Exclusive Interview With Luis Aira: From Boston Rock Videos to International Award Winning Filmmaker

Coming Soon: Watch for a new SRO article featuring Aira

LOS ANGELES – Luis Aira wears many hats - film maker, creative director, author, visual artist – and has worked in the music, entertainment and advertising industries for over four decades running. He has been honored many times over for his interesting and edgy style, which spans across several cultures and markets, having worked with such industry giants as MTV, Converse, Coca Cola, McDonald's, Honda, Sears and Wells Fargo to name but a few.

Article by Joe Milliken * Photos courtesy of Luis Aira

Originally from Havana, Cuba, Aira's parents exiled to Venezuela when he was only a year old, his mother becoming a philosophy teacher at the University of Havana and his father became a professional singer...art and books were always around the Aira household. “When we moved to Venezuela my mother started working as a copywriter in advertising, so I grew up around storyboards and creative people... and became involved,” Luis said in an exclusive Standing Room Only interview.

“I was a child actor in dozens of commercials and by the time I was 14, I was obsessed with movies and particularly Federico Fellini. I had a super-8 camera and started shooting my own little films. My aim was always to write my own films and shoot them... I wanted to be Fellini! I was into the storytelling aspect, but I felt my stories were visual and therefore, words were not enough. I would always write it all on paper, thinking in cinematic terms.”

At 16, Aira wrote a play that garnered some attention from the Venezuelan press and also wrote newsreels at the prestigious Bolivar Films in Caracas, which led to him receiving a full academic scholarship at Emerson College in Boston. As a youngster, Luis had spent summer vacations visiting his grandmother in New York City, therefore, he was already familiar with the climate of the Northeast.

"Once at Emerson I had to start making films and since my father was a singer, I was immediately attracted to the booming Boston rock music scene and started using some of the locals as my actors,” Aira said. “In 1980/81 I made my first music video for a song called 'Cultured Pearls' for the Boston rock band The Neighborhoods and after that, I made videos for the New Models and 'Til Tuesday."

At that point, Luis was about to graduate from college and needed to make a half-hour film as part of his graduating curriculum. However, film is very expensive and the cost would be in excess of $20,000. “Being a student I, of course, did not have a penny and it was during this time that I was walking Newbury Street and as I turned around the corner, I heard a voice say, 'You're the video guy, right?' It was Ric Ocasek, leader of the rock band The Cars.”

Aira had become friends with Cars drummer, David Robinson, who in turn had told Ocasek about the young film maker. “Not only would Ric become the executive producer of Chapter X (my graduation film) but he, David Robinson and many others contributed in every way they could. The film starred David Mineham from The Neighborhoods and actor Ziv Gidron, who at the time, was a drummer I had found at Berklee College. Needless to say all these people became an integral part of my life.”

Chapter X would go on to win “best experimental film” at the Chicago International Film Festival. Aira would also direct other short films, including Beset, which is now a part of the Los Angeles Museum Of Contemporary Art's permanent collection and showcased in the USA and Europe at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

A few months later, Ocasek would ask Luis to direct two videos for his solo songs “Jimmy Jimmy” and “Something To Grab For.” “Those were my first two music videos to appear on MTV and after that, I would direct videos for Jon Butcher Axis, Digney Fignus, Greg Hawkes, General Public, Alan Vega and many others.”

Before long, Aira started to garner attention around Boston not only for his music videos, but in advertising as well. “Once my name got around as a music video director, I was approached by a Boston agency to direct a cable spot for a shoe brand,” Luis added. “I was very lucky, as that first spot won a Clio Award and catapulted me into the Boston advertising community in the late 80s.”

However, by the end of the decade and after winning some fourteen New England Best of Broadcasting awards Aira would reach a crossroads, causing him to leave Boston and move to the West Coast to continue his career. “My offices in Boston were located above Syncro Sound, The Cars' recording studio and after the band split apart, I found myself in a bit of a vacuum.

"Therefore, as to continue my film career I moved to Los Angeles and during the years that followed, I inadvertently became a 'hot' director in the U.S. Hispanic market and started doing spots for big brands like Coca Cola, AT&T, and McDonald’s.” Over the next decade, Luis would entrench himself in television commercials.

After working for Moving Image, an Hispanic commercials production company, in 2002 Aira founded Ofrenda, Inc., a Los Angeles based, full-service production company that represented an award-winning team of directors which produced feature films, music videos, commercials and reality television programs. “The company was productive for nearly 10 years and included myself and two other directors,” Luis said.

“Then, in 2003 and tired of just doing Hispanic spots, I decided to go back to my rebel roots and made another experimental rock & roll film, this time a feature titled Girl in 3D. It was done on an extremely low budget and many of my musician friends helped with the soundtrack. Reeves Gabrels (Tin Machine, The Cure) and Robert Smith (The Cure) gave me music as well as many of my old Boston friends such as Greg Hawkes (The Cars), Perry Geyer (Manufacture), Steve Cataldo (Nervous Eaters) and many others.

"The film is experimental in the sense that it was written to produce an emotional response to violence and trick the viewer. In spite of winning three festivals, the response was not very positive and some people got very angry over the controversial nature of the film. However, Reeves showed it to David Bowie and Reeves called me to tell me how much Bowie loved it... so at least it had one very cool fan!

“With Ofrenda, Inc. we also did a few political campaigns, including Al Gore and John Kerry, contributed to another independent film (Day Without a Mexican), and did many Carl's Jr. commercials for several years.” In fact, Girl in 3D, which premiered at the Dances with Films Festival, was awarded “best feature” at Indiefest Chicago in 2005, was also showcased at the Cannes Film Festival and has since developed cult status.

During this time, Aira also created and directed several public service announcements for such clients as MTV Network's “Rock The Vote,” Boston Mayor Ray Flynn and The Kaiser Foundation to name a few. He also worked with the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, creating marketing and media design for the organization.

As a writer, Aira has published two books, Somewhere and The Dreamer, and is currently working on a third. “My mother told me I wrote her a poem when I was 4-years-old, therefore I have been writing all my life. My start in music videos came from my ability to write concepts. Luis' screenplay for Somewhere won an International Family Film Festival award and was a Kids First Film Festival honor.

Currently, Aira works as an advertising multimedia creative director and writer for various companies and is also developing and pitching two television series, including a mini-series titled The Diabolist and another, a comedy revolving around an advertising agency. Luis is also working on publishing a third book titled Bones for the Dogs. To learn more, visit Aira's website at www.luisaira.com.