The executive producer of music videos at Couscous on “the triangle of quality, cost, and time” and cutting his teeth in the music industry
Meet Your Makers is a new feature dedicated to and featuring the people who make things happen. The powerhouses of the industry, without whom we’d all be farting around with powerpoints and charts and presentations, with not much else to show for ourselves. Producers are the magicians that turn ideas into reality and from a business perspective, it’s a part of the industry that never sits still.
Jordan I. Cardoso is the executive producer of music videos at Couscous. His music video credits range from breakout indie acts to established chart-topping stars, his latest credits including 6lack ft. Khalid’s 'Seasons' and Charlie Puth’s 'Mother', along with music videos for Quavo, Lolo Zouai, J.I.D. and Brodinski, among others.
Get to know him and his approach to production below.
What first attracted you to production - and has it been an industry you’ve always worked on or did you come to it from another area?
Jordan> I come from the music industry, where I was an artist manager and in charge of a record label. As part of this role, I had to work on creative briefs for the production of music videos for my clients. I had the chance to work with some really good people from the start, such as when I produced the short film for Point Point, ‘Life In Grey'. Happy with the result, I then felt the need to understand the production mechanisms. I was really curious and excited about this challenge. After meeting Salim El Arja in 2017 and discussing the Couscous project, I told myself it was time to get into the big business from production.
What was your first role in the production world, and how did this experience influence how you think about production and how you grew your career?
Jordan> I started by helping people on set, as an assistant producer might do, then gradually took up space on the sets until I found myself having to manage crews of more than 60 people for some projects. It was important for me to identify and understand the ins and outs of the production world before making strategic decisions, in terms of production but also artistic direction on projects.
How did you learn to be a producer?
Jordan> By observing and listening. It was an environment that was new to me and I had to learn it in order, step by step. It was also a constant exchange with Salim. He explained the workings of production to me when I explained to him how labels, managers and artists - that is to say, our direct customers - work. We spent a lot of time chatting, dissecting music videos and movies we both loved. The rest was done on sets.
Looking back to the beginning of your career, tell us about a production where you really had to dig deep and that really helped you to grow as a producer?
Jordan> In 2018, we received a brief for an electronic band I liked. We immediately thought of the director with whom we wanted to work on this project, and also the country that best suited the message she had to deliver. That’s how I found myself in charge of a production in Mexico, alone and without my usual Los Angeles teams. It literally took me out of my comfort zone in a country I had never visited, with a different culture. It forced me to go and draw a new energy that definitely helped me grow as a producer, but also as a person.
A good producer should be able to produce for any medium, from film to events to digital experience. Do you agree with that statement?!
Jordan> I agree in the sense that production is a combination of logistics and common sense, after all. Whether on a film, at an event or for a digital experience, there will be a whole mechanism to understand and put in place to enhance the project, whatever it is.
On the other hand, I do not agree with this statement in part, because to go ‘further’ - to find the element that will make the most difference during production - you have to fully master your environment, know the mechanisms, and know how to apply your knowledge correctly. Each area has its own specificity, and therefore a different application of knowledge.
What’s your favourite thing about production?
Jordan> I quickly understood as a producer that our choices directly influence the final rendering of the video. A rental, a stylist, a cinematographer, a 1st AD, each position, and elements we bring back as a producer, will have its impact on the final product. It’s then necessary to know how to combine the right elements to obtain the best result. I immediately liked the aspect of a conductor on set, or even a coach: we call a team, and we have to ensure that the team succeeds in working together harmoniously for the best final render.
What do you think is the key to being an effective producer? And is it something that’s innate or something that can be learned?
Jordan> ‘Savoir-Faire’, ‘Savoir-Être’ and common sense are important keys for me to be an efficient producer. The ‘Savoir-Faire’ because you still have to have a craft that will make a difference to the image, a special touch. The ‘Savoir-Etre’ because it is above all a profession where one is in great contact with humans. You have to be able to know how to evolve as a collective and to make the best use of the elements of the crew present on the projects. And ultimately common sense, because the problems are linked and are not alike. You have to know how to be proactive and quickly facilitate effective solutions to issues.
And in terms of recent work, which projects have you found to be particularly exciting or have presented particularly interesting production challenges?
Jordan> Just before the situation became what it is with the pandemic, we produced a music video for Lolo Zouai, an artist that I really appreciate. She shared with us a story of her own and we were able to transform it visually by relating it to her relationship with her family. We shot in Morocco, a country I love deeply, and it was probably one of the most physical experiences, but also the most beautiful. We explored the city from top to bottom for five days and talked to the inhabitants as much as possible, to add as much production value as we could. Every day came with its own surprises, which in the end presented a real challenge. But when we shared with the artist the final result, I saw how deeply she had been touched by our way of telling her story visually. It was unique and priceless.
Producers always have the best stories. What’s the hairiest / most insane situation you’ve found yourself in and how did you work your way out of it?
Jordan> While filming one of our music video projects, the whole day was going well until our last set-up for the final scenes. Everyone was exhausted and ready to go home. As usual, we love to shoot in 35mm. When changing the loader, the camera displays a strange code like ‘code 34’ and refuses to continue shooting. The person in charge of the loading looks at the camera from all directions, tries to change the magazine, yet still gets a code 34. A few precious minutes pass, the end of the shoot approaches, and the camera continues to display code 34. We then decide to call our vendor to ask what’s happening. Once on the phone with our DP, we see him nodding to what the vendor says, who thinks he has the solution. He hangs up and looks at us, and says, “There is good news and bad news. The bad news is that the vendor doesn't know what code 34 means, but the good news is he is sending us another camera." We decide to wait for the new camera to finish the shoot; even if it means paying the overage, we have to finish the shoot.
An hour and a half later, the new camera arrives. We load the loader, remind the actors, we are ready to shoot again and...code 34 again. Everyone gives up. We decide to stop the bleeding from the overages spent. Everyone goes home, exhausted.
Our friend DP calls us later with the remarkable, “I was trying to find the solution, so I experimented on a few things and the camera started working! Shall we do this tomorrow?” Given the last-minute shoot, we had to film at home, in my room and in front of my house, with the means we had at hand. And in the end, this is the project that has brought us the most award nominations.
What are your personal ambitions or aspirations as a producer?
Jordan> To continue to write with directors, and have a real creative input both in the story and in the overall artistic direction of projects. I want to send strong messages through our pieces that will positively contribute to the collective consciousness, whether with music videos, shorts, or feature films.
As a producer your brain must have a never-ending ‘to do’ list. How do you switch off? What do you do to relax?
I haven't found anything better than sport, to be honest. It helps to create a vacuum and maintain the body. I also really like to link the useful with the pleasant, listening and discovering new music and new artists to share with our team - and who knows, maybe to be able to collaborate with them. Finally, it is really important to know ourselves and to understand when our bodies need a break, to be as efficient as possible with our job.
Producers are problem solvers. What personally fuels your curiosity and drive?
Jordan> The challenges and the problems they generate. From a young age, I loved being faced with situations that may seem overwhelming from one angle, but become interesting from another. I'm not the type of person to give up, and have noticed over the years that the bigger the challenge, the more facing them helps us gain experience and step up our game.
What advice would you give to people who are interested in becoming a producer?
Jordan> To be curious, to listen to your surroundings, and to want to overcome countless challenges. Also, to think carefully about the projects they accept, to learn to say ‘no’ when it is necessary for the good of the project. Last but not least, to move forward harmoniously with its director and his teams in general. We are all on the same team, at the end of the day.
From your experience what are the ingredients for a successful production?
Jordan> The triangle of quality, cost, and time. It is important to understand - and make the clients understand - that there are in most cases three possibilities, depending on the elements made available to the producer, that require picking just two aspects of that triangle. If a project has to be done quickly and on a tight budget, the rendering may be poor quality. If a project must be done quickly and the quality must be there, then the budget will have to be large enough to allow it. And very importantly, if a project does not have a huge budget but the quality has to be present, the production company must be able to benefit from all the necessary time it needs.
What’s the key to a successful production-client relationship?
Jordan> Communication. I realised sometimes customers and production crews unfortunately don't speak the same language. They do not have the same codes, although they have the same end goal. This can sometimes cause on-the-job tension. It is important to make sure to explain the processes and the why of each action, so that the customer feels we are all on the same team.
Producers are naturally hands on - they have to be. How do you balance that in the more managerial role of an EP?
Jordan> It’s important for an EP to be in constant contact with three parties: the clients, to explain to them what is going on, to listen to them and to liaise with the director and the crews; the director, to share the client's notes with him and help him make the right creative and strategic decisions; and finally, the producer, to be able to intelligently support him in the proper conduct of the project as a whole, and provide him with a support if needed.