There’s a point about four minutes into a short documentary on Brazilian skateboarder Sergio Yuppie when he’s careening downhill at breakneck speed and he manipulates the board to a horizontal plane. His left knee rests parallel to the board, while his right knee is millimeters from the grainy, hard asphalt. Yuppie tucks his chin, clenches his teeth and dips the top of his helmet to scrape the asphalt. Sparks fly from the friction. It’s no accident — it’s the daredevil on four wheels’ intent to create the scene.
And it’s a breathtaking sight — one captured by filmmaker and California State University, Northridge alumnus Michael Alfuso ’12 (Cinema and Television Arts).
Alfuso’s filmmaking career accelerated while he was studying at CSUN, taking him to the point where he was in high demand in the action sports genre. Recently, he switched gears and gained new fulfillment by landing a job with a subscription-based wellness website.
When he was at CSUN, Alfuso said, classmates viewed him differently because his pursuits weren’t directed toward the big screen or the small screen. He’s not making feature films or working in television, but he is showing that there are alternatives in the filmmaking industry — and that with creativity, dedication and desire, one can succeed and inspire.
“Regardless of what the subject may be, I just want to tell good stories and inspire people somehow, little by little, to be better for themselves and be better for their community,” Alfuso said.
Alfuso, 25, grew up about 60 miles south of Northridge in Tustin. He chose CSUN because he wanted to get a little distance from home. He also heard that “CSUN was one of the best-kept secrets, as far as a film school is concerned,” he said.
He chose to pursue a degree in CTVA over music — his parents are freelance musicians — because he was inspired after taking a video-production class in high school. But his parents influenced how he would pursue his career. Watching how they built reputations and trust to gain and maintain work, Alfuso said, he knew he would have to intensely dedicate himself to his work if he wanted to find similar success in his own field.
“For a few years, I threw everything of myself into it, and it helped me create a name,” Alfuso said. “I wasn’t just passionate about (action sports filmmaking), but I was working on student films through my department. Being a part of the CTVA department (helped me learn) and apply (what I learned) to this completely foreign world from traditional cinema.”
Alfuso found that world through a deflating experience. He was on his way to class one day when his bike got a flat tire. He rushed back home, picked up his roommate’s skateboard and wheeled his way to campus. Alfuso had skated in the past, but this experience brought back his passion for the sport. He decided it would become part of his craft.
He immersed himself in watching skateboarding videos online, critiquing the camera movements and cinematography, and he thought about how he could make his own videos better.
“Good artists borrow. Great artists steal,” he said. “I was trying to replicate what I saw and then do it better.”
Alfuso said his daily schedule at CSUN was to roll out of bed, go to class, and then film and edit until 3 a.m. He began to build a clientele, but he wasn’t earning the kind of money that would change his life.
“It was a lot of ramen, as well as Hot Pockets,” Alfuso said, laughing about his struggles. “At one point, I took [food] home from work. They had a meat and cheese and fruit platter. I lived off the leftovers for four days. Needless to say, I’ve improved from that.”
Alfuso was doing a lot of work for skate wheels company Abec 11 during college. He told them he wanted to work exclusively for the company. They agreed, and he became their filmmaker — Alfuso’s ramen and Hot Pockets days were over. One of his films for Abec 11 was the Yuppie documentary, which currently has more than 3.5 million views on YouTube.
After graduation, Alfuso had more time and increased his clientele. He got to the point where he could pick and choose his projects.
CSUN lecturer Richard Chambers ’10 (Cinema and Television Arts) — who worked with Alfuso at CSUN’s Career Center, where both were videographers — said he uses his friend as an example in all the classes he teaches.
“It’s a running theme throughout my class: If this is something you want to do, you’re going to have to commit yourself fully in the field,” Chambers said. “I bring up Michael’s illustration about a quarter of the way through the semester. There is a future in this career. You can make your mark in action sports, the industrial side of things, you can make it in education. This is just another example of a person being successful outside the typical industry.”
Recently, Alfuso’s career has shifted. Despite the early success he found in the action sports genre, he wanted something that fulfilled him in a different way. Even more than exciting people, he said, he wanted to inspire them. He found a new fit in wellness, hooking up with a Northern California-based company called Grokker that produces health-related videos for a virtual community.
If it sounds like a country music singer becoming a rapper, that’s an accurate comparison. Different genres, different audiences, same art form. But it’s still filmmaking.
“For the longest time, it was blind ambition, wanting to do skateboarding. Then it changed,” Alfuso said. “I want to do more than just excite people.“
Alfuso said he’ll ride this path to wherever it takes him. He has other ambitions, though.
“This is the second chapter in my life,” he said of his current work. “I’m definitely going to continue to do commercial work in the action sports field, but would like to move to documentary-style, National Geographic human pieces — real stories about different people and cultures around the world.”