Mikey Alfred & Malcolm Washington, Director/Producers
INTERVIEW BY : RANA TOOFANIAN | WORDS BY : LIZ RAISS | PHOTO BY : GRACE PICKERING
Omar Apollo’s new music video, “Ugotme,” is set in Toluca Lake, a North Hollywood neighborhood where the video’s director and producer grew up and played together. But when Mikey Alfred and Malcolm Washington met as adults, the two weren’t able to put their shared boyhoods together until their moms got involved. Now they work as a team, heavily bonded by their shared nostalgia and love for Toluca Lake, as well as the synchronicity of their producing and directing ambitions.
Outside of their first collaboration, both Alfred and Washington are building steady careers: Washington works at director-driven production company Felix Culpa, while Alfred masterminds Illegal Civilization (a skate and apparel label that recently grew a production arm) and co-produced Jonah Hill’s forthcoming directorial debut, Mid ’90s. We sat down with the duo, who seem poised to take on the world, to talk about their video for Omar Apollo, why everything they do has a message, and, of course, Toluca Lake.
You both grew up in Toluca Lake. How did you meet?
MA: Me and Malcolm lived on the same street growing up. We knew each other as little baby kids and then Malcolm moved out of North Hollywood and out of Toluca Lake and we didn’t talk for our whole lives.
Then fast forward to about a year and a half ago. Every Sunday myself, Lionel Boyce, Tyler The Creator, and Frank Ocean would go to the movies on Sunday. One day Lionel brought Malcolm and I didn’t recognize him but we start talking after the movie. Then out of the movie comes Spike Jonze and Jonah Hill, and they joined our circle and we all talked for like 2 hours.
I get Malcolm’s number and later that week we met for lunch and I told him to come to North Hollywood. We walked up to my house and we still hadn’t made the connection until my mom walks into my room and was like, “Malcolm! I was just talking to your mom on the phone,” and then we realized who each other were and the whole thing connected.
How did you decide to started working together?
MA: I had been trying to produce and direct and Malcolm wanted to do the same thing.
So the video with Omar is set in Toluca Lake. Why did you decide to shoot there?
MA: Obviously it’s a really important neighborhood for both us. Toluca Lake is kind of like its own special place, it’s not the LA everyone sees on TV and in movies. We wanted the Omar video to capture the nostalgia we feel for this neighborhood.
Has Toluca Lake changed much since you guys grew up there?
MW: I’ve seen more health conscious stores coming into the neighborhood. Before, there were no smoothie bars. And then there’s yoga places, which I don’t like.
MA: I moved out when I was like 10 or 11 and when I go back now it still feels the same. There’s this carnival we went to as a kids and it’s like a time machine. There is so much character there. Most of the people who live in Toluca Lake and North Hollywood don’t leave. I met a woman at the carnival who was the waitress at my 4th, 5th, and 6th birthdays and she’s still a waitress at the same restaurant on Riverside and North Hollywood.
How did you become interested in producing, Malcolm?
MW: I grew up in a house where we just watched a ton of movies, all the time. I never knew I would work in the film industry, I just loved movies. And then that turned into writing stories, and making shorts. Now I’ve fallen into producing: helping other people achieve their vision, whether I’m helping Mikey or working at Felix Culpa, which is a independent production company that’s really centered on director-driven content. It’s about putting important stories that need to be seen on the screen.
And Mikey, can you tell me a little bit about Illegal Civilization?
MA: So Illegal Civilization started as a company that made skate videos and t-shirts and it has grown into a clothing brand carried in thousands of stores all over the world. And now we have a production company that makes skate videos, music videos, short films, and now features. Over the summer, I co-produced a movie Jonah Hill wrote and directed with Scott Rudin who was executive producer. Myself and the skate team acted as ourselves on the show Ballers and we have a shoe thats coming out with Converse in August. We’re using all of those things as a vehicle to show kids that you can achieve whatever you want to, you just have to work hard and be persistent.
We have an opportunity to inspire kids or tell them something that is important to us. And with this video, it was a great opportunity to tell a story and have people relate to it.
Talk to me about how you discovered Omar and why you guys wanted to make a video with him.
MA: I found one of Omar’s songs on the internet. I got super into it and started listening to it everyday. We did a short film where I used the song “Ugotme” and this synergy started. When the song got more plays, people started hitting us up asking what it was. I asked Omar if he wanted to make a video for the song and it rolled quickly and easy from there.
What do you think resonates with you guys about Omar, his music, his approach.
MA: I think for me, Omar is from Indiana and he’s from a small town and his friend group is very clear and I’m from North Hollywood, my friend group is very clear and it’s all about merging those two communities together. His sense of community is super strong and mine is too.
MW: I think when you listen to his music it’s very simple and charming.
How did the video concept come about, or what is the message behind the video concept.
MA: In the song he is basically saying you got me now and something we talked about, Malcolm and I, was that when you’re a young person, one party is overextending themselves to get another. Not until you relax and be yourself and let things play out like they’re supposed to can get there and achieve their attention. So for the video concept we wanted to say be yourself and that’s how you get the woman or boy or whoever you want as your lover. When you do too much and overextend you will never get what you want.
Music videos are hugely important to how we experience music now. Why is it important to make these videos and what motivates you to make videos?
MW: I think for one, we both are interested in telling stories period. And that we live in an interesting age where now we can tell stories in a bunch of different mediums. So music videos is a type of medium for storytelling. We don’t do anything just to do it, we do everything with a purpose. We have an opportunity to inspire kids or tell them something that is important to us. And with this video, it was a great opportunity to tell a story and have people relate to it.
Most people don’t care to communicate messages to young people, but for you guys it seem like the primary focus. Explain to me why you think it’s important to shape the youth and be role models.
MA: The reason I want to make movies, or make music videos, or anything like that is because when I feel alone or I don’t have anyone to look to I watch a movie, and go like, ‘wow that character is like me and I see myself in that guy.’ So it’s important that everything we do has a message because someone might feel alone, and they watch the film or music video and see a character is going through what they’re going through. That creates a sense of community. I think it’s important to give kids something to relate to through skate, through clothes, through music, through videos, through everything.