Mikey Alfred’s debut feature, North Hollywood, is weirdly suited for the streaming era attention span, and not because it seems small. Where so many attempts to make younger, hipper, more contemporary content take the form of scruffy, DIY-looking, “found” footage, North Hollywood, which actually is pretty close to DIY, is the opposite. Instead, Alfred’s film looks grand, with vivid colors, dynamic compositions, and a commitment to “classic Americana.” Trends change, but “make a movie that looks good” is one value that remains fairly consistent.
That North Hollywood‘s characters walk, talk, and act like the Gen Z skate crew that they are, while Alfred shoots them like a hot rod movie from the sixties, is by design. Alfred, in addition to being the 26-year-old founder of the skate-crew-turned clothing and skate brand Illegal Civilization, was also partly mentored in the film business by none other than Robert Evans, the legendary and much caricatured old school producer and studio exec of such films as Chinatown, Marathon Man, and The Godfather. Mikey Alfred’s mother worked as Evans’ assistant for more than 30 years, and in 2017 Evans told the LA Times “Mikey is the first kid I knew who reminded me of me.”
Evans died in 2018, but Alfred continued his film industry education working with Jonah Hill and A24 on Mid90s, which Alfred co-produced and which featured some of Illegal Civilization’s skaters. In many ways, the semi-autobiographical story Alfred tells in North Hollywood, about a wannabe pro skater played by Ryder McLaughlin and his old school dad played by Vince Vaughn, feels like Mid90s version 2.0 — the coming-of-age tale updated for a younger generation, the dialogue refined and the visuals polished. That the style feels so fully-formed feels downright shocking coming from a 26-year-old in his debut feature. Or maybe it doesn’t, considering this is also a guy who has had a camera in his hands almost every day since he was an early teen.
Alfred is a hustler, see, and where previous generations may have prioritized sowing wild oats or finding themselves, Gen Z, bred in a time of scarcity, seems to favor knowing one’s brand early on, and making every move possible to capitalize on it. It follows that North Hollywood‘s protagonist, Michael, played by Ryder McLaughlin, is a bit of a Bohemian slacker type worried about upsetting his traditional father, but also an intensely single-minded one, skipping school and sports not so much because he’s lazy or confused, but because it doesn’t seem to further his ultimate goal. “Do it first and ask ‘why’ later,” seem like the main operating principle, both for Mikey himself and his protagonist Michael.
Just as Michael simply doesn’t have time for things like his water polo coach or guidance counselor, Mikey Alfred doesn’t seem to have much use for gatekeepers. You’d think studios would be fighting one another to release a film from Alfred, who has already worked with everyone from Jonah Hill to Tyler the Creator to Frank Ocean. Yet when it came to North Hollywood, apparently not. But when you’ve already been releasing your own clothes and skate videos since you were in your teens, as Alfred has, not to mention hosting your own tours and events, why bother with them?
Where other people might have nurtured these kinds of slights — think Michael Jordan bringing up the kid who beat him out for the varsity team when he was a freshman during his hall of fame induction speech — Alfred seems to simply shrug at obstacles and go around. And hey, sometimes you find some pretty cool stuff on the scenic route.
I read that you grew up in North Hollywood and that you started a skate company when you were younger. How much of this is directly your story in the movie?
The movie is really a mixture of my own story, my friends that I grew up around and some people who worked on the film. It was just important for me to try to put something honest up there and that felt representative of not just me, but the whole community, you know? Hopefully, everyone can take little pieces their own way.
I also read that your mom was Robert Evans’s assistant growing up.
How longdid you know him? What was that relationship like for you?
My mom was his assistant for 34 years and he passed in 2018, obviously. I’ve known him my entire life, since the day I was born. He really taught me a lot about the art of filmmaking and why movies are an artform … in other ways as well, like how to get people interested and to make it weird. He taught me a lot of stuff.
How much of that was directly about the art of movie-making, and how much of it was about the business?
Mostly about the art of it. The way he approached the business in the time he was in, it’s so different than how I approach it. He’s a guy who’s coming at it as a producer, where I’m trying to be a director. The stuff I got the most value out of with him was really about the art of cinema, telling me what movies to watch and why he loves those. And then his advice as a person too. He always had these little quotes. Like, “Be meteoric, not mediocre.” He always had these little things that can help motivate you.
What were some of the movies that he had you watch?
We would always watch his movies, first of all. Rosemary’s Baby would always be on. Always Chinatown. Then not his movies, man, that list can go forever. All the way back to old silent movies that wouldn’t even have words. He’s the person who put me onto Elia Kazan. He showed me On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando.
If we only know him from The Kid Stays in the Picture and sort of the caricature versions of Robert, what are we missing?
I don’t know, I feel like that nailed it pretty good. I would think the thing you’re missing from that movie is how smart his notes on a movie are, and how much he’ll help a movie. I would show him stuff that I would work on, and the things he would call out, it’d be so simple. It’d be like, “Fuck, you’re right. That would have made it better.” There was one time I showed him and he goes, “You got to redo it.” Like, “Why?” Like, “Look at the guy’s veins. The veins in his neck, they’re not flexing. He doesn’t even look like he’s struggling. You got to redo it.” It’d be so simple, so small, but that will really change it.
Are there any parts of North Hollywood that you think of as coming directly out of his influence, or things that you learned from him?
Maybe the scene with the doctor, when Ryder goes to the doctor. You know Gillian Jacobs, that’s sort of Evan’s vibe of how he would talk, like “I don’t give a fuck if you go to college.” He’d just say, “No matter what you fucking do, you got to work hard.”
According to your bio, you started your skate company when you were 12. What did that look like? Were you making t-shirts? When you start a company when you’re 12, what are the first things that you’re doing?
It’s a company now. Back then, when I was 12, it was just a crew. It’s a skate crew and we all make videos together. At first, that’s all it is. Then when we got to be in high school, ninth and 10th grade, it became t-shirts. Now let’s sell some DVDs instead of just giving them out. Now let’s try to travel and do trips. That’s when it started to become, now it’s a real thing.
Do you think that experience, just shooting all these different videos from the time that you’re young, influenced the look of this movie? I watched it and almost from the beginning, it just didn’t look like other movies that I’d seen.
I appreciate that. For sure, me and the photographer, we looked at a lot of picture books. We had a lot of references from photos. Then we watched a movie, it’s called, The Trip to Italy. I really like that movie and the cinematography in it. That was super inspiring for the look of the film. And then just getting those colors and making sure it felt very vibrant and it felt like summertime. We were getting that feeling of the sun and the water and you’re feeling all that.
That’s an interesting movie to mention. The first things that came to mind with this movie, it feels like you’re going for a vintage Americana vibe with, I don’t know, Beach Boys-esque, Southern California stuff. I assume you’re consciously going for a vintage look with this movie?
Not necessarily vintage. I’m just really into ’50s cars, stuff like that. You feel that in the music, obviously. Then I feel like phones, more often than not, kill the drama in a show. Where now I’m watching people text and things are unraveling over a screen. I always like a movie where everything has to be in person. The characters have to meet up and stuff, that kind of thing. That’s another reason we have that vintage feel, because you’re seeing people use the rotary phones.
With the little pebbles on the window and whatnot.
Right. Instead of it being on a screen or in a text.
Is there a big distributor behind this? How are you guys putting this out?
This is completely independent from production to distribution. We have some partners that are amazing that have helped us get it onto iTunes and all that kind of stuff. We did an online theatrical window where we had a partner, they helped us get that up. I’ve just been really thankful for all the support from the community and from people just all over the world. It’s been really amazing.
Did you intend for it to be an independent release all along?
No, we made the movie independently because we couldn’t get anybody to make it from the very start, so we just made it ourselves. Then once we had it, we tried to get it out there through all the normal distribution channels, Netflix, whatever. That didn’t work, so then we’re like, “Fuck it, man,” and we just did it ourselves. It’s actually been going really good.
Why do you think that other distributors didn’t want to put it out? It seems like you had a track record and connections and a movie that would be fairly commercial.
We had been told that a lot of people just didn’t believe it would really go outside of the skateboard community, which I can totally understand. All good. I couldn’t tell you why because that’s on them. All I know is it happened and it’s all good. Now we’re doing it ourselves and I’m really happy that we were able to put it out ourselves because that’s repeatable, and we could start to help other people and make their movies too.
I’m assuming that the actors did all of their own skate tricks in the movie?
Yep. There was no stunt doubles.
How did you find so many guys who could both do those tricks and act convincingly enough to carry a movie?
It’s really just believing in the person, each different guy. Man, everyone stepped up. Ryder [McLaughlin], Aramis [Hudson], Nico [Haraga], they all really brought it and had fun too. It was new for everybody and we just treated it as a fun experience.
One of the things that really struck me about the movie was how natural they felt when they were hanging out as friends, which is something that doesn’t usually look natural in movies. Were they friends ahead of time?
They were friends ahead of time. That was really important to me as well, to capture that feeling and make sure it felt natural.
Then tell me about the Catholicism scenes. When you think of Gen Z skateboarders, you don’t necessarily think of altar boys.
I grew up doing altar serving and doing it in a huge space that was really dramatic. I always had that in my head of kinda like, it’d be sick to put that in a movie.
Was that something that your parents wanted you to be involved with?
It was, but then the school I went to, I went to a school called St. Charles, in the valley. I sang in the choir there and the choir director was a guy named Paul Salamunovich. Paul directed a choir that sang at the Vatican. He also did It’s a Small World After All, for Disney. If you look at the original It’s A Small World, it says, “Directed by Paul Salamunovich.” He had been Grammy-nominated. He was an amazing guy and was really a mentor for me, especially Pete and them as well. I don’t know, there was something about him and altar serving and all that stuff where my parents did put me into it, but then I started to like it myself.
Ryder in the movie and then Vince Vaughn as his dad, how much did you and your father’s relationship influence their relationship in the movie?
Me and my dad’s relationship definitely influenced it. It’s not a perfect depiction. I would say me and my dad probably argued more. We definitely got more violent than in the movie, but it’s got pieces of it for sure.
What was his background? I read in another piece that he had a construction company.
My dad, basically he grew up in LA. He lived in between LA and New York in the ’80s. He was friends with Fab 5 Freddy and knew a lot of art people and knew a lot of musicians and stuff. He had gotten in trouble, he got locked up. He did a few years. He came out, he started his construction business and it was on from there. My first day of preschool and shit like that, it was just me and my mom.
Then did you live with him later, towards your teen years?
No. The second he came home, he was home. I would say the Vince character in the movie too, he had some of my mom in it as well. I think it’s both of them.
He’s kind of a hard ass. He goes between hard and loving as a character.
Well, I’ve taken a lot of your time and I really appreciate it. I really like the movie. Do you have anything that I didn’t ask you about that you want to add before I let you go?
No, man. I’m stoked. I appreciate the interview. Thank you.