How Tyler, the Creator builds worlds with director of photography Luis Pérez
After a short campaign of breadcrumbs, Call Me If You Get Lost, the sixth studio album by Tyler, the Creator, is here.
As we’ve come to expect from Tyler’s endlessly imaginative catalogue, striking aesthetics and cinematic videos are an essential part of the experience. And the far-reaching visions of Wolf Haley – Tyler’s directorial alias – couldn’t be realised without the help of the LA-based Director of Photography, Luis “Panch” Pérez who’s worked with Tyler ever since he ate the cockroach in 2011.
Fast forward 10 years and Pérez has lensed the stunning episodic lead-up to Call Me If You Get Lost – a handful of cryptic scenes and music videos which are all gorgeously shot on analogue film. We spoke to Luis on the phone about Russian hats, peachy hues and what it’s like to build universes with pop music’s most ambitious daydreamer.
Who are you and what do you do?
Well, my name is Luis Pérez – also known as Panch. I’m a director of photography here in Los Angeles.
How does a director of photography differ from a director?
A director of photography is responsible for everything that happens as far as capture on set, in regards to lighting, lensing and creating the look that the director wants. We work hand in hand with the director in making sure that vision is put forth and developed in a way that they are happy with.
Speaking of directors with a clear vision. How did you get involved with working with Tyler?
I’ve been working with Tyler for almost 10 years, starting with Goblin. The first time we worked together was Yonkers. Ever since, our relationship has been like a story. As far as Call Me If You Get Lost, that process started almost a year ago in small bits, conversations, thought processes and desires. I don’t like to divulge the process too much, and when it comes to Tyler he’s very secretive. He wants people to experience what he’s trying to give them. He doesn’t want to cloud that with things that become either nonsensical to some or so detail-oriented that it takes the fun out of what he’s trying to show the world.
Where did you shoot?
I’ll say this much: if you’ve been following how things have been developing you know some [videos] were shot in studio and others in location. So I’ll leave it there. I’m with Tyler in regards to the nature of how people absorb things. Sometimes I peruse the comment section out of curiosity to find out how people are receiving things, and it’s always fun to watch people develop their own idea of what’s happening. We can lose a little bit in such a barrage of social media or content, where people just share too much in general.
Since the first video went up, what’s been your favourite comment you’ve read?
That’s a hard one to say, because there’s so many. Some of them are outlandish and some are just ridiculous. There was one that was something to do with them changing their whole existence because of the new record. One of my favourites was someone who wrote about people having to wear those Russian top hats and sweaters in the summer because they see [Tyler] wearing it in the videos. I thought that was hilarious. That statement alone was like, great, I’m happy to see people embracing the process or at least the experience.
You’re going to have kids running through LA with those Russian fur hats.
Totally! I think it’s great. It’s a beautiful thing to see people experiencing music that way. We were able to go and experience music by going to, say, a club or the general sense of uniquely taking in an artist’s music that we liked. For this generation, Tyler has given them that.
“It is about travel. It is about escape. It is about exploring and giving yourself that opportunity to venture into the world without feeling scared or worried”
In terms of what your job is on set – making sure that everything’s captured as well as possible – how does styling and clothing fit into that?
It plays a very big part – whether it’s colour, a tone, a texture. The idea is to complement that in a way that is accented. It’s not the sole reason, but if we’re going to create a world that has certain colours or certain moods you want to make sure that it complements what they’re wearing. A very good example is the train sequence in the last piece that was put out, Brown Sugar Salmon. He’s wearing peach, orange and light tones, a very bright coloured hat; the yellow curtains and green chair all complement the brown wall aesthetic. All of those things played a role. So when we decided to do this, [Tyler] had that in his head and knew what the colour palette was. The lighting had to accent that appropriately and create the mood that would let the world fit the way he saw it.
Were there specific cameras or lenses that you used?
Tyler always wanted to shoot film. IGOR was the first rollout with that. He loves grain, he loves the texture of film, so we stayed with 16mm film for the most part. We also used an ARRI 416, as well as the ARRI SR3 to capture most of the images. We used 35mm for some stuff that had to do with visual effects, just because you want to have a cleaner space for any kind of compositing or green screen work. But for the most part, we stayed with 16mm. I’ve used several different kinds of lenses, but mostly old Canon zooms and Zeiss Primes that were made for the 16mm.
To capture these very specific hues and tones that you and Tyler were discussing, were there any references – films, images or photographers – that you kept returning to?
As far as tonality we discussed a lot of old French films, as well as simple photography, whether it was a location, a captured moment, a postcard. It’s very much a miscellaneous kind of world, but they were all particular to a specific tone or moment that offered us a feeling that we would want to translate when it came time to shoot.
As fans, we’ve been learning little pieces of the puzzle and hopefully a few things will make more sense now the album is out. What were the narrative themes you wanted to explore? There seems to be a focus on vacations, escape and travel.
It is about travel. It is about escape. It is about exploring and giving yourself that opportunity to venture into the world without feeling scared or worried. I don’t necessarily feel that it has to be outlined for the fans. I think that’s the beauty about doing these pieces and seeing the reaction.
I’m interested in the way that these little vignettes have been released without context, almost like old TV commercial spots. Can you talk a bit about the format that’s been chosen and what that’s allowed you to do?
It’s us really digging into the idea of making these short little stories. I would say it’s the same process, same mindset, that he’s trying to show you through his music – which is that exploration. Tyler is uniquely placed to do it, and in a way that makes sense to him. He’s had a very interesting career, and it never fails to amaze me to see how much interest it creates every time he puts something out.
Totally. The first time I watched Lumberjack, it was one of the few times where I thought, oh, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything that looks like this! And that’s becoming harder and harder to achieve.
That makes me melt! That melts me into a puddle of butter. Love to hear that. The fact that you took that away from that experience – that brings joy to me!
What was it like for you as a visual artist, after a year of staying indoors, jumping into a project where you’re escaping and exploring creating these mini universes?
We’ve been shooting straight for almost three weeks now. It’s definitely an invigorating and soul-recharging experience just to be able to do it. And the real cherry on top is to do the things you love to do with somebody who I absolutely love.