Vevo’s Tomas Alvear on what it takes to create videos that translate the emotion of a song
This is part of our 100 Creative Directors interview series. To return to the series homepage and browse other interviews, click here.
Tomas Alvear is a Creative Producer and Director who has spent his career working in video projection. With production experience ranging from the operational to the executional, he currently works at Vevo, the music video network. He is based in New York City.
Below is our conversation with Tomas, edited for length and clarity.
What does your work as a creative director entail?
At Vevo, we work directly with musicians. Most of our work involves translating songs into video productions that capture the spirit of the music and match our in-house style. I'm primarily in charge of the Latin side of Vevo’s creative operations.
We break down what we do into three different project formats, or tiers. Tier one is relatively straightforward, generally an in-studio shoot. The team sends me a song. I listen to it, we generate a color palette and camera blocking, we show up on set, the artist comes in, and we shoot.
Tier two projects usually involve bigger band arrangements, which tends to mean a bigger budget and scope. This includes our DSCVR series. For something like that, we create lighting cues and such based, of course, on the tracks that we get from the artist. We generate an approach to how to capture the live performance..
Tier three projects are larger yet in scope than tier two and tend to encompass as many as three or five songs. That's when we really get to pitch an idea, where we can build out an original concept. We get to identify where to shoot, a location that speaks to the album and the songs we're going to be doing, and create something beyond the scope of a standard in-studio shoot. We execute on location or in-studio, and then it’s straight into the edit.
An example of a tier three project is a four song series with Camila Cabello that we shot in LA, up in the hills. We’ve gone down to Brazil to shoot before — the scope varies depending on the project.
Besides these “tiered” projects, there’s work that's always happening: editing, working over music videos — or we might create commentaries, interviewing artists and then we add that commentary into their video.
What skills does it take to be an effective creative director in your field?
Today it has to do with knowing not necessarily how to use every tool, but knowing the language of many of the new tools. You do need to know what to do with the camera, of course. I used to be a straight-up producer, so I was more on the budgeting side, but I’ve moved more into DP (director of photography) and directing work lately.
As a creative producer, it's more about knowing all the tools that you have available to you and their components, from camera lenses to riggings. New technologies are always coming out that you need to be aware of and conversant with, more on the post-production side. I do a lot of CGI, 3D, color grading, and editing. It's pretty exciting right now with all of the AI-type technologies coming out, there's tons of tools that were not in our existing vocabulary that, as you bring them in, can take a project that much further.
Half of being effective in this role is being creative and always looking at new things coming out, in terms of aesthetics and technology. The other part is strictly about being able to communicate that knowledge and ability through to your teams. For example, I'm not particularly hands-on with sound engineering. I've been picking up those skills, but mostly you just need to have the ability to communicate what you need accomplished to your team, and to be aware of what’s happening in that subset of the field, what’s happening on the cutting edge.
In terms of team management, what defines a successful, well-set-up creative team? How do you know that you've set your team up to produce their best possible work?
I think the key is keeping your reign over everything, even when it seems a little overwhelming for some of the larger projects. Especially for those projects, you need to know exactly what's happening at every step and on every layer of the project. This is because we work with music and so much of what we produce has to do with blocking and dancing, with how the people in a video get from point A to point B. One seemingly minor miscommunication can have wide consequences.
I might be in communication with an artist, outlining a move that goes from point A to point B. But if at some point my set designer, or my production coordinator, or anyone else on the project is not on the same page, the steps to literally jump from the ground to the stage might move 10 feet and then your whole camera blocking plan doesn’t work.
In my work, the most important thing to ensure my team is set up for success is to set expectations around communication. It’s for them to know I’m the central point of communication, that I’m keeping track of the different layers of a project and how they connect.
Of course, I could never do everything myself on a big project. But what I can do is keep an eye over everything. Working with the same people time and again allows you to relax a little bit more, so you know what to expect. Trust is so important.
What three things — methods, tools, or techniques — are most important to how you do your job on any given project?
Vision is the foundational thing. I tend to be a little OCD with pre-planning. I storyboard most of my ideas and when I do this I use CGI to render basically the full camera movement. Having that initial vision, laying it out, and sticking to it through the course of the project is essential.
Again, clear and consistent communication is absolutely necessary, so that thoughts and ideas come to light, so everyone is always on the same page and nothing falls apart.
I’d say a strong attention to detail is the final thing that’s so crucial for what we do. Working with music, trying to get across an emotion and a vibe that a song communicates — sometimes you get caught up in the track and miss some details. This shot might be out of focus, or something came into the frame that shouldn’t have. You can’t just get caught up in the vibe and skip over those details; the final product will be better if you correct those errors.
What's a piece of advice you were given that’s guided how you do your job and what’s a piece of advice you’d give to someone starting their career as a creative?
The best piece of advice I was given: wear many hats. Not necessarily on any given project, but overall. Learn all of your team’s capabilities to increase the range of what you can do and ultimately strengthen the quality of what you can achieve.
My recommendation for people just starting out: stay curious. The more talents — not just from you but from your team — that you have at your disposal, the greater your ability becomes — not just to be creative in terms of vision, but to actually execute on that vision. Just make sure you’re always detail-oriented and following through. Know, too, what your team is capable of — that’s the key to producing original work. Knowing the full range of what your team is capable of and how to leverage that is a superpower.