Interview: Alan Del Rio Ortiz

January 11 2015

Brooklyn director and photographer Alan Del Rio Ortiz is quickly becoming indie music’s go-to creative force for clean, expressive visual treatments. One look at his work, and it’s easy to see why. He’s directed videos for Blood Orange, Danny Brown and more, and accompanied St. Vincent on tours around the globe.

Much like the music he creates videos for, Del Rio Ortiz leverages pop tropes, infusing them with dream elements to create a distinct style that works hand in hand with the songs. His videos operate on a borderline Lynchian plane in which the everyday is amplified to surreal emotional heights while lysergic splashes of color highlight the drama like an unexpected acid flashback. An inexplicable haze fills the dance studio in his video for Blood Orange’s “Time Will Tell”. Gyroscopic lighting tricks morph faces in Buscabulla’s “Caer” video. Blue and red washes spill across the video for Smith Westerns “Varsity” like a Saturday night in Brooklyn seen through the eyes of Gaspar Noé.

Intrigued to learn more about the man behind the music videos, we caught up with Alan to pick his brain about process, travel, and the perfect dream collaboration.

How do you take your coffee? 

Coffee should be black. I don’t like to monkey with it.  

What’s your favourite sandwich? 

I love sandwiches. I make a nice fried egg sandwich with avocado and sprouts. I put it on brioche. Please don’t tell my boys.

What’s your Sunday routine? 

My mornings in general are really important to me, but it’s tough depending on how busy I am. I like my Sundays to be mundane and peaceful. As soon as I get up I immediately have to make myself a cup of coffee. I like to wake up early and read for a while. Usually the New Yorker. Then I either go for a run or start working on something for a bit. After that I make a really big breakfast and shower. Unless I am exercising I won’t leave the house until I’ve showered. 

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Fill us in on your backstory. Where’d you grow up, how’d you get started in film…? All that stuff.

I was born in Dallas and moved back and forth from there and Monterrey, Mexico where my family is from. I moved to Chicago to go to school and met a director who was starting a boutique production company there with a few people. I grew up playing with cameras but never really made the connection that you could actually make a career out of it. I got hired as an assistant and worked there for three years. Much of what I know now I either learned there or have taught myself since. I consider that to be my film school.

It goes without saying that the talent you’ve worked with is top notch—and we know some good directors. What’s been the most fortuitous so far?

When I first moved to New York I met Dev Hynes, who was prepping his first Blood Orange release. We ended up doing a video together and then just got along really well and kept making things. For me, it’s really the perfect balance. He really cares about his work and knows what he wants, but at the same time he is very collaborative and not pretentious.

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How do you do your treatments? Are you a big sketcher or do you act stuff out? Do you usually work with the artists beforehand or pitch blind?

I love talking to the artists directly beforehand to get a sense of who they are and what would work best with them, but that doesn’t happen very often. Usually the initial treatment is based on a few notes from an artist or agency. I write a few pages describing what I want to do and find photographs and film clips for references.

Although I do love the idea of miming out all my treatments on FaceTime. Might try that for the next one.

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How was being on tour with St. Vincent?

Touring is really surreal. You really nest with the band and crew you are with since you are crammed together for such long periods of time. I love doing it with Annie because she is surround by such lovely people. It’s nice to be in the eye of the storm.

Everybody should follow your Tumblr. It’s incredible—landscapes, concerts, candids, and I can’t figure out how you got that shot of central Warsaw from above… It’s really great especially since you take all the photos yourself. How does your photography coexist with your film work? What kind of camera do you shoot with?

Picking up a still camera really helps me think about things like composition and lens choices. It’s an interesting exercise to think about capturing a moment in one frame versus a few hundred. Mostly I just like to take photos for myself.

I like gadgets so I work with a lot of different cameras. Sometimes film and sometimes digital. I like experimenting with different things so I own a few.tumblr_m4uldyRzI91rtwgc2o1_1280tumblr_ngl43wpnrw1rtwgc2o1_1280

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Although you may know your subjects already, how do make the person comfortable for a shoot/snapshot?

It’s important to be prepared for the shoot so you can focus on the talent make make sure they are comfortable and understand what they are doing there. It’s also important to select a solid crew you can trust to do the job and also be fun and respectful on set. The days are long so you need people with the right attitude around you. Lot’s of snacks and coffee. Nice music too.

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When in exile from Brooklyn, where do you most like to be?

New York is such an amazing city that when I have to travel I prefer to go somewhere that is totally the opposite. Oaxaca in Mexico is one of my favorite places on the planet. Places like that and Marfa,Texas are nice because they are remote but I still feel like I have a connection there.

Dream collaboration?

Hard to say. George Clooney. I honestly really like George Clooney. Right now though I am interested in collaborating with artists that don’t usually work with film. I just want to keep moving in different directions.

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Thanks, Alan!