Miami Director David Rousseau: “Pitbull Was Loyal to Me; We Grew Together"

Pitbull and director David Rousseau on set.
Pitbull and director David Rousseau on set.
Courtesy of David Rousseau

Whenever a Miami homeboy makes good, it’s reason for the rest of us to feel proud. And when there’s a celebrity association involved, it’s all the more reason to express admiration and admit a bit of awe. So credit David Rousseau with inspiring a lot of both.

Over the past ten years or so, Rousseau has carved out a notable reputation as a distinctive director who’s managed to amass a substantial creative and corporate client roster, having applied his creative touch to music videos for the likes of Pitbull, Marc Anthony, Lil Wayne, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Nicki Minaj, and Ne-Yo while also going the Mad Men route by directing commercials for such lucrative consumer goods as Bud Light, Honey Bunches of Oats, and the Cove Atlantis. And then there’s the series of high-profile projects that have found him working with Sony Pictures, Ford, Fiat, Kodak, and DreamWorks Animation, all of which attest to his skills and savvy. 

While we’re chalking up his accomplishments, consider this: He’s a five-time MTV Video Music Award nominee. If that’s not enough — and it oughta be — he was recently inducted into the Miami-Dade College Hall of Fame too.

An obvious overachiever, this is one local lad who’s done well for himself.

“As with anything else, it’s a process,” Rousseau says. “Meeting the right people, establishing your name, and getting recognition for your work.”

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This Venezuelan-born Miami guy's remarkable career path has taken him from the production department of television station CBS4 Miami to the world of big-time showbiz.

“I went from $1000 budgets to a quarter-of-a-million-dollar budgets, but that took a few years to happen,” he explains. “Corporations need to see success and numbers. The work that I’ve directed has been viewed over a billion times online, which amounts to six years of directing work for major labels like Sony and Universal, major brands like Post Cereals and Zumba, and television networks including TNT and ESPN. It’s a slow grind that eventually reaps success, but it doesn't happen overnight.”

Maybe not, but it’s clear he has compiled quite an impressive track record since shooting his first videos with Pitbull and Shakira, a pair of projects that took him from Miami to Madrid and back again.

“[Pitbull] was loyal to me,résumé and we grew together,” Rousseau says of the man who helped him launch his directing career. “We have always collaborated well, and through him, I was given the opportunity to work with other artists.”

Though Rousseau’s résumé is diverse, he especially enjoys the opportunity to work with musicians. “I love to collaborate with artists,” he explains. “If they’re involved and invested in the creative process, then they tend to give you more of themselves. Plus, I get to learn from them and witness all the knowledge and creativity they’ve amassed over the years.”

Press him further and he freely shares various anecdotes about those with whom he’s developed a special rapport. 

On working with Julian Lennon: “One of my favorite experiences was directing Julian Lennon. He hadn't done a video in over a decade, and he was very nervous to get in front of the camera again. He is a very sensitive artist, but shooting in London and performing the song really spoke to him. He told me his new passion is photography, so we literally spent an hour chatting about photography. That was the icebreaker, a way for him to relax, to take the pressure off. So instead of only getting four hours with him to shoot — as arranged by his label — he ended up staying on set the entire day, and in between shots, we’d talk more about his pictures. So he really became comfortable.”

On working with Christina Aguilera: “When I directed 'Feel This Moment' with Christina Aguilera, I would call her ‘Christinita.’ She was kinda shocked. She told me it had been years, not since her childhood, that anyone had called her that, that it had been the nickname her grandmother gave her. So that was a huge icebreaker, and we bonded from then on out. This was another instance when the artist only agreed to be on set for an hour or so but instead stayed way longer, because she felt so comfortable and in such good hands.”

On working with English singer and actor Michael Des Barres: “His first role was alongside Sidney Poitier in To Sir, With Love, and he’s been directed by Clint Eastwood and many other well-known directors in his career. So the wealth of knowledge you get from working alongside someone like that is priceless. Plus, it was great to hear all his crazy 1980s rock ’n' roll stories.”

While Rousseau obviously enjoys spending time with the stars, he insists he isn’t simply star-struck.

“I try and not get caught up in celebrity circles,” he says. “It’s my job and my career, so I have to take that seriously. There are many pitfalls in this industry, and you have to stay focused on your goals in order to not get caught up in the glamour part of it. Don't get me wrong — being nominated and attending the MTV Music Video Awards was a dream come true, and getting a chance to meet all of these artists is great. The first year I was nominated was the year Lady Gaga wore the meat dress. She actually walked by me, and the meat touched my suit! That was one experience I’ll never forget.”

Regardless, Rousseau remains a regular guy. Despite splitting his time between Miami and Los Angeles and often taking side trips to London, Madrid, Mexico, the Bahamas, Trinidad, and New York City, he stays grounded. “It’s a lot of frequent-flyer miles,” he jokes. Yet he dismisses any suggestion that he’s some kind of jet setter. Circulating with the stars is just part of the job, he insists. Besides, celebs are people too.

“In Los Angeles, you bump into celebrities all the time, but you quickly get over that initial thrill when you see stars in their natural habitat.”

That’s not to say he doesn’t enjoy the benefits. “I have a front-row seat to watch them perform,” he says. “As soon as I yell action, they immediately turn it on. While many artists lip-sync during video shoots, Marc and Christina don’t. So as soon as you hear the towering voices coming from these people, you quickly realize why they’re icons.”

In fact, he gets to hear a lot of new music, most of it before the rest of us. “I’m a music fan, period, and I love to discover new stuff,” he admits. “On any given day, my email inbox has links to new music. That’s definitely one of the perks.”

As for the future, Rousseau has his sights on the bigger world of show biz. He mentions that he’s just directed a short film titled Spin, starring Mexican actress Fernanda Romero. He describes the film, slated for release this summer and destined for the festival circuit, as “a love story set in a laundromat.”

“Moving into directing television and film is my new challenge and logical next step,” Rousseau says, and he has some advice for local authorities who might help encourage other locals with similar creative ambitions.

“I’m really hoping Florida does more about creating filming incentives for productions to come back to Florida,” he opines. “States like Georgia are really doing an amazing job to get productions to shoot there. There are so many talented individuals here, but there isn’t enough work, so that means they have to travel to other places to get the work.” 

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