With the release of Tyler the Creator's album Cherry Bomb this week we were yet again treated to another stunningly absurd video for the song "Fucking Young." Always visually eye opening and aesthetically beautiful, he is one of the few still using music videos as a platform for honest creativity. Tyler's right hand man through all these endeavours is Luis Perez. From being mentored by Hype Williams to working as a cinematographer for the likes of Rick Ross and Lil Wayne, Perez is one of the most exciting figures working behind the camera in music today. Shuf had a chat with Luis on getting his start in the industry, working with Tyler and the current state of music videos.
You got your start as an on set photographer for Hype Williams. Could you talk on what you learned from him and how this transitioned into you becoming a cinematographer?
I learned so much it's hard to put in a few sentences so ill try to give you the cliff notes. Working on a Hype Williams set as a set photographer at the time was like a master class in how to create iconic images. His attention to detail was unparalleled. Watching renowned cinematographers like Malik Sayeed to Daniel Pearl construct images that complemented Hype's vision definitely inspired me to pursue cinematography.
Ive always looked at photography as an extension of my learned fine arts principles, so the transition was far easier in concept once I was given the opportunity to show what I could do as a cinematographer. Back then music videos were shot on film so I understood the technical needs and responsibilities once I got behind the camera. Creatively how to apply those fine art principles to a moving image was much more of a learning process.
Coming from a fine art background was music something that was always close to you, and did you always want to work with it so closely?
Anytime I paint or draw something music is playing in my ears. Music has always been part of the creative soup. Since a tadpole I've always enjoyed music and it has always complemented my imagination. As kids my sister, brother and I would stand on an old refrigerator that was abandoned and we would sing the popular songs at the time such as Michael Jackson or Bob Marley. We imagined the long blades of grass being the audience waving. I knew I was always going to be doing something with music it was inevitable.
Within the music industry what is the process like of getting the ideas of the artists you are working with created, do you come across many obstacles?
It all depends. I'm usually involved once the job is booked. I come in after a treatment has been ok’d by the label and given to a director who is usually attached to a production company. In other cases I'm contacted directly by a director or label in order to photograph said project. Things then just come down to working within a budget allocated for the project and thats where things get interesting. The obstacles come when ambitions and budgets don't match and expectations turn into twelve person conference calls to talk about creative details.
Having worked on a whole range of music videos ranging from the experimental to working with high profile artists such as Lil Wayne and Rick Ross. Does your approach ever change regarding who you are working with?
I try to be consistent on how I approach every project no matter who or what it is. I think being consistent with approach affords me the ability to be flexible when challenges come to the surface. That way everyone knows what I bring to the table and can rely on that experience to help realize whatever it is they want to achieve.
You work on a majority of Hip Hop videos. Do you find there is a certain creative or experimental aspect lacking from many mainstream Hip Hop videos?
YES! YES! YES! In all fairness there are some artists willing to take risks and approach their visuals as an extension of their music. In other cases things haven't grown. Ive been making a conscious effort to seek out projects that challenge the concept of what a music video is. Its always a challenge to find the right balance between paying bills and fulfilling a creative curiosity. The budgets have changed drastically, so to me being creative with what you have is truly where you separate yourself.
There is always a fear that you'll be ridiculed as an artist for trying something different. But a long time ago I learned while in my college drawing class, that sometimes going outside the box usually gives others permissions to do so.
You have a strong creative relationship with Tyler the Creator. Could you talk a bit on your relationship and seeing as he has such a strong vision, how does the collaboration with him play out?
Tyler lives up to his 'creator' name. The man is constantly being inspired and at the same time inspires those who are around him. Tyler helped me give a rats ass about music videos again. When he comes to us, us being Tara Razavi and I, its usually a few crude drawings that basically outline his vision. We take those drawings and basically interpret through references and overall conversations into what we need to execute and how to put together his visual goal.
We have a conversational line between us that we never agree on anything unanimously. Its not because we cant but because he's so giving that we try to always better every moment we are trying to capture.
Tyler is very secretive about his work and releases, how does this work with regards to your collaboration. Will he play you unreleased music to fuel your ideas? Did you know about the vision behind Cherrybomb a while before its announcement?
Interestingly with Cherrybomb we would briefly talk here and there about visual ideas he had for music he was working on but nothing was clear enough, or gave me any idea to what it sounded like. When we got the call about doing the new visual for Cherrybomb we met at the studio and we heard instrumental snippets of what it was he was working on.
Case in point Deathcamp was barely put together when we first discussed what he wanted to do. Hell he accapella'd the lyrics to Deathcamp so we got the gist of the aggressive nature of where he wanted the visuals to go. I had zero clue to announcements or how he was rolling out the album. I just knew we had a deadline to when we needed everything to be finished.
Do you find working in the music industry is a sustainable career for a cinematographer?
No! haha. Maybe in the 90’s but today no. It works for some. You are better off branching out and doing more than music videos. I'm actually leaving in a week to work on an indie feature in Jamaica.
Could you talk about the process behind Trash Talk's video "F.E.B.N" as its a hugely impressive video both visually and technically .
The process was very simple. On a very limited budget Tyler was like "I want to do a one take music video". The song was short enough and aggressive enough to just work as a pure performance one take. We came up with capturing it as a constant moving frame. We built a circular track and choreographed Lee and the band around the stage so that every time we showed every section something was happening. Also a tid bit of BTS info on it as well the stage we shot in was like 200 degrees hot. We couldn't afford to turn on the air conditioning. That wayne Brady cameo was a last minute addition that was just epic in my opinion.
Trash Talk shows are just cocaine sonically and their performance live is hard to contextualized in one sentence or word. If you have never been to a show please do. It might leave you toothless.
Whats your favorite music video you have worked on?
Hmm thats a hard one. As a set photographer it has to be Jay-z "Big Pimpin" not because of the video itself but just the insanity of shooting during Trinidad carnival. There was plenty of waking up pool side with a beverage in your hand. As a cinematographer I have to say every Tyler video.
You can check out Luis's work here
Words: Jacob Roy