CARLOS LOPEZ ESTRADA TALKS THUNDERCAT – TEXT LUKE BATHER
Carlos Lopez Estrada’s work quite often takes surreal, unexpected turns, but anchors itself in something true, poetic or even downright miserable. His Work Work video for Clipping focused on a gang-style execution by curb stomp, for instance. Yet on the other end of the spectrum, his video for On An On centred on the old ‘Man Chases After Woman’s Departing Train’ film cliché and took it to new, fun and bizarre levels.
Recently, his video for Thundercat’s ‘Them Changes’ tells the beautiful, dreamlike story of a garage-dwelling Samurai’s fall from grace. We spoke to Carlos about Funk, Pillow Fights and getting a phone call from Flying Lotus.
Word Is Cheap: Your video for Thundercat is great! You’ve stated previously that you wanted the video to mirror the song’s unorthodox approach to heartbreak. Did the samurai concept come to you all at once?
Carlos Lopez Estrada: This video came together magically and against all odds. It was late on Sunday when I got a call from someone claiming to be Flying Lotus. He explained that a kind man by the name of Hiro Murai had given him my number and recommended me to direct this video he was trying to get made for an artist signed to his label, Brainfeeder. He sent me Thundercat’s album, which is beautiful, and asked if I could have a treatment for “Them Changes” ready by the following evening. I should probably also mention that the video had to be shot in less than a week. I, of course, said yes.
The original idea was similar, but revolved around a football player breaking his leg and never being able to play football again – which I still think could have been cool – but Flylo quickly raised a red flag and told me that Thundercat hates sports, so I should probably think of a different idea. At this point, we are 6 days away from the day they want to shoot the video.
I remember hearing somewhere that Thundercat had a thing for Samurais, so I called them and said: “Okay, what if we keep everything exactly as I had originally written, but we make the story about a Samurai losing an arm instead of a football player losing a leg.” They said “yes” – and now we had 5 days to shoot the video. It was a fun week.
WIC: There’s definitely a blurred line between dreams and reality running throughout the video. How important was this ambiguity for you?
CLE: It was important to me for the story to feel like it was being extracted from his unconscious rather than told by someone – some sort of grounded depiction of a daydream. It often happens to me, especially when listening to music or watching late-night TV, that I find myself drifting into abstract places and crafting complicated narratives that would probably make little sense to anyone else but myself. However, if you trace back, there are very clear through lines connecting these random images to their origin – and that is sort of the logic that I tried to use for this video. I think I just vomited a mouthful of nothing.
WIC: The stylised mix of practical and digital effects give the video a surreal, sometimes cartoonish feel. Did you feel as though you needed to let the video tread into absurdity every once in a while to keep it from being too bleak?
CLE: You know, I don’t think that’s a conscious choice so I can’t really take much credit for it. I think I’m a pretty light-hearted dude so everything I do will probably have a light edge to it no matter how hard I try to make it serious. It may be a blessing or it may be a curse, and I think I am okay with it either way.
WIC: What inspired the lighting choices?
CLE: It was motivated mostly by Thundercat’s funk. We also really wanted to embrace this silly idea of the 21st-century samurai, so we placed the story in a busy, neon-lit metropolis, which motivated most of the saturated tones on the light. It was a fine line to walk because we didn’t want it to feel like a clubbing video, even though we were basically lighting it like one. Niko (director of photography) did a really wonderful job, in my humble opinion.
WIC: Your DP for this video, Nicholas Weisnet and your Production Designer Tyler Jensen are people you’ve worked with a lot in the past. Is collaborating with those two a vital part of shaping the universe in which the videos take place?
CLE: I went to film school with Niko, Tyler and Zach [Wechter, Producer] too, which explains this strong bond between us since we have been working together for almost 6 years now. I really love working with my friends and don’t think I would be as excited to be doing this if it weren’t for them. This is the part where I take out the hanky and start crying. Seriously though, we get along so well and they are all so excellent at what they do that they make me immune to all of the not-so-fun things about video making. There aren’t too many not-so-fun things, but there are a few.
All 4 of us had a sleep over the night before the Thundercat shoot at the Ace hotel. We got a room together and had a tequila punch by the pool, then chocolate milk and then a pillow fight that lasted maybe 2 hours. It doesn’t get cuter than that, right? That was our day-before prep. Oh, we also had the guinea pig with us. We went to bed at 3am and then woke up at 6am to head to the location. That is the sort of video-making story I want to tell my kids. Here’s a photo from that night… We are all straight, by the way.