As part of our goal over here at NewMediaRockstars, we seek to inspire others by featuring some of the most talented individuals doing their thing across the new media platform. This week we bring you the incredibly multi-talented Daniel Cloud Campos. He ventured into dancing at the age of 15 and from there became of the the most elite in the industry. I met up with Daniel for coffee at Solar de Cahuenga, where I had the pleasure of diving into his mind and see what the creative process is like. Nowadays he’s combining his love for dance, music, art and film by producing his own short films and then throwing them up online for the world to see.
- What takes up most of your time right now? Writing. Writing a bunch of ideas. Writing a feature film. My girl and I, Tamara Levinson, wanted to make a film for a while now. We’ve been making a lot of short form films but eventually the goal and the dream was feature films. So we came up with an idea and for the past year and a half we’ve been writing like crazy. We’re pretty far into it at this point. It’s not clear enough to give too many details but eventually that’s the dream of 2012; to finish this film and get it really started. That’s something to look forward to in the future.
- What are your guilty pleasures? I grew up having crazy cavities because I can’t get rid of sweets like chocolate, chocolate cake, and red velvet cupcakes. It’s a tradition that we have tea time every night. Thankfully I floss every night now and I do my annual cleaning every three months. As long as I stay on top of all of that, it’s not so guilty anymore.
- Any pet peeves? As far as people, I hate when people preach but go against what they’re preaching. People who talk and say, “You have to do this with your life” but then they’re doing the exact opposite. I hate when I can’t focus on one thing. When I try to focus on one thing, my mind goes to 18 different things at the same time and I can’t finish anything. That is one thing that I can’t stand. It’s the worse thing ever for me. It’s like my biggest downfall as far as an artist and creative. A lot people are able to stay focused and those are the most successful ones, I think. Except the ones who are all over the place like I am.
- Your ideal girl? It’s obviously my girl. I’ve been with her for the past eight years. She’s been the only one who’s been able to put up with all my crap. Someone who definitely has a lot patience and support. Someone who’s an artist within themselves so they are able to understand me as an artist. Someone who is very independent, has an opinion, and has a voice to speak up for themselves. Someone who understands my humor and I understand their humor at the same time. For me, the most important thing is laughter. That’s one of the biggest things for me are those moments where we bust out laughing uncontrollably in tears at the end. We don’t have the same sense of humor but we’ve learned to understand each other’s jokes because I think her jokes are so cheesy and she thinks my jokes are dumb and dry. It works out. That opens up every aspect in our whole relationship.
- The longest you’ve gone without sleep? It was when I was working on one of my projects. I could not go to sleep because I was so obsessed with finishing it so I stayed up for two and a half days editing, doing the sound design, searching the web trying to find sound effects, and I even tried to make my own music but it wasn’t working so I had to search for music that was perfect for it; I was obsessed. I was too focused to even think about coffee or anything that would keep me awake because that was the thing keeping me awake; the obsession of finishing the project. If I have a goal that could be completed and I could see it clearly, then I’m obsessed and I need to get it done. It’s when I don’t see the ending where I procrastinate until the end and I never finish. It’s my thing.
- What is your go-to dance move? I don’t know what a move is! It depends. If it’s an audition, I know commercial people would want to see a big move, an impressive move, so I do one-handed jackhammers or I’ll do a cork. I’m more so in the moment, I like to freestyle so whatever comes out comes out. But in terms of auditions, it’s those moves; the jackhammer, a flip, or an elbow freeze. Anything that will get them to be like, “Wow! We have got to hire this guy!” Unfortunately, that’s how it is in the commercial world. They don’t understand the artistry behind it, the footwork, the tradition; they just understand the wow factor. Just give them what they want if you want the job.
- Give us a fun fact about yourself. I’m an over-thinker.
- What’s a funner fact? I don’t know. I’m pretty out there with my stuff. I try to put all of me into my films. Okay. It’s a little dark but think of it as an upside; I’m a miracle baby. I was born without a pulse and it took the doctor 10 minutes to bring me back to life. I’m a zombie but I got a second chance at life. I didn’t hear about that until I was 15. They were like, “By the way, did you know that you were dead when you were born and they had to shock you to bring you back?” I don’t know how they brought me back but they brought me back.
Walk us through an ordinary day in your life.
Daniel: Considering I go to bed around 4 or 5 in the morning, I wake up everyday around 11 or 12. The first thing I do is get a drink of water because my mouth is dry because the air is so dry out here and polluted. Then I use the bathroom and get out all the water I drank the night before because my mouth is so dry. I take a shower and then brush my teeth to get the dry taste in my mouth. Wait, let me start over. I wake up, I pat my chest and Capo, my dog, comes running to me in the morning because that’s his favorite thing to do. That’s the best part of waking up, is Capo in your cup! No, the best part is waking up and Capo comes and starts licking me and it’s this whole love therapy. Then I kiss my lovely lady and then I shower, brush my teeth, and think about what can I do to be productive today and whatever it is I put in a couple hours into that. It could be writing, editing, or sending e-mails or something and then I have to eat. I usually don’t eat until 3. Then I come back and work again on something creative and productive. Then at night, I have dinner and then I go back to my computer again and write some more. I just write ideas down and whatever comes to me. Then Tamara, Capo and I would watch Food Network or watch a movie. Then she goes to bed pretty early, like 11 or 12. Then I go back to work because that’s when I feel like I get the most work done. I feel when the world is asleep and I could focus. Then I work on whatever I’m working on until three in the morning and then repeat. That’s what usually the day is about. There’s so many distractions that I can’t focus on anything. I feel like when everyone else is sleeping, that’s my time to be awake.
You have quite the impressive resume. You’ve worked with Madonna, Shakira, etc. Having done all of that, what drew you to posting videos on YouTube?
Before I got Madonna, before I got anything, I made my first short film in Orlando in Universal Studios. From there, I realized I wanted to make films, make movies, tell stories with dance. When I got Madonna, two years passed and I didn’t pursue filmmaking anymore because I was living the whole dancer life, dream thing. As of three years ago, the first film I ever made, I put it on YouTube. When I posted it, I got a great response from it. I realized that I shouldn’t keep anything in my computer or my closet. I should share my art with people because it inspires them. The word “inspire” got me to continue to create these videos because the ability to inspire is the greatest gift you can have. That has been my driving force to keep creating videos. I also think it’s my responsibility because I do understand dancers really well and I understand stories really well and I feel like a lot of people are lacking that in the world of film because they don’t know how to tell stories with dance anymore or it’s a lost art form. I feel like it’s my responsibility to try to keep that alive, whether or not I’m doing a great job or not, I need to contribute to that world. The beauty of dance is to tell stories through expression and movement. I think that’s the reason why I started making videos on YouTube. Not only that but it was also to make people smile and laugh, it’s great. Whether they are taking anything from it at all, if I made them laugh or smile for a day, it’s the best thing ever. My videos revolve more around an uplifting feeling rather than too much over thinking that’s too deep or too dark. I like to uplift people’s spirits.
Obviously you are well versed with creatives like dancing, drawing, photography, and editing. Did you always express yourself when you were growing up?
I always was very curious about art. My first form of art was drawing because my brother, Kevin, drew a lot. I grew up watching a lot of martial arts films so I was very physical and very naturally physical. I was able to do flips and climb trees like a ninja, at least in my mind I was a ninja. I knew my body very well at a young age. Then I started dancing when I was 11 and age 17, I found a love for music and every time I saw a piano I wanted to play it. I was always curious about playing the piano and I was able to naturally hear what sounded right, like melody wise. I would come up with different melodies and create music. Then that opened the door to singing and that’s when I found Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly and I found out that they make films. Actually, film, I had no interest in it at all until one day when I made my first short film. I came across this alleyway in Universal Studios and it looked so cool in there and I wanted to film myself dancing there. I got a camera for Christmas one year and I filmed myself dancing in normal clothes and for me it looked terrible. So I dressed up as a 1930’s paperboy and I danced with the same routine and looked at the footage and said, “That looks better but there’s still something missing.” So I changed it to black and white and I thought it looked great. Then I got a computer a couple months later and I had iMovie on there and it started coming together, this film. I found that all the scenes came very natural to me so I kept going with it because obviously if it’s natural to you then there’s a reason why so why not explore more on it. Everything in the creative world, as far as making the film, it came pretty easy to me. I understood it as if I knew I’d done it before.
Can you elaborate the differences of dancing/performing on stage vs. television/film vs. on the web?
There’s a huge difference. There’s two moments when you feel alive. When you’re performing live on stage, you instantly get the feedback and the energy from the crowd and it’s all in the moment. You create the moment when you’re in the moment. You create the energy while you’re performing with the audience and being intimate by projecting and receiving. It’s an instant high. There are nerves and you only have one chance to do it right. In film, the celebration comes when you’re finished with it. It’s amazing to be creative and having time to think about all of your ideas and every little detail while you’re filming. I think creating on the spot and freestyling and just going with the moment versus trying to get the best of the best through the period of takes and collaborating with everyone else around you that you’re working it. When you’re finished with your product, creating every single moment and making it work and read through on film with the music and with the edits and the sound design to get across the feeling as if you’re trying to do it live — I don’t know if that make sense.
When you perform for an audience it’s such a different filming than when you’re reading it off of the screen. It’s so much more pleasing when you actually feel the person right in front of you and they’re expressing how they feel. We feed off of energy and if I could feel your energy and you’re affected by it then I could feel that and be affected by it. It’s back and forth. When you’re reading off of the screen, text could be misinterpreted if you read it the wrong way. You could be reading a positive comment and take it negatively because of the way they worded it. You don’t know if they’re being sarcastic or completely honest or sincere. It’s hard to read it sometimes. They both have their great things about them, for me.
Can you elaborate on the creative process? How do you go about producing your films?
I come up with loads of ideas all the time but they are too grand for me to do the resources that I have, too much money. What I try to do is to create whatever I can with what I have and make it the best that I could possibly make it. Maybe, someday, someone will see the potential and give me the opportunity to make the things that I really want to make. Until then, I will continue to do it with the people who support and love me. Which is the way to reach true success anyway. Mainly, how I go through my process is I try to make it simple yet effective and I usually freestyle and write it as it goes. Welcome Home, The Musicbox, The Ho Down with LXD, those were all improved in the begining stages. The story comes into place as we go. For Welcome Home, the only idea that I had in my head was if I could make cleaning my apartment look cool. So I shot everything by myself trying to make it look like somebody else shot it. While I was doing it, the story came to me about how it was going to end and how it’s going to play out. For The Ho Down, we just started filming Shonnie walking down the street. Then the two characters joined in and then came everybody joining in having a good shoot out. Then at the end, the story was to end it off as if it was all a joke on our off time. That’s exactly what it was anyway. I just freestyle and not overthink because when I overthink it, I’m done. Sometimes I do have the idea of what I’m doing and sometimes I don’t. That’s also the case when it comes to music. We just play around like, “Try a gong. Try a high hat. Try a horn.” Once you know, you know. You just play until it sounds right or it feels right. A lot of it has been improv. That’s what art is about. Keep trying till it feels right.
With the explosion of media outlets that showcase dance and other creative forms, where do you see dance going?
All those things definitely created doors and opportunities with dance. It’s everywhere right now and it’s become very commercial. It’s being televised and being sported. They are just taking advantage of the phase and the hype of it right now. Everybody is trying to get their hands on dance and use it any way they can rather than really thinking about a way to make a huge impact like how “West Side Story,” “Cabaret” and “Flashdance” did. They aren’t thinking about utilizing it that way to create a new legendary film. I use commercial a lot because it’s so thrown out there instead of having it used like it’s meant to be used. The movie “The Artist” just came out and I was so happy because it totally stepped out of the box (of today’s standars.) It opened up the door to bring those days back and that’s where I want to take it, more so, in that route where they are going. So when that film came out I was like, “Yes!” Then “Smash” came out with the musicals. People are starting to see the potential where it should go, in my head. I think eventually there will be a phase where those musical days will come back. That’s where I want to take it for sure in the musical world.
It’s safe to say that you’re one of the more recognizable dancers today. Did you have any specific process in terms of branding yourself online?
No, because I was never able to put myself out publically like, “Look at me!” If you notice, my videos come within a period of six to seven months in between each other. It’s not like I’m putting stuff out everyday to make sure people don’t forget who I am. I’ve always been true to myself and I make stuff when I feel it. I think that’s why people are affected by it because I put my heart and soul into everything I do and I don’t release it until it’s fully me. Rather than quantity, I worry about quality. I want everything to mean something, not just to throw stuff out there. I think that’s my reputation as far as people appreciating that about me. I’m not somebody everybody talks about everyday because I’m not in their face everyday. I’m somebody that leaves wanting more 🙂
Would you say that you’re bit of a perfectionist?
How do you know when it’s ready to be shared?
Well, it’s never ready but if it wasn’t for my girl to push me and say “Get it done, release it, and let it go” it would never be done to me. When I finish stuff, I’m so excited about it I want to share it and sometimes I release it without it reaching its full potential. After I release it, I’m like, “Yeah cool!” and then after a while I watch it and think, “Damn, I should have done that or I could have done that!” I kill myself about it. You’re never going to reach perfection, you just need to do the best you can do. I’ve been learning that a lot lately. Just getting stuff done. I’ve become a control freak. I have to see it clearly in my head. I’m definitely a multi-tasker and there are many things that I want and I try to make it all happen at once which is a good thing but it also downgrades a lot of little details that I miss or I don’t pay much attention to instead of putting all of my focus onto one thing making that the best it could be and then putting them all together again. If you see the history of Gene Kelly & Fred Astaire, they were the same way. You watch them dance and you’re like, “Oh my God! It’s so perfect” but to them it was far from perfection. When they saw themselves dance, they couldn’t watch it. They would be like, “Oh my gosh. I have to do something!” That’s how I feel when I watch myself dance. It’s a good thing because I’m always striving to do better. You’re never satisfied. It kind of sucks because you’re never happy. You’re happy in the moment because in the moment it felt good but after you watch it over and over again you become your worst critic and you start breaking yourself down and it’s a super tricky situation. Being the director and editor, I have to watch myself over and over again. I get tired at looking at myself but it gets to the point where I’m not even looking at myself. I’m looking at a character in a film, the guy that’s telling the story and when I’m done I’m like, “Oh, that’s me!”
Can you fill us in on any upcoming projects?
My girl Tamara and I are writing a musical feature film and at the moment we are devolping to shoot a short film version of it soon called “Today’s The Day” We just recently launched a kickstarter page to raise the funds for the film. We’ve been getting so much support and it’s so exciting! I’ve been writing on a bunch of music videos. I just wrote a new treatment for a video last night so we’ll see about that one. Eventually, I want to make my transfer to being a director as my career, like getting paid for it and be taken seriously as a director. A lot of people don’t because they can’t get it out of their brains that I’m just a dancer. That’s another pet peeve of mine. Short films are the best because they are short, sweet, simple and to the point. It fits in the web format. Definitely a few short films to look forward to in the future. That’s the driving force is to keep pursuing that route. Little by little, I’ve been forming the team that I love working with. I went from being by myself, to being me and my girl and us becoming a team and then people start seeing our work and they want to help shoot and produce it. Actually, the guy who shot the last one, “Like Mike,” his girlfriend actually produced it too so it was like a double date/short film team. A good friend of mine named Troy Christian has been helping me a lot. Little by little, the team is forming. It’s a smaller team but we all work really well together and we get stuff done. The more people involved, the harder it gets.
Do you have any words of wisdom for creatives who want to create projects that are of their own vision?
Don’t do anything to expect anything from it. I would say to completely do it out of your heart and be true to yourself. When you expect something to come out of the future, you forget the moment you are living in right now. You’re going to miss all of the greatest parts which is finding yourself as an artist rather than always looking for the future and hoping to dream the dream instead of living the dream. What you are doing is creating. You are living the dream. That’s in the now. I think for me that’s a big thing people forget. They look too far ahead instead of being in the now. Don’t be afraid to take risks and don’t be afraid to listen to your instincts.
One more fun fact: What’s your favorite film of all time?
You know there are different categories. I can only pick one?
Fine, you can have three.
West Side Story,” because I think that is the greatest musical ever made. As far as what I like, I don’t know, there are some freakin’ good ones. My favorite, recently, is “Lars and the Real Girl” with Ryan Gosling. It’s such an amazing film. “(500) Days of Summer” is also a good one. I love that film. Actually, I
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Photography By: Melly Lee
**Daniel Cloud Campos is on his way to make his first feature film, check out his kickstarter!**