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Directors Corner: Matt Porter

Directors Corner: Matt Porter

by D.S Wadeson, 29 March 2013

You'll have recently seen our post of the great new addition to the Thrashlab series of sub-culture films, directed by Matt Porter. We caught up with the quirky director from New York to find out more about Freeganism, the ever-rise of short-form and why the studios will come-a-knockin'.

What do you feel is the importance of sub-culture to film?

One of the most counter-intuitive lessons I've learned in my career is that seemingly niche specificity in your work does not alienate people, but in fact in makes it more believable. As a writer, I used to filter out my idiosyncratic ticks and points of view from my writing, thinking it would all be too weird and foreign to my audience ' how many people really don't know how to take a pill until they were 19? Who else thinks the way I do about relationships, or religion, or Miley Cyrus? I was certain if I included these kinds of personal touches, I'd lose people. Now, I revel in those weird little nuggets, because I know that even if people can't directly relate to the specifics of my life and my perspective, they can relate to the sincerity of how I'm presenting that perspective, and cannot help but find an emotional foothold. It taps into some sort of collective experience and universal wiring that is always familiar.

This is never more relevant than it is when directing documentary.  In working with Thrash Lab on their web series 'Subcultures Club' it was really important for me to "love" the communities I was documenting on a certain level. I really wanted to care about them, and in turn I would want to do them justice in the piece. In approaching these videos that way, I think I was able to avoid the de-humazing "spectacle" aspect that sometimes can come along with profiling a subculture.  I'd like to think that these videos may have helped dissuade some people of their negative associations with chess nerds and dumpster divers. Once you find yourself relating to and actually admiring their passion, it becomes harder to dismiss them as misguided or nuts.  I'm sure some people watched the videos and still thought they were nuts... I can only do so much.

"It all takes you to the same place as long as the quality of the work is always the priority"

To directly answer your question... in some ways there is nothing more important in film than subcultures. Whether its the subculture of a community, an institution, or a family, it becomes the medium's job to pull the curtain back and invite you into this foreign landscape and show you that it isn't so foreign after all.

Short-form vs. Features.  Would you ever want to direct/produce etc in Hollywood? What are the benefits of operating outside the studio system?

I have been making shorts for years and years... since I was 13 or so. Only recently have I started to tackle the world of feature length projects.  My first feature length directing gig was a music documentary produced with Mason Jar Music, a film and music collective that I often work with. It is called 'The Sea in Between', and while I am credited as director, it was a huge collaboration with a lot of brilliant and talented people that had a hand in it's aesthetic and voice.  On the narrative film side, I am currently writing two feature scripts, one of which I hope to shoot on my own, as part of my own production collective called Dial Tone Pictures. The other I am writing in conjunction with a more established production company, with the idea that if it's worth making when it's complete, they might help me make it.

The only concrete statement I can make about my own career aspirations is that I want to be able to conjure my ideas into existence with enough ease that I do not go bankrupt every time I do, and then be able to reach enough of an audience that I can show up to my family gatherings and not stare at my shoes and call myself an "aspiring filmmaker or something." Whether this takes me to the big screen, or the small screen, or the very small screen that goes in your pocket, doesn't really matter to me at this moment. For now, I'm focused on creating as much work as I can, and continuing to strive forward along the dimly lit but vaguely visible path in front of me.

There are a lot of benefits to operating outside the studio system, the largest one being creative control. These days, as far as I can tell, the only perk that the studios offer is seemingly unlimited resources. This is quite the perk, but in an era of Kickstarter and Twitter, it's has definitely become a lot easier to rally an audience around an indie project than it ever was. And, if you build something from nothing, and it gets attention, the studios will come knocking anyways. So, whether you enter the mainstream industry at the ground floor, or you build your own way and then zip-line over a few floors up when you feel like it, it all takes you to the same place as long as the quality of the work is always the priority.

Tell us a bit about your current projects and what you're trying to achieve/communicate through them? 

Good Cop Great Cop is a weekly sketch series created by myself and my friend Charlie Hankin. It began as an exercise in impulsive, unfiltered creativity - instead of letting something incubate for months, second guessing it and "perfecting" it beyond recognition, I just wanted to make something and then move on and make something else. Now, we have almost 50 videos, and while we've missed a lot of weeks, it's been an incredibly fruitful project, both personally and professionally. I've learned a lot about discipline, and about my own directorial voice. I've also learned how to push through self-doubt and insecurity, and not let those feelings stop me from taking some offbeat risks.  

Dial Tone Pictures is a production collective that consists of myself, writer/producer Phil Primason, and writer/performer Max Azulay. We've created a series of short films, some of which have screened at festivals, and we are currently writing a feature. Phil, Max and myself have been making films together for years and years, so we have a great shorthand in how we collaborate and develop our ideas. Unlike Good Cop, which is essentially sketch comedy, Dial Tone is committed to a more grounded, character-driven kind of storytelling.  Most recently, we made a short film called 'Shiksa', starring comedian Leo Allen. My dad also makes a small appearance.

I have a few other projects in the works, the most random of which being a web cooking show called "Big City Grits" with my great friend Carrie Crowell -- I am her sidekick.

MasonJar music - the future of music and video? What do you define as the 'analogue' that you're trying to preserve?

My dad is a jazz pianist, and I have myself played piano since I was six years old, so music has always been almost as intrinsic to my artistic personality as film. So, when my high school friend Dan Knobler founded the production collective Mason Jar Music after college, I was immediately interested in getting involved, both musically and as a filmmaker. Since then, I've had a hand in all their music performance videos and artist profiles, either as a director or an editor. Mason Jar Music is always getting more attention and are constantly doing amazing work, and it continues to be an honour to be a part of the team.

The "analog" principles that Mason Jar is attempting to uphold mainly applies to their approach to music production.  In a world of auto-tune and ProTools, Dan Knobler and his partner Jon Seale are deeply committed to recording albums as organically as possible, without the digital cheats and quick fixes that most pop music relies on. In working with them as a filmmaker, I have attempted to apply this philosophy to my work as well.  Our videos always show the musicians and engineers setting up, plugging in microphones and setting up music stands. Working closely with director/cinematographer Andrew Ellis, we always attempt to tell the full visual "truth" of each performance, without trying to to make it feel like it all happened magically. If only we could shoot on actual film! But alas, it is too expensive.

The 'slash' generation, i.e. creative/director/freelancer/etc etc.  What factors do you think have played into this new creative class? 

I think the primary factor that has resulted in this "slash" generation of creatives is the democratization of resources and the collapse of the pre-web distribution model. In some ways, the age of specialization is over -- everyone has access to an editing bay or a professional-grade camera, and anyone can start creating work and getting better without training or permission. This is both good and bad for our industry - good, because now anyone can create something, and bad, because anyone can create something. The brilliant writer and teacher Clay Shirky has pointed out that the old model was "filter, then publish", and that now, it is the inverse.  Everything is published, and it's our job to filter. That's why networks like Twitter and Facebook have become so invaluable to artists - people can filter all this content both for themselves and for their friends, sharing what they like and dismissing what they don't.  

I think it's a very exciting time to be in film, but I am also often overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who are all vying for that same elusive endgame. That's why I'm trying to focus in on where I am, and how I can keep learning and growing, and not obsess too much about where I'll end up.



Check out Matt's breadth of great work: Thrash LabDial Tone PicturesMason Jar MusicThe Sea in Between, Good Cop Great Cop, and Big City Grits.

Upcoming stuff from Matt: there are always new Good Cop videos, The Sea in Between is available for purchase online, Dial Tone has our short 'Shiksa' coming out online in a month or so, and Big City Grits will be having new episodes up soon.

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