This sh*t is going to be hard so make sure you love it. From other directors and production companies stealing concepts to putting weeks into treatments just to lose — this industry can break your heart. You have to go into it knowing there will be some disappointments. And a perfect storm needs to occur for you to be successful. Your relationships, your visibility, your talent and your drive to succeed. You can’t have one without all of them. You will miss family gatherings and birthdays and holidays. It will take every ounce of you to make it happen. But it is possible.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Alison Roberto.
Ali Roberto is an award-winning Director/Creative Director hybrid who specializes in original short form content, concept through post. After nearly a decade at MTV as an Art Director in New York City she continued to work in entertainment; crafting marketing and social campaigns, leading creative post teams, and directing short-form content. Like her recent work for Netflix’s Glow, which won multiple Promax & Clio awards (including the GOLD for ‘Best Comedy’) and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina which received 2.5B interactions on TiK ToK in the first week of release.
Doing right by others and doing more for deserving communities is at the forefront of everything she creates, whether major ad campaigns for Netflix, Instagram and L’Oreal, music videos, or short documentary series with young artists for VICE and Dr. Martens. Ali strives for strength and empowerment in all of her work.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
I grew up on the east coast an hour from New York City. I always loved writing stories and drawing. I was a fine artist and painter from a young age and fascinated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I knew I wanted to be an artist and move to New York. I even wrote a letter at 10 years old stating I would work for MTV. And a decade later it came true.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I went to the School of Visual arts and majored in Fine Arts. I really had no intention of being a director. No one in my family was in this industry. I went from being an Art Director at MTV directing photoshoots for the VMA’s to a Creative Director within agencies and there began writing and directing a lot of the campaigns for Netflix. I fell in love with directing. It was all focused on the creative and all I wanted was to be on set all the time. Only 7% of directors are female and I knew I had a lot to prove. It was scary and uncertain. But I took the leap anyway. Now I direct commercials, music videos and docsueries. I was recently signed by female and immigrant-owned production company tinygiant and I just finished my first horror comedy short written by Landon LaRue which I can’t wait to premiere soon.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
There are so many good ones. And the best ones I unfortunately can’t tell.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
My docuseries work is where I find the most connection to the talent I’m working with. I have the opportunity to tell stories of some of the most interesting and creative people in the world. One day I’m at an observatory talking to a young Nigerian aerospace engineer who is changing space travel for everyone. And then the next day I’m in the desert filming a rock band doing donuts in a vintage mustang.
I’ve worked with Mindy Kaling, Renée Zellweger, Megan Rapinoe and so many strong, impressive and talented women I respect and admire. I recently did a campaign for Schmidt’s with Megan Rapinoe. She was so amazing to work with. I respect her efforts for women in soccer and the LGBTQIA+ community. The campaign garnered a lot of press and conversation including this piece on players speaking up for social justice.
It is always refreshing and exciting to work with someone who creates with purpose and considers how their actions can benefit others.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My Mother for believing in my talents and supporting my creative endeavors. Without her love and support I don’t know if I could have done this.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.
I lost my father very young. I’ve lived my life knowing there is this time limit. That I have to do everything now. If you are not living in this moment right now doing the work you love and contributing positively to this life than what the hell are you doing?
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Diversity on my sets is beyond important and at the forefront of how I build my crews. It’s important there is diversity behind the camera as well as in front. As women our roles were written by men for so long. Our characters were often unidimensional and focused on men. (The horror short I recently completed actually is a satire based on this).
We need to value and preserve stories from all perspectives. We know how important entertainment is to the world. We provide a distraction, an escape, a new world to explore. We can help shape perspectives and views with how stories are framed. That gives all creators a great responsibility. And those who are providing opportunities for those creators also need to be responsible for their hiring patterns.
A world with equal representation is the only way for us all to succeed together. We don’t need diverse perspectives just in film — we need them everywhere. Our world leaders, our teachers, our CEO’s.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I just finished a horror / comedy short that I’m really excited about. It was written by Landon LaRue. Landon and I have been working together for a few years now. We are also working on a series about teenage girls in a rock band which I could not be more excited about!
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
I’m proud of empowering women in front of and behind the lens. I’m proud of the ability to show vulnerability and strength without making the women in front of my lens submissive. I’m proud to work with diverse storytellers and create content with wit and humor and a bit of magic at times.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- As a womxn, you will need to prove yourself every step of the way. Womxn directors are simply not held to the same standards. We aren’t given a chance — if our reels don’t have that exact thing the client is looking for — we’re more likely to get passed over. And we are often the token female on the bid that they never intended to hire. That’s why building relationships with clients directly and not just agencies is so important.
- It’s all about building relationships. Period. My relationships helped me launch into freelance directing and then build my reel. I had a successful career as a Creative Director, and I was able to make the transition with a little help from people who believed in me.
- You will be all consumed with building your career to make it take off. I was hoping to create more space and time in my life. From leaving 80-hour work weeks at agencies I wanted to focus on my craft and the creative. I just wanted to be an artist again, to get my hands dirty and create from a pure place. But… that’s not how it works. You have to be constantly building relationships, writing treatments, doing your own accounting, PR… it’s never ending. I luckily have help now but in the beginning it’s all you all the time and it’s sink or swim.
- Find what makes you unique as a director. This industry is very competitive, and you need to know what makes you unique and be able to speak to it.
- This sh*t is going to be hard so make sure you love it/. From other director’s and production companies stealing concepts to putting weeks into treatments just to lose — this industry can break your heart. You have to go into it knowing there will be some disappointments. And a perfect storm needs to occur for you to be successful. Your relationships, your visibility, your talent and your drive to succeed. You can’t have one without all of them. You will miss family gatherings and birthdays and holidays. It will take every ounce of you to make it happen. But it is possible.
When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?
The subject or the story drives the choices I make. In the docuseries I did with Dr. Martens, I let the artists drive the tone. We wanted a very real and authentic look for these films. We incorporated locations that were personal to each artist and chose color palettes that resonated with their music. I had a vision for the look & feel for the series as a whole but always left room for each artist to make it their own. We had each artist perform and connect with their music. We shot handheld and on polaroids to give a grungy and unpolished beauty to the films. We were given the space by Dr. Martens to create and be authentic to the artists.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
A worldwide meditation movement. We as humans don’t take a moment to pause, to reflect, to check in with our bodies and minds. Could you imagine a world where emotional intelligence and empathy was taught widely? Where meditation and breathwork are just as routine as our morning coffee? The world would be a very different place. Deep emotional intelligence would allow us to think as a ‘we’ and not ‘I’ for good of the whole. To make better decisions for the health of our planet and to know ourselves on a deeper level so we can be better people.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Robert Rodriguez. He has been my inspiration for the ‘do it yourself’ mentality, to never make excuses and find creative ways to
How can our readers further follow you online?
Website — https://www.alisonroberto.com/
Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/aliroberto/
Dr. Martens Series — https://www.drmartens.com/us/en/dm-presents-ali-roberto
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!