Matt Writes Words

thoughts about movies, writing, and whatever else is on my mind

Living in a Film Festival or: How I Learned to Quit Being an Idiot and Join the Austin Film Society

Austin is a year-round film festival.

Between the Austin Film Society, SXSW, Austin Film Festival, Fantastic Fest, Women in Cinema, Cinema 41, Paramount Summer Classics Series, Cinema East, Experimental Response Cinema, Austin Cinematheque, Alamo Drafthouse, things like Ain’t It Cool News special screenings here and there, and advanced screenings happening every week, I’m pretty much having to choose between great movies on a regular basis.

Best part: all cheap or free, all done in the belief that putting great cinema in front of people is essential for a thriving art community. And indeed, people are making movies left and right with whatever means at their disposal, seemingly less motivated by trying to build a professional career and more out of feeling like they just need to do it.

How could you not be inspired, with all of this happening all the time? That buzz that people talk about feeling after SXSW, after having seen great new cinema and meeting other filmmakers… that’s every week in Austin–AS LONG AS YOU ACTUALLY MAKE IT OUT TO THESE EVENTS.

I stress that because my mind is a little boggled by how few people regularly take advantage of all these things. There certainly is that small circle of regulars I see at all these events, and these regulars include all the people that are important to know in the world of indie film, as well as the people who are clearly going to be doing interesting work and will likely become the people who are important to know. But beyond the “important to know” factor, these are people who are immersed in getting films made and shown, and therefore they are heroes. And of the regulars who aren’t necessarily interested in making films, their dedicated patronage is essential to the life of cinema. None of any of this exists without them, and they know everything. They are also heroes.

And, beyond great film screenings, there are regular panels/conversations with filmmakers that are incredibly accessible, and this does a lot to inspire, as well. Richard Linklater is doing a regular screening series, the Austin Film Society has its Moviemaker Dialogues (during which I’ve gotten to hear from Sandra Adair, Tim Orr, Tim League, Tom Savini, David Wingo, Fred Williamson, Graham Reynolds, Nathan Silver, Onur Tukel, Janet Pierson, Ted Hope, and more), John Pierson used to do a Master Class (during which I got to hear from David Gordon Green, Tom Rothman, Justin LinLisa Cholodenko, Peter Hedges, and more), and Women in Cinema occasionally has some great panels (got to hear from Amy Seimetz, Kim Sherman, Hannah Fidell, Kat Candler, Sandra Adair a couple more times, and more). The best part is that these are all very intimate and fairly casual, and you can really strike up a conversation with these folks in these settings.

I could go on and on (and I usually do), but you get the idea. I started writing this just out of excitement, but I also have a point to make: if you want to be involved in making movies in any way, you have to go to these things, especially in the moments where you feel uninspired or distant from the film world. Live the film life. Watch movies on the big screen with people who really care about this stuff. Let it stoke a fire and let the fire burn. Austin is tinder, and that fire will spread.

If there’s a One Thing that I’d say any Austin-dwelling person interested in movies must do, it’s to become a member of the Austin Film Society. Not only is it the best deal in town ($50 membership for which you immediately get $60 worth of tickets, plus discounts to everything and access to free stuff, including grant money), and an almost-daily encouragement to fill your life with Great Cinema, but this is, excuse my language, the Motherfucking Engine Room of Austin Cinema, and they exist for YOU. They’re not the ones who benefit from your measly $50 membership fee–YOU’RE THE ONE WHO BENEFITS.

I do not work for the Austin Film Society but I still urge people to join every chance I get, because for any film lover or filmmaker in Austin, there is nothing that makes less sense than not becoming a member. If you do not have an Austin Film Society membership card on your person right now, you are actually doing it wrong, and the next time I see you, I’m going to grab you by the shoulders and shake you until you become a member or your head falls off–whichever happens first.


Great Conversation on the Cinematography of WUTHERING HEIGHTS, with Robbie Ryan and Barry Ackroyd

I know anywhere between 0 – 5 people/nerds who might be interested in this conversation between two of the great “realistic-style” cinematographers, Barry Ackroyd (go-to cinematographer for Ken Loach, Paul Greengrass, and also shot THE HURT LOCKER) and Robbie Ryan (go-to cinematographer for Andrea Arnold).

Here they’re mostly talking about Andrea Arnold’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS, which is among the most visually-powerful movies of the last decade. The movie has very little dialogue, and is ruled by the howling wind and starkly beautiful images of the pretty and ugly sides of nature. It’s a rough and messy movie, as brutal as it gets, made so intuitively that it practically comes off as dumb, but I don’t consider that a bad thing. If you ever find yourself wanting to watch a movie about how love is a disease that will fester inside you, eat your soul, rob you of all dignity, and turn you into an empty, hate-filled zombie bent on causing hurt before finally killing you, then WUTHERING HEIGHTS is a solid choice for movie night.


The two cinematographers also discuss their preference for shooting on film, pointing to an ethereal, extra quality beyond what the naked eye would see (implying that digital is more of a “what you see is what you get” kind of medium). Also interesting is the philosophy that the camera must never be in front of the action, meaning that the movie doesn’t know what’s going to happen before the characters do, at least within a scene. The camera should follow the characters and only be as aware as they are. If, for example, someone is about to walk into a room, the camera can’t be on the door before they enter (because it would be anticipating the character’s entry, rather than catching it as it happens, or catching up to it). This is more of a philosophy that’s dictated by the director, Andrea Arnold, and it is an effective way of putting you in the character’s head.

If nothing else, the video is worth watching because their mutual admiration for each other is super-cute. Ackroyd is a veteran and Ryan is still fairly new to the scene (but definitely a strong voice), but the conversation doesn’t feel like Master and Student; it feels like Student and Student. The attitude of the student is something I’ve come to see as a hallmark of people who are doing fresh, bold work.

I’m definitely going to be checking out more of these BSC (British Society of Cinematographers) “In Conversation” series. Long chats with great cinematographers for free… the internet is an amazing place.

Here’s a U.S. trailer for WUTHERING HEIGHTS:


And the U.K. trailer, which I’m a bit more fond of, because it’s creepier:

Oh I Guess I’ll Start Doing This Again

So I recently finished a book called Show Your Work!, and one of the main ideas is that it’s a good idea for creative artists (or anybody) to have a website and to be open about the process of making their artwork as they’re making it. I’ve gone back and forth about how open I like to be with my creative process, but there was enough in that book to make me realize how much I love reading about other peoples’ creative process. If there’s something about an artist’s personality and thought process that I find attractive, I naturally become more excited about the work. Furthermore, if that person is posting regularly about what they’re doing, rather than just posting a finished piece of work every few months, there are more opportunities for that person to be discovered by new folks. So I’m going to start sharing more about what I’m doing and thinking, and include some behind-the-scenes type stuff.

I don’t really have a proper website set up for this yet, but I’ve got the blog, and I want to revamp my Matt Latham Makes Movies website where I can just put everything I do and talk about what I’m doing. We’ll see what happens.

So what am I working on now? WELL! I’ve got my feature-length movie, YOU ARE YOUR BODY / YOU ARE NOT YOUR BODY, nearing the finish line. We’re gonna be submitting to various film festivals and filmmaker labs starting in April, and a lot will depend on the what fish bites first, I guess. There’s a lot that I’m still learning about this whole film festival process, and I can write more about that in another post.

I’m also going to be doing a bit of editing on Nick Toti’s new short, WHEN YOU CALL ME THAT, SMILE, which I also shot. There’s a couple of teasers for that here:

Then I’ll be working on editing a documentary that Nick and I have started shooting about an insane Christian punk band from the early 2000s called Raft of Dead Monkeys. We’ve already gone to Seattle and shot interviews with the band members, and there’s some fascinating stuff to dig into.

I also agreed to shoot a music video for The March Divide, which has to be done very quickly and with very little money. So I decided that the most interesting way to do it was to figure it out as we shoot, which is something that I’ll do sometimes. This approach serves as a palette cleanser after working on projects that required more planning. I don’t exactly know what it’s going to be, but I guess that’s the interesting part. I’ll do my best to make it interesting to watch.

We started shooting today, just myself and the lead actress, Meredith. We walked along an interesting-looking fence, and I said, “Okay, look at me,” and she said, “The sun’s right in my eyes, so if you want me to cry, now’s a good time,” and I said, “Good!” and so this is that shot:


It’s in slow motion and the camera is moving a bit, and the wind is blowing her hair. A nice shot that I had no idea was gonna happen, but now we can imagine what leads up to this moment and shoot those scenes. So that’s how this whole project’s gonna go down until it’s done.

Oh! And my short movie, IT FELT GOOD TO HAVE THIS PAIN, which has played a few festivals and premiered on NoBudge is about to play its last and probably biggest festival, the Melbourne Queer Film Festival in Australia on March 22nd, so that’s kewl. It looks like a helluva festival, and is one of the largest and oldest queer film festivals around. I’m quite pleased about playing at that one.

OKAY I’ll blog more soon that’s enough for now.

I’m Makin’ a Movie and I Need Your Help!

Firstly, the last movie that I made, IT FELT GOOD TO HAVE THIS PAIN, has debuted online. In addition to winning Best Short Film and Best Cinematography at the Fresno Film Festival, it was featured on No Budge, Go Into The Story, and Ain’t It Cool News. People seem to like it, and now you can watch it and maybe like it, too!

Secondly, I am now making a feature film called YOU ARE YOUR BODY / YOU ARE NOT YOUR BODY. It’s a weird title, I know.

Here is our Kickstarter page:


My producer and I have thrown all the money we have into this project, and we’ve completed shooting the movie. You can see a trailer on that Kickstarter page! We wanted people to be able to see what they were contributing toward.

We need finishing funds for post-production and festival submission fees. We need all the financial support we can get from everyone we know in order to finish the movie at the quality we’ve been aiming for, and to get it out there in the world for people to see.

With Kickstarter, we don’t get any of the money unless we make our goal. We have quite a way to go on it, so if you’re interested in the project and want to see the movie, please consider helping us out. Any contribution amount helps! Thank you!

That Slight, Constant Feeling of Being Underwater

This is a feeling that I think most people have most of the time, regardless of external circumstances. Ecstatic joy and crushing sadness rarely strike me–I’m particularly even-tempered–so I mostly exist in a constant state of “Which of the 20 things I’m supposed to be doing should I do right now oh man I’m just going to sit here and panic quietly.”

I note that I feel a little better when other people say they feel this way. When a person who appears to be doing very well confides that they feel in over their heads or dissatisfied, or reminds me that for every success, there were 50 failures or rejections that simply weren’t advertised, it helps me to feel like this is just the nature of being alive as a human.

We all have desires, and we all have too many things that we’re supposed to be doing–we’re never totally caught up. I get bogged down by all the little tasks I should be paying attention to. It helps when I write a task list to visually identify each task as a separate thing to focus on, but I rarely write the task list because it feels like one of the 40 things I should be doing that. It’s not hard to recognize what the smart thing to do is, but that feeling, that slight, constant feeling of being underwater, is paralyzing.

I like to listen to Zen Buddhist talks, and my favorite part is invariably when the monks talk about how, even after years of training and meditation practice, they feel underwater and not mentally present most of the time, but that the practice has allowed them to spend a little more time being mentally engaged with the present moment.

Meditation is another thing on the task list that floats around in my head. I can tell you right now that if I only did two things–meditate and write a task list–I would feel better and be more productive. Writing it out on this blog helps, and in fact, I’m going to write that task list immediately after this post. Perhaps meditation is simply the act of focusing on your breathing so that you can remind your body that you are not actually underwater.

Anyway, I figured since I find it helpful to hear that other people dwell in this feeling, I’d share the fact that I also do, so that YOU can be like, “Oh that Matt Latham guy? I thought he always felt great! He always looks so great! I think he’s so great! But even HE feels like he’s covered in a wet blanket a lot of the time?? Maybe my life is not so scummy after all!”

And, by the way, I AM doing great. I’m in a lucky position of feeling underwater because I have so many good things to do and to prepare for. Lotsa news coming next week. I have a short movie, IT FELT GOOD TO HAVE THIS PAIN, premiering Thursday, September 5th, on No Budge, a website that I really like, and we’ll be pushing out the trailer for my upcoming feature, YOU ARE YOUR BODY / YOU ARE NOT YOUR BODY. More details about that next week!

It’s Been A While, Honey

I get distracted pretty easily.

I used to write in this blog regularly, and that helped me to focus my thoughts. In fact, the initial spark for this blog was to write a long blog post every single day, which I did. I was in a rut at the time (working a full-time office job; feeling creatively frustrated; feeling trapped), and I credit this blog for breaking me out of that. Each post was like a short essay, and while I wrote about a wide range of topics, I eventually had to start writing about my priorities in life.

Long story short: I sold most of my possessions, got a 3rd roommate into the 2-bedroom place I was living in, and I moved onto the couch. This brought my cost of living so low that I could afford to work 3 days a week, which I did. I started DRAWING again! I got involved with movie productions, helping out on Geoff Marslett/Lauren Modery’s LOVES HER GUN, which debuted at SXSW and is now touring the festival circuit, and got involved with a Nick Toti joint where I found some folks who ended up becoming my core group of creative partners.

The momentum of all this (it’s all about momentum) led me into making my own movies again, after a 2-year dry spell. Since January 2012, I have never not been working on one of my own movies. I started with a quickly-produced short titled I’M SO SORRY TO HEAR ABOUT HENRY, viewable here:


This short film led to an opportunity to go to the Cannes Film Festival last year, via their Short Film Corner program. I had a great time there and I may write about that experience in another post.

Before I went to Cannes, I had already shot my next short film, IT FELT GOOD TO HAVE THIS PAIN, for which you can view a teaser trailer here:


This went on to win a couple of awards and led to the opportunity to meet some great people that I otherwise would not have met. I’m quite proud of the movie, and am happy to announce that it will be viewable online very soon. Follow the Facebook page to stay updated, so you can be sure to see it when it’s available: IT FELT GOOD TO HAVE THIS PAIN.

Before I finished that movie, I had already started work on what would become my first feature-length movie, YOU ARE YOUR BODY / YOU ARE NOT YOUR BODY. Click the link and LIKE us on Facebook, as we have some news that will be announced there very soon! Yeah, it’s a weird title, but it will all make sense in the end.

Just before production on that movie began, I went and made a music video for Lauren Green (or LRN GRN, as her solo project is known).


This worked out well and led to her getting involved in the movie as a composer. Yet another example of how the momentum generated by making things creates a gravitational pull and energy between people that then thrusts you into the next thing.

Thinking about that fact has made me want to return to what I consider to be the origin point of that creative momentum–this blog. It forces me to focus on my thoughts for a few minutes, since I am generally writing about myself or my ideas (same thing), and it also allows me to share myself with others, and those are the two prongs necessary to generate an electrical current, that’s why plugs have two prongs, except sometimes they have three so what’s up with that? I guess it’s to ground the current or something, so now I have to come up with a metaphor for that third grounding prong uhhhh I’ll say it’s family. So the first prong is introspection, the second prong is sharing with friends, and then you’re grounded by family okay I’m done.

A Tiny Taste of What’s to Come

I’ve recently finished a short film called IT FELT GOOD TO HAVE THIS PAIN (teaser trailer here) that we’re currently submitting to film festivals.

In the meantime, I’m already working on the next thing, which will be a feature-length film. I’ve assembled a creative team and we’ve been working on it for about half a year and are preparing to shoot it next year.

A few days ago, we were out on location with a couple of the actors, building the characters and the relationship to each other and to the house that we’ll be shooting in. I shot a little video on the sly, which offers the tiniest little taste of what’s going to be a big, big movie.

This is not footage that will be in the movie. It’s just something I put together for fun.


Movie Review: LIFE OF PI

I’ve always really liked Ang Lee’s work. His choices are smart, sensitive, and he’s always up to something different. LIFE OF PI has really wonderful direction, but my feeling about the movie overall is fairly lukewarm. I haven’t read the book, but I know that it’s beloved, and as far as I can tell, this movie does it a lot of justice, because it works very well as a movie. I just didn’t much care for the story and the themes. Likely, that’s because I’m not a religious person.

I knew going in that it was a movie about faith/religion and I was excited to see it because I find the ideas of religion fascinating, and it’s something I tend to think quite a lot about and actually love to see in movies.

This story is interesting in that it’s essentially about what there is to be gotten out of stories at all. Or, at least, that’s the part that I found most interesting about the story, and I guess my main criticism with the movie is that it glazes over what I thought was the real thematic core of the story. It had big ideas and then went soft on them.

But it looked real good.

The genius stroke, as far as the aesthetic goes, is that EVERYTHING looks fake. When I saw the trailer, I was concerned that it’d be a realistic movie that had computer-generated cartoony-looking animals in it. But, the whole thing looks like a cartoon, including the people. It’s well integrated into the whole style and aesthetic of the film, which I thought was smart.

I think that a lot of people will love the movie very much. It’s full of that heart-swelling stuff that folks like out of movies. I guess all I can really say is that it didn’t work with me the way that I would have liked to work with it.

[Grade: B-]

Learning to Love the Unknown

It seems to me that there is peace to be found in learning to love the unknown.

That which is not known is and always will be more vast that that which is known — truly, the unknown is infinitely more vast, because it constantly expands. Failing to recognize this is a barrier to peace.

If acquiring knowledge is supposed to be a recipe for conquering the unknown, then it is doomed to failure, and that will be a barrier to peace.

One of the great gifts of knowledge — perhaps the great gift — is the insight it offers into that which we do not know. It allows us to better understand and appreciate the unknown, which is the dominant truth of our existence.

Greater knowledge offers a way to better love the unknown. Through that, a little less obstruction between our minds and peace, and between people and peace.

So seek knowledge. Don’t be an idiot. But also, don’t be a fool. Don’t think you can conquer the unknown or that it is even meant to be conquered. Don’t blind yourself to the wonder.

This is advice from me to me.

Serious Questions

What exactly is Santa Claus’s economic and political philosophy? Is he a Capitalist? He seems to be rewarding “behavior” as opposed to work, but who determines what is “good behavior” and “bad behavior”? He seems to judge through the lens of Western morality, but applies it on a global basis, which is disturbing.

Has anyone found consistent and reliable documentation regarding the treatment of his employees? Why are they kept hidden away? Are they being punished for their attempts to unionize? What of his treatment of animals–particularly reindeer?

Do you know what Santa Claus’s whole enterprise paid in taxes last year? A whopping 0%. It is possible that he runs as a Non-Profit Organization, but if so, all the more reason for total transparency regarding his operations.

And how come he gives rich kids better presents than poor kids? Why does he continually refuse to accept the existence of Jews? What is his message to our children about fairness and tolerance?

Speaking of children, what exactly is his deal with children? Can we trust this person to be around children? Does he really have the children’s best interests in mind, or is there another reason he’s always such a Jolly Old Saint Nick?

No wonder so many people pray to Jesus on Christmas. But it’s gonna take a whole lot more than prayer to stop this Red Devil that we call Santa Claus.