One-on-One with Alicia J. Keyes

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Alicia J. Keyes, head of the Albuquerque film office. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Alicia J. Keyes’ love affair with the film industry can be traced to Chris Schueler’s “News 101” program for teenagers and to her one-time sighting of Oprah Winfrey.

Keyes, who heads the city of Albuquerque’s film office, traveled to San Francisco for a television conference with Schueler’s newswriting program while she was a student at Albuquerque Academy in the 1990s.

“There was a moment where I was walking down this red carpet and Oprah was coming toward me and this was right when Oprah was just coming up in the world,” Keyes said. “And I saw her, and I was like, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Keyes dabbled in TV news for awhile, working as an intern at the “Today” show while she was going to college in California and thinking of becoming an international war correspondent.

“But I wanted to create my own content and be involved in that process, and so that kind of steered me away from reporting,” she said.

Keyes went on to a career that involved writing and producing films in Los Angeles, including a stint as executive director of acquisitions and co-productions for Walt Disney Co.

But at the urging of studio executive and personal mentor Nina Jacobson, Keyes took a break for several years to tackle what she called her most scary role: moving to London and adopting her new husband’s twin sons, whose mother had died six days after they were born. Alexander and Charles were 4½ years old when Keyes became their mother.

“I’m one of those people who just jumps in,” Keyes said. “I don’t test the waters, and so I jumped into being their mother at 28 years old. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life, but terrifying.”

Keyes moved back to Albuquerque in 2008 with her kids and her then-husband, Peter Touche, who is also in the film industry. With New Mexico’s slate of tax rebates and a growing local infrastructure, “outside of LA and New York, this really is the place to be.”

Keyes’ sons are now college sophomores; she just returned from delivering them to their respective universities.

“We always say, we choose to love each other every day, and that’s a very strong bond,” she said.

Now, the top slot on her bucket list is to some day direct a movie.

The goal has become more realistic, she says, in the wake of the #MeToo Movement and a working environment that’s becoming more open to women.

“I would have said two years ago they’ll never let a female … be a first-time director,” Keyes said. “The percentage of that happening would be so low. Now I would say, actually, I have a chance. That’s a huge change.”

Is this your first government job?

Totally, my first government job.

How’s it going?

It’s funny. When you’re in the private sector, it’s all about me, me, me and how I can push my project forward. This job is all about how can I help you . Being in the industry, it’s very cutthroat and it’s all very self-centered, so this is just a breath of fresh air for me.

What are you most proud of?

I did a film in Española with two local directors, Mateo Frazier and Diego Joaquin Lopez, and I’m probably most proud of that because it was something we started from the very beginning … and we got distribution from Lion’s Gate. It was called “Blaze You Out” about two sisters who had lost each other because one of them had gotten involved in the drug trade. It was really about the bigger sister going to find her little sister and to help her out. So I identified with that because I also have an older sister and I was always like the young wild one.

What kind of student were you?

I think that I always had a flair for the dramatic. I was always involved in drama and theater and creative writing. I wasn’t necessarily a traditional student, and that hurt me because I had a really hard time focusing on math and science, so I think that I’d probably thrive a little more in the academic environment that is supported now. I wasn’t somebody who could learn facts and just memorize them. I needed to understand how everything worked and how everything came together. I had a lovely childhood – two parents that adored me, lots of animals, a sister, friends, family. I’ve been very, very supported my whole life.

If you had an alternate career, what would it be?

I would be writing more. My real passion is writing. I still write and still produce in my off-hours from here.

What are you writing?

I currently just finished an independent female thriller that takes place in Albuquerque that has a political lean to it. After that, I wrote a film called “Falcon Princess,” a young adult romance that takes place in Qatar and Albuquerque that has falconry in it.

Where do you get your ideas?

I think that writing is a always a reflection of what you’re going through at the time and just, I think, how fragile humanity is. … I think when I write, I try to capture those universal truths that we deal with as people, as youngsters, the things that we grapple with as human beings. That’s really what drives me.

What are your favorite movies?

I loved “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” “The Way, Way Back” is fabulous. “Little Miss Sunshine,” … parts of it were actually filmed in Albuquerque.

During your time in Los Angeles, did you experience any of the harassment and abuse that’s been brought to light with the #MeToo Movement?

I feel like for myself, I have experienced people not giving me a chance or looking down upon me because I am a young woman growing up in the industry. But I was very lucky at Disney to have two mentors, Dick Cook and Jere Hausfater, who let me learn and listen and never put me in a situation where I was uncomfortable. Because I had those two people on my side, nothing ever happened to me, but I was very lucky.

Did you know what was going on at the time?

No. I knew that something was wrong. When I was with Disney, I worked directly with Miramax and Harvey (Weinstein), and a lot of my friends are people involved in those cases right now. I knew that when they started working over there, they had lost a lot of kind of their joie de vivre and spunk. They were worked really hard, and I didn’t understand at the time what was going on.

Do you have any superstitions?

I used to as a child. My sister and I had this thing where we would go over train tracks and we had this little … monster hanging on the rearview mirror and – even my cousin does it – we would have to high-five him and lift our feet. So, yes, I used to do stuff like that, but I was talking to a therapist once, and she said those kind of superstitious things are a way that a child tries to take control of a situation when they don’t have control. I have tried really hard as an adult to give up those superstitions and to not kind of feel like I have to have that fake control.

Favorite splurge?

Dairy Queen Heath bar blizzards, doughnuts, Dion’s pizza, with ranch dressing. I like drinking really nice wine. Clothing, I’m very European. I don’t buy a lot of T-shirts and stuff like that. I buy one nice thing … and I keep it forever.

Do you have a favorite outfit?

I have a uniform. I was inspired by Obama because I once read this article that he has a “uni” that he wears every day because he doesn’t want to have to think about stuff like that. He wants to use his brain to think about other things because there is proven science that you can only make so many decisions a day. I mean, granted he was president of the United States, so I can’t really compare to that. But mine is a T-shirt, these pants and a blazer. It doesn’t change. It’s very boring.

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