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IFH 618: How I Adapted a Best Selling Novel and Made My Film with Aitch Alberto

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Aitch Alberto is a writer/director born and raised in Miami, Florida. She is a Sundance Episodic Lab fellow, recipient of a Skowhegan Artist Residency, a Yaddo fellowship, a Latino Screenwriting Project Fellowship, and an alumnus of the Outfest Screenwriting Lab. Aitch has written on DUSTER, a 1970s-set crime drama series from J.J. Abrams and LaToya Morgan for HBO Max and WBTV.

She also served as a writer on AppleTV+’s BAFTA and Film Independent Nominated anthology series LITTLE AMERICA from Alan Yang, Kumail Nanjiani, and Emily V. Gordon. Most recently, Aitch has adapted and directed the award-winning young adult novel ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Eugenio Debrez producing, from Limelight.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a 2022 coming-of-age romantic film that is an adaptation of the 2012 novel of the same name by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Aristotle and Dante had it premiere at the 47th Toronto Film Festival on September 9, 2022.

She has been included on The Black List’s inaugural Latinx List, as well as the Tracking Board’s Hit List and Young & Hungry List, and NALIP’s list of “Latinx Directors You Should Know”. Aitch has most recently been featured on Variety’s 10 Directors To Watch for 2022 and Indiewire’s 22 Rising Female Filmmakers to watch in 2022.

Enjoy my conversation with Aitch Alberto.

Aitch Alberto 0:00
Like, how do you go through the journey of trying to be who your parents want you to be? And who your soul calls you to be? And how is their trauma affecting your sort of the way you navigate the world? Right. So it was, I think the subtlety was necessary and sort of like presenting that in a in a naturalistic way that slowly like evolves.

Alex Ferrari 0:20
This episode is brought to you by Bulletproof Script Coverage, Where screenwriters go to get their scripts read by Top Hollywood Professionals. Learn more at covermyscreenplay.com I'd like to welcome to the show Aitch Alberto. How you doin Aitch?

Aitch Alberto 0:36
Hi, how are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:38
I'm good. We were having a good laugh before we got started because it's not there's few of us Cuban filmmakers. In the business. There's there's there are Cuban filmmakers without question. But every time I every time I find another Cuban filmmaker, I get very excited. And we start talking and we started like, Adela and it didn't of course, you're from Miami and

Aitch Alberto 1:01
The lalalalala No, I mean, I love it. It is like a rarity. We are out here and we are doing the thing but there's not many of us. So especially like a Cuban from Miami because there's Cubans everywhere, but like a que cippic And being from Miami is very specific to

Alex Ferrari 1:22
I think filmmakers from Miami is like a whole other conversation. It's

Aitch Alberto 1:26
I heard your name from like, years down the line. And I refuse to age myself. But like, you were in the like the sphere of like Dave Rodriguez and like Caroline

Alex Ferrari 1:36
Ohh stop it. Stop it. Why are you going back that far?

Aitch Alberto 1:40
Yes, I know. But like Dave directed my first short Oh, no, no. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:46
You were in that short.

Aitch Alberto 1:48
It was. Yeah. And I also wrote that story. Oh, my God, what do you rest in peace?

Alex Ferrari 1:55
May David. I did I did push for him. I was I did all I did push for him. And then during that, that was when I released my first short film Broken back in the day,

Aitch Alberto 2:05
I've seen broken back into the movie, because I he did push and then like, while push was in post, he fit in my short. And I found him off like Craigslist. I had written the script, it was all like shift left on like a Word doc. I was really young. And it was a really beautiful experience. But I remember your name from then, because I have a sick memory.

Alex Ferrari 2:29
That is, so this would be this the first lesson that will teach in this conversation. It is a small, small world.

Aitch Alberto 2:37
Absolutely. Even smaller industry. I say that. LA's like the biggest, smallest town in the world.

Alex Ferrari 2:45
I mean, that you're like, Oh, my God, I can't believe like I just You took me way back. This is good talking about early 2000s When you don't need a date. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Sorry. I mean, last year, but so. So my first question to you, ah, is how did you get into and why did you want to get into this business?

Aitch Alberto 3:09
That's a very loaded question. I have a very interesting upbringing, being from Miami. And growing up when I grew up, my father was in the drug trade. And was a fugitive for a really long time. And I it was eight years and we lived on the run with him. And movies were always my state. So it was like the thing that brought me comfort and like I never asked for toys. I wasn't like big on anything else. I was obsessed with movies. I just didn't know that you could have a career on all facets and all sides of the film industry. So I acted for a really, really long time.

Alex Ferrari 3:47
Wow, that's so when is the movie coming out of when you were on the run? I mean, there's a movie there. I have to believe

Aitch Alberto 3:54
It's a TV show. And we are yes, it's somewhere that it's being developed right now. And it's written and it's like the thing that it's probably the most honest piece of writing that I ever did. It heals me in so many ways. It was archaic. It like sent me on my journey of my transition. It was it just like unlocked so much to revisit, like a version of myself that always existed, but sort of like life happens and you don't know how to sort of embrace that and be everything that you could be. But that scripts got me to the Sundance episodic lab, it got me my first TV writing job, my second TV writing job and sort of like helped me get me where I am right now to be able to make the film that we're about to talk about.

Alex Ferrari 4:35
That's That's amazing. That's I mean, well, I'm looking forward to seeing that series because I mean, being from Miami. I just I did just see Cocaine Cowboys again. That's just

Aitch Alberto 4:44
So it's very that it's like that was my life.

Alex Ferrari 4:47
So and you were on the run with him with Japan. Yeah,

Aitch Alberto 4:50
I mean, for the year it was a very like interesting experience. And I thought it was completely normal until you like grow up and you're like, Wait, you didn't have that experience.

Alex Ferrari 5:00
Do you mean you weren't running away from the cops and the FBI? And

Aitch Alberto 5:03
It's also a deep trauma, which, you know, thank God right there.

Alex Ferrari 5:07
Right! I can only imagine I can only imagine. Well, that's. So that's that makes sense, I guess. So in other words, movies were your refuge. And you were able to kind of go in into that world and very cinema para DCLs.

Aitch Alberto 5:22
I love that film. It's such a great film,

Alex Ferrari 5:25
Just to kind of escape into movies, I always used to say that movie theaters were like a church. For me, I would go into it. And by myself, I would just go to a movie and just in the middle of Tuesday at one o'clock or something, and just sit there and watch a movie and, and by the time I was done watching that movie, my life has been better for whatever reason, I would have forgotten the problems I was dealing with,

Aitch Alberto 5:46
So one thing that I like Miss during the pandemic, as a writer, it's, I'm great at isolating and like quarantine didn't scare me. But I missed the escape of going to a theater in the middle of the day. And it was always one of my favorite things. My grandmother would take me when I was really young. And she would like skip movies with me and like, she fall asleep and all of them but like she was my like Road Dog and going to see all these movies that I did often see movies that I shouldn't have been seeing at the age that I was like Leaving Las Vegas I saw when I was 10 years old. I went home and wrote my first script online paper.

Alex Ferrari 6:28
That's that is amazing. Wow. I mean, I saw Beverly Hills Cop when I was like seven or eight and I thought that was a little rough. But Leaving Las Vegas it's it's rough for an adult, let alone a 10 year old for God's sakes

Aitch Alberto 6:41
When you're on the run and you're slightly traumatized and growing up faster than you need to.

Alex Ferrari 6:47
I mean, what love Leaving Las Vegas what a drunk killing himself. That's fine. Sorry for spoiler alert, if you haven't seen it, it's on you guys. Sorry. So, um, so you mentioned that you got into Sundance, how was that experience because I've spoken to many people who've gone through that lab and through that process, and I'd love to just kind of get the inside feeling of what it was like being in there and going through that process.

Aitch Alberto 7:10
I loved it. It was one of the most nurturing experiences that I've had as a writer and a filmmaker thus far in my career. And it just like, I was introduced to so many people, it was affirming in so many ways. It was such a goal of mine to like, be validated by Sundance, because I didn't go to film school. I don't have any formal training. Like I taught myself by reading scripts and watching movies at the same time. So like, but I knew that I knew what I was doing, right? Because I loved it so much. And like I worked so hard at it, that like having that validation through that program was really invaluable. And there I met like Lee Eisenberg, who gave me my first writing job on Middle America, season two, and Latoya Morgan, who I just wrote on a show with her for HBO Max called duster, which is also created by JJ Abrams as well.

Alex Ferrari 8:02
That's, that's, that's not a bad that's not bad. Since it's not bad. It's not bad if you could get if it's a good work if you can get it.

Aitch Alberto 8:10
And I think that like who I am, what my perspective is, there's room for me now. So I think a lot of like hard work and timing is what worked in my favor.

Alex Ferrari 8:23
So timing, timing is big with everything, especially in the film industry. Like you know, when I when I talked to some of these guys who were coming up in the 90s, who are the legendary the Robert Rodriguez is and the Richard Linklater and these kinds of people. You know, you know, Rick was the first one to tell me, he's like, I mean, slacker wouldn't make it today. Like, there's just no place for a movie like that today. It'd be difficult. It'd be an art movie. It'd be a back it was he calls him backyard movies. And he was like, that's literally his backyard. Austin was his backyard back then. And, and then I watched it recently, and now that I'm living in Austin, shaped a bit. The city has changed just slightly since then.

Aitch Alberto 9:02
But my lead actor in my film is from Austin and I went to visit I've been a couple of times and absolutely love it. So good for you, Miami.

Alex Ferrari 9:11
Yes, absolutely. No, it's wonderful here. We absolutely love it here. Now, you also directed and wrote a lot of short films I saw on your filmography. What was that? How did that help you develop as a filmmaker because a lot of people like as shorts you shouldn't do it. This or That? How did it work for you and your path?

Aitch Alberto 9:30
Well, I had the foundation of acting, which I think was also invaluable to you know, not only directing actors but understanding story in a way that was very specific. But the shorts were sort of my like, I could do this it was giving myself permission and not waiting for permission from anybody to, to just boots on the ground do it and like I didn't know what I was doing. But I knew that the only way I was going to learn and get better was actually like making something. So that's how that happened. And then it really He became you often when you're in those positions you think you need to like, scale up or have like the ambitions of working or collaborating with people that are further ahead in your career. But what I found to be most useful is that I was collaborating with people that were right next to me that were my contemporaries that have come up with me. So we were learning in so many ways together, luckily, like those films got seen at film festivals and stuff, but like, had they not? That would have been okay too. Because like, I again, not going to film school. That was my film school.

Alex Ferrari 10:31
And like, like Robert Rodriguez, he had 25 I think shorts that no one ever saw before he made mariachi

Aitch Alberto 10:38
Crazy. I wasn't about to make 25

Alex Ferrari 10:42
But you did a lot though. Yeah. I mean, you did what? Like 10 or 12, at least

Aitch Alberto 10:46
In variations. Yeah, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 10:49
But it was an experience even just being on a set, especially when you're coming up is just go much

Aitch Alberto 10:55
100% So that I'm I'm grateful for those experiences, and I think everybody should make it short.

Alex Ferrari 11:01
Absolutely. I mean, I started my career off with shorts and it's it's done it did well for me without question. Now your first film, Harry Kerry, how rock carry are heavy carry IT'S HARD CARRY Hard Carry? Yeah, I was watching it and

Aitch Alberto 11:16
I'm like cringing because it's like one of those buildings that I like, I can't believe that in the world. Sorry. Yeah, like that.

Alex Ferrari 11:22
Listen, no, listen, look, I look at the thing that I like about it. It has a very mumble core vibe to it. It's very Duplass Swanberg, Lynn Shelton kind of vibe to it. So how did it come about? And how and how did you even get that film off the ground? Because it's it's shot, very naturalistic. It looks like it's available lighting. But there's a really great story behind it. And it's, you could see the image you could start seeing through through the cracks, like oh, oh, I see.

Aitch Alberto 11:54
Yeah, there's a point somewhere in there. I call that film an experiment. It premiered at the New Orleans Film Festival and we're seeing distribution through breaking glass. grippy to me that it even saw the light of day, obviously, that's like, in hindsight, I thought I was like groundbreaking Well, obviously,

Alex Ferrari 12:15
No, no, no, this is Hollywood, Hollywood. Now see my genius.

Aitch Alberto 12:19
Like, this is it, I'm doing it on my own. That was I wanted to make a dog one film, like a large dog 1090 95 movie, which is impossible to make, especially like now. So it was an idea that I had. And I just had an outline. And I found really good actors, often friends that were game to play at a camera and a boom mic. And we were out on the road. And just we shot that in two days for like, $2,000.

Alex Ferrari 12:49
Amazing, amazing. And that was that wasn't that far. That wasn't that long ago was like because the mumble core movement and I use the mumble Chroma piano with dogs, obviously dog many fathers, but the mumblecore movement was in the early 2000s. And this film was within like, within seven or eight years ago, if I'm not mistaken.

Aitch Alberto 13:09
I don't even remember

Alex Ferrari 13:12
25th I mean, at least that's why I thought the 2012

Aitch Alberto 13:14
Yeah, that sounds right.

Alex Ferrari 13:16
2015. Exactly. So it wasn't like it was that far back ago. And you were doing that kind of filmmaking. Look, my my first film was mumblecore ask, which I did the exact same thing on my first these last two features I did were completely outlined shot like it one was eight days. One was four days. You just roll and you're like, let's see what happens. You make it?

Aitch Alberto 13:38
Yeah, you just do it. And it's like at the end of the day, it's playing right. And so it's probably one of those films that I could have kept for myself.

Alex Ferrari 13:46
But you distributed worldwide.

Aitch Alberto 13:50
I mean, it was

Alex Ferrari 13:52
Did you do? What did you do? Well, by the way on it? I mean, I mean it cost $2,000 So did you make any money on it?

Aitch Alberto 13:58
I mean money on it. Look at your success.

Alex Ferrari 14:02
You're successful, you're successful filmmaker.

Aitch Alberto 14:05
With it. This is the beginning and it was like huge in Germany. It had like a theatrical screening and everything in Germany. It was like you

Alex Ferrari 14:12
Can you can't walk the streets in Germany, Kenya. Oh,

Aitch Alberto 14:15
I mean, I've changed genders since so maybe I'll get away. Um, but like that. It's interesting because the DVD of the German version of the movie is very graphic. So I think that has a lot to do with why it was a success. I'm telling you way too much. The Cuban from Miami thing really works for you.

Alex Ferrari 14:36
I've done I've done a few of these. So on that film, though, I have to ask you, since it was your first film, and it was an experiment, what was the biggest lesson you learned in that entire process?

Aitch Alberto 14:47
That you need a crew?

Alex Ferrari 14:49
You need money, a crew and a script.

Aitch Alberto 14:52
Money you'll never have enough money but you definitely need a crew and people that are really good at their job because they they make you look good.

Alex Ferrari 15:02
That's very, very true without question. Now, you mentioned that you're working on that on the show duster. With JJ. I mean, I'm assuming you've met JJ. And are you working with Jim? Like, what's it like working with someone like JJ? Because he's such a, I mean, he's such a legend in our business. And he's been doing it at a high level for so long and doing television. I mean, I mean, I could just list off the shows. I've watched the video. So in the television space, what's it like working on a JJ Abrams creative show?

Aitch Alberto 15:35
JJ Abrams is a legend as a human as well, I, we work together often he was in the room. Often he before we went into production, we had like an hour long conversation about the film as well. He's, I consider him like a mentor, in so many ways, a very short amount of time. But what I learned the most from him, was his kindness. He's so capable of listening and being present and actually caring, despite his creative genius. And that, to me, was something that I hope to emulate as my career goes on. And if it ever comes here with JJ is just the fact that he is so successful. And he's worked on such strong and like popular IPs, and was able to maintain this humanity. That to me was very impressive. And I mean, like, he's all over the place. And he's doing too, too much. But it's also like, what fuels him? Brian, I was just in awe of him. From like a real, I also wasn't impressed by him. And that's why we became friends.

Alex Ferrari 16:39
Right! You didn't You didn't geek out, but you are internally impressed by him. But you weren't like, Oh my God. It's JJ. Like you weren't completely fan. You know, fan girl.

Aitch Alberto 16:48
I think like, I was like, if he's a regular dude, who is really good at what he does, and has a real passion for it. Like, I think that's how everybody should approach these people. You know what I mean? Like, I could be JJ, you could be JJ. Like anybody could be JJ. It just takes like a certain level of tenacity, and perseverance, and passion to sort of, like want that.

Alex Ferrari 17:10
Right. Without question. I mean, it's I saw him coming up. And he started off in television, and he wanted to do features and, and he loves Spielberg. And then he get to work with Steven on things. And, you know, he's, and then he gets to do Star Wars. And you know, he's, he's done. Okay, he's done. Okay, he's done. Okay.

Aitch Alberto 17:27
I really, like I really fuck with JJ in a real way. So and

Alex Ferrari 17:30
And that Ted, that TED talk he did with the box. I don't know if I've ever seen Oh, you have to watch that. It's a TED talk he did about a box. It's just like creative muse in so many ways. It's a box that he was given as a child, and he's never opened it. And it's like this. And it's like, what's inside, it's like this magic box. And it's fascinating. It's like a 10 minute Converse them to lecture he does about creativity, but he uses the box, and he brought the box out, and everything is great.

Aitch Alberto 18:02
So I was a lot of that on a daily basis. And he talks about all these toys and like, you know, a listening device when he was a kid. And it's just like, super ate. Every time he talked like, I would have visions of that film, because it was so autobiographical, and so real to his experience, that I was, it's really sweet.

Alex Ferrari 18:21
He's you can you can see the tenderness and the humanity in his work, just like you, just like you see it in Spielberg's work. Like you can see it in et you can see it in Schindler's List, you can see the humanity that comes through their work, and it's something you can't fake.

Aitch Alberto 18:38
No, you can't. And that was something that was really important to me to also implement in making this film. Because I think it was like a redefinition of Latino, Latina, Latin a Latin neck stories, I just want to make sure everybody is included. Right? Yeah. But yeah, like, it's that was, it's a redefining of that, because so often, like our films about our experience, or are violent, or just stereotypical and playing into tropes, and even about the queer experience, as well. So I wanted to make something that felt all American and accessible to everyone. This was just at least from my experience, like the duality of being like, growing up Cuban, but also being American was something that really inspired me because it's like, you feel both, but you are one, right. So and that's some, it was risky for people to sort of understand what I was trying to do, because I don't think they have any, like sort of relatable movies or comps that have done that before because it's just so about the immigrant experience, or about this, just one narrative. And so like, I'm hoping that this unlocks an understanding to that which is rooted in humanity and compassion,

Alex Ferrari 19:51
Without questions. So we're talking about your new film, Aristotle, and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which is

Aitch Alberto 19:58
I've done this before, too. Did you see Hi, segway for you.

Alex Ferrari 20:02
Did you see Did you see how that worked? It was very, it's very professional. It's very, they're very slick, have you? No, no, of course. And then I just watched it. And it's beautifully done. It is hypnotic in certain scenes. It's extremely touching. And there's a humanity that we're talking about in it. And, I mean, the cast is finished and henio and, and Yvonne and everybody else the leads. So beautifully done. But it's done with such a subtle hand, is what I noticed in your in your work in this film, because it's not heavy handed. And it's not preachy. It's human in it. Does that make sense?

Aitch Alberto 20:42
Yes, that's exactly I'm just letting you talk. Because that's exactly what I want someone to say about the film. Right? Like, sure. It's about this, like kids coming of age who's like grappling with his identity and his sexuality and all of these things. But it's so much more than that, right? It's like, how does your family and your experience and your circumstances influenced that experience? Right? Like, how do you go through the journey of trying to be who your parents want you to be? And who your soul calls you to be? And how is their trauma affecting your sort of the way you navigate the world? Right. So it was, I think the subtlety was necessary and sort of like presenting that in a in a naturalistic way that's slowly like evolved throughout it.

Alex Ferrari 21:26
Yeah, it was beautifully done. And I have to give you props for working with a new young and upcoming unknown producer by the name of Lin Manuel Miranda. I've never heard of him. Is I've never anything cool. Doing anything good.

Aitch Alberto 21:38
No, I mean, like he begged me to. So it was a Yeah, I can't get rid of him. Now.

Alex Ferrari 21:46
Bow is like he's on my he's text. He's blown up my phone on a daily basis, like, hey, what do you think Hamilton to? Should I do it?

Aitch Alberto 21:54
We zoomed yesterday. No, I think yo, like he is a force. And he had done I read the book in 2014. I read it in one sitting on locked something inside of me that as a storyteller that I really wanted to tell. And it became my life's work. I didn't know that this book was like a thing. And kids have tattoos. And it was like sold in all these languages. So I had before I found that out, I had a producer friend find out if the rights were available. They were I couldn't believe they were because it was so undeniably great. But it's sometimes when you find those things, it's because they're undeniably great for you. So I was this is serendipitous, I'm going to keep riding this wave. So I wrote the script on spec. Couple of I sat on it for a couple of months. And then I wrote to the author, because there wasn't enough traction for me like the traditional route. So it was like, Yo, I did this thing can I like, come visit El Paso and meet you. So I spent four days there, we became really great friends. And at the end of that, he said, These boys were mine. And now I give them to you. And I was like, crying and like, we were both crying. I was like, fuck, what do I do now? Like, like, now I have this thing that's obviously valuable, and like people love it. How do I make it happen? And so I knew that's where I discovered that Lynn had done the audiobook to REM Dante. And I was like, We need to get him involved in some capacity. I met a producer through a film festival, who helped me develop the script. So that took about a year and then 20 End of 2017 We sent the script to Lynn didn't hear anything back through managers, agents. And that was like, my whole career and anything that I've done has happened because I've made it happen. So I was like, it was New Year's Day 2018 And I was like, hey, Lynn read my script. I tweeted at him no 20 minutes later he replied. And then three months later he was in LA and agreed to produce it I just knew the relationship to the property there like I knew

Alex Ferrari 24:12
I just had to get to him you had to get

Aitch Alberto 24:15
I had and now I can get rid of up no I don't want

Alex Ferrari 24:19
Now what the yappity Yap all the time it's

Aitch Alberto 24:21
A great ideas and the great notes and ya know, it's been really cool and he's been it's not just like someone throwing their name on it like he's been a part of the process since then. In like a real way. He I met Yvonne a pitch and we really connected but he like, she's so wonderful. She, of course. You've interviewed her before.

Alex Ferrari 24:42
Yeah, I don't know. If it's fantastic.

Aitch Alberto 24:46
I was like, Oh, I get why you're such a star and you're unstoppable.

Alex Ferrari 24:52
So no, no without question. And with Eva specifically. Like when you get to meet these people, sometimes you meet them only on zoom but sometimes You get to meet them in person. And you go, okay, I get it. I truly get what everybody sees. And these people, and even I can't wait to see flaming Cheetos.

Aitch Alberto 25:10
That's why I pitched on that. That's where we met. And it's really good. I've seen like snippets of it that she showed me on set. I'm really excited. And I think people are gonna love it.

Alex Ferrari 25:23
And I can't wait for that movie as well. And it's so it's really interesting what you're working with Lynn? And was there any big lesson you learned from him and his process? And the notes in the storytelling? How we approach a story, or producing what did you learn?

Aitch Alberto 25:39
We, I learned so much. And it's hard to distill that because it's like, pieces of information, right. But when we finished because we were editing while we were in production, and I hadn't stepped away from the film at all. And I was literally killing myself to like, get it done for what was supposed to be a festival premiere back then. And he got on the phone with me and just told me you need to step away from the movie. And he was in, post for Tick Tick Boom, at the same time. So he was going through like the same first minute filmmaker vibes that I was going through. And that really hit me once he said that, and that's what I did, I stepped away from the movie. And then we went back into posts and everything started to like, unlock them. So it was invaluable advice.

Alex Ferrari 26:34
It is something that for people listening should really understand is that sometimes as artists, we get a little too close to the project. Yeah. And we're inside the book, and you can't read the book, when you're inside the book, you got to pull back and give time to do now,

Aitch Alberto 26:47
It was seven years, it was a seven year journey from finding the book to like getting to production. So I was entrenched in it. And I just like, I will die without this, you know, but it's like he gave me perspective on that. And I just, I was able to come back to it with fresh eyes with an open heart, because it was like production editing, like, all at the same time. And so the experience of production, the experience of editing something is completely different. And if you're not stepping away to sort of separate those things, you're a, you're not doing your best work.

Alex Ferrari 27:21
Yeah, without question. Now, let me ask you, do you when you're on set? And you know, did you have it? Well, first of all, did you have any problems with the whole first time director even though you didn't make a feature? But you're this is a big jump up from that first two day experiment? With, you know, major actors, I'm assuming the budget was, you know, more than what you did in the first movie? Sure. So did you run into a lot of ocean energy as a first time filmmaker? I don't know if we try. Like, I don't know, what did you think?

Aitch Alberto 27:54
Before what because we there was the other directors attached to, you know, make this before we got to the point, but I always knew, I always knew was my story to tell. So whenever those things would turn out all those false starts happened. I was just like, yeah, because it's supposed to be mine. Through that process, my profile sort of started elevating through the JJs of the world, and lens validation and all of that. So no, I wish there was a bit more trust in me when it was time to go to set. And I also had a very clear vision of what I wanted. So I didn't second guess myself too much. But what I did want to do is find partners and collaborators that were more experienced than me, and were better at what I do. And that was my director of photography, my production designer, my caught all, all the people around me that showed up was so much love is something that I will never forget. And I hoped to have on every film. And that was the same thing with the actors. I think people really believed in the story, they believed in me, and they showed up with that with such a willingness. And, you know, I've been told that I ran a firm, but warm set, which to me is like a big compliment, because we didn't have a lot of time. But like a lot of the work was done in pre production where everybody knew what we were doing. And I'm always super open to hearing someone's idea in the hopes that it elevates what my thought was. And that's what happened throughout this process.

Alex Ferrari 29:31
Did you by any? I know a lot of times when we were, you know, young directors or starting out directors, we get pushback from other people on set, let's say, you know, a grip or, or a DP or anything like that the politics of the set, and I had it you know, I had it meant when I started out like people were like, What do you know, kid? You know, I'm gonna shoot it my way. Did you I imagine you didn't have that because you had so many heavy hitters behind you, supporting you, but did anything Did you have to deal with anything

Aitch Alberto 30:04
You want to all the gossip all the gossip?

Alex Ferrari 30:06
The reason I'm asking you the reason I'm asking you is this and it doesn't have to be on this project on any project, because filmmakers don't know that that's going to happen on a set. And they're not prepared for it, it could destroy a shoot. So I always ask that question of, of every, almost every director, I talked to you, I asked that question, especially when they're starting out, because it's something that is not taught in film school, and it's not really talked about too much. So without giving names, I don't want to call anybody out. But just if you how did you deal with it? If it did happen to you?

Aitch Alberto 30:33
It did happen. It did happen. It did happen from departments that I didn't think it would happen from? And I think it's it's twofold, right? It's not just because I'm a first time director, it was because I was also a woman on a set. And to top that off, I was a trans woman on a set. So I think a lot of men have often gotten away with certain behavior on sets that are rooted sodomy. So there was a dismissive sort of tone, where questions were being asked, and I was asking for things. And they were directed to say, like, my director of photography, who was male, and it was like, I think it took a certain level level of assertiveness. And being from where I'm from, I definitely have. So there was a need for that. And it wasn't something that I needed it or wanted to access or have to, like, move with. But it was there. And I'm happy it was there. Because I wasn't gonna let anybody sort of like walk all over me or walk all over my dream. And I also have, and had the most amazing producer by my side, who just had my back in a real way and was with me every day on set right next to me, and that her name is Valerie Stadler, and she was boots on the ground. And she was with me from the very beginning. After I felt so her partnership, and her having my back throughout, it was just, it was very much necessary because I was able to focus on the work while she dealt with some, you know, drugs?

Alex Ferrari 32:15
Yeah, no. And again, this is these kinds of conversations are important to have in a public forum, because it really does help other filmmakers coming up. I know, just just, they just don't know, it's coming, I had to deal with it. Being the young guy, the young Latino kid, on a set where I might have been the only Latino on the set. And, you know, I had, I had a first ad just a first ad, giving me crap. And I'm like, It's my production company, I hired you, hey, I'm personally writing your check, get on board or get the hell off my set. These are the kinds of things that they're not taught, not talked about.

Aitch Alberto 32:53
So yeah, that department was one of them. And you landed on one of the most amazing human beings that I've gotten the pleasure to work with, his name is montanhas. And he will be with me on every picture. And it was the first time in the last week of shooting, that I was able to walk away from set and know that everything was being taken care of like walk and sit down and do my job. And that I didn't have to sort of like be aware of every aspect of it. Because the person that was supposed to like, ride with me wasn't doing their job. And that often leads to like people seeing your difficult or but it's, it's not that I'm like I I pride myself on being a really good collaborator, and a really good listener, because I think that's what me, Director, but sometimes you do have to put your foot down. And it's like, you do have to assert what your role is in those situations. And that is definitely one of them.

Alex Ferrari 33:56
Listen, when you're coming up, it happens for everybody, every gender, everything. It just happens when Ridley Scott walks on a set, this doesn't happen now. Now, now,

Aitch Alberto 34:07
But I think like for now, because he's earned his respect. And like that's, and I've heard story from other directors. My DP like walked all over me and like, they're, I'm disappointed. I was convinced to do this, my this did this. And it's just like, No, if I'm going to make a mistake, and there's going to be a horrible review, I want it to be my fault. Do you know what I mean? And not be like, I knew that my instinct was this, you know, and that's also something that I like, I advise people who are listening is follow your instinct. They are always right.

Alex Ferrari 34:36
Yeah. And I did the exact same thing. I had DPS walk all over me and convinced me to do things and then I'm in post, I'm going, why didn't I get the shot that I wanted? Why didn't I fight harder? And these are just things that as directors we have to go through. And I think every I think every director goes through that as a one way Scorsese Spielberg all the greats all the Masters they all went through it at one point or another in their careers because it's it's part of the of the process. So becoming,

Aitch Alberto 35:00
I will say production was magic. And if I could have lived in production for the entire time I would have done it

Alex Ferrari 35:08
I was going to ask you about production. It's generally speaking, there's always a day that the entire world's coming down crashing around us as a director, the camera breaks, we lose a location, an accurate doesn't come out of whatever. Was there a day like that? And what was that? And how did you overcome it on any of your projects, by the way, doesn't have to be this one.

Aitch Alberto 35:29
I think every day was like that on this project, because there was such a timing around it. And like I've been told not to say it was but it was not enough time. And it was it made it really hard to sort of like not have room for those situations. But again, everybody really showed up, showed up in a real way passionate, they were so invested in the story. It was it was really lovely to see but yeah, there was always fires to put out and I equate or I give the credit to my producer Val for like putting those out before they really got to me.

Alex Ferrari 36:09
You hear about the the damage later, but you're like the fires that hit me.

Aitch Alberto 36:13
That almost happened on a daily basis. And a lot of those fires there, for example. They're the truck. There's a truck in the movie, which is the like quintessential textbook. Yeah. It's supposed to be this fire red truck, I was pushed into getting this other truck off Craigslist, that I knew was the wrong color. And they're like, it's just the photo. It's just the photo. I'm like, It's not the truck that's there. Um, right. And so like everybody's scrambling to now paint this truck, the right color, and distress it. They painted the same color it was but distressed. This I don't know, while it's happening. It's day one, I get to set. And my production designer is literally painting and distressing. The the truck that I wanted and I would have never known because it was perfect. It's exactly what I had envisioned. But the rigamarole before then, and they wrapped it there was like three steps that should have just been one. It was so funny, but also scary.

Alex Ferrari 37:17
And it's stressful.

Aitch Alberto 37:20
This is why I thought it was like It looks great. And they're like I'm so happy you think so because this in this

Alex Ferrari 37:26
This is day one. This is day one

Aitch Alberto 37:28
Literally we haven't even like shut up. Shut up. Like yes, we hadn't started yet.

Alex Ferrari 37:34
That's That's it. These are the kinds of stories of things I just love bringing out because man even if it's you know you think a lot of filmmakers coming up will look at your story and look at your movie and they're like oh it's got you know Eva and and him yo and Lin Manuel's producing it must you must have had caviar every day and sushi and and just limo brought you like that's not the reality on these shows. It's it's indie filmmaking, no question

Aitch Alberto 38:01
Dawns in Pomona and I stayed in Pomona, like a Motel Six the entire time. Because I'm notoriously late to things that's like my pandemic trauma. So it's like, there's no way I could be late to set so I like had to stay close. Um, but yeah, there was. We lost an actor the day before shooting the horse. It was all it was all the classic stuff.

Alex Ferrari 38:24
You know, it it happens it does happen

Aitch Alberto 38:27
during COVID to like Adam and Jed, we just we had to stop production for we went dark for two days because my lead actor got sick. Meanwhile, I was sick the entire time he was but I was like, I can't be the reason that we shut down. So it was like barreling through and I remember getting set. He's like massive fever. He's really young. This is big, first major role. And he's like, Ah, I can't, I can't do it. And it was like, done. Val got on it. We luckily shut down. We didn't spend too much money in doing that. And we were back up and running again. But everybody was really scared that it was COVID because that would have like, ruined everything. But it was just some sort of flu.

Alex Ferrari 39:11
Oh, that's a whole other level of crap that we have to deal with to make movies in today's world. It's It's insane. Now you your film is going to premiere at TIFF, the Toronto Film Festival. I always love asking this question. What was it like getting the phone call?

Aitch Alberto 39:31
It's it's really emotional. It's like every emotional moment because it was postproduction was so hard. We had been invited to another film festival where we pulled the movie. And so it was a lot of it was painful. As an artist it was a painful sort of decision to make and have to make, but knowing it was the best thing for me in the film. So when this one came, that's also like such a reputable Film Festival that I haven't been to and I'm so excited to be included. It was just it was an exhale, it was like I had been waiting seven years to exhale. And it hadn't happened. Because it felt really real for the first time.

Alex Ferrari 40:10
It's a beautiful fest. I've been there, I was there once. And it's a beautiful festival. And Toronto is a great, great city. It's not Sundance, like Sundance is a whole other experience. Because I love Sundance, but it's different. And it's beautiful. And it's such a they love their filmmakers, they really, really do. And it's one of the, arguably the top five, if not the top three, one of the top three festivals in the world. So it's, you know, when you're coming up as a filmmaker, you have to imagine that you'd have the same dreams that all of us do, is like I want to get into Sundance, I want to get into Toronto, I want to, I want people to look at my work and tell me that I've done a good job, you want to feel that as, as a creative as an artist, and to be accepted into a festival like Toronto, is just monumental, especially at the beginning of your career. You just like, Oh, my God, like I just I, and it doesn't seem like and you've been in being so young, obviously. But you've been you've done a few things in your life that I feel that you it's not going to go to your head, it's not going to be like I'm the great that was in the first movie, like my genius Hollywood come and get

Aitch Alberto 41:22
I mean, that's something that I reflect on. Often, it's like, there was so much desperation and sort of anxiety when I was younger, of having that break. That never came. And I think I think he was, I think it was for many reasons, I think like I had to like unlock something in me to sort of like be ready to exist in the world authentically, and allow good things to happen to me. And once I did that that happened. And I think that that's true for this as well. It's just like, I'm happy, it didn't happen when it was supposed to happen in my head and that it's happening now. Because I'm far more present for it. I'm aware when I'm not. And I bring myself back to it because it is it's like a dream for so many people and I'm living it. And I just really want to enjoy it and have fun with it as much as I can

Alex Ferrari 42:10
Enjoy it because it goes quick. exam was really quick. So enjoy every second of it. Now I have to also ask you the question, you got to work with an henio and Eva. And this is your first big movie and you're working with these veteran actors, some of them legendary actors. How did you approach collaborating with them? You know, I mean, because they're both forces of nature. Both of those specifically, are they? They are forces of nature.

Aitch Alberto 42:39
Alone as well who yes, it mom like I'm all three of them. And Kevin Alejandra as well, all four of them are have such great careers on television and film. It's an interesting question, because it felt so seamless to work with these people. And I joked that the Latinx mafia had to show up in order for this movie to get made. Because we live Huck is going to finance and film about like two brown boys directed by a trans woman. But it was them who again validated my script, it was Lynn, who Haniel and Eva are stepping up and being like, this story is important. And I want to be a part of it. So that validation sort of came in at the beginning of the process. And then working with them was just like a very natural unfolding. And especially with a cameo who was like, so nervous to step into this role, because it was so different from how people know him. And he was so game and trusted me so much. And it was a lot of conversation and a lot of like, just, you know, support and being him being there for him to make choices. That felt scary, but we're right. And it's just like, I think his performance in the film is a revelation and something I'm most proud of.

Alex Ferrari 43:56
Yeah, is I mean and white hair. He looked amazing.

Aitch Alberto 44:00
And that was that was all him up the hair like he was so committed, and so impassioned. And you see it on screen. And like that some Yeah, I am reflecting back and smiling because it was so lovely. And Eva was just a lot of these people were just the roles. They were who people that I wrote with in mine, Eva specifically. So she just stepped into it. Because that's her. She's motherly and she's nurturing and she's like, incredible that it was just like, easy to sort of like hold their hand and guide them through the problem. They're also veterans.

Alex Ferrari 44:36
Yeah. Isn't it nice working with real actors? Yeah, professional, like

Aitch Alberto 44:42
Veronica Falcone as well, and Kevin as well. They're like actors from the theater and they like do the work in the preparation. I've met with both of them and I knew it was them and I didn't want to see anybody else. And it was just like, it's a thing. It's following your instincts and I'm really proud of those decisions.

Alex Ferrari 44:59
You Yeah, because I mean, coming up with you work with non actors or actors who are just starting out, and there's egos and there's this and that. And then the moment I got to work with, unlike an Oscar nominated actor I had to work with and he walked on set, and I was like, Oh, so this is what it's really like

Aitch Alberto 45:17
And everyone's also on their best game, like, everybody's just like, shit, like real.

Alex Ferrari 45:25
Rather, when I make you messing around anymore, these are real actors, we gotta

Aitch Alberto 45:28
Real actors, this people are gonna see this and that there is an energy shift, you know, but those, those two people that are like super massively famous, don't carry that around with them. So that also made it easier.

Alex Ferrari 45:41
Fantastic. Now, I'm going to ask you a few questions. I ask all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Aitch Alberto 45:50
Don't wait for permission and delusional confidence.

Alex Ferrari 45:55
I'd love that answer. Delusional confidence.

Aitch Alberto 45:58
Yeah, no one's gonna tell you, you're great. And it's often going to feel like you're not great. So you have to delusionally tell yourself, you're the best. And your voice matters. And it needs to be heard. And that's like, even if you like, shoot for the stars, and like, you land somewhere in the middle. It's worth it.

Alex Ferrari 46:16
Now, what did you learn from your biggest failure?

Aitch Alberto 46:21
I have failures every day. But my biggest failure was not being true to myself. Because in order to be true to who you are, you unlock great or, and like, once you that that's where like the real sort of, you know, your your alignment, and your ability to welcome abundance SNESs and, and have your mind sort of unencumbered by the thought of failure is where like the real magic starts to happen.

Alex Ferrari 46:51
Well, I mean, the delusional confidence of tweeting Lin Manuel, is is genius. It's just a brilliant story. By the way, I think it's I haven't heard that one before, though, to be honest with you how people always like, ask me, how did you get Oliver Stone on your show? I go, I tweeted him. 10 hours later, he's like, I'll be on your show in two days. I'm like, Okay. And it just

Aitch Alberto 47:15
Kept forgetting that right. Like, I want to be able to like as I progressed to give that back to somebody and like even people who are my assistants and stuff, I make sure that I'm bringing a way to like, elevate, you know, I don't want to forever Asst.

Alex Ferrari 47:28
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Aitch Alberto 47:35
It's the same one that we've just spoken about. It's just like, the truth of who you are, is so essential to happiness, and existing in a way I was, I tried to make it for so long. And again, it was like this energetic thing of like, desperation. And people feel that they don't necessarily want to be around that. But once I transitioned, I was able to, I had walked through the thing that was scariest for me since the day I was born. Nothing was ever going to be as scary as that. So it was just like, I'm here, like, I'm in this room, because you think my writing is good, because you've seen my work. Like, I've let you know, like, that's the most I can offer you like, everything else is just like, I don't need you. You know,

Alex Ferrari 48:22
It's kind of like I always tell people, when I was coming up, it was like, I had a cologne called depression, the not not depression, but desperation and desperation, depression, and desperation by Calvin Klein. It was it was like, Jakar, it's stuck. It's, it's, and I used to, like, I'd be on a set and you'd like run up to the producer, like, Hey, I've got this idea. Hey, can you help me? Like it's this kind of like, Help me, help me? Help me, help me help me? And you're like, No, build a relationship be awesome. How can I help you? Is there anything I can do for you? And that's what people connect to much more than I need you to help me. I know, you don't know who I am. But you're famous and big. And you have connections? Generally, people call me all the time. Like, can you connect me to this guest that you had? No,

Aitch Alberto 49:12
No, it doesn't work like that. It just doesn't work like that. And I know that's hard to hear. Because you think we often mystify the film industry as this like thing that's like away from us. And in order to access it, you, you need to go through all these steps, right? Because that's what feels right. But everybody's journey is different. There's nothing everybody's a human, and everybody's showing up and trying the best that they can, if you approach it like that, and exist as a human of people just I'm looking for great collaborators, and everybody usually is right. So if you're like approaching it with that sort of energy, you're going to, you're gonna see the fruits of your labor sort of like come to you a lot easier than if you're just chasing it.

Alex Ferrari 49:54
When you sit back and wait for things, and uh huh, I know it's hard for people listening But it's something I've learned in my older age. I don't like to date myself. But we don't talk about older young, we don't talk about older, but the gray, I actually dye my hair gray on my beard. But the thing I've learned is that when I was chasing and wanting and going after, there is a level of that you need to be able to get up in the morning and hustle. I mean, the whole brand of like do is hustle. But you also have to be ready to receive when it's time is right.

Aitch Alberto 50:33
I love that. And it's trust and surrender. That's my motto. Trust and surrender, trust and surrender, you're doing the work as long as you're showing up, you're writing as long as you're like always looking for ideas and not waiting for it to happen. There's a difference between that hustle versus the chase of it.

Alex Ferrari 50:48
Right! You read a book that touched you, you wrote a spec script, you reached out to the author tackling connected to that author and then after that, then the journey started.

Aitch Alberto 51:00
Yes, that's it. And I mean, that's like distilled in that right so it's just like there was inspired action, but I was not I would there was a sureness to this project that like I just knew was mine. And also like a piece of like advice that I've recently discovered is that there's no arrival that anything you often think when I get into this write writers room everything's gonna like fix itself when I like make this movie like No, like the work keeps going. You want more after that you aspire for bigger because you were able to accomplish and if you just like take it as it comes. It's very freeing in a way that allows the desperation to take a backseat

Alex Ferrari 51:40
Without question And my last question my dear three of your favorite films of all time.

Aitch Alberto 51:49
The professional oh my god, so good. Leon I have a tattoo.

Alex Ferrari 51:53
Oh my god, you Oh, okay. First of all, we refer to it as Leon because that's the proper the on the professional. Well, yeah, I saw it in the theater. When a yo buddy a little bit. I saw it in the theater walked in. And I just like this this French director like lupus. Who the hell's that? And I walked in I was like, oh my god, it's one of the most beautiful films ever made in my opinion.

Aitch Alberto 52:17
Beautiful it's such a tender relationship and onscreen duel. It's soft, like in a way that I don't know I I saw myself in it. I love Paper Moon beautiful. It's such a beautiful film again. It's like father daughter relationship. And I'm I love Badlands as well.

Alex Ferrari 52:39
Oh my god. Yes. Yes,

Aitch Alberto 52:43
Badlands, Virgin Suicides and stand by me were three inspirations for this film.

Alex Ferrari 52:48
I could see that I really truly could see that the influences of that in the film without question. Listen, thank you for being on the show. And congratulations on your success. Congratulations on getting into tiff with this amazing film. And I look forward to seeing what else you come up with. You know as Cubans a Cuban filmmakers, we got to keep keep it going. We got to keep present. We got to represent so I appreciate you.

Aitch Alberto 53:11
Thank you I appreciate to a bunch of us are about a bunch of Cubans from the 305 or descending on Toronto. So I'm very excited. Thank you for making this fun.

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