Matt Day: Short Films, Acting & The Biz
The addictive echo-chamber that is social media, the status anxiety of the middle class to clamour above their station, a coke-dealer on speed-dial stepping in with inimitable one-liners amidst his upwardly-mobile clientele, teen suicide and the openly opportunistic hypocrisy of a family about to inherit their parents' money...name a taboo topic and it will probably find an hilariously
(below: Actor, film-maker, writer & creative, Matt Day)
ironic voice in the darkly-humourous world of Matt Day's narrative.
His short-films are seeing his career evolve to include writing and directing alongside acting (in "Muriel's Wedding," among other iconic films) and along with being a noted presence at various film festivals, he's already won a coveted Tropfest award. Reporter Josh McKenzie digs deeper to find out what makes the talented Matt Day an artist to keep on your industry radar.
Long-form storytelling is experiencing a second halcyon period in television. Instead of networks such as HBO and Showtime delivering game-changing content, this time around, it’s driven by streaming giants like Netflix.
That said, despite being lost in a sea of choice, short-form storytelling has also seen a resurgence in recent years.
Streaming services have helped short films find new audiences and with shows like Black Mirror and Love, Death and Robots, they’re receiving critical acclaim.
Recent increased visibility comes as no surprise; short narrative forms have always occupied a special place within the film industry, especially in Australia, where cultural events such as Tropfest provide a prestigious platform for existing and emerging stars.
(below: Acclaimed film-maker, director and actor of the stage & screen, Matt Day, in a recent production of "North by Northwest.")
Who better to help wade through the endless web of storytelling potential in our modern times than Matt Day, an iconic Australian film and television actor who has been developing a strong catalogue of short films in recent years, most notably, The Mother Situation, which won the top award at Tropfest 2017.
(below: Matt Day picks up the top award at Tropfest 2017).
As far as his own involvement with creating original pieces, Matt’s foray into film-making has been his version of attending film-making school, so how did he make the transition from acting to directing? Plus in an era of squeaky-clean political correctness and trigger-warnings, clearly, Matt Day's choice of edgy topics and blatantly dark humour are at the, shall we say, "thought-provoking" end of the scale, with his hilariously ironic releases such as Perry revealing the ennui and hypocrisy of the middle-class with seamlessly realistic insight and ultra-dry humour. Wish reveals the interior worlds of teenagers in a social media swirl of intrigue which takes quite a dark turn at the eleventh hour.
As an artistic format, short films often elicit two distinct responses in viewers: there are those who lament the restriction of length and those set free by it.
Matt’s films definitely push viewers into the latter category.
The short form allows him to dig below the surface of contemporary maladies and middle-class anxiety issues and, with his inimitable sardonic humour, really poke fun at them.
One of the most compelling elements of Matt’s storytelling, and something that works as a unique counterpoint to the darker themes he explores, is humour, so I ask him about
this in more detail, noting that, clearly, with the emergence of a film-making career that has already reached such great heights, Matt is not looking to restrict his creative expression.
"You can tell a fantastic story so many ways, so it doesn't matter if the length of a film is five minutes, two hours or thirty-six hours; the story determines the length, but you know, it's all just story-telling," Matt muses.
Josh McKenzie: "What prompted your exploration of writing, producing and directing? Was there a specific reason why you gravitated towards short films?"
Matt Day: "I was obsessed with cinema growing up in the eighties...the usual Hollywood stuff, nothing too left of centre. It wasn’t until the arrival of VHS that I got to discover all the best of the underground stuff you wouldn’t see at mainstream cinemas, as well as bingeing on trash horror. I saw a lot of great stuff at the Carlton Movie House where I grew up and the old Valhalla.
There was also an amazing independent cinema boom in the nineties films with film-makers like Tarantino, Gus Van Sant, Hal Hartley. So for me, acting was a way of getting into that world, but I always intended to at some point write and direct; being in front of
(below: "Perry," one of Matt Day's short films, has received a number of accolades including Official Selection at Palm Springs International ShortFest, St Kilda Film Festival, FLiCKERFEST and cinefest OZ.)
the camera kind of took over, but film-making has always been part of the plan. Making short films seems like a natural place to start. There's a lot less pressure. You don't have to come out the gate with a fully formed 100-page screenplay. You can start small, make lots of mistakes and not spend too much money. Really take the time to learn the craft. It’s a great way to find what you’re good at, to discover your voice (or even if you have one). My last two short films Perry and The Mother Situation, I wrote, directed, edited, did the sound design and the colour grade myself. So making shorts was my 'film-school.'"
JMCK: "At the centre of your most recent works there appears to be a modern anxiety, such as concerns about home-ownership or new parenthood; does your inspiration come from your own personal experience? What does your creative process entail when you are fleshing out such an idea?"
MD: "Modern anxiety is a good way to describe the themes of my short films and the themes of my writing in general. I steal from my friends' lives and my family’s and whatever happens to be in the zeitgeist.
We’re surrounded by such great source material. It’s usually staring you in the face. I like exploring the darker side, pricking the surface of 'the comfortable life.' I am from a fairly typical Western middle class city-dwelling background and so I like to explore our particular vanities and hypocrisies...especially the hypocrisies!
My creative process is I might have like a vague idea of a story or a situation, often comic, usually something dark, hopefully one I can realise in the shortest time possible, in one location, with a small crew and some great actors.
Then I’ll sit down in front of the computer and just begin to write and hope that something useful spills out. The worse thing I can do is just wait for inspiration - wait for a fully formed idea to just 'appear,' as it never does. It only ever appears when you start writing...putting words on the page.
When you have words on the page, then you have something to work with. You can chip away at the mess of marble to reveal the form beneath."
JMCK: "What I love most about your work is the darkly humorous frame through which you explore ideas; how important is the use of humour to your storytelling process? And do you think centring humour allows you to tackle more confronting topics?"
MD: "Humour is central to my story telling. I see life as being quite absurd, so I respond to absurd situations. I don't really respond to dry drama; when things get too serious I tend
to switch off.
You could say I’m not a particularly serious person (as anyone who knows me could tell you.) Humour is a great tool for exploring taboo issues and I do like pushing the boundaries. The last thing I want to be is 'safe' and not for the sake of being controversial, but I just don't engage with art that pulls its punches, is sentimental or takes itself too seriously, or is overly didactic."
JMCK: "How has the evolution of streaming services and the changing consumption of film media impacted your work as a writer/director?"
MD: "In this day and age where everything is available, I used to find it a bit overwhelming, but now I've just given into it and I try to watch as much as possible. I still find myself counting the minutes in a feature, trying to figure out how they work, which makes watching a movie with me pretty tedious!
With the streaming services, there's great opportunities because there's such a demand for what they call 'content,' but on the other hand there’s also a lot more competition. The knowledge and skill of a lot of young film-makers is astonishing and with the tools available, there are no limits."
JMCK: "In a recent interview for StageMilk you mentioned work on a feature film; is that something that is still in the works? Are feature films your ultimate goal or will you continue to explore work in short films and, with such an extraordinary wealth of experience across mediums and formats, what would your 'dream project' entail?"
MD: "I have a feature film and a TV series in development; both of these are based on previous short films I wrote and directed. I might make more short films, if there’s a story that has to be told.
I'm very aware of the passing of time the older I get and for me making a feature film is still my 'Everest.' So I’ll probably be putting my time and energy into getting that done. (In terms of whether I feel) pressure to deliver another award-winning project, I feel like the only real pressure comes from me. I pressure myself not to waste time, just to finish a lot more.
A day without writing is a bad day. I think it was Philip Roth who said 'the road to hell is paved with unfinished projects...' I can relate to that!"
JMCK: "And finally, are there any producers/directors that have really caught your attention recently?"
MD: "Recent films I’ve found inspiring? I loved Judy and Punch by Mirrah Foulkes. Original, so well written, directed...such a unique voice! I've really been drawn to a lot of the new genre film-making; a lot of indie horror/thriller stuff out of the States, like 'Hereditary,' 'It Follows,' 'Green Room' and a brilliant French-Belgian cannibal film, 'Raw'...and a black comedy out of New Zealand, 'Come to Daddy,' by Ant Timpson; super dark, twisted and laugh out loud hilarious."
(above: Classic Almodovar: "Volver," with Penelope Cruz).
"Plus, the new Almodovar, 'Pain and Glory' - that just knocked me out! I also re-watched 'Sexy Beast' recently – a perfect movie in every way. And a guilty pleasure? My fourteen-year-old son and I went and saw the 'trapped-under-a-house-with-a-giant-crocodile movie, 'Crawl.' So dumb. Yet so, so good!"
We're looking forward to the next releases from Matt; meanwhile check out the following links for more info: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0206510/
Josh McKenzie (below) is a freelance writer and DJ living in Melbourne. Along with writing for Goldrush Magazine, Josh has developed content and copy for a number of brands including Blanke Pop, Scratch & Hair mit Claire plus corporate work for MetLift Ltd and Belgravia Leisure.