How Film Director Gian Rivera Expresses Himself Through Music Videos
Gian Carlos Rivera, 24, popularly known as Death of Gian, is a Puerto Rican film director and photographer. Throughout childhood and adolescence, no “mundane” school subject captured his attention. But when his sister bought a camera for herself, he began learning how to use it with her. He was so drawn to it that he started his path in photography.
The camera sparked an interest that nothing else had done before—when it was time to make a decision on what career path to follow, he was very clear about pursuing the passion he had for photography. That’s what led him to study filmmaking at Full Sail University in Florida.
“I come from a family that promotes the idea of being whatever you want to be when you grow up. Study what you want and work on what you want. As long as you have that passion, do it,” Rivera said.
Rivera’s strong passion never gave him a chance to second guess his decision-making, and he journeyed from still photography to filmmaking, ultimately landing on music videos. That was an unexpected career direction because when he was in college, his dream job was to be a cameraman for Univision or Telemundo. Directing music videos took him by surprise because he never envisioned himself in such a creative path. He knew he wanted to someday pursue that creativity, but had no idea it was going to be as a film director.
Working as a Professional Photographer
Before venturing into the depths as a film director for music videos, he worked as a personal photographer for Puerto Rican reggaeton singer Jhayco. At the time, he did not have a very creative process as a photographer because of the nature of the work that he was producing. It was much more mechanical in the sense that he was taking the “commercial” photos for the singer.
“When I was Jhayco’s photographer, it was literally just being a photographer. I photographed his shows. There was no creative process. I still didn’t know what a creative director is,” Rivera said. “I still didn’t know how to give creative advice to different artists. I took my job as a photographer as a nine to five job. I was a photographer and then I clocked out.”
It was less of a creative job, but it was the first time he began experimenting with film photography with Jhayco. That was during 2018 and 2019, and then Rivera and Jhayco stopped working together—but would later reconnect. During those years, Rivera was living in Orlando, Florida until the outbreak of the COVID pandemic. For several months at a time, Rivera was very focused on creating.
“I was obsessed with creating my own stuff. Since I was not creating music videos, I was taking popular songs and doing my own small fan videos,” Rivera said. “I was really obsessed with creating, doing something cool, and putting my name out there. Those months changed my life completely. It was the pandemic and everyone was on social media. Many people from different labels reached out to make videos.”
While focusing on sharing his work through social media during the pandemic, he was also reaching out to different managers and artists. He was showcasing his work and mentioning his desire to work with them.
“One of those artists was Feid. I reached out to him one day when he was playing in Orlando. I don’t know how he answered. I don’t know how he saw my DM,” Rivera said. “It was a random DM. It’s as if right now I’d write a DM to Lebron James. It’s random. He’ll obviously never see it. And that day, I don’t know, but Feid was bored and answered me and told me to go to the show. I went as a photographer. I still hadn’t done videos yet.”
He went to the small show where Feid performed. Feid sang for ten minutes and Rivera only took 20 to 30 photos of him, but Feid was enamored with one of his shots. That singular photograph led to a years-long, ongoing collaboration between the singer and filmmaker
Venturing Into Film Direction
Rivera began working small gigs for Feid, during which Feid began gaining global stardom. Rivera remained alongside the singer as his career took off, and subsequently ventured into directing Feid’s music videos. He began exploring a creative side of himself as an artist that he had never experienced before. He realized that art is supposed to make you feel things and that it’s an authentic and genuine human expression. He’s evolved as an easygoing artist who seeks to portray his collaborators in a realistic manner.
“When we’re in such a crazy world, I really like to “bring down” the people and make them feel normal. That’s what’s going to be projected on the camera and I’m a very realistic director,” Rivera said. “I’ve worked with artists that, in my opinion, are the biggest ones in reggaeton and I treat them like [normal] people. I treat them as if they were my cousins. Once you create that real chemistry with a person on that level, the rest comes easy.”
The friendship that Rivera has with the artists has made the creative process easier when directing a music video. With Feid, he has a very collaborative dynamic, where Feid shares an idea and Rivera actualizes it. After that, Rivera worked through the conceptual process for the music video.
“I divide the song in pieces by understanding the song’s punches. I know that visually there’ll probably be a change. I write those time codes and then I fill each time code with content,” Rivera said. “I like listening to the changes in the songs. Understanding when they get stronger and faster. Or when it stops for a moment and when it continues in another moment.”
He likes to play with the music to give it a visual meaning when he directs the video. He uses the rhythms to create the visual story. One of his artistic masterpieces was Feid’s “Fumeteo” music video. In just two minutes and twenty-one seconds, Rivera was able to deliver a very complex story in which Feid is the main character. In one of the most striking scenes, Rivera accidentally reimagined Leonardo da Vinci’s Renaissance painting of “The Last Supper”—with a Latin American touch.
“It was not a direct reference to that, but when we filmed it, it was exactly that. I simply wanted a dinner. The white tablecloth, the very long table, and everyone sitting on one side of it – all of those small details during the same day of the set – made it look like “The Last Supper,” Rivera said. “I love that it became something. I love that people thought that it was “The Last Supper.” It literally adds to the scene and the video without me necessarily doing it on purpose.”
From Latin America to the World
Not only did he reimagine “The Last Supper,” but he also injected very subtle Latin American scenes throughout the story. He portrayed a drag show in a casino as a means of representing the drag performers in a dignified light. He also included a clandestine MMA, symbolic of Latin Americans’ strength as fighters and warriors.
“There’s this feeling that in Latin America we’re always the strongest ones. The underdogs. The ones that no one believes in, but when we come, we really make it [big time],” Rivera said. “I don’t know what [direct relationship] there’s with fighting and Latin America, but I do know that we do have the passion and heart to make it possible.”
With that strong Latin American identity and pride, Rivera adds an extra artistic value to his masterpieces. He’s able to portray unique visual stories in short music videos that evoke intense feelings in the audience through his strong use of vibrant colors in dark environments. He visually delivers the perfect combination of filmmaking with a powerful Latin American touch.
“It’s possible to be a Latin American and creative where creating is your life,” Rivera said. “I’m very faithful to that message and that Latin America and the Caribbean have some of the world’s best creatives.”
To learn more about Rivera’s art, follow him on Instagram at @deathofgian.
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