By Manny Crisostomo
Vicente “Cotch” Diaz Jr. spent the last two decades hustling and growing Cotch Media, a one-stop photography, video, design and branding media production company servicing A-list clients like Fox Sports, San Diego Padres Baseball, Ferrari, Lamborghini and ARRI. The business is competing and thriving in the highly competitive Southern California media production arena.
Diaz’s journey to San Diego, where Cotch Media is based, began one night over 20 years ago in his Sånta Rita-Sumai bedroom.
“I was watching the MTV show ‘Sisqo’s Shakedown’ and they were showing people on the beach partying and saw my best friend, Erik (Beck),” Diaz said. “So I hit him up on MSN chat and I was like, Yo, what’s up, bro? I saw you on (expletive) TV. That’s so dope. It looks so fun out there.
“And he said, ‘If you want to come out I am living by the college but I’m about to move to Pacific Beach and we’re planning on getting a three-bedroom,” Diaz recalled.
His former teammate on the Guam Junior Olympic Volleyball team sweetened the offer, Diaz said. “If you come out here, I’ll get you a job. You can use my old car and then you’ll be living by the beach and like the best frickin’ place.”
“I was sold, I was like, OK, cool, I’m selling everything,” said Diaz, who at that time was attending University of Guam part time, playing volleyball and soccer, working as a process server for a law firm and really had no idea what career to pursue.
He almost didn’t happen
The 42-year-old is the oldest of four born to Remedios Cabrera Diaz, familian Tian, from Kagman, Saipan, and Vicente Pangelinan Diaz, family Bero, from Sånta Rita-Sumai.
Cotch Diaz was born in Huntsville, Alabama, where his father, an Army helicopter pilot, was stationed.
“When my older sister died at birth, the military doctors told my mom that she wasn’t going to be able to have kids anymore,” Cotch Diaz said. “And then when they had me, she was surprised since she didn’t expect to get pregnant.”
Remedios Diaz ended up having Cotch and three more boys, but really wanted a daughter. Her second oldest son, Adrian, a highly sought out artist and designer based in Las Vegas is now a transgender woman. “My mom really wanted a daughter,” Cotch Diaz said. “And that’s why she says, God blessed her with Adrian.”
Remedios Diaz felt blessed having children and started a promesa nobena. “When I was born she started to say the nobena every year to, you know, give thanks back to God. She’ll say the novena right before Christmas and it will end on January 7,” Cotch Diaz said.
A few years ago he and Adrian were stateside and Facetiming the annual promesa nobena with the family back in Guam when their mom passed. “She died right at the end of her nobena that she started a long time ago,” Cotch Diaz said. “When we’re done praying she actually just laid herself to rest.”
Guam to San Diego
Back in 2001, Cotch Diaz had raised $3,000 by selling all his possessions, including his Toyota Previa minivan. “It’s not the coolest ride,” he said. “But I was the guy with a minivan from the south that would pick up all the girls and we would go out clubbing, and the guys would all be jealous.
“I went to San Diego when I was 21 and my rent was $640 and with the deposit it was like $1,300,” he said. After buying a bed, and all the sheets and everything I was pretty much down to under $1,000 and, yeah, it got real, real quick.”
His friend helped him get a job at the Old Spaghetti Factory in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. Diaz fibbed about having experience as a server and told them he used to work at the Sizzler in Tamuning.
“I knew that if they called Sizzlers on Guam no one’s gonna answer because the restaurant closed down,” he said. “So I was like, oh, yeah, I worked at Sizzlers for two years as a server.”
“And oh my God, this thing was embarrassing,” he recalled. “I would be at a table and they’re like, ‘Can I get a cup of joe?’ I was like, sure and I went to the back in the kitchen and was like, ‘Hey, does anybody know what is a cup of joe? I don’t know what the hell a cup of joe is.’ And they are like, ‘Dude what restaurants you work at? It’s coffee,’ and I am like, why the hell do you call it a cup of joe.
“I also remember certain days where the only time I could eat was when I went to work at the Old Spaghetti Factory because you got 50% off, and they had free salad and free bread,” he said. “So sometimes I would go and pick up shifts just to eat. That’s what I had to do a lot back then.”
“Within a year I worked my way up to becoming an opening server — you got like the best section that makes the most money — and I had some of the best shifts,” he said.
He is by his own account self-taught and self-made, taking on every new challenge and quickly learning on the fly, struggling yet persisting and eventually succeeding.
“I wasn’t artistic when I left Guam, but I thought I wanted to get into advertising,” he said. “I kind of promised my parents that I would, you know, pursue some kind of goal.”
After establishing residence, he enrolled at Mesa College which was tuition-free for residents.
“So my first semester there, I took Design and Intro to Multimedia,” he said. “At the Intro to Multimedia class I got the book that they required us to get and the instructor was reading it word for word, and all the projects were in the book.
“Then he would show results from previous students and when I saw that the teacher was teaching straight from the book, I was like, are we really paying somebody to regurgitate what I could just read for myself … because I can take directions real well from reading.
“So that next semester, I would just sign up for 3D, Design, Illustrator and Photoshop classes that I wanted to learn from,” he said. “Then when they told us the book they required, I would take a picture of the book, and then I’ll drop the class. I’ll go on Amazon, buy the book and teach myself whatever was in that book. So I did that for two semesters.”
He got his first camera that wasn’t a point and shoot – a Canon G10 – in 2004. “That’s when I got serious and obsessed,” he said. A few years later he bought a Canon 10D for about $1,500, “my first professional camera.”
Diaz says he is a total gearhead when it comes to cameras. He was hired recently by ARRI, a German manufacturer of motion picture film equipment, to film several events including NAB, an annual trade show produced by the National Association of Broadcasters.
“I was putting on one of their lenses and they were saying be very careful with that one, it’s $90,000,” he said. “It was an ultrawide zoom anamorphic lens. I started sweating and oh my God, $90,000.
“I would buy a lot of magazines and I wanted to be just as good as the people that are shooting for the magazine,” he said of his drive and passion. “Back then and even now, I’d rather watch good commercials than, like an average movie or a comedy series. So my dream was to shoot magazine-quality work, and then produce video commercials.”
He was waiting tables at night while taking photo or video jobs, making himself available practically 24-7. “They asked me if I can do photography, graphic design and also design T-shirts and merch, and I told them I can do everything,” he said.
“Then I would go and order books from Amazon and teach myself overnight how to design a shirt or you know like another two or three nights learning how to design billboards and ads.”
There isn’t much Diaz hasn’t done for his photography, video, graphic design and branding corporate, commercial and private clients.
“I shoot big, inspirational conventions, award ceremonies. I shoot for four different wedding agencies. I shoot for six different Botox locations doing all their content. And now I just worked out a deal to get $11,000 worth of dental in trade for video work.”
“I do everything by referral only, I don’t have a website. mostly everything is just word of mouth,” he said, adding that he charges up to $600 an hour for his services.
“Sometimes I work triples in a day, I come home after I work a double or triple gig, eat dinner with my girl and take a nap for like an hour or two hours, and then I’ll get up and edit till four in the morning. I’ve been doing that for the past two to three months.”
Despite being busy with all the work, he still misses home and his family, especially his mother.
“I left everything over there to come out here and I told myself I’ll never go back home until I change my stars,” he said. “Now that my mom passed, and all my brothers and everyone grew up, and I missed all of that, I have to make sure that I can be the best that I can out here and know that I didn’t waste any of that time.”
Things are going so well that he is scaling up, looking to hire editors and build a creative team to cater to all his clients.
“My passion for work is video for sure, but I also like the instant gratification with photos and the joy of telling a story with a photo,” he said.
“I’ve never made anyone cry looking at my photos, but the first wedding video that I shot I saw both the bride and the groom, like, tear up and they can’t wait to watch it again. It just lit a fire in me to tell the story that they wanted to see or that they missed out on.
“Now I’m trying to go bigger, into the documentary side of things to where I can actually capture stuff that people would want to watch for years,” he added. “I really want to hone in on that storytelling. I love shooting stuff that’s real and raw.”
He is still fine-tuning his passion projects but they involve documenting “living legends – people that are still alive that are you know are doing great things,” he said. “Once someone’s a master at something, trying to capture that, it’s so fun.”
Cotch Diaz, who speaks fluent Chamoru, also donates his time and skills shooting both photos and videos of CHamoru events in San Diego and Los Angeles, including Mario Borja’s sakman project, Irensia Cultural Dance Troupe and the first CHamoru Festival where singer Pia Mia performed.
He was also a CHamoru diaspora delegate to the 2016 Festival of the Pacific Arts, shooting photos and videos. “FestPac was a great experience, I loved it, it was spiritual.
“What keeps my fire lit is when I go to Guam and Saipan, and all my family and friends that aren’t able to live, you know, the life that I live, they’re living it through me,” he said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, man, that was so cool when you went and you shot that event,’ and they almost feel like they were there.”