Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Martens Music & Film Series
Director Erik Rojas On The Art Of Music Videos & Chasing His Dreams In L.A.
Meet Erik Rojas. He's a young, energetic director/photographer who relocated from his hometown of Boston to chase his dreams of being a filmmaker in the City of Angeles. After just a few years into the L.A. grind, he's began to make a name for himself with his striking visuals, having directed music videos for TroyBoi, Dillion Francis, Jessie J, JAMESDAVIS, Chase Atlantic and more, as well as commercial spots, PSAs and art pieces (L.A. multimedia artist Ginger Q's epic "Cabroncita" video).
As he reveals in our recent conversation, what Rojas really wants to do is create a film in collaboration with his friends, and to lift up fellow creatives in his circle. It's pretty clear he's on the right path; the event we met at is one he was tapped to curate, the second instalment of the L.A. edition of the new Dr. Martens Music & Film Series. The featured artist for this show is his friend De'Wayne; they met a few years back when they were both new to L.A., with not much more to count on than big dreams.
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@idewaynejackson has been a close homie of mine in LA for a while now. When @drmartensofficial gave me the opportunity to curate artists for the campaign I am directing for them, I immediately thought of D. His talent, toughness and work ethic are unmatched. Love you bro! LA pull up to the show tonight! Stay tuned for the lil film we made together
We caught up with Rojas during the event to learn more about what he thinks is the key for making a great music video, what his biggest creative dreams for the near future are and how his father's story as a Colombian immigrant has inspired him.
So, you've been filming De'Wayne for a short film for Dr. Martens. What has this experience been like for you?
Working with Docs on this project has been amazing, because not only is the brand so authentic, and kind of a huge part of music culture and just culture in general. But the ability to have some creative freedom with such a global brand has been amazing, because they really believe in you and your ability to tell a story, and the story of the artists. It's great, because it feels super organic. They're an amazing brand to work with. Everyone on the team—and the message they have—is so sick. I think the message of the campaign is amazing, I really resonate with it. We're two months in, and it's been amazing. I love it.
What's the biggest thing you've learned about yourself from this project so far?
Oh man. That's a good one. Like I said, there's so much creative flexibility with this campaign. What I've really learned is how to take my storytelling ability and apply it to the stories of these different artists. And myself. I was able to learn how to tell a story about myself, which is a really interesting thing.
Also, there's a different way of crafting a film for each artist, because each have their own voice. The film that I make about De'Wayne; it's not going to be the same film that I made about PJ, because they're completely different people with completely different stories. And I've definitely learned how to adapt my craft to really help push the story and the craft of another person.
And, if I'm not mistaken, you're curating the L.A. events in the series, right?
Yeah. So, it's cool, it's a partnership with Docs, and we're working together to find six artists or bands that have a story of resilience; they didn't have the easiest time in life, in the music industry. Kind of telling a story of how they got over that sh*t, and how it's inspired the music that they make now, or who they are as artists. De'Wayne's lyricism pulls a lot from his experiences moving here with no money, living in his car, sleeping on the floor, having little to no success starting out. He worked four jobs before he started to get a little bit of a success in music.
That to me, their stories, are super inspiring. And it's great, because every single artist that I've worked with or I will work with, has such an inspiring story. It's been great to work with Docs to find these talented people and even just help tell their story to more people.
How did you choose who to work with?
Yeah, it was cool because in addition to Docs, I've mostly been working with a really dope creative cultural agency called Collide. And when we were in the initial discussions about who to feature, I had a list of people that I work with and are friends with, like De'Wayne. And, because they're super in the music scene as well, they had a lot of great options that I was able to go pull from.
And just living out here [in L.A.] for a few years and meeting really dope people has been amazing. There's such a wide network of talented artists with crazy stories, so there's a large swath or spectrum of people to go for.
Yeah, where do you even begin when you're looking for artists living in L.A. doing cool, inspiring stuff like that?
Yeah, there's such an immense amount. Everybody's out making something and everybody's going through sh*t. That's the reality of it is, no matter what success level. De'Wayne's a great example and I can really relate because I went through the same thing living out here, coming out here with an intent to be a filmmaker.
You go through the same sort of trials and tribulations of questioning yourself. Like, "Did I make the right move? How am I going to pay rent?" Then you get those little breaks, and it's like, "Well, something's working." So I'm just going to keep at it. So I think there's a trend with all the people that are out here who are doing cool sh*t. There's a trend of toughness and resilience that I think is really key.
I think it's an important story, too. Nowadays, with SoundCloud and social media, it's technically easier to put your music and art out into the world. But it's also harder to actually get noticed, for people to pay attention for than more than a scroll.
Absolutely. There's such a high volume of people now, and the democratization of like, "Well, I can get a hundred people to listen to my sh*t now." Now everybody can do that. So, how do you rise above that? That also makes you question your own heart. Whether it be the medium of music or the medium of filmmaking or whatever. If you're a painter, there's so many other dope people who are getting their sh*t out there.
There's a lot of like, "Damn, am I doing the right thing?" Or it makes you question yourself as an artist. So I think we're at a very interesting time in the history of creativity in general. We're at a really pivotal time in music and culture, everything.
I was looking on your website, and you've made some really cool music videos. I'm curious about what you think are the key elements of collaborating with an artist, to get a visual that brings new life to their music?
With music videos specifically, at the end of the day, it's like reverse scoring. You're creating the visual score to their music. I think it's always important for it to be super collaborative and for the vision of the artists to be the driving factor in every creative decision. Even if there's just one nugget of creativity that they want to give you, it's going to allow you to build off of that.
And like I said, every artist is their own story, vision, etc. So being malleable, being able to adapt, and being stoked in the process, stoked in their music, is key.
In terms of the way I work with artists, I always walk in with an idea, and then it's important to be super collaborative and mold that idea. No project will ever be [exactly] what was written in the treatment, because there's always going to be stuff on set. There's going to be ideas turned around, and that's dope, because that's the creative jazz that happens on anything, whether it be a photo shoot or a music video or a documentary. With this De'Wayne project, we were like, "Dude, you rap about a lot of heavy sh*t, especially racial injustice." We went to Home Goods and bought a bunch of little pig statues and destroyed them with a sledgehammer.
He's reinvented himself so many times as an artist; at least three times. He's gone through this dope re-envisioning of what his music is. We were like, "What if we just set your name on fire a bunch of times on paper." So we were in an alley and he was burning his hand setting his name on fire on a piece of paper. And it was dope. Those are the really cool things that happen when you're working with somebody and creating together.
So yeah, I think that being super collaborative, and being flexible and malleable is one of those key factors in working with artists, and in that process you develop a voice. You can look at something and be like, that's an Eric and De'Wayne project, or that's a De'Wayne music video.
Touching on your own story, your father is a Colombian immigrant. How do you feel that the different cultural identities you've experienced play into your own identity and the art you create?
You know, it's funny, on every project I'm ever on, people are always telling me how super energetic and happy I am to be doing it, regardless of the scope or whatever it is. It's funny because my dad came from Medellín, Colombia, at a time that wasn't the best.
In the '80s?
Yeah. It was pretty violent. They wanted to get out of there and he didn't grow up very wealthy. So, when he moved to the States, even though he became a normal immigrant worker, he was so stoked on everything, because it was the best thing he'd ever experienced. And to me, having his super optimistic and positive influence growing up, has kind of helped me just be stoked about everything I do.
Even if it's tough, it just helps you. If you're stoked about something, it helps make that final product better. Whether it be a music video, a photo shoot, a branded spot, a commercial or your own film. Having his optimism instilled in me helps me push through sh*t.
Whenever I'm feeling down, or kind of being whiny about something, I think about the fact that he could have died living down there. He busted his ass to get a green card and come up here and give everybody else, his family and his future kids a better life. So I'm just going to push through this, even if it's a tough job, or something I don't want to do or a really rough day on set. I'm just super grateful to even be out here. That super positive energy that he's always had has definitely helped push me in the right direction.
I love that. A positive attitude is important but sometimes can be pretty hard.
Literally, that was one of the only things he'd tell me is, "Just be grateful. Don't be ungrateful. Because you're healthy, you're alive and you have a job." He's literally worked a maintenance and a factory job his entire life. He's the happiest guy ever. I think that's dope, I want to be like that. Whatever I'm doing, I just want to be happy, but I want to stay positive and make sure that I'm just doing it to the best of my ability.
Would you say he's a big role model for you?
Absolutely. He's a role model, for sure. He is the American immigrant archetype. He came from a really rough time in Colombia and he was able to make a new life up here, and give the best to me and my brother. So he's a huge inspo, one hundred percent. I'm just super glad to have him as my dad. He's the man. My mom's amazing too, for sure.
If you could manifest one thing in the next year, what would it be?
Oh man, manifest one thing. One thing that I always say is, I just love working with my friends. It's a long shot because I know a lot of work goes into it; if I make a short or a feature or something and get my friends to work on it, be in it with me, score some music for it, and we're all just a part of this fun, creative process, we make a good film. I'd love to manifest that. That's why I'm out here. I'm here to tell stories, make films, and just have a good time with my friends. And if I can manifest that into something, that'd be dope.