Based between New York City and Los Angeles, Alfred Marroquín is currently focused on mastering the art form of short storytelling. Having worked with artists like Billie Eilish, Omar Apollo, Rosalía, Chloe x Halle, and J. Balvin, he knows how to immediately grab an audience and keep them engaged through movement, ambiance, and emotion. Browsing through Marroquín's reel, it feels as though you're popping in and out of his collaborators' past memories—there is often a sense of nostalgia and intimacy that comes across in his work. We spoke to the director about the importance of hard work, the energy that he strives to maintain on set, and who he hopes to create with next.
This interview took place over the phone between Ella Jayes and Alfred Marroquín in New York, and was edited by Duc Dinh.
EJ: How did you get to where you are today?
AM: I remember when I was eight or nine, I was really obsessed with wrestling. I’d make my mom buy every single action figure—God bless her soul! I would be sitting in my room for hours and hours playing with them. I think that's where I got the idea of using my imagination to create narratives.
I was also a very shy and quiet kid. During high school, I’d get really nervous doing school presentations, so I’d create my own presentation in iMovie using videos and visuals I found on YouTube and the internet to let my work speak for me. That started my love for film and filmmaking.
Alfred as a child with his wrestling figurines
It started at a very young age for you, so when did you flip the switch and decide to pursue it as a career?
When I was in college, I didn’t know what to do. At first, I went into architecture because I really love design and buildings. But on my first day interning for this architecture firm, I thought, “I’m never going to do this."
Then, I started to think back on my video presentations as a kid and decided to go into filmmaking. I applied and got accepted into film school [at Montclair State University in New Jersey]. I learned a lot of technical skills there, and it opened my world to this career being a reality. It taught me many things: how to load film, showed me what made a good movie, which is obviously subjective, but very helpful.
What happened after you finished school?
When I graduated college, I wanted to take a little bit of a break and travel. I rented a camera and started recording. I edited it and put them online and they ended up getting a lot of views on Vimeo. Those later became pieces of work that I would show for any jobs that I applied for, one of them was Vox.
I remember during the interview, they asked if I could edit on Adobe Premiere and I said, “Yes, of course, I can!” even though I had no idea how to do that. The night before I started, I stayed up all night and learned how to use the program [laughs].
LA ROSALÍA (trailer)
What position was it for?
It was one of those fake it until you make it moments. That interview was for an Assistant Editor position. I worked there for around two years and got promoted to Editor, and then to Director Editor.
Editing has really helped me be a good director. Knowing what we'll need in the edit informs a lot of the decisions that I make, whether that's the shot list or any creative decision.
How did you get into directing?
After Vox, I worked at a few different media companies as a producer [for Time Warner Inc. and The Huffington Post].
After that, I worked at Complex for a little bit, that's where I started directing a lot more. That experience helped forge my path into doing the work that I do now and helped me see that this is what I should be doing and that I find happiness in creating.
Now you’re on your own. What does your role consist of these days?
I direct branded campaigns, commercials, and music videos. At the moment, I'm really focused on creating really good music videos—short-form narratives that help me strengthen my skills.
I remember in college, Spike Lee offered me really solid advice that "It's better to make a really good short film than to make just an okay feature."
I think about that often because a lot of what I do is short-form. I haven't gotten to the point where I feel comfortable doing any sort of long-form feature because I want to strengthen my skills in telling a good one-minute story or doing a really good three-minute music video, then sharpen that tool to be able to do something longer down the line.
Orville Peck | The Man Behind The Mask
Speaking of short-form features. Can you tell us more about your project with Rosalía?
That was a piece for Billboard that I did through a branded series with Honda. I had always loved Rosalía's music, she is a once-in-a-lifetime artist—she's incredibly talented. Working with her, it is so apparent how much hard work she puts into every single thing she's involved in. It's beautiful to witness her in action- moving, dancing, performing. I'll never forget it.
It was a really fun project, but also difficult at the same time because we only had one full day to shoot a million things. We got a big warehouse in Las Vegas that had different rooms so we could easily move her around from one set to the next. We had to make sure to do a pre-light so we weren’t wasting any time. If we shot one scene, we were already lit for the next one, and while we were shooting the second, they were breaking apart the lights of the first scene to get ready for the third one. It was like that all day.
A lot of the stylized B-roll that you see in that piece was shot in one day. Everything else was a little bit more doc-style—we shot when she was doing a set at Austin City Limits. We also shot a separate day in LA. There were three cities in total.
What was the pre-production process for that?
I worked on a treatment with some of the ideas I had wanted to do and figured out how they’d fit this piece—in order to tell her story in a way that hasn't really been told before. It was a very collaborative process—sending it through, getting it approved, getting feedback, making adjustments, etc.
I had interviewed her that day in Vegas, so I knew how I wanted to shape the story, what I wanted each thing to be, and how I wanted to hit each mark.
On set, it was go, go, go the whole day, and in spite of all of that, she was very grateful and appreciative of everyone.
How are you on set? What do you do when things aren't going the way you want them to?
I'm a really big believer in energy and the space that we create for others and for ourselves. I'm a very calm person, naturally, and I try to stay logistical and calm throughout the day because it sets the tone for everyone in the room. I want it to be a really positive set experience for everyone, always.
Of course, sometimes things don’t always go to plan, but we make the most of it. When that happens, I try to work in the edit, and make some changes or add VFX to bring more life into the project. A good edit can save anything.
How does the editing process work for you usually?
I always share the treatment with the editors. I create a Director's Doc with references, beats, and a general outline of how I want the structure to be.
I don't give them too much because I want them to contribute their creativity to the piece and do what they're good at. I always leave room for them to incorporate any ideas that they have. It's very collaborative.
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Besides being collaborative, what skills do you think are the most important for your role?
Being organized is really important—I learned a lot of that at Vox. How you organize your references for a project helps streamline your thoughts and how you want your work to look.
I have so many different folders on my desktop—it's insane. When I create treatments, I go into each folder I've created for each artist with things that could work for them. I rip videos, I research photos, I make my own gifs for treatments. It’s all a big process.
I also started collecting more photo books. When I see something that speaks to me or what I like that has different shot compositions, I'll take a picture of it and put it somewhere in a folder. Then whenever I'm thinking of an idea for someone, I'll look into that folder to see what could work with the project. I also started making a folder for each person I am working with or want to work with.
What are the biggest influences that inform your work?
I think my biggest influences are Spanish films and ‘90s/early ‘00s music videos. I always go back to the classics.
During quarantine, I was watching every single Almodóvar movie. He's an actual genius. I’d study his work and try to find out how he achieved certain things.
How would you describe your own work?
I don't know if I can, it’s really hard to describe my own work.
I’ve always had a voice—but the most difficult part was actually using it.. I think one of the most important things in any creative medium is how different your voice is. How you see things differently, how you take an idea and make it yours is what makes you you.
Finding your voice and using it can be one of the most precious things in life. For me, I want what I do to be unique to me. Anything that I work on and create, it's always for someone to look at it and immediately recognize that it's my work.
A$AP Ferg | Forever Ferg
I love that in some of your pieces, you add documentary shots to paint this larger picture to the story. For example, in the Omar Apollo piece, you had vignettes representing his childhood. Where did that idea come from?
That all started when I did this A$AP Ferg piece. Even to this day, it still holds a special place in my heart—it was one of the first things that I created that I was truly proud of.
For that, I worked with a longtime collaborator, a DP (Director of Photography) named Mika Altskan, who I love very much. He's made me see things very differently. We're very collaborative in the work that we do. I consider him a brother at this point.
For A$AP Ferg’s feature, we made the decision to incorporate some narrative elements by creating a story instead of just having a talking head. I approached it like how I'd do a mini-short film, and I think it worked out well.
How were you able to create those stories? Did you speak to the artists beforehand?
With Ferg, I had sent him a bunch of different questions prior to shooting, and he sent me answers via voice notes—that helped me visualize the piece. On the shoot, we just had one Steadicam Operator circling him in the studio while he answers more in-depth questions. The other visuals are created to support that main segment of him telling his stories.
OMAR APOLLO (what you need)
What was that process like with Omar?
I always like incorporating a narrative element in my pieces, and childhood vignettes are one way to explore that. I got photos from his team when he was a baby, and we cast who we think felt right. I really love that short film, Omar was another really giving artist.
Aside from your DP, which other team members do you work closely with on set?
The DP and I are always side-by-side. We work together the entire time to get exactly what we want the project to look like.
I’m also really involved with the set and production design people for the visuals. The editor is another person I work really closely with. We constantly go back and forth with ideas on how to edit.
Can you walk us through your most recent project with Billie Eilish for British Vogue?
That was really fun to work on. She was one of the sweetest people I've ever met in my life, and it was such a great experience working with her. Before the shoot, I walked her through the visuals and what we're aiming to do and she said, "I'm down. Let's do it!" She was so easy to work with.
I've been very lucky to have really beautiful experiences with artists like Billie, Rosalía, and J Balvin.
For the Billie Eilish video, can you share any additional info on the planning? Did anything change on set the day of?
They let me do my thing for this. I knew the look she was going for with her cover so I wanted to follow that same theme with props and furniture. There was no real pivot on set other than having limited time to get everything we wanted. But Billie was very kind and sweet and let us do our thing and gave us extra time. She is one of a kind.
What was your thinking behind using the screen as the main mode of communication?
I knew this video was going to be a part of a series that Vogue has done before, and I wanted it to feel different and more my style, as well. I've used screens in projects before, and I've used them in a way to present information that I want to feel part of the world we're in. For this, they were Billie's most famous friends.
What is another favorite project that you’ve worked on?
I have so many but the Chloe x Halle music video is really special to me. They are so sweet and endearing, and also very hard-working. I don’t think viewers realize how much we had to shoot in such a little time. We had to shoot five set-ups in one day—which is crazy.
It’s also insane watching them transform into these superstars when we yelled, “Action!”
Chloe x Halle - Ungodly Hour (Official Video)
You’ve worked with many big artists. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned so far?
It might sound lame, but that hard work pays off—and it's a lot of hard work. Anything that I do, I am doing it to the best of my ability, and I’m busting my ass. I am Puerto Rican, Latinx, brown, and I know that because of those things, I have to work a little bit harder. I stay up late. I watch many films. I study a lot. I look at photo books—I'm constantly immersing myself in stories that I find beautiful.
And in all of this, I also understand that I'm very lucky. I was born here in America and that, in and of itself, has given me opportunities that people from, Puerto Rico and Guatemala, where my parents are from, don’t have.
I don't take my life for granted. It's part chance, but mostly it's a lot of hard work and preparation that goes into every opportunity that's been presented to me.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career like yours?
Immerse yourself in the work that you’re attracted to and study how they’re made. Half the work is figuring out what you want to make, find someone who's done it, find out how they did it, and then go from there.
And I don't even think people need to go to school for that. There are so many great filmmakers, directors, editors who didn't go to school. Just go out and make art!
What's next for you? Are there artists that you want to work with in the near future in your inspirational folders?
It's so funny you said that because I have a list. I have a small board in my room for all artists that I want to work with. I love so many! I love Lykke Li.
A Swedish goddess!
I love her music and the videos she's done with Anton Tammi. I have a very special folder [on my computer] for her. I also want to work with Nathy Peluso, Dua Lipa, Bad Bunny, and FKA twigs as well.
I'm also obsessed with Jennifer Lopez, always and forever. She's such an important person in my life growing up as a Puerto Rican kid. She’s someone who came from nothing and created a life for herself that she probably had never even dreamed of—if that's not the American dream, I don't know what is.
Take a listen to what Alfred plays between takes:
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Images Courtesy of Alfred Marroquín + Driely Carter
Special thanks to Polaroid