Rob Alicea is a multi-award-winning screenwriter, director, actor and producer. In 2017, Rob’s first indie episodic project ADULTHOOD premiered at HBO’s New York Latino Film Festival critical acclaim. It has recently been picked up by a digital platform and is in early production. Most recently, Rob lead the adaptation of the award-winning webseries HOOKED into a half-hour television series and served as Associate Producer of the pilot when it was produced.
Which of the many roles you take on a set comes the most naturally to you? Is it the acting, directing or something else?
While I love directing, being the person who puts and keeps things together, i.e. a producer, is just something that probably comes the most naturally. Like a director, a producer is very much quality control and has to ensure a project is executed on time and on budget. The main difference is that, as a director, you’ll always want more. But as a producer you have to sometimes say no. I used to dread that responsibility, but now I welcome it.
I read that you have been obsessed with movies since you were 3. And since then, you have been a part of multiple projects. Which one was the most life-changing experience for you?
I would say shooting the pilot for Adulthood – deciding to make that project wasn’t just a creative choice, but a life decision. That project truly made me realize that I have a voice and just as much of a right and invitation to share that voice as any other writer – I just had to give that permission to myself.
2020 is a big year for you. A mass audience will get access to a lot of the projects you have written, directed and/or produced. How do you feel?
In a word: relieved. It’s been a long and crazy eighteen-year journey filled with good times and hard times, but all growing times. There were definitely moments where, like many artists, I questioned what’s it all about and what am I doing with my life. But I’ve also been lucky enough to surround myself with amazing people who love creating as much as I do. They kept me going.
You are working on a feature at the moment. How difficult is it to bounce through various mediums? What sets them apart and what do they share in common?
Film and television each have their own challenges. When working on a film, the focus is on telling the story that needs to be told within ninety minutes or less. When you develop television you have more time and freedom to truly develop your characters’ arcs. At the end of the day it’s all storytelling, and if you can tell a great story drawing from your heart, soul and experiences, it’ll translate and reach its audience – I truly believe that.
What do you think is the biggest risk you have taken in your career? Did it work out the way you expected it to?
The biggest risk I ever took was deciding to leave my job and launch my own company. I was terrified. But I also had a vision for my career that I knew I could only achieve by doing my work on my terms. It has paid off in ways I could never truly explain. More than anything, though, it proved that the bigger the risk, the better the reward.
Do the long hours ever drain you out and leave you empty? What do you do for creative inspiration?
Right now, I’m working predominantly as a screenwriter. So most of my days are spent looking for the inspiration(s) my deadlines don’t always allow. When I need to feel inspired, though, I will go watch something by a storyteller I love, or simply go do something that is not at all film related. I really love Legos!
Did your college degree ever help you in your career with writing or directing or producing? Or are these jobs something you can only pick up by doing?
Attending Hunter College helped to give me a base and foundation – both as an actor and filmmaker. My acting teacher, Professor Michael Rutenberg, was one of the first people who told me I was good at something and that I could and should pursue performing arts as a career. It was also my sophomore year that I wrote, directed and produced my first short film. Though it would be some time before I would produce something I wrote again, it was that first experience shooting my tiny $500 film that showed me it’s possible.
Does scale ever affect or distract from the core of the project? Several writers/directors fail even with unlimited resources to execute their vision. Their reason is that they often discover the film in the struggle.
I say this until I’m blue in the face, but the success of your film begins and ends with the story. If you have a great story, great actors, and a great crew, you can create something on a microbudget that can stand the test of time. As an independent filmmaker you learn to take “limitations” and turn them into your golden nuggets. And very often, these are the things that make your project special.
If you could go back to 18 years old you, what would you tell yourself? Similarly, if you could go in the future to 50 years old you, what would you hope to have achieved?
I would tell my eighteen-year-old self, “Work hard in silence, let your success be your noise.” At age 50, I hope to have a wonderful, happy and healthy family, and a thriving career alongside the people who have supported from day one.
Finally, for fun, what is your favorite NYC attraction?
The East and West Village in New York are my two favorite areas and attractions, if you will. They will always feel like old school gritty New York to me. There everyone is uniquely themselves. And being in that energy gives you permission to be just as unique and unapologetically original.