KillerHipHop Exclusive: Matt Alonzo Interview
Lights, camera, action. Hip-Hop music videos contain some of the flashiest 4 minutes of video you’ll ever see on the internet. From scantily clad women to the fastest cars in the world, hip-hop videos have it all. But who’s creating all of these videos? One of hip-hop’s most talented video directors goes by the name of Matt Alonzo. He’s directed music videos for Game, Nipsey Hussle, French Montana, Nas, the Far East Movement, Pitbull, Ice Cube, and Xzibit.
KillerHipHop recently had the privilege of interviewing Matt Alonzo. During our conversation, he talked about directing Game’s “Celebration,” Lil Wayne’s “Gossip” jump-starting his career, the creation of “Martians Vs. Goblins,” French Montana’s “Ocho Cinco,” and his upcoming projects with Nipsey Hussle. Hit the break for our exclusive interview with Matt Alonzo.
QuezKHH: You directed Game’s “Celebration” music video. How was it like working with all of those rap superstars?
Matt Alonzo: The “Celebration” video was a great video. Me and Game are pretty close. This was my first time working with Chris [Brown], and Wiz [Khalifa]. I did some stuff early with Tyga, so it was good to reunite with him. You know it was a really cool set. Everyone was really cool and humble. It was a three day shoot. It was a good video. We just went out there and did the best we could, and made sure we had some fun while we did it.
KHH: Having worked with tons of artists, is there one artist in particular that surprised you on the set?
Matt: No, not really. All the artists that I normally work with, they’ve shot so many videos that they show up and they’re ready to go. They know what it is once you shout “action.” They turn on their star power and they give it to the camera. They feed off all the energy. So I wasn’t really surprised with anybody. Everyone came on time. Everyone was on point. Everyone was pretty good.
KHH: So how did you get into music video directing?
Matt: Early on, at about 7 or 8, I started playing with my dad’s video camera. I started making little music videos, little movies, and then continued to do that throughout High School. I went to film school, for feature film, for movies. I graduated, moved out to L.A., and started working at a record company directing and editing music videos for them. Basically, I knew I couldn’t jump on to a movie, so I needed to do something to kind of hone my craft, hone my skills, and just become a better director, just better overall as far as the whole craft. I knew that I could continue to put videos out, work on my directing, work on my editing, just the visuals in general. And also to be able to make some money and pay my rent, pay my bills, and continue to keep the big dream alive, which is shooting movies. You know it’s still there, so basically just continue to practice. So that’s kind of why I did it and how it really started even after I [left] directing [for] that company.
It wasn’t working for me. I felt like I was put into a box. I just needed to do something on my own, so I left that job, and started craigslisting, sleeping on people’s couches, and doing whatever I could to continue my dream. I ended up shooting a concert for Lil Wayne, the “Gossip” video. That pretty much opened the doors to everything else. I did Kardinal Offishall featuring The Clipse, then Game featuring Travis Barker, within three months after I put that video out. After that everything pretty much dominoed from there. So that’s kind of how it all came into play.
KHH: Talking about Lil Wayne’s “Gossip” video, did you ever think that it was going to get that big?
Matt: Nah. Basically during that time, when I quit this other job because it wasn’t doing anything for me, I knew that I needed something for people to find me. I needed something to basically get exposure for myself. I didn’t think it was going to be that big, but I knew, I was hoping that it would get that big, and I was hoping that it would be my ticket for people to give me an opportunity to do other things, and that’s exactly what it did. I went and shot it, took it home. It was in San Diego. I lived in Los Angeles, so I drove to San Diego, drove right back that night and started editing and put it up a day or two after. I made sure I had it up first before anyone else did or anything like that. But I didn’t expect it to be that big. I’m grateful that it was. It really opened the doors for me.
KHH: Looking back at older videos like “Gossip,” how has your style changed since then?
Matt: I think I’ve evolved as a director. I started as an editor. In college I really wanted to be an editor and as college progressed, I knew I wanted to direct. So I was kind of raw obviously coming out of film school so just being on sets and just working with so many people, your communication gets better, being able to express creativity to other artists, to the crew, and to record labels so that everyone is on the same page. I feel a little bit more comfortable. That’s what has evolved. [Also], just making sure that every video that we shoot gets better, and step it up on every single one. That’s something I like to do. Obviously “Gossip” was two cameras, the HDX, a very prosumer camera. It was just us. Some of the videos are like that, very small crews, very small lighting. So we just try to build on every single one. We try to evolve not only as a director but as a person, just continue growing. So I think my style has pretty much stayed the same. I kind of just slowed things down. In editing I did a lot of overcutting. Now I do just a little bit less and just try to focus on getting really nice shots as opposed to going crazy on the edit. I think that’s one of the bigger things that’s changed as far as my style.
KHH: What equipment do you use? What kind of cameras?
Matt: I mean everything is different. Every video is different. Every situation is different. Every budget is different. But we stay mostly with the Epic’s, a lot of RED cameras. Arri and RED is pretty much what I like to go with.
KHH: Do you have a favorite music video that you’ve directed?
Matt: I think my favorite music video is “Martians Vs. Goblins” only because I had that vision for Game right after I did “Dope Boys.” His energy and the way he performs on camera, I wanted to have him in a mental hospital. I had this vision, me and my creative partner Michael, we had this idea for him. I never really had the right song, [so] it never really transpired. So as soon as that one actually got approved, we [started] shooting it. Just the way it came out I was really happy with it. But really just because I had that idea for so long and seeing it come to fruition was fun for me.
KHH: That was a perfect video for that song. It was right on. So what’s been the funniest or craziest moment that you’ve had on set with an artist?
Matt: Man, it’s unfortunate for the question but fortunately for me, I have a great team working around me. We do a lot of preparation work, so we haven’t really had too many crazy instances. I think the craziest thing we had was on the “Celebration” video. Game really wanted it to be a barbecue, really wanted it to be very organic. It wasn’t like extras or people that Game didn’t even know. We really wanted to make it organic. So we invited all of Game’s friends out to have a barbecue at this park. We had the permits and everything like that, but there was just so many people that the cops ended up wanting to shut it down. They noticed who was there, Tyga, Game, all these people so they didn’t want to shut it down. They just stayed there and watched us. That was kind of hectic. It was a big video and just having cops there telling us that they wanted to shut it down, it was crazy. But as far as the artists and stuff like that, everyone is professional, and it’s there job as well. Everyone is pretty much ready to go.
KHH: I saw that you were shooting a music video with 5 artists? Who are you working with?
Matt: Tomorrow we are doing a video for French Montana’s “Ocho Cinco” record off his mixtape featuring Diddy, MGK, Los, and Red Cafe. It’s a mixtape song. We do this to keep things moving. I’m actually co-directing with another director. His name is Eif Rivera. He does all of 50 Cent’s stuff. So we’re basically going to team up as far as Modern Artists, which is our production company. This is going to be our first video together. We’ll put our creative minds together and see what we come out with. It’s kind of what it is. So it should be a fun shoot.
KHH: I also saw that you recently met up with Nipsey Hussle. What kind of stuff are you guys working on?
Matt: Yeah so Nipsey Hussle has the Victory Lap coming out, the third installment of his Marathon Continues campaign. Basically, we’re going to put together a bunch of visuals, documentary, kind of like the stuff he did out in Europe. We’re obviously shooting a couple of music videos for the singles. It’s actually now going to be an album that he’s going to release on iTunes. You know what? I don’t know if I’m supposed to say that, so I don’t know. Yeah, I don’t know if he’s announced that yet. But everything else, the iTunes album part, I don’t know if he’s said that yet. But yeah, we’re shooting music videos off that, visual promotion for the mixtape and the album. Basically, we put together a master plan. We’re really good friends and we kind of wanted to reunite after not having put out any visuals since Europe. I love Nip’. We work together really well, so it’s going to be really fun to put that stuff out.
KHH: Aside from your work with Nipsey, what other music videos are you planning to shoot?
Matt: Right now everything is moving a little bit slow because it’s the top of the year. So we’re waiting for the right project basically. While we do that, I can’t really speak on anything that we’re riding on because I don’t know if we’re going to get it. We don’t know if they’re going to shoot it. We don’t know if the songs are going to make the album, so I would rather not go into that. But while we’re doing that, we’re also working on scripts for Modern Artists, our company, working on some feature scripts. A film which I’m finishing up editing, and a couple of other little things we’re putting together on our own. We’re just laying a lot of ground work right now for the year and hopefully it’ll pay off towards the end of the year.