Q&A with Director Robert Alexander
What inspired you to make a movie about Kid Cudi?
Like many people, I used to find it hard to always be myself. It felt more important to fit in than to let someone know how excited I was about an idea they might find odd. We all look for someone to inspire us by showing us something we’ve never seen before, by unapologetically being themselves and in turn giving us the strength to do the same. Kid Cudi has meant so much to so many people by encouraging them to be who they are at all times. He is an icon who has empowered multiple generations of young people to be okay with who they are, that’s why it was important to share this story.
In the film, former Complex Media Editor-in-Chief Noah Callahan-Bever describes Man on the Moon as one of the most influential albums of the past 20 years. What is it about that record that made it so groundbreaking and enduring?
Cudi was one of those revolutionary artists who truly connected with a generation of people who were overwhelmed with emotion but didn’t feel like anyone understood them or was speaking up for them. On his debut album not only was his sound so fresh and innovative but in his dialogue he went out of his way — sacrificing his own privacy — to be incredibly vulnerable in his art and share who he was and what he was going through.
The film features interviews with a diverse group of Cudi’s friends, collaborators and observers: from Kanye West to Timothée Chalamet to Willow Smith to clinical psychologist Candice Norcott.
How did you go about choosing who to include?
It’s a combination of people Cudi loves and worked with and people I love. I wanted it to be a conversation about creativity from many different perspectives. The goal for me was ultimately to make a “power film,” similar to the song you put on at the gym when you’re feeling tired and uninspired. I hope when people watch this it motivates them to find new ways to see their own creative expression and push themselves artistically.
Along with the interviews, the film uses dancers, actors, special effects, graphics and more to create an artwork that underscores and complements the story of Cudi’s life and career. Can you talk about how you approached creating the visual elements?
I love all mediums, and I don’t like the idea of limiting what you make to one particular space, and this film is an example of that. By design part of the film feels like a documentary, part of it feels like an advertisement for creative expression, and part of feels like a one-man show, beautifully performed on stage by Jaden Smith. That is what’s beautiful in the synergy of working with Cudi because he has the same approach in his music. He doesn’t limit himself to the label of a “Rapper” and exist exclusively in that space. His music transcends genre. He just as passionately and honestly can make pop music, hip hop, punk rock or anything else he feels. Hopefully the film serves as a reminder that the more we live as ourselves the faster these labels placed on us become meaningless and we can just create based on how we feel.
The two locations where you interview Cudi are so different: One is a room crammed with ornate mirrors and chandeliers, the other is extremely spare.
We only sat down with Cudi twice, once in Tokyo and once in Italy, and the locations reflect this duality that exists within him. In the first interview we’re talking with Kid Cudi the artist, the music persona. The second time we were talking with Scott Mescudi, the person behind the persona. By the time we were set to have that second conversation I had spent several months interviewing all these people in his life who had shared intimate stories about their experiences. So out of respect for him and the film, it was critical to have a completley transparent conversation, and he was more than willing to do that. He was incredibly giving and supportive of honesty. He didn’t want to make himself look better than he was; he wanted to be authentic.
Beyond being the subject of the film, what was Cudi’s role in the making of A Man Named Scott?
It was a very kind collaboration. There were some things he felt were important to touch on and certain people he wanted to have a significant presence in the film. But he had a lot of trust in me and he was incredibly respectful in allowing me to make this film the way I felt was best.
The montage cut to the “Pursuit Of Happiness” Steve Aoki remix makes for a really exhilarating conclusion to the film. Why did you choose that track to end with?
That sequence uses a lot of archival material we had gathered that we didn’t want to waste. So we decided to build a beautiful collage of Cudi’s career. The song made perfect sense because in my mind, “Pursuit Of Happiness” is the alternative title to the film. It’s a lifelong endeavor, and not one that’s achieved overnight. Cudi is so open about the dark place he was in before he went to rehab and then later reemerged. I didn’t want to conclude the film at that point and make it feel like now everything is perfect because he got the necessary help. That’s not how life works. We all experience our own life- long journey in the pursuit of happiness.