TODD ANGKASUWAN (March 2009) | Interview By: Jose Ho-Guanipa|
Dubcnn recently sat down with Todd Angkasuwan, a man who made a massive
career move in 2005 by leaving his journalistic background as a TV news
reporter to chase his long held desire of becoming a filmmaker. The result
so far has been directing videos for Hip Hop artists including RZA, KRS-One,
Strong Arm Steady, Wale, Styles P and more.
We wanted to find out what drove the change in his career and how he has
found the radical adjustment to his work and lifestyle. Read on to see how
he did it and what he has coming for you to enjoy!
As ever, you can read this exclusive interview below and we urge you to leave
feedback on our forums or email them to
Interview was conducted in March 2009
Youíve taken somewhat of an unconventional route towards becoming a
video director, having a journalistic background. What prompted you to
leave your career in television journalism and make the switch to
The passion for filmmaking is something thatís been in me ever since I
could remember. I was that kid on the block who would round up all the
other kids from the neighborhood and make crazy ass horror films. We
thought our films were epic. But when I watch that footage now, itís mad
corny and funny as hell.
Another passion is music. Particularly Hip Hop. I remember listening to
artists like N.W.A., KRS-One, Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep, Pharcyde, and cats
like that. Iíd listening to them on full blast in my Walkman and I would
immediately get these vivid images in my head. I donít only listen to
music, I ďseeĒ it. It was only right that one day I channel that into a
professional career. I had a great time in broadcast journalism, but
after a while it didnít seem to quench my creative thirst. So I made the
Dubcnn: What skills did you pick up being a journalist that you
were able to apply to directing hiphop videos?
Iíd say just dealing with people from all walks of life. In
journalism, Iíve interviewed a wide range of folks from politicians to
homeless people to tornado victims to celebrities, and random people on
the street. Conducting an interview is almost an art form. You have to
get to know your subject, and make them feel comfortable. You need to
establish that kind of rapport almost immediately. The TV news game is
run and gun, so youíve got to be on at all times. Having those same
people skills can apply to a video set. On set, youíre working with
different people on the crew, youíre working with an
artist who youíve probably never met in person before and have to adjust
to this artistís personality and quirks. And in Hip Hop, chances are
youíll also have their homies on the set. Sometimes you might have to
deal with high maintenance video models, press folks, random onlookers,
and what not. As a director, you have to ultimately manage all these
different personalities, while keeping focused on one goal: shooting a
successful video. And if you and the artist click, itís a wrap.
In TV news, youíre also dealing with cameras, lighting, and editing. So
I was always familiar with the technical side of things too, which
helped when I broke off into full-time directing.
Dubcnn: You got your start directing Jinís tour documentary film
No Sleep ĎTil Shanghai. How did you hook up with Jin and end up making
No Sleep ĎTil Shanghai as a first time director?
A friend of mine name Carl Choi introduced me to Jin. At the
time, Carl was managing a group in LA called Far*East Movement. I had
just started working with Far*East Movement, so Carl and I soon became
good friends. At the time, he was also working with Jin on different
projects and setting upshows for him on the West Coast. Then one day,
Carl decided to set up this ambitious Asia tour for
Jin and asked if Iíd like to come along to document it. I wasnít about
to say no. Itís funny you mention Jin. Iím actually going to shoot a
video with him in a couple weeks before he moves to Hong Kong
permanently. Heís re-invented himself and has a crazy following in Asia
right now. He signed a major deal with Universal Music Hong Kong. So
heís staying mad busy at the moment.
Dubcnn: A lot of the acts you worked with early on, and even
now, are from the West Coast. How did you form relationships with these
artists and why did you choose West coast acts?
Come on, LA all day! I got love for my West Coast brethren. And
I donít care if youíre black, white, Mexican, or Asian. I got you! Iíve
worked with dudes like Roscoe Umali, Strong Arm Steady, FM, DJ
Revolution, Lil Rob, and Snoop. I love the diversity out here, and
nobody gets it in like the West.
Dubcnn: In terms of filmmaking, hip-hop, and the marriage of the
two, who has been some of your biggest influences thus far?
Some of the directors I really admire are Stanley Kubrick, Wong
Kar-wai, Michel Gondry, Hype Williams, and David Fincher. In Hip Hop, I
really respect the hustle and contributions from people like KRS-One,
Sha Money XL, Jeff Chang, Dru Ha, Jay-Z, Cheo Hodori Coker and Joaquin
Phoenix. Ok, maybe not Joaquin Phoenix.
Dubcnn: With the rapidly evolving nature of the music video
industry, how have you adapted to the shrinking budgets in hip-hop
videos and where do you see the medium heading in the future?
Iíve only been in the game for about 3-4 years, so I was never
privy to the outlandish budgets that people became accustomed to. The
million dollar budgets are now $200K budgets. The $200K budgets are now
$50K budgets. What was $50K is now $10K. I came into the game like that.
So Iím not really missing anything. If anything, right now is the time
for someone like me, as well as other
directors out there who embrace the moment. I love the challenge of
taking minimal resources and making some shit that will wow you.
Sometimes, I pull it off, other times, probably not. But the challenge
is what drives me. It forces you to be creative in a way you probably
wouldnít be otherwise. The future is the internet. And I donít mean just
surfing YouTube on your computer either. The internet is tied into your
TVs, your cell phones, your PDAs, your portable viewing devices. The
internet is what facilitates content delivery. The way you actually
receive that content could be in a wide variety of ways. Thatís whatís
exciting. And technology evolves at such a rapid pace, which
means soon, youíll have even more options.
Dubcnn: What are some artists you have gotten to work with that
you never imagined youíd be able to work with? Whoís on your wish list
of artists to work with in the future?
The most surreal experiences have to be working with KRS-One,
Snoop, and RZA. Iíd love to work with Eminem or Kanye. Iíd do it for
free. The level of creativity involved would be incredibly satisfying.
Thereís a lot of up and coming artists Iíd love to work with too. Being
around the energy of a confident, level-headed, up and coming artist is
Dubcnn: Whatís your favorite throwback joint in terms of videos?
Man, thereís so many. But some of my favorites are:
-ĒThe BlastĒ by Hi-Tek & Talib Kweli
-ĒWhat You See Is What You GetĒ by Xzibit
-ĒDropĒ by Pharcyde
-ĒBack AgainĒ by Dilated Peoples
Dubcnn: If you had to pick something that made your videos stand
out from other directorsí videos, what would it be? What constitutes the
Todd A. stamp of authenticity?
Most people would probably say my use of graphics and color
would be a giveaway. But, I really donít like to be pigeon-holed. Iíve
taken a variety of approaches to my work, and I like to experiment when
I can. I know a trademark style can help solidify your brand, and thatís
something I should probably try to embrace more. But I get bored too
easily and I like to try new things. Hopefully, I can find a good
Dubcnn: Hip-hop has always been known to have four central
elements: DJing, MCing, BBoying, and graffiti. Do you think video
directing should be the fifth?
Just because I respect the culture so much, Iíd have to say no.
At least, for now. Video directing certainly helps further the cause and
conveys aspects of the culture in a visual way that people can grasp.
Itís as Hip Hop as you want to make it, but I donít think it matches the
essence of what DJing, MCing, BBoying, and graffiti are, in terms of Hip
Hop. But I definitely embrace forward thinking, and it doesnít mean that
other elements of the culture canít rise to the top as an essential
Dubcnn: Youíve incorporated a lot of post-production and special
effects into some of your videos. What background did you have in that
before you started directing?
I pretty much taught myself the post-production techniques. For
me, editing is what I look forward to. When I was a kid, Iíd take two
VHS machines and connect them together. It was like my makeshift editing
system. I figured out a way to edit videos like that. I just love the
process of connecting the dots in post. So, learning to edit came
Dubcnn: Would you ever consider directing non hip-hop music
videos? Commercials? Features?
Yes, yes, and yes.
Dubcnn: What do you think constitutes a hip-hop film? Whatís
your favorite one?
To me, a Hip Hop film is any film that infuses the spirit of the culture
into it, such as the music, the fashion, the slang, and the swagger.
Some of my favorites are Boyz N The Hood, Juice, House Party, Menace II
Society, New Jack City, Krush Groove, and Belly. Iím actually working on
some concepts and ideas now for a film in a similar vein. Iíd like to do
an urban street drama, but without the cornball. Thereís actually a
short film thatís making the rounds right now that I really like. Itís
called ďLife Is SeriusĒ featuring Serius Jones. Iíd like to see more
films like that. In fact, I plan
on contributing some of these projects.
Dubcnn: What hip-hop videos are you working on right now and in
the near future?
Iím working with Jive Records right now on a video for UGK. I just
finished the rough cut yesterday as a matter of fact. In a few weeks,
Iíll be in New York to shoot a video for KRS-One and Buckshot. The
project theyíre working on is bananas. The song is incredible. Iím also
working on a project for B-Realís ďSmoke N MirrorsĒ album. Iíve been
talking to my man Mike Heron about doing a video for Slaughterhouse. Iíd
really love to see that pop off. Just being around incredible talent
those dudes would inspire me to do some next level shit for sure.
Todd Angkasuwan can be contacted via his