How The Most Popular Music Video In History Was Shot In One Day And Edited With Final Cut Pro X In A Small Boutique Studio In Miami.
The catchy Reggaeton pop song ‘Despacito’ by Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi and rapper Daddy Yankee was the inescapable Summer Hit of 2017. Just 6 months after it was released it became the most streamed song in history, with 4.6 billion plays across all streaming services. It reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 100 and stayed at that place for 16 weeks. The song topped the charts of 47 countries and reached the top 10 of ten others.
The music video that was released alongside the single received 5.14 million views within the first 24 hours after it was first posted to Luis Fonsi’s official YouTube page back in mid-January of this year. It steadily evolved into being the most viewed video of all time. The cherry on the cake came a few days ago, on October 11th to be exact, when the video smashed the historic 4 Billion Views barrier on YouTube.
And what’s more, the most viewed video in history was entirely shot in one long day in La Perla, a shanty town of Old San Juan in Puerto Rico, and edited with Final Cut Pro X at Elastic People, a boutique studio in Miami.
More than one reason (a few billion, actually) to have a long chat with Creative Director Carlos Pérez about the making of this smash hit video.
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and raised in Miami, Carlos Pérez began his career in Los Angeles and has traveled extensively around the world. A multi-disciplinary Creative Director, Carlos weaves Film, Branding and Design into integrated campaigns for clients including Interscope Records, Atlantic Records, Nike, Reebok, Pepsi, ABC Networks, Deutsche Bank and many more.
Together with his international creative team, he has directed the video content and graphic identity for more than 21 world concert tours, and led the branding and marketing initiatives for 25 Grammy-nominated albums and 26 Platinum-selling albums certified by RIAA.
In 2002, Carlos founded Elastic People. This Miami-based multi-disciplinary studio is a reflection of his obsession with culture, branding, film and technology, mixed with strong ideologies.
Elastic People has been integral to the marketing success of the Latin Music industry giants Sony Music Latin, Universal Music Latin Entertainment and Warner Music. As Creative Director / Image Consultant, Carlos has collaborated closely with 12 of the Top 25 Latin Artists on Billboard Magazine's Best of the Decade Chart. The music videos and documentaries he has directed for Ricky Martin, Daddy Yankee and Tempo have earned him 3 MTV Video Music Award Nominations and 2 Latin Grammy Nominations.
And now the Despacito music video has earned him yet another Latin Grammy Nomination AND a Nomination for Video of the Year in the American Music Awards. (AMA). This Nomination is a huge deal considering that the video is in Spanish.
When I contacted Carlos he was very busy shooting two new music videos, one in New York and one in Los Angeles. But he kindly took the time to answer all my questions in detail.
Despacito was released in January 2017. When did you hear the song for the first time?
Luis Fonsi sent me the first demo of the song in July 2016. We have been friends for many years and I had shot a video for the lead single from his latest album. We were all aware that, being an Urban Fusion song, Despacito was a new musical direction for Fonsi. So we had an interesting challenge ahead in how we were to portray everything surrounding this new sound.
What was the creative vision behind the video?
Fonsi had a clear vision from the start. He immediately mentioned that he wanted to showcase the colors and textures of Puerto Rico, our culture, the water, the dancing, and the beauty. In essence he knew it was a sensual song and we had to reflect that in our lead, in the visuals and the choreography.
We brainstormed, wrote the treatment and with that in hand, the choreographer came in and all the pieces started falling into place. We decided that the video would be like a day in a life inside the culture of Puerto Rico.
You resisted the temptation of doing what so many Reggaeton videos do: showing shiny cars and big boats, champagne and lots of girls in tight bikinis.
I think I've done a pretty consistent job of staying away from flashy cars and the bottle popping and so forth in all my videos. It's just part of who I am and what I want my work to be looked upon as.
Let's not kid ourselves, there's a lot of sensuality in the lyrics of this song. But it's not vulgar. So we wanted to support that sensuality, but at the same time we wanted to show a bit of our culture in a way that would be unique and still feel contemporary.
I kept pushing that if we were going to go down that route, for me it was very important to keep the visuals as honest as possible. We wanted the video to be authentic, and that was also part of the creative challenge.
Something that I feel really good about with this video is that anyone who was on the shoot will confirm that everything that you see in front of the camera is a reflection of how the shoot really went. The energy of the people, the interactions of Yankee and Fonsi with the locals, the energy at the party.... It's very honest..
You decided to shoot the entire video in La Perla, a very poor district at the coast of San Juan. It looks very picturesque, but it also used to be a very dangerous neighborhood. Was there ever any discussion about not doing it there?
When I grew up around there, La Perla was indeed considered a dangerous place. But there were some creative and logistic factors that made us choose this location when we scouted for the video. We knew that the textures of the barrio that we wanted would be there. Also, the malecon (esplanade) in La Perla is very unique. It's really one of the few places, if not the only one, where public housing is literally on the water.
And above and beyond those things, I've been following La Perla for the last couple of years. The community has really evolved through music and through art to just make it a better place. This was also really important in our decision to shoot inside of La Perla.
How did the idea arise to have former Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera in the video?
When we were talking about who the female lead could possibly be, we all knew that it had to be someone who felt credible in the environment and who really was a true representative of the beauty in the Caribbean.
We had initially discussed 3-4 candidates for the lead. As Fonsi and I where going back and forth on writing the treatment, it became very clear that Zuleyka Rivera was our answer. She is a Puerto Rican native who won the Miss Universe title in 2006 and who is also a successful tv and movie actress. Her natural beauty, her golden skin, the sensuality, her swag... We knew she could dance and had great energy.
She was genuinely excited about the project from the first conversation and that clearly translated on shoot day. She really brought something extra to the project. The dress she wore for the party in the La Factoría bar was actually a nod to her pageant dress.
Dancing is an important part of the video. Who created the choreography?
The choreographer was Danny Lugo, a great talent from Puerto Rico. He has collaborated creatively with Fonsi for many years. I had worked with him in different live performances for some of my clients. From day one the communication and chemistry was there. It didn’t seem like another project, there was our friendship, respect and above all, the passion for showcasing our island’s personality. We took that with great responsibility.
Did you work out a very detailed script for the shoot?
It was a pretty detailed treatment. I like to spend quality time developing the treatment upfront so that by the time we meet with the team there is a clear roadmap to our objectives. The treatment included the writing and the visuals to support the general ideas. We touched upon lighting, location, wardrobe, make-up, etc.
How many people did you take to Puerto Rico?
The only people traveling from Miami were the editor, a dancer and myself. The cinematographer, Thomas Marvel who lives in LA, was in Puerto Rico visiting his family. The entire production crew and the talent were local, and we are very proud of this. It really felt like a community project. Everyone truly had a great time.
What gear did you use on the shoot?
We used standard production gear. The camera was a Red Epic Dragon with a Movi stabilizing rig, and for the aerial shots we used a DJI Inspire drone. We had a lot of scenes to shoot and we had to move fast, so we kept everything simple and efficient.
The entire video was shot in 14 hours, from the opening scenes at the beach to the party in the La Factoría bar. It was a day with little stress or problem solving. We had a good logistic plan for the shoot and of course we had made arrangements with the entire production crew and the local talent.
So everyone knew exactly what to do when we arrived and everything really came together. It all comes down to organization and preparation, but that’s a fact for every part of the production and post production process of a movie.
We obviously knew that La Perla had great color and textures. So we could benefit from the beautiful natural light for all the exterior shots, with only some extra key lighting for the artists.
As to the interior shots: I had defined a very specific color palette for the party scene from references in the treatment. Tom Marvel and myself committed to this overall color field, and we were able to create exactly the mood we wanted for the dancing scenes, the interactions between Zuleyka and Fonsi, and for the jam party.
The images of the jam party after the end of the actual song in the video are brilliant. Was this planned from the start or was it an idea that came during the actual shoot?
It was actually written in the treatment. For me it was a way of allowing the viewer to feel part of the action and to validate the honesty in the imagery during the video. In the Caribbean it’s really how we get down, especially in Old San Juan.
There is not one person from Puerto Rico, in fact from all of the Caribe and Latin America, that can't identify with an improv jam. Once you feel the percussion, its hard not to give in. It was literally the last shot of the video and everybody celebrated it as such.
Artists are always skeptical about shoot schedules because they change so quickly. Our shoot was meticulously planned and everything went smooth. We called our “Wrap” after 13 hours and 59 minutes of shooting.
You edited the Despacito video in Final Cut Pro X, together with your in-house editor Leo Arango. How long have you been using FCP X?
After working many years with FCP we transitioned smoothly to FCP X about two years ago. And once we did this, the advantages were very clear. Since then we have been cutting all the studio’s work with Final Cut Pro X. Music videos, concert movies, documentaries, television commercials, corporate branding videos, you name it.
Your client list includes major brands such as ATT, Bacardi, Harley-Davidson, Martin Air, NBA, Nike, Pepsi, Toyota, HBO, SBS, Sony, Columbia, ABC, EMI and many others. And you edit all your projects, from TVC to long-form multicam concert videos, in a small edit bay with an off-the-shelf iMac.
Our clients want to be impressed with our creative ideas and with the visual stories we create for them, not with the size of our edit bay or the kind of graphics cards we use. Despacito was shot in Red Raw and edited straight on a 4K timeline, but we also produce complex multicam movies and videos that require lots of VFX.
Final Cut Pro X handles all these projects without any problems on our standard hardware, so we are very happy with this combination.
What was the editing workflow for the Despacito video?
I am not only a huge fan of my editor but he is also a good friend. Leo Arango has worked with me on 90% of the music videos I’ve directed, so we have developed a pretty clear workflow.
Once all the footage is logged and synced I sit at the edit desk and go through the clips. I create Favorites for what I feel are the special moments in each performance and in all the narrative footage. When that is done we brainstorm and exchange ideas; sometimes we have a structured approach but most times we are pretty random and accidental in the approach.
We embrace exploration. We use the treatment as the vertebrae for the edit but are never afraid to make a sharp turn and get lost in experimentation. And the dynamic timeline in Final Cut Pro X is perfect for this.
Leo likes to create a “performance bed” that distributes all of the artist performances on the Final Cut timeline. Once we feel strong about the rhythm and the musical/visual transitions, we start peppering our story. From that point on, the piece comes to life.
There are quite some beautiful slow motion shots in the edit. Were these shots recorded at a higher frame rate?
In order to stylize and pay-off the song’s title “Despacito” (“Slowly” in English), we committed to shooting all lifestyle and dance footage in hi-speed. That way we had enough frames to play with different speed ramps during the edit.
Time remapping hi-speed footage is a breeze in Final Cut Pro X. Just drop a high-speed clip on the timeline, select the Automatic Speed feature in the Clip Retiming Options and FCP X instantly creates beautifully looking organic slow motion using every frame of your original clip. And even when you go beyond using the native frames, the Optical Flow technology ensures that your retimed video will always look smooth.
If you need to add a clip that has a different frame rate than your Project frame rate but you want that clip to play at 100% speed, just drop it onto the Timeline. FCP X will employ a frame-sampling method to change the clip’s frame rate to match that of the Project without any time remapping. If the clip has lots of motion, select Optical Flow from the Rate Conform > Frame Sampling options in the Inspector to improve motion smoothness.
What are the features in Final Cut Pro X that you like most?
Leo: It’s not about features, it’s about the overall editing experience. To start with, organizing and searching through tons of clips is very fast and straightforward in FCP X and that’s what I like a lot about this application. We had little time to edit Despacito. Being able to organize, preview and access the footage in a very efficient way was key for the turnaround.
I am a huge fan of Keywords and Smart Collections. Considering Carlos is a Director who often likes to refer back to footage during the editorial process, Keywords and custom Smart Collections are really helpful to quickly get to the shots he wants to review. As we go through the footage together, we create different Smart Collections that help us access the footage.
In Despacito we created Collections for the aerials, the exterior and interior Dancers, for Zuleyka, Cut-Aways and the artist performances. Keywords and Smart Collections give us a very easy way to get to our footage.
As you see in the pictures, I use colored Roles both for video and for audio clips and this helps in visualizing and optimizing my timeline. Furthermore, the uncluttered interface allows you to always focus on your work at hand while extra workspaces can always be opened and closed with just a keyboard stroke.
With such detailed organization, powerful editing functions and a really sleek interface, FCP X allows for a better editing experience overall. And that’s its most important feature. It has greatly helped me become more efficient with time, and I think that’s why so many people say that editing with FCP X feels faster.
Carlos: Having an editor who knows exactly what I want, and working with modern editing software that does not get in the way of our creative flow, all this makes the hard work “playtime”.
Leo: When the edit is locked, it’s very easy to send your project out for external audio mixing and grading. Roles allow me to export all my audio stems in an organized manner to the sound engineers and the new FCPX XML allows me to easily send completed projects to our grading artists with perfect round tripping back to FCP X.
Who did the final grading?
Carlos: Our locked edit was sent to Adolfo Martinelli, an extremely talented artist and my favorite Colorist. We have been working for many years and our communication is seamless. I really felt that the video called for highly stylized, documentary-style images.
For the exterior shots we wanted to feel the heat of the Caribbean and for the party scene we wanted something with more vibe. Daddy Yankee felt strong about the video showcasing a bright and colorful palette, and we wanted to use soft lights in order to stylize the grittiness found in Old San Juan. I think Adolfo has done a great job respecting all our wishes.
Leo: He uses Resolve for grading, and FCP X makes it very simple to send the locked project to him. We just export an XML and Adolfo reconnects to the raw footage. By also including a Quicktime Ref of the approved cut, he always has a visual reference to our locked edit. When his work is done, he sends back an XML with the graded shots. It’s a seamless interaction.
You have made acclaimed videos before and you have done things that are far more daring and more produced. What do you think it was about the Despacito video that made it so exceptionally successful, and did it take you by surprise?
Carlos: It’s indeed not the most cutting edge or most progressive video I've done, absolutely not. But it's probably one of the most honest ones. Not only in the choreography but also in the textures, the colors, the lighting, and in the way we have produced it.
I think what makes powerful statements and penetrating images, whether it's for a concert tour, a music video or a corporate brand campaign, is the truth. If you're not afraid to express true desires, true emotions, you can connect with people. Otherwise, it's just eye-wash.
You know, 75% of the success of a good music video relies on how good the song is. And I clearly knew that Fonsi believed in it with great passion from the moment he recorded it. To him this was a tribute to the beauty of Puerto Rico, beyond the sensuality of the lyrics.
In the video we have tried to convey this passion and this beauty in an authentic way, and I think we have succeeded. Just like the song, it has an overall natural and honest vibe that people have clearly connected to. But never did anyone think it was going to do what it did. It took me by surprise. I think it has taken the whole industry by surprise.
More than that, the video started to lead its own life. Shortly after it came out, online searches for travel to Puerto Rico jumped 45 % compared to the same time frame last year. Fonsi was even named tourism ambassador to Puerto Rico. Being a Puerto Rican yourself, this must make you very proud.
For me, as a professional, beyond the amount of views and beyond the chart position, just to be part of a project that has globally impacted the awareness for Puerto Rico in a dignified manner, is very important. La Perla has clearly enjoyed Despacito's success. Because it's almost a celebration of everything that the people there have been doing on their own. For me to have some kind of social impact through a music video was not only a first, but also definitely what I feel most proud about.
And then, on September 21st, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico hard. It ripped away power lines, water service, cars and houses. And it destroyed La Perla, where new banners had recently been installed to direct the many new tourists to spots shown in the video. This must have been a terrible shock to you.
It was a terrible shock to us all. Fonsi was in the midst of his first major U.S. tour when Hurricane Maria devastated the island including the entire neighborhood where we shot the video. He has always had a deep affection with La Perla. It gave so much color and energy to this music video, which has been so important and has such deep connections to the song. And now it's completely decimated.
Since the disaster, Fonsi has visited La Perla to distribute aid and he will return to help with reconstruction efforts. He has also started a fundraising campaign on YouCaring to help the La Perla community get back up and come back stronger than ever before. So we hope that everyone who reads this can join us with a donation, every contribution makes a difference: Luis Fonsi por La Perla.
A huge thank you to Carlos Pérez and Leo Arango for sharing their creative ideas with us. Since it broke the 4 Billion Views barrier on October 11th, the Despacito video has hit yet another extra 100 million views on Youtube. If you have danced to the catchy song and you have enjoyed the beauty of the Despacito music video, please make a contribution to rescue the island and its people to which the song and the video were dedicated.
© 2017 Ronny Courtens/FCP.co