Dominican director Jessy Terrero is most known for his music videos in the hip-hop and urbano space with billions of views on YouTube. One of his recent long-form projects Nicky Jam: El Ganador was made available on Netflix in the U.S. last month. The filmmaker doesn’t just highlight Jam’s music career, but he also explores the reggaetonero’s struggles with drugs and fame in the series.
Film and music go hand-in-hand in Terrero’s over 20 years as a visual storyteller. In cinematic music videos by heavy-hitters like Jam, Daddy Yankee, Maluma, Bad Bunny, and J Balvin, Terrero’s name is in the credits. He opened his production company Cinema Giants to explore that intersection of the industry more in-depth with projects like El Ganador on Netflix.
“I started doing music videos always with the intent of doing films,” Terrero tells Remezcla. “Especially for a Latin director, an urban director, we weren’t getting many opportunities in Hollywood and music videos became a gateway for us to go to the next level.”
Terrero is no stranger to the big screen. His resume also includes director and producer for the 2004 comedy Soul Plane. Terrero and his Cinema Giants studio are impacting screens of all sizes. With El Ganador winning over viewers, he talked with Remezcla about the series and some big moments in his career.
What inspired you to be a director?
I worked on a film, Juice, starring Tupac as an extra. When I was on set, I saw a lot of people of color, Latinos and African Americans. That inspired me because I didn’t know that people that looked like me actually had hands in the film business.
What was the experience like to work on Soul Plane?
It’s the difference between running a sprint and a marathon. We were accustomed to shooting things in a couple of days. Now it was like 12 weeks of preproduction, 10 weeks of shooting and another 20 weeks of post. It was a shift for me, but it was where I wanted to go.
In “Felices Los 4,” Maluma famously takes a shower on screen. That has over 1.5 billion views. Who came up with that idea?
It was my concept. What I did early on with Maluma felt urban. Because he was a pretty boy, we were doing stuff that was edgier. When we got to “Felices Los 4,” I felt it was time for him to go Dolce & Gabbana. I was just like, “Let’s go there. Let’s go sexy with it.” What’s funny is that we built the shower outside, so it was the most uncomfortable scene. On camera it looks beautiful, but there were like 30 people staring at him. He was complaining that the water was cold. As a music video director, our job is to market these guys. That was the moment to make him the Calvin Klein model.
How was it to work with Bad Bunny in “Ni Bien Ni Mal”?
We did “Ni Bien Ni Mal” in the Dominican Republic. Working with him was incredible. He’s a superstar. It’s always good for a director to work with somebody who doesn’t have limits. A lot of times you work with artists that confine you and you can’t do certain things. When you work with Bad Bunny, he’s just open to so much. He wants things to be different and cool. He’s willing to push the creative.
Your video “X” with Nicky Jam and J Balvin has over 1.8 billion views. Where did the idea for that one come from?
“X” was something we shot during the taping of El Ganador. The whole time Nicky was on set, he would play that song on the radio and dance. People don’t know Nicky to be a dancer. Prior to this video, Nicky always wore a black T-shirt and black hat. I told Nicky, “I’m going to write a concept, but you’re going to have to dance. I’m going to hire a choreographer. We’re going to come up with some simple dancing and we’re just going to have fun.” Balvin was like, “If he doesn’t wear colors, I’m not coming.” Nicky was like, “I’ll wear colors. I’ll dance.”
As a director, how were you able to approach Nicky Jam’s intense story in El Ganador?
Like any filmmaker, we just have to find the truth in it. There’s key elements in any story that are universal. We have to push those points forward. You haven’t seen many stories where the mother has the big problems and issues. That was painful. Nicky was a young boy that had to grow up on his own and fight adversity. Then the music and the aspiration parts came into play. We all have pitfalls. Whether Nicky’s was drugs, we all fall down and we have to be able to stand back up. With faith, passion and persistence, Nicky moved forward. It gives you hope and that’s what we were trying to do.
What’s next for you?
I have a new project with YouTube, a scripted show in the world of Latin, urban music with Natti Natasha as an executive producer. I’m excited. It’s from the point of view of women in that space.
Nicky Jam: El Ganador is now streaming on Netflix.