Being an award-winning director and cinematographer might be the sole bragging point for many. But, for Troy Gueno, he isn’t in love with how the titles sound.
“It’s a little too grand for me,” he admits.
Yet, the music videos he’s worked on have millions of views. A project that he shot went on to win a Midwest Emmy. He’s collaborated with some of the biggest names in the industry, such as Chance the Rapper, Joey Bada$$, Vic Mensa, and more.
In this interview, Troy chats with us about his experiences directing music videos after high school, his artistic approaches to filmmaking, and his recent collaboration with Chance the Rapper in Europe.
Troy Gueno setting up a frame for Chance the Rapper | Troy Gueno
“I had just gone through something where one of my good friends had gotten murdered,” Troy confides. “I was in a weird place at 18.”
In the final days of high school, Troy was writing a screenplay about his late friend when J. Krown, another one of Troy's friends, noticed. After inviting Troy to his house to hang out, J. Krown recognized how much they both enjoyed the process of filmmaking. So, Troy was asked to direct a music video.
“J. Krown and I took turns editing. He would play video games and smoke some weed while I like cut pieces of the video, and then I'd get tired and he'll do it. We became known as a duo.”
Those first couple of years with J. Krown were formative for Troy. They had no pressure and could create whatever they wanted - even if Troy felt like they didn’t always know what they were doing.
Nonetheless, over time, Troy realized that he struggled with advocating for his own ideas. Overall, the duo were heading in opposite directions. J. Krown began to pursue other passions. Troy was studying at Columbia College Chicago and shooting at music festivals. They were both in very different headspaces.
“I was just so thirsty to do it, but I’d show up at his house unannounced - I was annoying, I'm not gonna lie,” Troy remembers. “I was just ready to go get it.”
One of the first music videos Troy ever directed: "2 Minute Warning" by 8MATIKLOGAN | 8MATIKLOGAN
It was Vic Mensa’s idea to start shooting VHS.
“Vic was like: ‘yo, you need to start doing some VHS stuff. It’s gonna take you to the next level,” Troy recounts, “so I started looking for some cameras.”
Luckily, Troy was able to buy one from a mutual friend. As a result, he began filming many of Vic’s videos using the new VHS recorder. Not only did it provide Troy with a unique aesthetic for his projects, but it also helped simplify his filmmaking process.
“When you’re working with S-log, whatever you're shooting looks pretty flat,” Troy observes, “but with VHS, you don't have to think about any of that because it already has its own look and style ingrained in what you're shooting.”
He also noticed that old VHS films were shakier and had slower shutter speeds. As a result, Troy began playing with movement in his music videos, using techniques typically used for HD filming and applying them to VHS. After Troy had experimented with VHS for about a year and a half, Chance the Rapper took notice.
Vic Mensa's "Breathe (Freestyle)", shot on VHS by Troy Gueno | Vic Mensa
Chance was looking for a new visual direction for his music videos when he called Troy in. He'd wanted to work within the VHS aesthetic that Troy had become known for. Yet, Troy decided to use a different technique to achieve that look.
“I actually didn't shoot that [the first music video] in VHS. I actually shot with an HD camcorder and my guy ColorShifttt took the HD footage, put it on a tape, and ran back the tape to digitize it and give it that look,” Troy explains.
As a result, the final video really played up the VHS effect through subtle things like natural bleeds. Furthermore, with this process, Troy was able to get more control over the final image, either by asking for a specific frame to appear more glitchy or to play up a certain aesthetic.
So, in late 2020, the music video for “The Return” by Chance the Rapper was released.
On set with Troy and Chance the Rapper | Troy Gueno
Earlier this year, Troy traveled to Europe to film Chance the Rapper’s “The Highs & The Lows” featuring Joey Bada$$. Troy had scouted out a couple of locations prior to filming, but he and Chance were also flexible. Whenever they encountered an interesting sight, they were sure to incorporate it into the video.
“We were just walking around when Chance was like ‘let's shoot here'," says Troy. "We figured out what angles would look good and then we filmed it - it was like high-end running and gunning, basically.”
As a result, Troy and Chance were able to find several breathtaking backdrops for their project. They were paying especially close attention to composition while they were traveling. They were searching for symmetry in their framing, since Chance’s videos feature the lyrics in the center of the frame.
Additionally, they were also inspired by the use of frames within frames. Literally. In one of the shots, Chance is rapping through an actual picture frame.
“Chance came up with that idea because we were at a frame store - it’s one of the oldest in Florence,” Troy recollects. “So, he bought a couple of custom frames and wanted to use them. I was like: ‘cool, let’s go.’”
Troy's recent collaboration with Chance in Europe for "The Highs & The Lows" by Chance the Rapper featuring Joey Bada$$ | Chance the Rapper
Throughout his recent experience in Europe, Troy witnessed Chance maintaining an extremely open and collaborative atmosphere while filming. Whether it be Troy thinking through camera angles or Joey Bada$$ piping up with his thoughts, all ideas were considered equally.
“Never ever shut an idea down. It’s a team sport, you know?” Troy muses. “If you can add your brain to my brain, that's helping the project as a whole.”
It’s a philosophy that Troy really took to heart.
“Chance is always like: ‘before you say no, let's just try to figure it out’,” Troy reasons. “I mean, we're all here for the project. Obviously, if there are money constraints, then you gotta say no. But, if you got time, then why not just try it?”
TROY GUENO (professionally known as TroyFromChicago) is an Emmy Award winning cinematic and photographic creator from the South Side of Chicago. He is currently living between Chicago and Los Angeles. Troy’s multi-hyphenate work ranges from Director, Photographer and Director of Photography. Most recently, Troy was the Director of Chance the Rapper’s newest music videos which debuted at legendary art institutions such as the MCA and Art Basel Switzerland. His other recent work includes photographing artists for TIME Magazine and a national campaign for Mitchell & Ness. Troy has worked with some of the world's largest brands and artists to produce commercial content and has fully dedicated his time and effort toward his creative convictions for the last 10 years.