Directing Profile on Gus Cooper

by Faith Bennett
L Gustavo Cooper could very well be the most talked about filmmaker in Jacksonville. It would be hard to find anyone residing in Duval and working in the film industry who isn’t already well aware of his latest and most ambitious project, a ten minute civil rights-era zombie film called Velvet Road. Aside from Velvet Road, Cooper constantly works on commercials and music videos like the video for Darkhorse Saloon’s song ‘Strangers,’ which previously won the Jacksonville Music Video Revival. EU was recently able to speak with Cooper on directing and inspiration.
Gus Cooper, who pursued a career in skateboarding in his teens, was no stranger to making skate videos in the hopes of enticing sponsors. In first using a camera this way, Cooper realized his knack for filmmaking, but it wasn’t until he enrolled in the Art Institute that his talent began to really take shape. Cooper was originally a web design major, but once his talent with moving images was noticed, he was urged to switch majors. He says he began making music videos as after school projects because he loved music “so it went hand in hand,” and also because “music videos are a great gateway into commercial work.” The winning Darkhorse Saloon video came about when a member of the band that Cooper knew from skating realized Cooper had started shooting music videos, bringing the cycle of inciting incidents full circle as three of Cooper’s passions aligned.
Cooper does not exclusively take his inspiration from skateboarding and music however. He notes being inspired by such directors as Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, both of whom honed their skills crafting music videos but moved to artful narrative features. Cooper also mentions that he is “infatuated” with the work of “The Daniels,” a directing duo made up of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert who divide their time between humorous shorts, intriguing music videos, and commercials; a tactic similar to Cooper’s own. One area of filmmaking that Gustavo Cooper says he has improved in within the last year is being able to show a pretty picture while telling a well-crafted story. He says that this is part of the evolution of a director and continues, “When you just have a pretty picture and no story, you get Transformers 3.” He then sums up his progress by saying, “Now I can make a pretty picture and tell a story, and that makes me more dangerous.”
He does want to make clear that directing is a lot of work. “People think you don’t do anything, that you’re just like ‘action.’ It’s not like that,” explains Cooper. He says that he is very hands-on and that the directing process requires a lot more than going to actors between takes and saying, “Give me more!” Instead, Cooper says, you have to articulate exactly what it is you want more of (or less of) from the actors and the crew members on set. The most rewarding part of directing as he sees it is being able to see an image in your head and then have it translated to a screen where others can see it too. He feels fortunate that he was able to work with great actors who helped bring his visions to life.
Though Cooper himself may have received an arts education from the Jacksonville Art Institute and benefited greatly from it, he mentions that on-set education is some of the most vital. For the aspiring filmmaker without the means to take classes, he recommends getting in contact with local production companies and trying to get on set as much as possible. He says that just having a DSLR and thinking you’ll be the next Scorsese won’t get you anywhere without experience and work and that the budding filmmakers best bet is to be around other filmmakers and observe their process. “I have been lucky enough to work with very, very talented people,” he says. He concludes his instructions for success by saying, “Just find out as much as you can.”