Interview April 27, 2010
Cinematic Renaissance man and general entrepreneur Alex Beh.
The Chicago native moved to Los Angeles in 2007 to pursue film full time, where his shorts Sugar, The Laundry, and Babe have garnered much positive attention within the industry. We are meeting at Jerry’s Deli in West Hollywood, just after peak lunch time.
Beh personifies the “people with passion” moniker as well as anyone interviewed for this series. In this conversation from April 27, 2010, Beh discusses acting and filmmaking, his continual pursuit of “The Dream,” and his passion for “doing what I love.”
My goal in life has always been making people laugh. From being little, tiny tiny, preschool and kindergarten, through grade school, middle school. Always trying to make people laugh. I went to Kentucky and I started performing with some dudes at these campus Christian groups. We performed around campus. Hundreds of people come to these things, because it’s a very heavy Christian population in the South. By the end of high school, ’98, ’99, 2000, I was helping with those groups, and performing. I was always one of the guys asked to get up front and speak or perform and be in skits and sketches. Total comedy stuff.
I was a small fish in a huge pond, in our town. Winnetka, Chicago, all that stuff. I had a tough time. Growing up in Winnetka is weird… on the North Shore… So coming down to Kentucky where everyone saw you for who you are – we all just had a blast. That helped me a lot from being an underdog.
It would be cool to reject high school and say “it didn’t do shit for me” because I learned all this stuff on my own, but high school really laid out the playing field. It prepared me to prepare. And New Trier specifically put me around some of the most talented kids, driven kids, driven parents. I don’t know anything else. You don’t know anything else. We know what we know because we grew up in this town. It told me, “Go after it with all your heart. And you have to kill. You have to be super successful.”
I chose Kentucky because it was a cheap, out of state school, and my friend was there who I knew from the youth group in high school and he loved it. I didn’t visit. I only went down for orientation. I literally prayed before I opened the envelope: “If this is where I’m supposed to go, it will say ‘You’re accepted.’” And I got in, so I was like, “Alright. I’m going.” So I just went.
That’s how I’ve done life. Always, but kind of from then on I’ve always done things like, “Just go. You have to do it.” Just say ‘yes,’ and stuff will follow. Dive in head first and see what happens. That’s how I made my first film. My friend Nate Brown said, “Hey, I need you to help me produce this.” And I was like, “Uh, okay.”
The last time I had a day job or a waiting job was in ’06. I waited tables and got fired three times. And ever since then I did the commercials and made the films. Got broke every time after making the film. Had to keep sustaining and living off commercials and films and stuff like that. I’ve stuck to that pretty hard. Not having a backup plan.
People have fear of what happens if, I don’t know. What happens if I don’t get the house? Or live up to my parents’ standards? Or live up to the standard that was set around me growing up? You’re going to be okay, but people don’t know that. It’s not easy for a lot of people to not have a backup plan. They know they went to college, got the GPA, got the degree, and you leave school and school teaches you to go get a job.
Is it easier for you to live without the fall back?
I think so. I’ve always, quote, “Marched to the beat of a different drum.” I was never a jock. I was never a skater – I was never a full-on skater, I was a rollerblader. I was never a musician really. I was never in any of these groups. I was always on my own and just had a core group of friends, dudes who were kind of on their own too. So what led me to attack was I had to.
I felt like the only way to succeed in making films, in writing and acting, is to go all out. To never give up. To go at it with all your heart. You have to give it 1000% or you’re not going to succeed. No film gets made just because some people just want to make a film and it falls together. You have to fucking hold guns to people’s heads and get the film made. Money doesn’t just fall in your lap. You have to hold a gun to someone’s head and say, “Give me the money. I’m an actor. I’m a filmmaker. I want to make this film.”
And people have to trust you. They have to seriously do something they’re not used to and say “You know what? This is not the normal thing to do. I’m used to putting money into things that I know will make money back.” Making films is such a risk. You just have to live with a level of, you know, “What do I have to lose?” You can go work and be a waiter… it’s not the worst thing in the world.
I was in Africa, at the southern tip of Africa, looking out into the ocean, and I felt like I heard a voice that was like, “You can stay here and be a missionary, you can stay here and help people and work with…” And this smaller voice was like, “Or you can do what you really love and go be a filmmaker in L.A. and act.” In ’05 I was in rehearsals for a play, and we were in rehearsals and I looked over at this actor next to me and I was like “Is this acting?” And he was like, “Yeah man. This is acting.” I had never been in the theatre department. I had just been doing it on my own, in my own way. And I look over at this guy, and he’s like “Yeah man, this is acting.” And I knew from that point on I was going to be an actor.
I wrote Sugar because I had to write it, because I wanted to write a script. I wanted to act in it. And I was going to this producer to help me produce. I was like, “I’m trying to find a director.” And all she said was, “Why don’t you just direct it?” And that was it.
I didn’t know I could direct until I thought I could direct. Know what I mean? I just decided to start directing. I read one book: On Directing Film, by David Mamet, which is the only book I needed. And all it is is getting your shot list, knowing your shot list and knowing where to put the camera.
I surrounded it with people I believed in. I shot for the moon. Which was like, go to Lee Jones, who is one of the best producers in Chicago. Go to Pete Biagi, best cinematographer in Chicago. The email to him was something simple like, “Hey Pete. I know this is a long shot. But would you be interested in shooting this film?” Comes back: “I love it. I’d love to.” And that was all it took. Just asking Pete Biagi to do it and he said, “Yes, I’ll do it.” And now he won Best Cinematography last year for Sugar at the Midwest Independent Film Festival or something.
My passion. Well, it’s not making t-shirts. It’s probably doing what you love. Which I think sounds vague, but I love making films, I love acting, and I see those working together very closely. My first foot has been acting for a long time. And I love acting. I’m passionate about acting. I’m passionate about making great films. And Brotally for me is an extension of what I do, in the sense of “bro” and “totally” coming together to make this idiot thing, “Brotally.”
Brotally just says “just do it,” basically. Just fuck it. It’s like, Brotally. Do you want to make a film? Brotally. Then go do it. Do you want to be a writer? Brotally. Do you want to write a book? Brotally. Do you want to be a photographer? Brotally. Like, yeah I do! Do you want to start a non-profit? Brotally. Let’s do it. Let’s wear Brotally shirts while we’re building houses for Habitat for Humanity because it just says “Yeah, why not? Of course.” Brotally is an extension. It’s a total… brotal. It’s just this thing we started.
This could be like a Pet Rock situation, where people just have these Brotally shirts on the whole time, all over the world. These Australians love it. It’s just one of those things, and that’s the way I see it: it’s just an extension of doing what you love. Because why not? Because, Brotally, know what I mean?
I’m passionate about things that get me excited and make me come alive. Writing, directing, acting, and making films. Seeing people smile and laugh. Doing stuff I know my brother would want me to do. That’s what I’m passionate about.
***AUTHOR’S NOTE, NOV. 19, 2010***
This Alex Beh interview was in many ways the lead-in to my current PWP series with my fellow NT class of 2000ers, as well as ETHS class of 2000ers. Read those stories at the new Year 2000 Trevs and Kits site!
***AUTHOR’S NOTE, FEB. 5, 2015***
Sugar (2007), Beh’s best-known short:
Press release announcing Beh’s selection for ONE at Optimus
And, because you deserve it…
BROTALLY PRESENTS: The Car That Ran Out Of Gas (my personal favorite of his films)