IFH 524: Self-Taught Filmmaker to HBO & Amazon w/ Robert Alexander

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Today on the show is producer and director Robert Alexander.

ROBERT ALEXANDER is a self-taught filmmaker and photographer, Emmy Award®-winning director and executive producer whose creative work spans film, television and advertising.

After making his directorial debut with HBO’s The Shop, featuring LeBron James, Barak Obama, and Maverick Carter, Alexander has emerged as a creative to watch with his highly inventive, visceral and raw approach to storytelling. Outside of his feature work, he is a talented commercial helmer with work on campaigns for top brands such as Nike, Alaska Airlines and Kia.

Alexander is originally from Michigan but came of age in Brooklyn, New York, and currently resides in Los Angeles, where he is the CEO of Hardware Agency, a premium creative agency specializing in film, television and advertising work.

In 2009, Scott Mescudi aka Kid Cudi released his debut LP, Man on the Moon: The End of Day. A genrebending album that broke barriers by featuring songs dealing with depression, anxiety and loneliness, it resonated deeply with young listeners and launched Cudi as a musical star and cultural hero. Director Robert Alexander’s A Man Named Scott explores Cudi’s journey over a decade of creative choices, struggles and breakthroughs, making music that continues to move and empower his millions of fans around the world.

You can watch A Man Called Scott on Amazon Prime.

Enjoy my conversation with Robert Alexander. 

Right-click here to download the MP3

 

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show, Robert Alexander. How're you doing, Robert?

Robert Alexander 0:15
I'm good. How are you doing?

Alex Ferrari 0:16
I'm doing great, man. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I would just talking right before we start recording that I had a chance to see your amazing new film, 'A man called Scott' the Kid Cudi Story. And we were talking a little bit about it being that I really hadn't heard. I've heard of Cudi, isn't it? Because I love I love hip hop. I love rap. And I heard that name fly in the background. I'm like, oh, yeah, no, it's awesome. Guest bothersome. But I really didn't know who he was, or the kind of impact he was having on not just fans, but on other artists, you know, and I, and then I started and then after watched, it was pretty remarkable. But before we get into, go down that rabbit hole, how did you get started doing this?

Robert Alexander 0:58
I mean, I think that's a that's a layered thing. I was gonna be, I didn't know what I was doing. To be honest, you know, I grew up in a really small town, there was a trajectory that I was gonna just be a professional athlete, and I went played soccer at Syracuse, and, you know, there was some, you know, looking to go play in Europe, or MLS, or something after after that. But I always played sports, because I just need to fit in where I grew up. And that was the easiest way to do it. There were, you know, I grew up in a place where like, there wasn't a lot of diversity, and you know, you're constantly alienated and, and labeled within your stereotype. And so sports was the easy way to kind of avoid all that stuff. He's good at sports. So the everything else kind of falls into place. But I always had this an inkling to be an artist. So, you know, I got through half my college career and then decided I wanted to move to New York City and, you know, take pictures of cats and try to be an artist and that sort of thing. And, and I moved to New York, and I started doing all sorts of different stuff. I mean, I would write I wrote a lot I worked on from commercials. I did some music, video stuff, I got creative directed, I did worked as an animator, as an editor for a long time. So obviously a little bit everything I take a lot of pride in, there's nothing like onset, and then post that I don't know how to do you know, so it kind of limits the, you know, when somebody tells you, oh, we can't get it done in that time, or this way, or whatever. It's just like, No, I've, I've done it, you've done it, we've done we're gonna figure it out together, which I think has been really, really important thing is just kind of understanding the space. And then I fell into just, you know, directing, I felt like I because I didn't go to film school. And I'm self taught as a photographer, which was still my first love is working as a photographer. I didn't really have a strong sense of like, oh, what does this ultimately all lead up to me? And then it just kind of fell into that space where it's like, okay, directing is kind of what I what I am, what I do. And so I'm just kind of continuing on that path and just exploring it and kind of, you know, imagining it as it makes sense to me, because you know, our definitions versus who we are within it is different for everybody. So I'm just, you know, still trying to kind of define that space.

Alex Ferrari 3:23
We're trying to figure it all out. But we're all trying. We're all we're all trying to figure it out. And it's so funny because you and I have similar backgrounds, because I was an editor for 20 odd years while I was directing commercials and music videos and things like that. So I was a anytime I was on set anyone's like, oh, we can't fix on a post. I'm like the only person who can say I can fix it and poses me because I'm going to be doing the fix it no one else has a lot to say fix it in post.

Robert Alexander 3:45
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, the time and the money and all that, of course.

Alex Ferrari 3:49
Yeah. And also, it's a great as a director, it is such a great, great asset to have in your or tool in your toolbox to just know, what's going to happen in post and also makes you more efficiently and all that kind of stuff. Right?

Robert Alexander 4:03
Yeah, absolutely. I think it's such an important thing is like, you know, to be able to, you know, within reason, you want to have your freedom and you want to capture what you've always imagined. And then the new ideas that's, you know, sprout in the moment on the day, but you also need to think about shooting for the Edit, and what's going to work and what's going to play and why it's going to play and what you need to extra of because you're gonna have to experiment a little bit. This is the moment that we're gonna be able to get away with and it's nominal, and we're gonna make this work, you know, so you have to just always balance that because it's a, it's a process, you know, and time is a beautiful thing. And also something that can be super dangerous to us is understanding how much or how little we have for anything that we're trying to accomplish at a certain level.

Alex Ferrari 4:50
We never have enough time. I've never have you ever heard this statement? All you have is time and money. Have you ever heard that statement to you? Little time, it's the little money that you had. But never like, man, take as long as you want. And don't, don't even worry about the money

Robert Alexander 5:07
Never happens, man. It never happened. And so I think that's part of the art form of beauty when people can find a way to live within those parameters, you know, still, you know, walk away with something that they're really proud of.

Alex Ferrari 5:19
Yeah, absolutely. Now, how did you get involved with the shop? Is that your creation? Or did you just get brought in and how did that

Robert Alexander 5:26
Because it, there was a digital version of it, I think that was, I think it was a collaboration with Beats. So the way I so I live in LA now, I was in New York for 17 years before that. And the way I got to LA is, you know, I've worked on a dock another dock project on an athlete that I was working with Maverick Carter and LeBrons, Spring Hill uninterrupted and there was looking to potentially acquire the film and that sort of thing. And when we were talking about that, they, you know, we seem to just kind of get on really well, and they were developing a lot of production, and elevating a lot of the creative production work that they were doing, and they asked me to, to come and lead a lot of that. So they have moved out to LA to kind of lead a lot of that stuff. And so, within that one of the properties was the shop. And so, you know, I was asked to kind of lead that on a kind of a, you know, the executive level. And, you know, it's just something as I saw, like, just kind of how we were operating it in certain things, it was just something exciting that I was just, you know, wanting to, you know, take over. And so once it started, you know, when it's when it lived on HBO, you know, I was, I was involved in that from the beginning, and just been kind of running with that, and trying to do my best to push it and elevate it and try new things in that space. So

Alex Ferrari 6:52
Now, I have to ask you, man, how was it like directing an ex president? Oh, Mr. Obama, Mr. Obama, like, I mean, what was the whole experience? Like I could imagine, I could only imagine,

Robert Alexander 7:05
It was great, man, you know, he has such this beautiful presence, and power and calmness to him. He is so intelligent, but spends a lot of time thinking about what he's saying, you know, and just make sure it presented the way that is presidential and powerful. Formatting and all that good stuff. It was it's a highlight without question, man, that's like, it's one of those just great highlights of life. You know, I was, it was we moved super fast. As far as like, you know, everything we had to do to kind of get in place and pass security protocols and all that stuff in the space for him. But when he was there, I mean, you could tell it's like, definitely wasn't messing around. But at the same time, like he put you at ease, he wanted to do exceptional work. And you know, we love a challenge, right? Like, you know, if we're in a space where we want to lead something we love the challenge of is it going to be high quality? Is it going to move the way it needs to move? How efficient is this how put together as this and it was just like a great challenge to to get up for and be excited about, and we're really proud of the result, you know, so we won an Emmy for that, you know,

Alex Ferrari 8:19
Not too shabby. Not too shabby.

Robert Alexander 8:21
Yeah, that was awesome. special, special time for sure.

Alex Ferrari 8:26
Now, how did you meet Kid Cudi?

Robert Alexander 8:29
So that was just through through the brand complex. So they they reached out and asked if I wanted to, you know, lead something with Cudi. And, you know, originally it was just going to be a, like, kind of retrospective on his first album, and just understanding his impact and who he was as a person. And also, once you start having conversations with super talented, creative minds that worked on something a decade ago, they're super proud of it, but they're about what came after that, what came after that, what came after that. And so there was a different level of interest in connection when it came to looking at things more holistically, and what's more present in the mind versus trying to dig into the archives and talk about something that you know, existed a decade ago. And then me personally, I was just super excited about just the creative process on all levels. Right. And so all those things kind of informed our early conversations and kind of led to where we took the film.

Alex Ferrari 9:37
That's so then how did the How did the man calls the man calls got begin like, the I mean, this this all started, like, like it was just supposed to be a retrospective, but it turned into something a little bit bigger.

Robert Alexander 9:47
Yeah, I think. I mean, a lot of it, man. It was like, you know, we so I think it was 2019 early. We started talking about this. We went to Tokyo He was shooting a cover story piece with complex at the time. And then they they blocked out some time for us to just do an interview, you know, and we sat down and we did this interview and it was, you know, I think of probably close to maybe two and a half hours or so. And just from that, it just kind of just listening to him and connecting with him and seeing where our synergy was, I was like this is this just needs to be more. And then I started talking to some of these early producer that worked on his first album and just mixtape and then again, there was just certain things that kind of started like, popping up of like, okay, well there's, there's so much more to this. And then me personally, again, like, knowing Cudi's music as a young man, but more so being connected to him as like this cultural figure who was who made it cool to be incredibly vulnerable and honest. Talk about my highs and my really deep lows was really empowering for me. I mean, if it wasn't for him, and people, like, you know, Pharrell Williams, you know, the, the black kid who didn't have to live in the stereotype. It could just be as you are, and like metal and like rock music and like, you know, like pop and want to be in want to write one of the plays and want to be more dramatic, want to be more in touch with kind of who you are, was really like a powerful, powerful thing. And so you know that in mind, it was about the impact that first album made, but then what's the subsequent result of that, you know, to be one of these culture shifting talents that show up and say, I'm not just going to, you know, check off the boxes of how an artist should perform and become famous and do something totally original. It takes a lot out of you know, there's a lot of emotion there's a lot of sacrifice that comes with that. So I was just really excited to look at that from me as a fan, being able to be empowered by this talent, but also subsequently, what is it doing to them to give so much yeah, it matters so much

Alex Ferrari 12:11
What's fascinating is I found it in my in my life, that being vulnerable. A lot of people think that is a weakness, meaning that you're that you're showing a weakness and that guard that we all walk around with on a daily basis, that wall that we put around us a shell that armor, whatever you want to call it, is there to protect us from it were Cuddy is a complete opposite of that he goes deeper and more vulnerable. But I find that at least in my, in my years being on this earth, the more vulnerable you can become, especially in public, the more power you have.

Robert Alexander 12:45
Absolutely

Alex Ferrari 12:46
it is. And in a world I mean, I'm old, I was old, old school hip hop, man, I grew up in New York in the 80s. I mean, that was, you know, I love hip hop. And Hip Hop is not the most vulnerable art form. It is all about me being being macho, and and being like, I'm the best and I'm better than you and all this kind of stuff, look how much money I've got. And then Cudi it comes along and says, Nah, man, it's going to change. And he literally now made it cool for other artists to be vulnerable. Before him was there. I mean, really, like at a at that level that he's that was there artists that were that vulnerable, maybe a song or two, but like I'm talking about, like a career.

Robert Alexander 13:26
Yeah, I mean, no. And I and I mean, obviously there's, I don't know, the full catalog of hip hop, but generally speaking, Octave, but I think generally speaking, I think without question, it was like, that was his persona. You know, because I think early hip hop, a lot of that music was a form of escape, to say, like, my I can exist in this imagination where my circumstance is complete opposite, because the way that I'm presenting this music to the world, and I think that there was a there's always a danger point of always living in that Fantasy Versus existing in your reality, right? It's one of those great people who like, found the danger of that point saying, Why can't continue to pretend. And I'm so much better at this, when I'm not trying to create music through all these different filters of what I should be doing. I'm so much better at this. If I am just the truest the best idea I have. may not be the cool one may not be the one that everyone's gonna be like, Oh, he's so cool. He's so hard ass, whatever, like you can't be fucked with versus like, this is the best of me. Right? And it takes a lot to do that. But, you know, to your point, you're so powerful when you do it. But it's so hard for people to get over that hump of man. They're gonna make fun of me as I talk about the thing I really want to talk about, or if I do the thing I really want to do and it's really special to watch someone do because it just gives you the power say I can do that I can, I'm gonna be okay. You know, talking about all these all these things that are really in my heart versus what fits in the formula of popular music,

Alex Ferrari 15:11
Right and I think what's also fascinating is that when you as an artist are vulnerable, or you're thinking like what you just said, like, I want to really talk about what I want to talk about, but you think you're alone. And thing you realize is like, Nah, man, you're there's actually probably more people out there. Yeah. Who are hurting, then living the Instagram life? Yeah, absolutely. And you can connect with people at a much larger scale as Khadija I mean. I mean, I mean, you I mean, you were around Cudj for a while obviously shooting this. You know, in the documentary, you talk about this like he is there's people who walk up to him like you, you saved my life, like I saw that I saw an interview with Pete Davidson is like no, no joke. Like he it was in the doc, no joke. He said, If it wasn't for him, I would have probably killed myself. Like, that's some powerful, like, how do you as an artist handle that? So how did you see? How did you see it from Cudi's point of view?

Robert Alexander 16:05
Well, you know, it's a heavy thing, it's a heavy thing, because it is beautiful to have someone show you, you can be this, you can do this, as you look at me, I did this as me, you can do this as you that is an incredibly beautiful thing. But then with that, if now you have all these, like you're now magnetize, to all these youth who have like you did the thing for me. But you have to understand, like when I was presenting this, it's not a value of just presenting and it went away, right? Because a huge part of this movie was trying to remove the separation of the superstar versus the fan, in saying we're all artists, and we're all on this journey of wanting to create and wanting to express ourselves. Because without that, the the vision of looking at someone on a screen or on a stage, you you remove reality from them. And they're just this perfect thing that you adore. And you just aren't all the danger of celebrity. And so the idea was to try to eliminate that separation, because it also gives more comfort and acceptability for Cudi as a human being, right, versus having to be the perfect artist, right. We've all made mistakes, we've all done things that we wish the world, you know, people don't know about and regrets and that sort of thing, because we're just human. But there's this thing that happens where there's this, like a lot of that is taken away from certain people. And so, you know, in this capacity with cutting and the impact he's made on fans, like I, you know, I want even making this I wanted him to feel safe, that he can be who he is on all sides and still be struggling and still trying to get better. Because just like he's lifted up fans and fans can lift him up. Yeah, continue to do that,

Alex Ferrari 18:03
You know, in a small way, man. I found that to be the truth with even my audience, where I go, I go, sometimes as an artist go like, hard and like they actually helped me up, as opposed to me helping them up. It is a weird relationship you have with your fans, or your people who listen to you or follow you. It is it is pretty crazy. Now as an as an artist, how do you from your point of view and also from Cudi's how do you tap into that creative flow? That thing that artists are able to do where like when you go to a place where you can tap into that private well, that is yours and yours only that you can get in there and grab outs like okay, I'm going to I'm going to write this song now or I'm going to make this movie now or I'm going to write this book now. How do you do it? And how do you think Cudi does it from being around him as well as much as yet?

Robert Alexander 18:58
I couldn't tell you about his his process as much, you know. Cudi's very private, from my experience about his actual music creation process, you know, he likes to make that very intimate space with a small number of people, from my experience in my conversations with him. I think that just generally, your best creative spaces is when you feel the safest. You know, when you feel when you're when your energy is good, you know, and you're, you know, surrounded in a space where it's like, you can pull motivation from different spaces. You know, it's like, I know that if I'm in a good space, and I'm excited about doing something it's really about kind of, okay, how do I break the mold to just get in and just, you know, create that flow and go and sometimes it's just like, Man, I just got to watch the movie. I've watched 70 times, you know, that always makes me remind me how much I just love this medium and how much I love being part of it. And then I can, you know, have that be like, Well, I just want to make something that feels like that, like, someone made this that make that that makes me feel like this, I want to make that that I can feel like that. So please someone else. So to me, it's like, starting that shirt of that, that all those chain reactions, you know, but I think for every, you know, I me personally and and that was a lot of the message of the film is that like, it's okay that everything's not perfect all the time. But constantly, like, let's try to make the effort to get to that space where we can feel awesome. And we can all feel like superheroes that we can all say like, great, I can do anything right now. And then to take advantage of that moment, don't sit on it, don't waste it, you know, use that energy to into the thing that you love so much.

Alex Ferrari 20:49
When you were an athlete, you were an athlete at a, you know, higher level than most folks did you get into that flow the athletes talk about and it is it's similar to the flow that you get to as a creative like that when they're nothing where time stands still, when nothing is there. You're just in the moment, and you're just doing your thing that happening.

Robert Alexander 21:11
Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think it's, again, it's like we're all in a conflict. It comes with a you know, like I talked about before, like good energy, but he also talks about a certain amount of preparation, like confidence that I know what I'm doing in this moment, I'm in shape for it, I've rehearsed it, and practice it, I'm visioned it, I have an idea of what this thing is at its most beautiful. You know, that's what I've enjoyed about working with artists, as much as I've worked with a musician or whatever, because it's an art, it's, it's all a practice art form, that takes a certain amount of dedication and attraction to that makes you perform at a high level. And when you are in that space of feeling and knowing that you have kind of built yourself up to do this well and have confidence that like I know how to how to cut this. I know how to shoot this. I know what I have, and I know I'm like in that space to do it, then that's, that's the ultimate beauty of Yeah, you are just you stopped thinking you stopped worrying about the details and you're able to just be in it and just react to the moment, you know, I can remember, you know, performing as an athlete of same thing as like when I'm on set, right. And we're finally in it. We've been preparing. The battle starts the battle is beginning. The lights are there, the talent is there, the lines are being read, and you know, it's like, okay, that was great. That wasn't good. What do I need to do to make it better? What do I need need to do to to reach that point of that feeling? Like they're delivering this the way I imagined, and it's better? It's a little bit better? Ah, okay, now I know the potential that's there. How do we keep pushing that, you know, or this isn't working at all. But I only have this much time to do this and this much money? Right now. Right? I know what my DP I know how he likes to move. I know how he kind of operates in different spaces when it's not going well, or whatever. It's like, okay, how do I take over? Or how do I know he's great at this, let me step back and let him rock and do this thing, right. And let me jump over here and make sure it's like talent is given what we need, you know, so it's all those things, right? But it's all those great moments that like, if I worked so hard in my preparation, like I have a plan A, B, C, D, and E. And to me, they all have the potential to be as, as beautiful as great, right? Because it's all just like, if a doesn't work will be can work. And then we just have to elevate this because then now it's just as good as that.

Alex Ferrari 23:46
That's a great way to look at it, man. It's a really great way to look at it. Now, I'm always fascinated with documentarians, like how do you because I've never made a doc, I've edited dogs, but I've never made a doc, how do you approach creating the story? Is there a structure? Is there an outline? Or are you kind of winging it, like you did like a little bit you said earlier is like we did this interview of like, wait, there's more here? Do you discover it? Or do you have like a target that you're trying to hit? And then it just continuously changes as you go forward? How does? How does it work for you?

Robert Alexander 24:16
Well, I consider myself an incredibly, incredibly efficient creator, you know, meaning like, I look at everything as a formula, right? And part of the formula is there's a plan and there's a goal that we want to hit for quality level. And the other side of the formula is building in the time to experiment and find something that you didn't expect to find. So with this, there was always a clear outline, as we would have more conversations were like, okay, we can expand this and we can do more with it. But we're simultaneously shifting our whole plan. Right. So it's like, I know, this is a great film if we do these seven things, right? But then we sit down and we have a conversation say, Well, we were playing on him going in this direction, but he went in this direction. So our job is not to force him in the direction we want. It's like, okay, well, how do we now make this special with the space he wanted to go into? I think that's a big part of it. And and I've noticed that a lot when you know, and I learned that in a different way, because doing the shop, because there's seven or eight different people there that are completely different human beings. And we may plan in for 30, things we want to talk about, before them, no one cares about, or they don't matter anymore, or they're afraid to talk about or whatever versus this other thing we didn't expect. Well, we need to just go with that. And it's my job to with that dialogue, in that emotion that we're bringing out. Okay, well, how do we complement that visually? How do we complement that with music? How do we complement that with like, a package that elevates what we imagined versus the reality that we got to? And then also, it's like, you know, I am, you know, I don't know what I, you know, I never doubted myself is like, personally, I'm not a humongous fan of documentary. So it doesn't mean I don't like it, it's just more of like, I never thought it would just kind of make something this way. You know. And so I think that's part of my approach to because when I looked at this film, and I started getting the pieces together, and starting to put the whole thing together, I said, Well, part of this should feel like storytelling, you know, just authentic documentary storytelling, part of this should feel like a commercial for creativity. And we want to build Yeah, beautiful, artistic, commercial packages for creativity, little tangents that we go on. And part of it should feel like a play, you know, so. So that's how I kind of looked at all those different pieces.

Alex Ferrari 26:45
Yeah, a lot of times young filmmakers coming up, they don't understand a lot of times that they there's, there's so much control that they want to have on their process. And, and the thing is, as you get older, and you've been in the game longer, you just realize, like, you can't, you got to kind of just, you just can't. And I always tell people when I'm like when I'm shooting a movie or something, and I'm like, Hey, man, I'm just trying to cap I'm trying to catch lightning in a bottle. And, and when the lightning goes another way, I'm like, Okay, how can so it's a constant, like, it's almost like a fight with a with another, you know, you're in the ring, and you don't know where the punches are gonna come, you know, there's gonna be a fight. You know, there's a punch common, but you have no idea where it's coming from. So you're constantly just flowing with whatever is being thrown at you and adjusting and adjusting? Is that a great definition of what we do?

Robert Alexander 27:35
Yeah, I think so for sure. Again, and that comes with preparation, like right here, right for, like, if this is me, and I'm not only preparing and just like experience and time doing this, but preparing for what shift could look like, you know, um, you know, I spent three years working with Diddy and traveling with him and creating for him and writing for him and producing. And there are a lot of times with him and other talent, we show up to do something new, like, I don't want to do this. Yeah. Bill said it's face this way. Well, the lights are, and it's like, I don't want to do this. So it's like, it can't be now me spending two hours trying to create something that works. Okay, if I, if he's not going to do this, I know, I could just turn this one light. And we could do it against this space, you know, because I think that's how I got a lot of that's where a lot of my mic came. For arches like that I understood what it's like to be on location. It's a big talent. And to know, I have 30 minutes, but I don't want to make it look like a shot something that took 30 minutes, I want to make it look like a shot something that was two days. And we had a big crazy budget. So it's like, okay, well, there's four walls in here, each wall is completely different world. Right. And if I have two lights, there's like something I could do on this wall. But then something more silhouette by just pushing it over here and having him stand up here. You know, it's like aggressive blocking, and how do we kind of move them around a space and you know, push this to do more? So I think it's a lot of that, like, exactly it is it is a fight in the ring. And it's like a fight of like what I want, you know, there's the crew there, and some people are just there to get the check. Some people are there because they really care about your vision, but no one cares about your vision as much as you do. Right. And then there's town on the side, like, maybe they don't want to be there. You know, like, how much time do they really have, they're not really into it. So it's just kind of saying like, Okay, well here's four alternatives that I can prepare for. And they're gonna work right we've rehearsed it we've had the stand and we know this is gonna play so we just kind of Yeah, you're right reacting, pushing back when you need to letting go

Alex Ferrari 29:51
Throw a couple throw a couple punches when you need to

Robert Alexander 29:54
Throw a couple punches. Yeah, absolutely.

Alex Ferrari 29:57
No, it's It's, it's I always talk about the insanity of what we do. Because we're insane. Like you'd like everything you just talked about to a civilian, I call them civilians. It sounds insane. It sounds like you know, for someone who works nine to five, and has a collects a check to go into that scenario with P. Diddy. Yeah, it did. And you go in there, and you're just like, Yeah, I know. I'm not going this way. The day. Yeah. And you're just like, but we got 30 minutes. And like, the sun's going down. And oh, this is not working. Oh, where's all the cards aren't? Oh, the camera's not working. Like it's a constant state of stress. But yet we get we walk into that ring all the time. And we actually were not in the ring. We're like, Damn it, man. What can I get back in that ring?

Robert Alexander 30:43
I wish I was doing something.

Alex Ferrari 30:44
Right. It's an insanity. But it is. It is a beautiful insanity. And it really is a beautiful insanity.

Robert Alexander 30:50
It is man. I can't I feel super blessed every day, you know that, you know, I get to live in that insanity. But it's it's it's drudgery, anxiety when you're doing it. Your anxiety is heavy when you're not doing it. So you wish you were doing it. So it's a wild thing, man, I can't make sense of it. But it's, you know, when you get to stop and appreciate the product that you're making, or stop writing, I could be doing so many other things. You know, what I got when I stopped playing sports, and I left my scholarship behind, you know, I moved to New York, like, I wasn't just getting production jobs. You know, I did work at restaurants, I did data entry, you know,

Alex Ferrari 31:30
Shooting cats, shoot it taking photography, your cats

Robert Alexander 31:33
Yeah. You know, and it took a long time for something to break through. And so like, I obviously we get stuck in our own prisons, but every now and then I can take a step back and like, wow, I I still get to spend time having conversations like this with you, or, you know, or add an edit now and this really cool series I'm doing and so it's just um, you know, it's it's wild. And it's it isn't. It is. Go live in a farm in the woods. And I hate that after,

Alex Ferrari 32:08
Can I ask you? Can I ask you a question? Was there ever a moment that you just said, I can't do this man, I can't do I got I gotta go find something else. Like you try to quit. You try to quit. I've tried to quit multiple times in my 25 plus years doing this. And every single time the voice inside me says, Well, what else are you going to do?

Robert Alexander 32:27
Yeah, I think so. Yes, I still think I'm fairly young in this. I mean, I've always only kind of worked as a, as a true director, maybe, you know, 8-9 years. And so, um,

Alex Ferrari 32:38
But those early days, but those early days, those are the days when you were waiting tables doing data entry, you're like,

Robert Alexander 32:43
Yeah, sure, you know, um, you know, my thing was more of just like, never quit. Now, it never occurred, not doing it. It was so cool. Even like, tip your toe toe in the space. You know, I come, like, you know, from a small town in Michigan, like for me to being in film and television and meeting people and doing cool stuff was was never reality. So me just being like, proximity was always like a homerun for me. And then once it you know, I kind of got into it, there's certain things I realized, oh, I don't want to work in this type of production. So it was always like, Okay, well, now it's time to shift into something different, you know, so that was always like, the solution. I always came to, but it was never like, I want to walk and walk away and do something. And that, you know, will talk to the stock in a year, you know, maybe I'm at that place. But for now, it's really cool. It's really beautiful. And I just, you know, I just tried to just keep myself busy doing different things, you know, and Ray, you know, as much as I can.

Alex Ferrari 33:47
So we I mean, you said you you hung out with Diddy for for three years. I mean, I'm sure there's many off air stories you can tell I'm sure there's probably you can't tell on air. But what was, you know, being around a high achiever like Diddy, I mean, he's a legend. Yeah. What were some of the things what some takeaways you got from what he does and how he does it?

Robert Alexander 34:10
He was really great man. He taught me about, you know, he was he's incredibly demanding. He had a way of pulling out the best of you by constantly constantly challenging you. And it's always overwhelming. But you learn to do a lot with very little you learn to do great work very, very fast. You learn to be proactive, and not wait because nothing is given to you. You know. And, you know, it was you know, he was my first mentor without question and an amazing mentor. It was always great. It was yeah, of course, it was incredibly tiring and draining, and you're traveling a lot but Yeah, it was a, an aggressive lesson in, just figure it out. Figure it out, because I needed done, you know what I mean? That was those over a lot of the conversations were just like, I don't know how you're gonna do it, but just do it. I'm or what I needed done. And you're here. And there's 50 other people that would love to be you. So you're gonna, you got to figure it out, you know, and I and I just in that that aspect. And of course, there's some crazy wild things, you know, there Congo, but, of course, but he was great man. You know, he was it was I really, and it was really great, because, you know, he was on the HBO show the shop, you know, a couple years ago, and I hadn't seen him in a long time. And it's just so great because he has this incredible ability, like, I don't know if it's everyone or there's a certain type of character that he connects with, but, you know, instant reconnection, and, you know, he has this great way to kind of dial into where you are, and that sort of thing. And so it was just, it was just great to connect, and it was, you know, so but yeah, it was a fast moving and wild time. And

Alex Ferrari 36:11
It's like, it's like, jumping in with Mike Tyson when he was 21 was like, Are you gonna learn how to fight? Yeah. No question. Now, back to Cudi. Though, when the movie was done, what was his reaction to it? I mean, because I can, I can only imagine, as someone did a documentary on me that me sit down and watch a documentary on my life. What is that? What was this reaction?

Robert Alexander 36:34
Huge man. And that's the biggest thing for me. Like, it's a person, right? It's a human being, you know, asking to go to dark places and asked to talk about embarrassing things. Like what I'd be willing to do that myself, you know, it was great. You know, it was really, he was very trusting and very hands off, which was really great. We had one period halfway through where he came, and he sat, he looked at it, and, you know, he, you know, so heartbreaking to me, he asked to remove, you know, probably 90% of the archival that we had in the film. And so that was really, really heavy. Because no, I wouldn't say 90%. But a large chunk,

Alex Ferrari 37:21
Like you were cutting out my liver,

Robert Alexander 37:23
Archival, and you know, with respect to him, you know, he has his reasons for why he didn't want it. And I totally respect that. Um, but it was, you know, I was I really enjoyed it, I thought it was really great. And, but other than that, you know, he was very minimal with his feedback. But it was really, really cool. There was about, I'd say, two weeks before premiere, he called and he said, You know, I've never been able to watch this, like, not as a producer giving it critiques. But I got to watch it. And he watched it, you know, multiple times with people, you know, three, four or five times and said, like, it was incredibly beautiful and emotional, and he was just so happy with it. So that was huge. And then on a premiere, you know, his mom came up to me and said, You did such a beautiful job on Oh, yes, that's it. I'm done. You know, I mean, so

Alex Ferrari 38:13
You got mom, you got mom's mom's approval, man. And you're good to go.

Robert Alexander 38:20
everything for me.

Alex Ferrari 38:22
And what are you working on next, man?

Robert Alexander 38:25
A bunch of stuff. So I just, I just, I just wrote a wrote a wrote wrote a feature that I'm, I'm gonna, hopefully get into direct sometime the end of next year. And I was just tapped to write and direct another feature. So we're just kind of working through that, which is really cool. And then I'm directing a series on Shaquille O'Neal right now for HBO, which is really cool. So it's multi part for, you know, film's on on shack. So we're really, really excited about that. There's a couple other projects that are kind of in the pipeline that are, you know, that kind of wildly spaced, but I just love kind of doing a bunch of everything. It's so cool to be able to do this. So, you know, some some commercial stuff that I'm going to do coming up soon. And I'm excited about, again, just feature and then some other dock projects, whatever kind of makes sense. You know, it's like, great characters, great opportunity, great opportunity to really push things creatively. That's what I'm always looking for is just, you know, I was really excited about things that I felt like I had seen in this type of genre, and I was able to try them on curry and, you know, they, for the most part, played out the way that I wanted and it was really cool. So, you know, any opportunity I have, whether it's in the, you know, scripted or unscripted space or commercial space or experiential, you know, down.

Alex Ferrari 39:55
No, I always like to ask this question to directors. Was there a day Making this film that you felt the entire thing was going to come crashing down around you. Because there's always that one day that we all have, even on a music video or even on a music video commercial. Yeah. So what did you do? What were what was that situation? And then if you could tell, and how did you get over it?

Robert Alexander 40:17
Well, there was like, there's certain, you know, certain things in schedule, and that sort of thing that were a little bit difficult, you know, Cadiz, very, very busy. And there's certain things that we want to do. But we had a certain timeline for when we had to deliver the film and all that other stuff. And we had a bunch of kind of days that we shifted in the calendar, one, you know, at a point when it became a bigger thing, you know, there was a like, again, it was like, we talked about something much smaller than it became a much bigger thing. So there was like, definitely like a shift in calendar. There was, at one point, it seemed like we were only going to have our one interview with Cuddy that we shot Tokyo front. So that made us shift in really imagine the product in a very, very different way. And then schedule shifted back and we're able to go to Italy to shoot a second time with cutting our second big interview. So, you know, there's certain points when you like, you imagine making something and the schedule shift time shift, people access to people changes, and you look at it, you're like, well, wow, with this reality, this is gonna be a much lesser product. And we'll do our best to try to reinvent with what we have, but there's no question so much or less product into me, that's just devastating. I put out anything that I don't feel like is a special and, you know, has some has some impact, you know, to humans. So, you know, there's a lot of moments where my thought and I'd be better off not finishing it. We just know we're gonna have to make this such as low quality. I mean, I would do it but yeah, definitely had thoughts like that. Moments like that, for sure.

Alex Ferrari 41:59
Now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions. Ask all my guests. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Robert Alexander 42:06
I'm not as cool as I think I am. Oh, yeah, it's a self awareness man. Yeah. I look at you know, Pete. Oh, my God. Like, I'm just like,

Alex Ferrari 42:22
I'm just like, I'm just like Diddy right there. I mean, look, I can do it like Cudi

Robert Alexander 42:28
I'll figured it out man. It took a long time. But but understanding that lesson and understanding your place and being more accepting of who you are, and who you aren't, has been magical.

Alex Ferrari 42:39
Oh, isn't but that only happens as you get a little bit older. Yeah, cuz you're a kid. Cuz you're your kid. You think you're that cool? Yeah.

Robert Alexander 42:47
You do everything you think you look like? Will Smith or whoever, you know, you think all these things like, Oh, no.

Alex Ferrari 42:57
That's not the way the world works.

Robert Alexander 43:00
Beautiful lesson to learn.

Alex Ferrari 43:02
Now, um, what did you learn from your biggest failure in life in either the film business or in life?

Robert Alexander 43:12
Well, I think, you know, a lot of it is just that, um, I think it's an extension of this self awareness thing that things that kind of fell apart in my life was that I wasn't listening to my gut enough, it wasn't listening to other people enough that have your best interest at heart. And I think that's a really important thing to, to understand who really needs to consist of your circle, which will ultimately be very small, and to make sure that you're giving as much as you're getting. And being vocal about that, on both sides. You know, I think we all need to be appropriately selfish in life, right, of who you're choosing to, because other people are thinking this way. Only what I think they go back to the first self awareness, they I remember, one day, I had, like, clicked in my head, I'm like, oh, no, I was talking about how annoying or whatever this person is, how many people think that about me, like, boom, doing right? To make sure that, you know, I'm someone who's, you know, worth interacting with to other people and worth someone else's time. And then vice versa and giving yourself that self worth but, you know, you're worth someone's time too, but you have to be putting a certain amount of effort and, and honesty and in support to do that, you know, for yourself and others.

Alex Ferrari 44:47
What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Robert Alexander 44:50
You know, just don't wait for anything, you know, and I think has to be in a certain formula. You don't have to have this much money or this much. Time to do something, you just need to just easily reinvent it, I don't have the money to make an one hour thing, but I have money to make a 10 minute thing. So go make a super read 10 minute thing, and get that out there, you know, and you just have to be your own your own cheerleader, no one's gonna care about your opinion as much as you do. So you constantly have to be the one who's talking about it, telling people about it. And listening, you know, listening to, okay, this isn't making an impact on you, who else isn't making an impact to and I need to be big, I need people to look at it and realize resource and I should be bought in to work on more things and have more opportunity. So it's really about just being proactive. You know, I think that was the best thing for me, you know, not, you know, my first job in production was working in a video library. And I got that job by accident. You know, within, you know, six to eight months, you know, I turned that into, I didn't have the job, but I was writing and producing for producers that were there doing commercials. And so, from that, it was like me being proactive, you know, didn't necessarily give me the role that I wanted at that job. But I learned a ton. And I instantly knew like, what my place was there versus what my place could be somewhere else versus just waiting for someone to retire or quit or you know, recognize me and I said, I'm gonna force you to recognize me.

Alex Ferrari 46:26
And that is in the funny thing is that's exactly how I started my business. I worked in video, a video library to commercial house in Miami, cutting cutting reels and three quarter inch. Yeah. And then I got into editing. So I didn't write in direct I got into editing. And that's how I broke out of that. But it was a great opportunity. Man, you learned a lot doing a video video, working the video vol. You learned a few things.

Robert Alexander 46:48
I learned a ton of things, man. And I think that's what's really cool. It's like you can any space you can get into there's so much to learn. Yes, just sitting and just doing the three things you're asked to do. Because part of the reason somebody is asking you to do something is because like, oh, it popped in their mind when they're running past you thinking for other things that they have to do. Oh, should I just pass this off to Randy, okay, do this. Versus like, hey, you know, I noticed with this show coming up, we usually do this and this and this time? Can I do this for you? And do it in less time? You know?

Alex Ferrari 47:21
Yep, that's exactly right. And last? And last question, man, three of your favorite films of all time.

Robert Alexander 47:29
Seven. That's what made me want to do this. Amen. I will never forget when that movie ended, and how in shock I was. And

Alex Ferrari 47:40
What's in the box, what's in the box

Robert Alexander 47:42
When the credits roll on literally, I know, like where I was in the moment I was while I was there, and all this stuff. And so that was really something special for me. And that's a hard question, because that one always just jumps to me because it matters so much to me. I love Boogie Nights. I think it's just so and so phenomenal. It's so funny. And so our breaking up. Yeah, nice and beautiful and raw of the same time. That was always something that was so special for me. And then a good third one. You know, I probably say like, I would think of like a I don't know if it's like my favorite, but it's like the funnest movie. And I just love it stylistic. And visually, the fifth element, there's something about

Alex Ferrari 48:34
I love 5th element, man, fifth element is brilliant. It's brilliant crystal, Chris Tucker at the height of his power.

Robert Alexander 48:41
He was so and it was like for him to be so important. And he didn't show up to like 45 minutes in the movie, but his entrance is like on par with anyone else's film entrance. Just how funny and beautiful that movie is and how pretty that score is. Just it's I don't know, and how fast it moves and all that you know, just makes you just, you know,

Alex Ferrari 49:06
It's a great great, great list, man. Great, great list. And then where can people see your your new film?

Robert Alexander 49:12
Well, Cudi's on Amazon Prime. The man named Scott is on Amazon Prime streaming now. And it's really cool. It's really cool, honestly, to start on something like that in 2019, and it's finally out on the world like to stop thinking about it sitting on a shelf for a while. Right. It's been really cool to get it to this place. And you know, it's it was definitely worth the wait. So,

Alex Ferrari 49:35
Robert, man. Thank you so much for being on the show, brother. I truly appreciate it. Thank you for making this documentary. I hope it really does enlighten people on the path of an artist and what they can do themselves and empower them as well. So yeah, I appreciate you brother.

Robert Alexander 49:49
Yeah, absolutely. Man real quick. That's the thing of this film is that it is a it's a power song. Like when you go to the gym and you need a song. Put on hip going this song is floored. It's literally four creative people that any space at any level want to be creative. It's like, hopefully you find a 20 minute chunk in there that you can just loop over and over again and like that's my motivation, energy for creativity.

Alex Ferrari 50:11
So it's the Eye of the Tiger for creativity.

Robert Alexander 50:15
Absolutely. That's truly the goal.

Alex Ferrari 50:19
I appreciate you brother. Thanks again, man.

Robert Alexander 50:21
All right.

 

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