The music video has evolved over the years. Michael Jackson helped to evolve music videos from a simple concert performance to real works of art. After Michael Jackson made music videos popular, networks were born to showcase videos. Once MTV became big, many major artists began shooting videos.
When many discuss music videos, they often talk about the artists. Often overlooked, however, are those behind the camera who put the videos together. Epic “DC” Coles has an intimate history with videography, putting together numerous music videos in hopes to becoming a major film director.
A veteran in the industry, Epic “DC” Coles has had an opportunity to do just that. Over the course of his career, Coles has earned many accolades. Among them is his back-to-back nominations for ‘Best Video of the Year’ in hip hop. While Coles has been a major figure in hip hop, he has enjoyed mainstream success.
Hip Hop Vibe recently had the chance to speak with Epic “DC” Coles of Epic Films and he explained his history with videography. Over the years, Coles has put together videos for Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Teddy Riley, and more. Epic “DC” Coles has also had the opportunity to work with many other big names, among them Ed Lover and Doctor Dre, Naughty by Nature, and Rodney Jerkins.
Read the entire interview below:
What led to you becoming a videographer? Well, when I was in college, I was a theater major. I studied acting since I was thirteen and I went to college for it. But, while I was at college, I developed an interest in film. I soon went to film school in New York after doing college in New Jersey.
I had a few friends in the music industry, which led to me doing work for major artists. This was before MTV, so the only thing out was Music Box. Soon, Teddy Riley reached out and then I worked with Blackstreet. Following this, Sylvia Rhone began working with him.
How did it feel to go straight from film school to being a major director? It was a good thing, because it was the whole purpose of me going to school. My purpose was to use videos as a platform to begin doing feature films. It was, and is still, exciting, but my goal was to become a feature filmmaker, so it was practice for me. I am constantly using videos to perfect my craft. During this period of time, we were making a lot of money, as video directors, and I had my own production company. That will never happen again.
To date, how many films have you worked on? I have done a good seven films and out of those seven, I directed five of them. The other ones, I produced. Now, my company does short films. Out of those seven, five were released straight to video, as I have a distribution deal which allows me to do straight to video. I shot a film, years ago, which has been in post production. Hopefully, it will be coming out soon.
Have you featured many big name hip hop artists in your films? The only film that had “names” attached was one I did in the Bahamas, called the Bahama Hustle. Ed Lover and Doctor Dre make appearances and the film centers around them. I also produced a film called East New York, which starred Remy Ma and Killah Priest. My first film, Secret Indictment, which features Ruff Endz and Mario was also featured, but we had to take him out because the film was very very urban. J Records wanted us to take him out (laughs)
What is your relationship like with those major labels? I really didn’t have a relationship with J Records, but I do have relationships with many other labels, but the relationships have changed because I am not shooting the way I used to. I have relationships with Warner Bros. Records and Def Jam. A lot of the people I used to network with no longer work there, but the ones who still have their jobs, I still have relationships with. I do have a relationship with a person who works with Cash Money Records, they used to work for Universal Records.
Do you see yourself doing more music videos in the future? Yes, definitely. A lot of it has to do with me reaching out to people who I do know and introducing myself to people I do not know. I have not begun doing that because it becomes its own hustle. Things are different now because there was once dozens of labels and now it’s only three of four. On top of that, there are so many directors now who are calling labels, so it is a bigger fight. I am not quite sure I want to get into that fight because the budgets are drastically different. Still, I have projects I want to do, I would talk to the labels to negotiate doing videos for bigger artists, instead of smaller videos.
Earlier in your career, you shot videos for Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg, can you talk about that? When I look back at it, as it happened, during the midst of the East Coast/West Coast feud. They called me, the people who were running the video department at Death Row. I was called to do a video for Lady of Rage, “Sho Shot.” Death Row flew me out there and I did the video, but when I came out on the set, no one spoke to me.
All of the people out there were gangsters and they were all walking past me. The Death Row set was huge, cops walking around and helicopters were flying around, watching them because Death Row was under watch. I was sitting in the director’s chair and I had to go to my trailer to use the bathroom.
Things were so intense that an armed cop had to walk me to the trailer and I was immediately disliked because I was from the East Coast. It was really that intense, the gangsters standing around did not even speak to me. But, after I did two videos for Lady of Rage, Snoop Dogg came to me. I went on to also do a Daz Dillinger video. All of those videos were filmed between the span of four months.
I ended up shooting another Lady of Rage video, “Get Wit Tha Wickedness” with Run DMC.
The budgets for those videos were huge and the credit goes to Hype Williams for raising the budgets of the videos. Record labels competed and many directors began receiving huge budgets. But, once the video prices went to $1 million, it ended up having an opposite effect. Artists were spending a million dollars on a video, but not making the money back.
Guys like Puffy (Diddy) were shooting big budget videos and other rapper’s couldn’t afford it. So, then the end of the big budget videos came. Labels stopped funding the big budget videos and the decline began. There will never been another video which will cost $1 million. A couple of years ago, I remember Beyonce had two videos done for a combined $60,000.
This decline in big videos is good for newcomer videographers and directors, but it really hurt some of these big videographers. So, they now wait for bigger artists to come.
With Jay-Z, the video came about after I shot a video with Texas rapper, Lil’ O. He had a song called “Can’t Stop” and during this period of time, Destiny’s Child was very young and they were not even called Destiny’s Child. Throughout the song, Beyonce sang and MCA Records got into a feud with me because they wanted me to take Destiny’s Child out of the video. I felt they should be shown in the video since they were singing. I refused to take them out of the video and then gave it to MCA, if they wanted to change it, MCA could chage it.
Destiny’s Child saw the fight I entered for them and Matthew Knowles reached out to me. I shot the “No No No” video, the slower version. The Wyclef version came later and the video for it came out first. Years later, Beyonce wanted me to shoot a video for Jay-Z for his “December 4th” video. We went to the Marcy Projects and I got his mother, his nephews, Damon Dash, all of Brooklyn. We shot clips all through Brooklyn. For his birthday, Beyonce surprised him by taking him to a theater and showing him the video. It was meant to be a private video for him and Beyonce plays Jay-Z, she is dressed like him.
Beyonce was dressed up and no one even noticed her. Kids were being let out of school and no one noticed her because she looks different off camera and was dressed like Jay-Z. It was funny to see the people pass her without noticing her. I also ended up being the producer for all of the Teddy Riley and Blackstreet videos. Now, in 2012, the game has completely changed, understandably so.
Out of the current artists, who would you like to shoot music videos for? Right now, I would love to shoot for Kanye West, because I think he is extremely creative. Also, I would really love to work with Jennifer Lopez. Those are two people I would love to work with and take their visuals in another directon. I would also say Rick Ross, but I would hope he would let me take things in a different direction.
So, definitely Rick Ross, Jennifer Lopez, and Kanye West. I think working with Kanye West would take things in a different direction, anyway. I would also like to work with Missy Elliott, because she comes up with her own concepts. Every Missy video you saw, were her own concepts. As a director, you need challenges, instead of having the “same ol’ same ol’.” It would be refreshing if an artist gave you full reign on their videos.
How do you feel about the state of music videos? I think they are going backwards. Back in the day, music videos were nothing more than rappers standing in one spot, rapping, with girls in their videos dancing. I understand rappers do not have the budgets they used to, but I think artists and directors to try something different with their projects. They are reluctant to change because pretty girls and hot cars are going to sell, so to speak. But, I think directors should take things in a different director. It is getting boring now, what was good about those big budget days was artists going outside of the box, so the pretty girls looked super pretty. We directors need to think before we do these videos.