Director Profile: Carlos Lopez Estrada
Despite the decline of MTV, its arguably golden period broadcasting works by newcomers such as Gondry and Jonze influenced a generation that have now taken the reigns on their own creations. Enter Carlos Lopez Estrada, a Chapman grad, Latin Grammy Award winner, and festival regular. He's worked with favorites such at the Passion Pit, Thundercat, Capital Cities, Hook N Sling, and shows no signs of stopping. We caught up with the young director prior to the Los Angeles Music Video Festival where his video "Summertime" is competing in the Non-Narrative competition. Tickets for the festival running November 6-8 are available here.
You've done a myriad of music videos by this point, so I want to hear about the very first one that you did. How did it happen, what was filming like, and how did the final product turn out?
What I consider my first video (this is ignoring all the silly things I filmed in high school) is Dear Dictator for Saint Motel. I think I was 19 when I made it. I made this on my first year of film school with my film school friends and 1 thousand dollars, which the band and I split. The Saint Motel guys had gone to Chapman's film school and a friend of mine introduced us when they came back to play music outside of the cafeteria. I don't really have any good stories from that video shoot other than the fact that it was the beginning of a great friendship between the band and I.
A lot of your worlds seem to have a fantastical quality to them. If you had to live within one of your music videos, which would it be and why?
I've probably spent about 10 minutes day dreaming about this question. I'll have to go with Black Taxi. Everything I consider good about life is in that video.
What are some of your biggest influences outside of the music video world?
My grandma was a theater actress and I think her introduction to the theater world when I was a kid marked essentially everything I do. I also saw a lot of classic Disney growing up. Tim Burton was my favorite director in the 90's and I got a Jack Skellington tattoo in Mexico when I was 13, which was a dumb decision. I wish I had a more exciting list of early influences. I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I listened to a lot of whinny loud music in high school. In college, I was crazy about the MTV auteurs and all-things Charlie Kaufman. After college, I got into a theater craze and read as many plays as I could. Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf and Angels in America are my favorite. I also love Tennessee Williams. A few years ago, I started listening to musicals. Stephen Sondheim has been changing my life. I saw Hamilton earlier this year and have not been able to think about anything else since. My favorite blog is Meanspirited.
Since filmmaking is such a collaborative process, who is one of your go-to collaborators you continually work with? What is your relationship like with each other and how do you engage each other to push out the best product possible?
I still work with my buddies from film school, which is a real treat and the reason why making videos is still fun. They have each blossomed into prosperous professionals in their own right, which keeps things challenging every time we come together to shoot something.
What has been one of the biggest challenges you've encountered on a project and how did you overcome it?
I don't think I have a good answer for this one. The single-shot videos I have done have been particularly challenging. The best way I overcome challenges on set is by telling people that I can fix stuff in post even when I have no idea how to. This is terrible advice.
You have a lone short film in the videos section of your work. It plays very similar to a music video; I could easily see it with a song thrown overtop in place of the original score. Do you have any plans to produce another short? If so, any hints on what it will be about?
Someone literally *threw* it over a techno song and turned it into the worst music video ever. It has more views than most of my actual videos, which is ironic. I hate it. I actually just released a short film a few days ago called Identity Theft. It is based on a one act play and features two characters in one room and lots of talking. I am not sure if it is the most exciting piece of content for music video enthusiasts, but I am very happy with how it turned out.
The video featured at LAMVF this year is clipping.'s "Summertime," your third video with the group. Can you give us a little more info on the production of the video?
It was an experiment of sorts. The idea, in a nutshell, was to go around Los Angeles with a camera and film as many people as we possibly could. Then, by covering their eyes and mouth with Daveed's (clipping.'s rapper), we would simultaneously obscure their identity (allowing us to feature them in the video without any form of written consent) as well as make them all sing along to the the song. It seemed like a good excuse to be artfully irreverent and a good opportunity for a fun shoot.
What do you love about music videos? What is the pleasure you can get from it that is hard to access in other mediums?
Someone whose name I can't remember described music videos as the only form of experimental filmmaking that is also commercial, and I think this person, who I wish I could credit for the quote, articulated it better than I ever could.
interview by Jordan Blakeman