With an eye for a unique visual, a mind for an interesting story, a hand for design and an ear for talent, Rik Cordero is the embodiment of an all around stellar filmmaker. He started out making fantasy horror films, but eventually moved on to short stories and ultimately music videos. A few reluctant run-ins with acting and film students were the first things to put a close to his graphic design dreams and open the door to an alternate world of film.
Raised in New York, better known as the land of opportunity for some, Rik was fortunate enough to meet the right people to fit perfectly into his puzzle of visual ambitions. Now as one of the best video directors in hip-hop, he stands alone on a mountain of credentials built up by individual talent and creativity, all because of his simple goal to capture the human condition.
â€œThereâ€™s something about seeing reality move in reverse that I find fascinating.â€
Format: What sparked your initial interest in film?
Rik: As a kid I was drawn to Science Fiction and Fantasy films and sometimes Iâ€™d steal my dad’s Minolta camcorder to shoot horror movies with my friends. As I grew older I became more involved with music, especially DJing. That led to other interests like graphic design, music production and mixing. I graduated college with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Computer Graphics and for about four years I was working in Manhattan as a motion graphic and Flash designer. During that time I started meeting other artists who came from film schools and acting schools and it inspired me deeply. After shooting my first serious film project, a feature titled “Mend” (mendmovie.com), I felt like this was my calling; the ultimate art form that combined all of my interests into one.
Format: Where did you grow up? What was your environment like as a teen? Did you have a lot of freedom?
Rik: I was born in Far Rockaway, Queens and raised in Long Island, New York. Moving to the suburbs from an urban environment was a little weird for me. I was too young to understand it fully but I never felt like I fit in back then. I was the only Filipino kid in my school and probably one of the shortest so I got picked on a lot. I was very introverted, so my parents gave me a lot of freedom whenever I showed interest in something. As I grew older I realized how much influence my parents had on my life. My mother is a registered nurse and probably the most compassionate person I know. My father is an architect, a quiet man and probably the most resourceful person in my life. Iâ€™m expecting a daughter in a few months and sometimes I worry about the environment I will be raising her in with her mother. But I think with great care, love, and trust everything will be cool. I just have to continue following my heart and my dreams.
Format: At what age did you break into film?
Rik: I completed my first feature at the age of 25 in 2004 and I didn’t actually break into the industry until around 2007. For me it’s been a series of small breaks rather than one big one. I didnâ€™t go to film school, I just read a lot of books and mainly experimented until I figured out what worked best for me. I would find little nuggets of inspiration like music videos for local bands or short stories and just shoot by any means necessary. Robert Rodriguez wrote a great book, a memoir about his break into Hollywood, and he has this great section at the end called â€œThe 10 Minute Film School.â€ In it he basically just tells you the basics of what you need to know for a film and he nails it. From my experience observing my film school friends, they teach you that everything is impossible. That you need X amount of dollars to tell a good story. Iâ€™m more interested in finding that story that resonates emotionally with my audience. Everything else will fall into place afterwards.
Format: When did you know that cinematography was an interest?
Rik: I became interested in cinematography purely out of necessity. I can frame and do basic lighting but Iâ€™d never claim to be a true cinematographer. Working with light is a huge part of the emotional language of film and something I’d rather leave to those who are passionate about that part of the craft. My interest is mainly the human condition so naturally Iâ€™m drawn to directing.
Format: What do you remember about the experience involving your first major project?
Rik: My first major project was â€œMendâ€ and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I knew nothing about directing actors, how to hold a camera or lighting. But it was my film school and the trials and tribulations of working on an independent feature that makes music videos a piece of cake to me. I also met my muse and creative partner Nancy Mitchell who played the lead role in the film. She believed in my potential from the beginning and continues to be my main source of inspiration.
Format: Three21 media was established in 1999. What is the creative purpose of the company and is everything going as originally planned?
Rik: Our goal back then was to focus on the human condition and shoot by any means necessary. I think over the years weâ€™ve become more business savvy by adapting to new technologies. But most of all, we’re still not afraid to get our hands dirty. We shoot under conditions most filmmakers would be skeptical of.
“I try to approach every video on a narrative level because itâ€™s far more interesting for me to put an artist in a storyline rather than just seeing how many pretty ways I can show them singing or rapping into the camera.”
Format: You did a film in conjunction with FADER Films called â€œInside a Change.â€ How did that come along and what is it all about?
Rik: My heart lies in long form narrative storytelling which led to my second feature film, which we wrapped in April, titled â€œInside A Changeâ€ (insideachange.com). Itâ€™s a coming of age story about a kid who is about to go to jail for six months but before he leaves, he has to throw his mom a surprise birthday party while bringing his brothers together to be a family. Itâ€™s a really heartfelt story made with some truly gifted actors and an amazing crew. We were really a family during the three weeks we shot it and I remain close friends with everyone involved. With this movie, I had a chance to say what I have to say as a filmmaker and not just a music video director. Iâ€™m really proud of it.
Format: How did you transition into directing music videos? Who was the first artist you worked with?
Rik: The first artist that gained major attention and ended up receiving network play was Joell Ortiz. He gave me my first official shot and that’s something Iâ€™ll never forget. That video led to me working with Consequence and developing a close creative relationship with him. After that, the work just snowballed, but those two I consider personal friends.
Format: When did you start directing hip-hop music videos?
Rik: I started to get noticed in the hip-hop genre shortly after I met my business partner Steve Carless around early 2007. He introduced me to a lot of the people at the major and indie labels who deal with marketing, management and promotions. It was great timing since the music video landscape back then was beginning to shift to the Internet.
Format: Do you ever hear a song and instantly visualize a concept or do you always plan your videos out?
Rik: Itâ€™s a little of both. Sometimes Iâ€™ll have an instant concept and other times an artist will have a small concept that I try to develop. Itâ€™s really unpredictable sometimes but it’s always good to be flexible in order to discover the piece of inspiration that will get you through the whole video. Itâ€™s more than just a job for me so I try to go that extra mile each time.
Format: Do you ever find music to be the inspiration of a short? Or has a video that you’ve directed inspired you to create a film?
Rik: Yes, Iâ€™ve done a few videos where the music inspired me to create short stories that don’t feature the artist at all. I try to approach every video on a narrative level because itâ€™s far more interesting for me to put an artist in a storyline rather than just seeing how many pretty ways I can show them singing or rapping into the camera. My feature film â€œInside A Changeâ€ is actually based on a good friend of mine who passed away in 2004 and a music video I made with his family after he died was a big inspiration for the feature film. But whether its three minutes or three hours, Iâ€™m at service to the story and itâ€™s my job to keep you captivated for any amount of time.
Format: I read that you often edit videos in reverse, is that because you want to give the project the opportunity to flourish into something it may have never been?
Rik: Well, I donâ€™t exactly edit the videos in reverse but I do take certain scenes and reverse them to give a subtle off kilter look to a shot. Thereâ€™s something about seeing reality move in reverse that I find fascinating. I really canâ€™t explain it, but if you look closely at a lot of my videos, thereâ€™s usually one piece that is set in reverse.
Format: What video of the past, if any, do you wish you have had the opportunity to direct?
Rik: I think it would have been really fun to direct something like John Landisâ€™ â€œThrillerâ€ for Michael Jackson. That video used to scare the hell out of me as a kid. There were so many layers to it and you really felt like you were getting ready to watch a full length horror movie. They just donâ€™t make them like that anymore. And to be completely honest, it has nothing to do with budgets and everything to do with the perception of filmmaking as an art form and not just as a three minute long lip gloss, shampoo, or liquor commercial.
More info: http://www.myspace.com/rikcordero