Director Matt Alonzo visits Music Video Land to talk about his hip-hop videography, going to Iraq with Xzibit, and the work behind being a music video director.
Matt: I’m Matt Alonzo. Shoot. I’ve never had to do that before, so it’s kind of a … I don’t know how to … I’m Matt Alonzo and I’m a music video director based out of Los Angeles, California.
Adam: There’s an interview with you in BallerStatus.com from about two years ago where you mentioned that you wanted to get out of music videos. Obviously, you’re still doing them all the time right now, so I was just wondering what’s changed from two years ago to now that’s kind of kept you interested in making music videos?
Matt: Yeah, I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve just matured a little bit and I’ve just realized that no matter how much I want it or how fast I want to achieve my goals, I just have to be patient. I’ve learned patience. So I have an agent; I still want to get out of music videos. I always want to do music videos. I think I’m going to do music videos for the rest of my life, the rest of my career. I love it; I love how fast it is being able to be artistic and be creative, but not really have to deal with years and years of, even a year of post or anything like that. It’s relatively quick as far as, in the film world. But yeah, I think patience is the main thing that I’ve really learned. Now I’m just really practicing my craft, practicing my story telling, practicing my shot selection, practicing being able to subconsciously communicate to the audience, things that I didn’t really do when I was a little bit younger. Now I’m just kind of using all the music videos as practice, and I’m just trying to tighten up my skills. When that time comes for me to take that next step I’ll be prepared and be ready to go.
Doug: Another thing do in that BallerStatus interview is you highlight all the hard work that goes into directing music videos, and for you specifically also editing music videos and the long hours that are involved. Was that something when you came into directing music videos that surprised you about it, or was that just something you just wanted to make sure to get across because so few people do?
Matt: I guess I wasn’t surprised. I think I knew once I was in college the commitment that came along with it. I think it’s not necessarily just music videos, I think it’s any career that you really put your heart and soul into, it’s going to consume you; it’s going to consume your life. It just so happens that I write the treatments, I direct the videos, and then I edit the videos, so it’s a lot of work for one person. Usually directors kind of break that up, but I started off as an editor originally when I was in college, and I just wanted to edit. I just loved editing. Then I realized my other talents and my other gifts, so I kind of went into that world, but I still kept my editing because it was what I started with and I just felt so passionate about it. But, I kind of expected it. I kind of knew it was going to be an all or nothing type of thing. I had to give everything I had every single day, every single night. Can I continue with that now? I want people to understand that it’s not just fun and games. Yeah, we have a lot of fun on sets. I get to travel and it’s a lot of fun, but there’s also so much unseen sacrifice that goes along with all that. I just wanted kids to know that no matter what career path they take or what goals they’re trying to achieve, it is just going to be a lot of hard work and a lot of unseen dedication and sacrifices that you really just have to endure to get to where you want to be. I just think it’s really important that these kids know that; just that people in general will know that just so that when they do have some hard times or they’re working really hard they don’t think that they’re not the only one who’s going through that type of stuff.
Adam: Now, I think that out of every director or maybe every director we’ve had on this broadcast, you probably get as much or if not more press. There’s a lot of recognition for your directing work, which is definitely well-deserved. I was wondering when you were first starting out making music videos and you made your first few, was there a turning point or a moment that you could pinpoint or a video that you can pinpoint where you started getting noticed by larger artists?
Matt: I think with each video it just kind of exposed me to new audiences. Obviously the Lil Wayne “Gossip” video that I started off with, that really got people, got my name out there, got people looking at me. Then with The Game, the “Dope Boys” video, that really created a fan base, created a buzz. And other west coast artists and other artists really wanted to go to me for that, for my specific look at that as the time continued to progress. I really think those two were like the starting points as far as branding myself or really just kind of getting myself out there to these other artists and stuff. Now, I just talked to Xzibit the other day; he has a new album coming out. We’re working on a couple of more music videos for him, and we’re also releasing the [video we shot in] Iraq soon, too. So, yeah. I think those were the two videos that really kind of started it all off. Then obviously the Odd Future stuff now has really expanded my fan base. That’s really what I’m trying to do right now. I just did a video for an alternative artist in the UK, and I did a video for one of Randy Jackson’s daughters which is a pop artist. Obviously, I’m going to work with Tyrese. I’m really just kind of trying to cross all genres and really just kind of reach out to all different types of people and really just explore film-making with everybody.
Doug: I wonder if we could talk about that Lil Wayne “Gossip” video because that video’s credited sometimes to have been a video that caused you to be discovered by Skee.TV and DJ Skee. Was that something that you were trying to have happen—get discovered? Or were you just kind of getting your content up on You Tube and trying to make that a part of what … Was it to you just like a channel to get your content out there?
Matt: Yeah. At that point, I was working at a small record label and the label crashed and I decided to split. I really had nothing at that point. I had very little money, I had very little food, I had very little avenues as far as getting my name out there. I didn’t really know what to do, so I just worked as hard as I could. I was taking a lot of jobs off Craigslist, and this job came up to go film the concert for the opening act. Like I said, the headliner happened to be Wayne. I just knew if I had some contact with him and I headed out there somebody would see it, something would happen. So yeah, I took it by the horns and I just really went hard and that’s why I had it out the next day or two days later because I knew other people were filming. I knew that other things would be out. I knew there would be other content out, so I knew that I had to be the first one to have it out and it had to be amazing for that time period. So I just went home, and I edited it that night. Stayed up all night. Drove back to San Diego, and had it out the next couple of days. I got an e-mail from DJ Skee, and it all happened from there.
Doug: Now recently you left Skee.TV and started Modern Artists Creative and have been working exclusively out of that for the past little while, making music videos under that company. What has sort of changed or what sort of freedoms has that allowed you since you moved away from Skee.TV?
Matt: Yeah. It was just time for me to mature, really, so I decided to just kind of branch out and see what I was about. I really just wanted to create my own brand and really be able to pick and choose the videos that I was able to do. At Skee.TV we had such a small demographic, more of the hip-hop world. We didn’t have too many choices as far as branching out and doing videos with other types of artist at that time. Since then Skee’s obviously grown and been able to cross-over to a bunch of different genres, but at that time we were very hip-hop heavy. That was one of the things—I really wanted to branch out and kind of be a little bit more creative with shooting different genres and stuff. It’s really allowed me to be my own boss. I’m looking at bringing in some directors now, some younger directors, to have on the roster and just kind of expand the Modern Artists Creative brand and just continue to create artistic pieces that people can get some inspiration from.
Adam: So you have some, I guess you can call them collaborations or some realtionships with a few artists that you’ve done a series of videos for, one of them being Xzibit. You mentioned before that you’d gone to Iraq to shoot a music video and documentary with Xzibit. That’s such an interesting place to go and be working on the music video genre there, I was wondering if you could walk us through why you were there and what is going to come out of that project?
Matt: Yeah. I mean, that was the craziest phone call I’ve ever gotten in my life. I get a call and I answered and he says, “Hey, we’re going to Iraq.” I didn’t really know what to say. I was kind of in shock. They wanted him to come and perform for the troops and really just talk and kind of bring a couple of friends that were going to be inspiring. So we brought his hype man and his DJ, and I came out there, too. We just went. He performed a bunch of shows, but we really just went and talked to the troops, signed autographs. We really just hung out; we didn’t want to be stars. He didn’t really want to separate himself from anything. We just really wanted to go and hang out and let them know that we support them. While we were there—obviously, we knew going out that we were going to shoot—so we decided that we were going to shoot the “Napalm” music video which is the first single off his new album called “Napalm.” We also were just going to shoot a documentary about all the troops and just kind of what their experience was there and how life was and really what they miss about home. Just kind of get to know them as people and not just the troops, not just the good name of the troops. That’s kind of what the mission was as far as the documentary. The experience was something that I’ll never forget. It was nothing that I could’ve anticipated, nothing that I could’ve planned for. Flying in Blackhawks with the doors open and jumbo jets and just the whole thing: Bullet-proof vests, helmets, fatigues. Obviously, we weren’t in the line of fire necessarily, but you sure felt like it. You definitely were in a different world, a different zone. But, yeah. We have a music video coming out; it should be releasing, actually, soon because the new album’s coming out. We also, all of the pictures that I took while I was actually there are artwork for the new album that’s coming out, so that’s pretty exciting. Then also we have a documentary coming out called “Coming Home.” We’re just kind of finishing it up, tightening everything up. We’re not sure what we want to do with it yet. There are some people who want to … some things that he might want to do with it, so we’re kind of just making sure that he has the right avenue to release that out to the world.
Adam: Now is the “Napalm” video does it follow him sort of playing for the troops, going through that whole process or does it use Iraq as sort of a background for the video?
Matt: Yeah, we use Iraq more as a background more than that type of thing. A lot of that stuff we saved for the documentary. We just shot … I mean, we shot in the palace. The Victory over America palace was about Saddam. When he claimed victory over America he built a palace and it was the first palace that we actually hit, the first place that we hit when we bombed there. We just went to very significant places and shot performance scenes. We got a lot of b-roll from the plane and just from the Blackhawks and troops and just kind of the whole lifestyle out there that we mixed in there. It definitely is an exciting music video, and I think it was one of the funnest videos that I’ve ever shot in my life for obvious reasons.
Adam: Yeah. It seems even shooting a music video over here in the US where you have all the logistics kind of set up for that is nerve-wracking enough. It seems to fit that into a trip to Iraq would be just a feat on its own. Was it hard to secure locations or hard to get around there, or did you guys have kind of the support of the military to help you with that?
Matt: Yeah, we did. They were very supportive. Obviously, they were very appreciative that we were out there. Also, our personalities are very open; we were very friendly with them. They had some other celebrities come out there that weren’t that open with them, so once they kind of realized that we were just regular people they opened all doors for us. “Hey, we’ll take you here,” and “Hey, do you want to see this and do you want to do this and do you want to see this?” Obviously, I didn’t have a crew; it was me and the camera with a couple of lenses and maybe using a light shirt for to bounce the light, it was kind of like taking everything back to high school and film school days, really gorilla-style. I think we were playing the music off an iPhone. We were just kind of … You’re in Iraq, so there were no trailers, there were no lights, you know what I mean? We kind of just used whatever resources were around us at that time. A lot of the times, you’re travelling to places that are not necessarily so safe so you don’t want to spend too much time at the location. You just kind of jump out, get a couple of shots, shoot it a couple of times, maybe 10 or 15 minutes max, get back into the car, get back into the Humvee and ride out.
Doug: You mentioned that Xzibit approached you directly to work on the video and come to Iraq with him. Is that typically how jobs come to you? The artist is approaching you directly, they’re just like ready to work with you in particular or is there a bidding process?
Matt: Yeah. There are two ways they go about it. I mean, I love artists who … you know Tyrese, Odd Future, Xzibit, The Game. There are a lot of artists that I work with regularly, so if Game wants to do a video or if … For instance, Tyrese—we have a new video we’re shooting—he just called me directly. He didn’t need to go through my rep or anything like that. Then all the other jobs that we get go through my rep. Her name’s Jamie Kahn; she’s over at Lark. So they go through there and I figure out which ones I like or which ones I want to write on or which artists I like to work with and we write on them and just go back and forth until everyone’s happy with what’s on paper. Once that’s all figured out, then we plan the date and show up for that. So, they come in different ways.
Adam: We’re really big fans of your work with Odd Future, with the Internet videos and the MellowHype videos, and the “Martians vs Goblins” video, they have a really interesting cinematic quality to them, kind of like a nightmarish quality. I was wondering what it’s like to work with an artist like Odd Future. Since a lot of their other videos are directed by Tyler the Creator or somebody within them—they’re a really creative group of guys. When you’re coming in as an external director to work with them and to kind of create their vision, since they have such a recognizable public persona and the art they put out is really important, how do you handle that?
Matt: They’re really, really mellow. They are actually just really fun, cool people to be around; they’re really normal kids. I mean they’re a little bit hyper and stuff, but they’re very passionate about what they do and so am I. When you’re both passionate about the art, it makes things a lot easier. They also really trust me. I know their manager really well, Chris Clancy. He actually gave me my first music video with The Game and Travis Barker “Dope Boys.” That was through him over at Interscope. I have known him for a while, so he called me as soon as he was working with Odd Future and really wanted me to meet them and just kind of vibe out with them. I did a couple of little promo spots for Tyler for the “Goblin” album. I really got to know him and know everyone else. So when they needed some videos we just kind of went over what they wanted and hung out, ate some pizza and just kind of hung out and talked about it. Once they kind of got out what they wanted, it was a very just, “OK, Matt. We’ll follow your lead,” type of thing. That’s really great. I always ask them, “Hey, do you like the shot? Hey, do you like this? Do you like this?” I let them be very involved in the editing process, come over, stay with me in the editing session, make sure that they like everything. They’re really easy to work with; they’re very, very easy to work with. They’re very passionate about what they do. I really like to work with them because I’m actually able to do things that I truly, truly like. Some of the times when you work with the bigger labels, they’re a little bit scared or it might not necessarily fit the artist to do something out of the box like that or to really do a narrative music video. So, I really like being able to work with them because I can do things that are outside of the box, things that I enjoy doing and really be able to be narrative and really work on my cinematic skills. It’s definitely a fun process.
Adam: Especially the “Martians vs Goblins” and the “64” videos definitely have that horror film look. One’s in this like abandoned asylum; the other’s in this funeral home. Were there any horror movies that you drew on for inspiration for those, the look of those?
Matt: No. The craziest thing is that I had the idea for Game in a mental hospital, I think, since I did “Dope Boys.” At the time I did “Dope Boys,” we didn’t really have that type of relationship at that point because it was more of a contracted job. I wasn’t able to say, “Hey, let’s do this.” But I used to tell Skee, because DJ Skee does a lot of mix tapes with Game, so I would tell Skee, “Skee, I want to do a video with Game in a mental hospital.” It just never panned out, it never panned out. When I finally got the song sent to me, I knew immediately that this was what we were going to do. I had this idea already; I wanted him in a straight jacket. I already had the vision in my head; the video went seamless. It was a great video, a great energy, a great set. I’m actually not a horror movie fan at all, but I think with some of the work that I’ve been doing, I feel that genre might suit my style. So I’m definitely looking at some horror options right now, and it’s definitely opened my eyes to that genre of film-making.
Doug: It’s interesting a lot of times we’ll do a lot of research obviously before we do interviews, and a lot of times we see you as called an “up and coming director.” Then we look at your work and you’ve got work not only with artists who are incredibly significant right now like Odd Future, but that have been significant for the last 15 to 20 years of hip-hop and music in general like Cypress Hill and Ice Cube and Xzibit. I was just wondering when do you stop getting called an “up and coming” director? Do you think there’s a line that you haven’t crossed or do you think that people maybe aren’t familiar with the full scope of your work?
Matt: I never really look at that. Sometimes I see it. I’m not super young, but at the time I started I was younger, I was 21 or 22. So, I definitely got that a lot. Now that I’m going into the film world and I’m going to these meetings, sometimes they look at me like I should be an intern … Like “This guy’s not coming in for the meeting.” I’m not sure if that’s necessarily my age or they don’t know how many videos I’ve done and how many hours I’ve put in, but at the same time, there’s also that top tier of directors that are just really not moving. I don’t what line I need to cross to be able to be into the next tier, but I’m not really too concerned about that. I continue to do what I do and make sure I put my all into everything, and if they want to cross me over soon, then that’s fine; if not, that’s all right with me, too.
Adam: You mentioned that you were working on crossing over in different musical genres for music videos. I was just curious, because you have a really large body of music video works, are videos like “Long Gone” by Chris Cornell or “Homeboy Hookup” by Nicole Krinsky do those fit into that mold of looking to cross over into different genres?
Matt: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, Chris Cornell I love that video. I love working with Chris Cornell; he was a great guy, easy to work with. I mean, he has so much energy on camera. I’m a big fan of R&B, which is really weird. I listen to it constantly. I work out to R&B. People think I’m crazy. It’s really weird. I like alternative. I like vocals; I like vocals. I like being able to sing. Obviously, I can’t sing for anything in the world, but I like people who are able to sing and express themselves through that. Also, I feel like there’s a little bit more emotion. Rap music it’s fun; you can do the videos, the hood videos, whatever, but you can only do so many of those until you’re pulling your hair out. I really just want to find music that has a lot of emotion to it, has a lot of feelings so that I can really bring that across on screen. Just really practice my cinematic skills and my subconscious storytelling, and just really being able to connect with the audience—which is hard to do in rap, when the person’s talking about booty-shaking and drugs or whatnot, so it’s a little harder to do that. That’s kind of really why I want to cross over and just kind of explore the options, explore what’s out there and really kind of figure out how far I can push myself and where my limits are.
Adam: As a music video director, is it sometimes a concern to be kind of put into a genre in terms of, “I direct rap music videos” or “I direct this kind of music videos.” Is that ever sort of a worry for you?
Matt: Absolutely. Every day. When I left Skee.TV I really looked at a couple reps. I really just wanted to see where their heads were at and just kind of figure out what their plan was for me. That’s kind of why I really went with Jamie, I went with Lark. I felt she was going to be able to expand my horizons, really bring me into different genres, and bring me to different artists, and like I said, just expand the genres and really get me in with some different people. It’s definitely a worry of mine. I just said to her, last time I talked to her I just told her, “Hey, I really want some R&B or some really emotional music. I really want to shoot some visuals that are very powerful and very meaningful.” That’s kind of what we’re looking for right now. At the same time, my ears are always open and my options are always open. I take on what I like and kind of go from there. Yes, definitely it’s a concern. You never want to get boxed in. It’s just like anything else. You want to be able to cover everything, and I want people to be able to trust me. If they want to do a heavy metal video or an R&B video, I just want them to be able to say, “You know, he can do it. He can kind of do it all. He can kind of cover all the ranges.”
Doug: What’s that process like signing with a rep? Is it like a LeBron James style decision or is it not quite actually like signing a contract? How does that work?
Matt: It’s more of a work handshake. It all depends. They’re all different. You know what I mean? They’re all very different. It’s very important … I don’t know if it’s the LeBron James type of thing because you can leave at any time. Both parties can leave at any time. I can say, “Hey, I’m not happy.” She can say, “Hey, I’m not happy with what you’re doing.” Whatever. We have the option to be out of the thing. At the same time, that person is representing your work; that person is speaking for you when she’s talking to the labels. When they’re talking to the labels or they’re talking to artists or they’re talking to marketing people. Whoever they’re talking to, they’re talking for you. They’re your mouthpiece so you have to very, very cautious. A lot of the advice I give to the younger kids is really be cautious. A lot of the younger kids aren’t going to be able to get reps at this point of their career, but I just tell them when they do make sure that person is talking what you want them to talk about. That’s something you need to think long and hard about and make sure you have the right home. I definitely feel that I do; I feel like she’s doing very well for me. It’s working great so far.
Adam: I was wondering if you could provide us some insight on something that we have talked a lot about on the podcast and that is moving from music videos to features because as I understand it, I think you mentioned before, you’re looking to move into features. Am I right, you’re working on a feature right now or at least in development?
Matt: We have a feature script that we’ve been working on probably for about two years, but it’s so hard with finding time. Time is a very elusive thing for me. Even sleep is a very elusive thing for me, so yeah time is a little harder with that. I have an agent over at ICM who reps feature films. I’m constantly sent scripts that he thinks will fit for me or just sent them to me to see if I like them or stuff like that—scripts that are open. I read those. I go to a lot of meetings with a lot of these big studios: Paramount, I go to all the studios and actually kind of do meet and greets and if I like a script, we go and talk about the script. If it’s the next level, then I’ll do some sort of presentation for it—my interpretation of the script. It’s just a longer process than a music video. You’ve got to remember, these people are entrusting you with millions of dollars. I’m sure it’s not going to be a handshake and say, “Hey, yeah, you’re our guy.” It’s going to take a lot of meetings and just make sure that they’re very comfortable with me and they trust my vision. That’s something I’m OK with; I understand where they’re coming from. I understand that it’s a hard economy right now. I understand where the movie industry and film industry is right now. Even some of the big directors are having a hard time finding movies that they can create. I also have a film that we just shot and I’m working on the editing and stuff like that. That was just more of a sampler, something that people can look at and say, “OK. He’s ready for the next level. With this and his body of music video work we’ve got enough to sort of see what he’s about, so let’s see what he can do at the next level.” I mean, there are a lot of options out there. We’ll see how the script goes, how much we can finish up. I’m definitely looking at all my options when it comes to the film world. We’ll see which one opens up first.
Adam: Is there anything from your experience as a music video director looking at this world of feature films right now … like any advice or anything that surprised you about the whole process that talking to people who are younger music video directors or just starting out?
Matt: You know what I’m learning now and I’m learning as I grew—I really wish I knew kind of earlier—is that your connections. They told me that when I was in film school, but it just didn’t register to me, was as in the film world, your connections in the music video industry lead to your relationships, whether they’re with the artists, whether they’re with management, whether they’re with the commissioners, whether they’re with somebody at the label. Those relationships are very, very, very important and those relationships are really going to carry you. Obviously, you need to have the talent, you need to have the work ethic, you need to have all those other things. But, the relationships will really help the rest of, all the other things that you have and really just kind of progress you a little bit faster than they would if you didn’t have those. I’ve been grateful to have people around me who have had a lot of great relationships and have allowed me to have a lot of great relationships. When I was younger, I can’t even say younger because it was only a couple of years ago, but even then I just didn’t really understand that. Now that I do, it’s something that I definitely tell kids and just really want people to understand.