Mikey Alfred is no stranger to rejection.
When pitching the script for his feature directorial debut, “North Hollywood,” to distributors, the 26-year-old L.A. native was met with the same response from all of them: “No.”
“I didn’t even get like, ‘Yeah, we’ll hit you back,'” Alfred tells Variety. “It was just like, ‘no,’ everywhere.”
It’s not like Alfred is a complete outsider to Hollywood — he was a producer on Jonah Hill’s critically-acclaimed film “Mid90s,” appeared as himself in the HBO series “Ballers” and directed a documentary short about rapper Tyler, the Creator. But Alfred was told that the semi-autobiographical “North Hollywood” — about a teenage boy’s choice between following his dream of becoming a pro skater or going to college — wouldn’t relate to a wide enough audience.
“I categorically disagree with that,” Alfred says. “I feel that it caters to a really niche audience at first — skateboarders — but then the movie has parents and all this other stuff that everyone can relate to. No shade to [the distributors], no bad blood at all, but I just feel like they’re wrong.”
Alfred’s main goal in making “North Hollywood” was to spotlight L.A. skate culture, particularly the difficulty of making it as a pro, drawing on his own experience as the founder of skate brand Illegal Civilization, as well as those of his friends. But within the film is a deeper message — one that explores the meaning of family, the importance of self-acceptance and the hardships of coming-of-age in today’s world.
“Once I found skateboarding, I felt like, ‘Okay boom, now I know where the fuck I’m at and what to do.’ I always felt like that was a super powerful experience,” Alfred says. “I just want to share that with other kids and show them how skating works and what happens when the friends start to argue, and your parents are going to be in your butt and all that kind of stuff. In the end, the movie’s about finding your own path and being cool with your path.”
Alfred’s path to becoming a writer-director began when he was in middle school, and found himself gravitating toward the skate park. But for him, it was less about skating and more about watching. His uncle lent him a camera and he began to film other skateboarders, eventually saving up to buy his own (and bumping into Stevie Wonder at the camera store, which Alfred took as a sign from the universe). School was never his thing, but film was always around him — his mother worked as the personal assistant to former Paramount Studios head Robert Evans for 34 years — and a conversation with Evans inspired him to pursue his dream without a college education.
“My mom stepped out [of the room] and Evans told me, ‘Bro, I didn’t even graduate high school. Don’t follow those footsteps, because you should graduate high school at least, but whatever it is you’re going to do, you have to be studious about it. If you’re going to film skating, take it seriously and really study and figure out how to make it happen,'” Alfred says. “So I sort of put that attitude into my life.”
Filming skating soon turned into Illegal Civilization, the skateboarding brand that Alfred founded in 2008, when he was only 12. A few years later, Alfred was introduced to rapper Tyler, the Creator, and he soon became hip-hop group Odd Future’s personal videographer, filming tour videos and short documentaries. Illegal Civilization began to blow up in the late 2010s when Alfred and his team appeared on HBO’s “Ballers,” released a collaboration with Converse, produced a mini-series and filmed “Mid90s,” produced by Alfred and featuring Illegal Civilization members Sunny Suljic, Ryder McLaughlin, Olan Prenatt and Na-Kel Smith. After working on “Mid90s,” Alfred says he finally felt confident enough to start working on his own feature-length project.
“Once I had all this experience between skating, concerts, making a movie, doing a TV show, I felt like, ‘I feel good to tell my story now and make a feature for the kids who like skating and are into the same stuff I’m into,'” Alfred says. “The streets have been sort of kept out of Hollywood for a long time, and with ‘North Hollywood,’ I feel like it’s this shift where it’s like, ‘Oh shit, these people who come from a different background than any of the other people who have been in Hollywood, made a movie.'”
But don’t be mistaken, “North Hollywood” has plenty of star power. The film stars McLaughlin, whose turn as Mikey is emotionally riveting and full of heart; Miranda Cosgrove, who plays Rachel, Mikey’s smart and outspoken summer fling; and Vince Vaughn, who embodies Mikey’s old-school, nit-picky dad to a tee. “Booksmart” standout Nico Hiraga and newcomer Aramis Hudson portray Mikey’s best friends, Jay and Adolf, who for all their good intentions, can’t seem to shake their immaturity; and “Euphoria” actor Angus Cloud swoops in as Walker, Mikey’s liaison to the pro-skating world. “North Hollywood” also offers plenty of noteworthy cameos, like “Workaholics” star Blake Anderson, Gillian Jacobs, local experimental rock band The Garden and pro skaters Jason Dill and Bobby Worrest.
The movie was a departure from his usual comedic roles, but Vaughn was attracted to “North Hollywood” because of Alfred’s dedication and fervor for the project.
“Seeing his passion for storytelling, I was very impressed with his knowledge and love of film, and loved that it was something that was personal to him,” Vaughn says. “He was very exciting to work with. Such a talented young filmmaker.”
But Alfred says that Vaughn didn’t come onboard until he met with McLaughlin for a chemistry read — after that, he was all in. Vaughn says he came away from the film with a newfound respect for skating.
“Mastering being on the board, taking the risks they take, is very unique,” Vaughn says. “I hope [the viewers] can see the human experience and coming of age. The moment where you don’t want to let down your parents but also have the calling to follow your bliss.”
As for the casting of Cosgrove — who Alfred calls a “legend, like literally an icon” — it almost didn’t happen. Alfred and the “North Hollywood” team had already cast another actor in the role, but at the last minute, she booked a TV show and left. Alfred started scrambling, until producer Yusef Chabayta mentioned that he had just worked with Cosgrove on another project.
“I was like, ‘Bro, if you could even just get her the script, that would be fucking amazing,'” Alfred recalls.
Alfred then had a meeting with Cosgrove, where he asked for her feedback on the script and allowed her to have creative input regarding her character. Then she met with McLaughlin, and sparks flew.
“There’s this kind of weird spark between them that isn’t traditional,” Alfred says. “I don’t feel they have the traditional movie chemistry, they have this other thing, where they’re like friends kind of, but also there’s the spark. And then she’s also like a little bit wiser than him where it’s like, she’s going to college, he’s a skater.”
There were also several big production players behind the scenes of “North Hollywood” — among them Malcolm Washington (son of Denzel Washington), Netflix darling Noah Centineo, and Pharrell Williams and his producing partner, Mimi Valdes.
The story of how Williams came to be part of “North Hollywood” is one that Alfred will never forget. After the film was rejected from Sundance in early 2020, Alfred organized a screening event at the now-defunct Hollywood ArcLight Cinerama dome, appropriately called “The Sundance Rejects.” Before the event, Alfred’s agent let him know that Williams wanted to see the film — but in-person. Alfred and Washington hopped on a flight to Miami without hesitation.
“We get a screening room, we show him the film and when it’s over, he was just quiet. So I’m thinking in my head, ‘Oh no, he didn’t fuck with it.’ And he’s just looking at me. And then he started talking, for like 45 minutes,” Alfred recalls. “He’s just like, ‘Man, I loved the skateboarding, I loved how Vince Vaughn just doesn’t get it because he comes from construction and comes from a different world. This is really good for skaters, of course, because it will make them feel seen and their stories are authentically up there, but this is even better for parents.’ He was like, ‘Parents will be able to really understand their children better after they watch this movie.'”
Williams says he admires Alfred’s dedication to the project and desire to prove the distributors who told him “no” wrong.
“Most people would have been discouraged trying to get the funding for this movie and jumping through all the hoops they make you jump through, but not Mikey. He knows his worth,” Williams says. “Indie filmmaking is where the real innovation happens in Hollywood, where new voices are given the opportunity to share diverse stories.”
Now, Alfred’s striving to revolutionize the industry by turning Illegal Civilization into what he calls “the first teen movie studio.” All of their content will be for teenagers, and for the most part, by teenagers. Alfred has even revamped the Illegal Civilization website into a streaming platform of sorts, where viewers could purchase a virtual “ticket” to view “North Hollywood” (the film is also available on-demand via Apple TV on May 14).
“With film, the patriarchy is still super there. There’s only five distributors or whatever, so the power is really centralized,” Alfred says. “I’m excited to make more movies that are successful so I can start paying for other people’s movies, and I’m going to leave them alone and just really respect their creativity. That’s the future for me.”
Despite the hurdles, the thing Alfred says he’s most proud of in regards to “North Hollywood” is that he didn’t give up — and that he made the film with his friends.
“Since I started making videos, I’ve always want to try to inspire other kids to know that they can not take the traditional path and still have a nice life,” Alfred says. “So I feel like with this film, we’re going to inspire hella people to be like, ‘Whoa. You can actually just go make a movie with the homies, and it can be a good movie.'”