. However, even that process wouldn’t be possible without a music video director.

Music video directors are responsible for writing “treatments”, the story form of a music video that eventually becomes a “shot list”, a list of shots that the director plans to get on the day of shooting. In short, they are responsible for translating the lyrical metaphors of an artist into visuals that the audience can relate to. One of the newest and most exciting Directors of late is Rik Cordero.

Cordero, a graduate of the New York Institute of Technology, initially studied Computer Graphics and then found himself attracted towards video art and motion graphics. Like many of the earlier music video directors, Cordero was first a film director who fell into videos, his first full-length film, Mend, is a drama about prescription drugs, which received independent distribution in 2006. His second feature film, Inside A Change won The 2009 Best Film Award at the 2009 HBO New York International Latino Film Festival.

These days, Rik Cordero, a New York native, is becoming well-known for shooting raw and engaging hip-hop videos. His video for The Clipse feat. Cam’ron, “Popular Demand,” was meant to just be a viral video for the internet; instead it is in regular rotation on MTV networks. Cordero has also shot videos for Nas, The Roots, Consequence, Slaughterhouse, and more. spoke with Rik Cordero by phone to discuss the art of music video direction and what aspiring directors can do to get their turn behind the lens. Rik, thanks for speaking with me. I’m curious, what is your favorite music video that you didn’t direct?

Rik Cordero: "99 Problems" by Jay-Z, which was directed by Mark Romanek. It’s definitely one of my favorite Hip-Hop videos because of the way it captured Jay-Z. I think it was one of the most honest portrayals of his image. It’s definitely one of my favorite and most influential videos, I always try to take a piece from that video and put my own spin to it. What is your favorite part of the music video direction process?

Rik Cordero: I guess it’s working with the artists and trying to capture something real about their personality and capturing their vision for the song. I try to create visual metaphors for what their lyrics are. Oftentimes, I try to build the storyline and use these visual metaphors for what the lyrics are saying. What has the internet age done for music videos?

Rik Cordero: The internet has driven the labels to not spend as much money on music video production. What that means is that artists are kind of forced to create their own videos some of the time. They have a little bit more freedom to create visuals for tracks that the labels wouldn’t consider mainstream. I feel like the internet has empowered artists to reach their core fan base a little quicker. I think it’s changed the music video industry, so a lot of directors are kind of adapting to it. I came into it when just started so I am used to producing videos cost effectively. There is a misconception that “internet directors” lowered the standards and lowered the budgets, but it’s the market, that was the cause of dwindling budgets. It’s going to be interesting to see how the labels try to monetize music videos in the future. What would be your dream music video or feature film project?

Rik Cordero: My dream feature film would science fiction based; a lot of my favorite films are science fiction. When I was a kid, I saw "Aliens" by James Cameron and I was really inspired to get into filmmaking because of that. I got into music videos, but for me, a feature film drama that’s science fiction based, that would be a dream project of mine. Music video wise, I don’t really have a dream project, I just really like to live in the present and whatever comes my way, I try to do a really great job at the moment. I try not to think too far ahead. I just kind of accept whatever comes my way and make the best out of it.

Rik Cordero Discusses His Videos!

"Shake This" by Royce Da 5’9”. Prod. By DJ Premier

“This was a video we shot in Detroit. I thought it was a really great record when I first heard it. Royce is being really emotionally honest in the lyrics, which is really refreshing. A lot of the criticism for that video is that I didn’t show a lot of what he was saying in the song, as far as his problems with alcohol and that stuff. I showed more of people hearing these lyrics and taking it adapting for their own lives. It was a little abstract, but I think it worked out great.”

"Popular Demand" by The Clipse feat. Cam’Ron. Prod. By Pharrell

“This video brings The Clipse back to the streets. We shot that without permits in the middle of East New York, Brooklyn. So, we were getting chased by the cops, it was a pretty crazy shoot. I think that’s why a lot of people are into that video, it’s very street, very real. One of the cool things about that video is nobody was casted for it, it’s just people in the neighborhood who just showed up and we put them in. There is a shot of some of older women in a fitness center on Rutland Pkwy and they walk out and they just jump into the shot while Pusha T. is rapping and they just start dancing. That’s stuff that you can’t write out, it just happens while the cameras are rolling.”

"Mixin’ Up The Medicine" by Juelz Santana feat. Yelawolf. Prod. By Kane Beatz

“For that video we constructed a laboratory scene that was basically inspired by the film, I Am Legend. The idea is that Juelz has been stuck in this lab for years, “mixing up the medicine” or creating music. His only link to the outside world is these TV screens with Yelawolf performing the hook which is taken from a Bob Dylan record. Juelz had fun with it, he improvised a lot of different actions on the screen. It was cool.”

"Sly Fox" by Nas. Prod. By of Dead Prez

“That was a viral video we shot for Nas off his last album “Untitled”. The idea starts off with these kids who are basically getting misinformation from Fox News. The idea is that today’s youth or today’s bloggers are the new media and that we don’t have to tune into the networks. The idea was to turn off the networks, the television, and to find the truth online, which is where a lot of kids go to now to get their news.”