Rik Cordero: Music Video Director To Promising Film Maker

By Anne van de Sande  |  07/28/2009
Rick Cordero (Photo: Three/21 Films)

Rick Cordero (Photo: Three/21 Films)

Rik Cordero is the creative brain behind many hip-hop videos. He directed visuals for everyone from Jay-Z and Ghostface Killah to KRS-One and Wale. He brightened up music channels like BET and MTV with his artistic, daring shooting methods. It was only natural he was nominated as a 2009 BET Award for Video Director of the Year. With the release of his second film, "Inside A Change," Cordero is expanding his talents. BallerStatus caught up with Cordero to talk about his latest project, exploring boundaries and his come-up in the entertainment industry.

Cordero was introduced to hip-hop music at an early age, through by his sister who was a hardcore fan. When talking to Cordero, it becomes clear the talented director knows what he's talking about. Ask him anything about records like "Dana Dane With Fame" or LL Cool J's "Bigger And Deffer", and he'll have the answer. "When I actually got into the game it was very clear to each artist that I worked with that I respected the culture. It's definitely more than being a fan. However, it's also recognizing the individual personalities that create the landscape of hip-hop and learning how to bring the best out of them. What I do is very simple, I make a human, emotional connection and these artists recognize that."

We're rewinding to the day Cordero directed his very first hip-hop music video, which was in '07. "My first major hip-hop video was Joell Ortiz's 'Brooklyn Bullsh**'. I literally met Joell that day and the chemistry was pretty instant. I think we both felt like we had something to prove and the end result was a very natural and raw hip-hop video that propelled Joell's album The Brick: Bodega Chronicles to one of the best independent albums that year. It all happened very fast, but that co-sign led to my career as a music video director," Cordero recalls. When asking about the best video ever made, Cordero doesn't pick one from his own catalog. He chooses "Thriller" by the late, great Michael Jackson, which was directed by John Landis. "I remember as a kid I had the 'Thriller' poster on my bedroom door. I would wake up in the middle of the night and scare myself silly when I looked at the zombies. I'd run into my parents room in a cold sweat, but for some reason I could never remove the poster from bedroom. I watched the video recently and it still retains the same power."

Cordero is known for applying unusual, non-traditional shooting methods in his work. "A lot of my current methods stem from my own shooting experiments as a kid. I never went to film school, so I would learn by making a ton of mistakes early on. My goal was to change the perception of how film making can exist as an art form without the baggage of budgets attached to it. Music and painting are not judged on the merits of how much money was spent to create. You either make an emotional connection or not," he says on his signature style. Also part of his signature style is New York City, which is the setting for many of Cordero's videos. The diversity of the boroughs make Cordero's hometown an ideal setting for his videos and movies. "There are just so many resources and favors I can pull for any given project. Other than that, there's definitely an adrenaline rush while shooting here because no matter what you're shooting, with permits or not, commuters, business owners, cops, simply don't like it," Cordero explains. "I just shot a video down in Georgia and the vibe is completely different. People are more welcoming and generally positive about something being shot in their neighborhood. In New York, it's the complete opposite, which presents a greater challenge. I guess I'm drawn to that."

So how has working and growing up in New York contributed to Cordero's personal and artistic development? It's the energy the city exudes that gives him something. That, coupled with the "go-getter" attitude most New Yorkers hold, has help mold this young director's own attitude. "New Yorkers are always in a rush so that energy has definitely contributed to my determination and work ethic. It's a place where you can feel really lonely despite being surrounded by thousands of people. I've always been somewhat introverted so film making helped to overcome my shyness around others and develop my social skills."

Not too often do people with a love for film making walk the path of being an employee at Masterdisk to building a production company. Cordero's determination help him learn different skills that now apply to his own business.  "Film making was a profession I've always wanted to be a part of, but I got discouraged by statistics and financial horror stories. So, I figured it wasn't something that I could pursue full-time. When I graduated college with a bachelor in fine arts, I was able to land various production jobs in New York City. This led to learning different skill sets that I would eventually apply to film making," Cordero says about his come-up. "My last job as an employee was at Alloy Media and Marketing, which was a pretty comfy gig. However, after we shot the Jay-Z 'Blue Magic' Trailer, more and more jobs began to line up and I began shooting full-time."

Official poster for Inside A Change (Photo: Three/21 Films)

Official poster for Inside A Change (Photo: Three/21 Films)

Backed by a handful of people, Cordero launched Three/21 Films, a production company that is dedicated to producing innovative music videos, documentaries, shorts and narrative features by any means necessary. The second movie produced by Three/21 Films, "Inside A Change," makes its world premiere at 2009 New York International Latino Film Festival at the end of the month. "My heart lies in long form narrative storytelling, which led to my second feature film. We wrapped in April. It'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. It's a really heartfelt story based on true events and made with some truly gifted actors and an amazing crew," Cordero tells us about the story line.

Having done a boatload of music videos, with this movie, Cordero has a chance to say what he has to say as a film maker, which as mentioned has been his dream all along. "I'm really proud of it. I think my audience will recognize that some of the stronger videos I've done were all related to a captivating narrative. This feature allows me to take my time with the characters and let the story unfold without any crazy fast editing."

Ephraim Benton did a tremendous job playing troubled teenager Chris Price, which Cordero says "pretty much carries the entire film". But, he wasn't his first pick when the lead role came along. Fortunately, the original lead fell through and Benton was ready. "When our original actor fell through, I immediately called Ephraim who came onboard only a few weeks before we began principal photography," Cordero says on the main character of the movie. "The audition process all felt very natural and once we had our core family together, all of the supporting cast just fell into place. It was all instinctual."

Aside from the main cast, Cordero also calls in a few favors, enlisting some of his past clients such as Consequence and Joell Ortiz, both of whom appear in "Inside A Change" in short cameos. "I wanted to incorporate certain elements that the real Chris possessed such as rapping and poetry. However, I didn't want that to overshadow the fictional Chris' journey which is why I made Darius (Consequence) the vessel to his ideas. Consequence seemed like the obvious choice to me because he was from Queens and he was also very inspirational to me in the same way the real Chris was. For the role of Victor Reyes, Joell was a great addition."

When asking what part of the movie resonated with him the most, Cordero says the ending definitely strikes a chord with him every time, especially since it took nearly two years to make the actual film happen. There was finance problems, but most importantly, he was able to memorialize his friend. "I really feel in my heart that I did all that I could possibly do to memorialize him. And the film has that kind of sincerity that can only come from a personal experience," he explains.

"Change is when a situation occurs that alters your perception on life. Change is now and not tomorrow." That's the message Cordero wants to send out through the film. Change is also something the gifted director has been adding to music video channels for over two years now. With his creative shooting methods and ability to make a top-notch video without a major budget, Cordero was and still is a breath of fresh air to the game. And after watching Inside A Change, we're convinced that he'll leave the same mark on the movie industry.

For more info on "Inside A Change," visit its official website at InsideAChange.com.