An Interview with Matthew Robinson – By Cary Conley

Recently, I talked with college student, comedian, writer, radio show host, and first-time dramatic director Matthew Robinson.  Whew!  That’s enough hats to keep anyone busy!   We discussed numerous subjects, including the trials and travails of micro-budget filmmaking, the influence of Jaws (the single most influential film in my life and the one that got me into movies), and Matthew’s latest feature, the 30-minute cop drama entitled "Drown."

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CC:  Tell us a bit about your background.  What got you interested in making movies?

MR:  As a kid I was always fascinated with the stories. Whether it be on the page or on the screen. I wanted to see movie after movie, and my parents being big movie buffs encouraged me to do so. To this day my dad and I will watch classic films together and discuss them. Watching movies just made me want to make movies of my own. I think in the end what interested me in making movies was the whole idea that I could finally tell the stories I had cooped up in my head to the world.

CC:  What movies/directors have influenced you over the years?

MR:  Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back had a huge impact on me as a kid. I think it was really the movie that made me want to make movies of my own. I loved the characters, the action, the sets, the morals, the mind blowing plot twist between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker and it just really connected with me how the bad guys could win in a movie and yet there still be hope in the end. Other movies throughout the years have influenced me like Double Indemnity, The Third Man, Airplane, Jaws and Unbreakable. As far as directors go, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had an instant affect on me, but I also love the work of Orson Wells, Spike Lee and Clint Eastwood.

CC:  “Drown” is a cop drama with all the stereotypical characters one would expect from this type of film.  I really enjoyed your take on these characters.  I felt like some of the characters almost had a tongue-in-cheek quality about them.   Did you design the film to be this way, or am I just reading too much into it?

MR:  I definitely tried to make some of the characters tongue and cheek. Timothy Squalls (the police sergeant) especially. All of the films I’ve done up until Drown have been pretty much comedies or parodies. So I didn’t want to jump head first into the writing of this as a 100% hard-nosed crime drama. I figured I could have some fun with the characters. I think I found a good balance where people could take what was happening seriously enough with me and the cast still giving a little wink here and there.

CC:  Your use of irony in the film was excellent.  The title not only describes the climax of the film but also the state of mind the dirty cop has as well as his motivations for his actions.  How did you go about writing such a complex story?

MR:  Without spoiling too much I had the image of one of the last scenes of the movie in my head at first. I just kept thinking about that scene over and over again. Finally I decided to write a whole story around that scene and thus “Drown” was born. Writing the script took a few months, as I had several almost complete rewrites, and I frustratingly found myself in my room reading lines out loud to myself over and over trying to figure out if they sounded believable in any sense. I think being a comedy writer at heart really helped with the irony in “Drown”. Here I had to just tweak it from humor to drama. So I really constructed a whole slew of themes, characters and plot points to all lead up to the last five minutes of the film. It was almost like having a punch line first and then writing the joke that leads up to it.

CC:  I’m assuming  that “Drown” is your first full-length film.  What were some of the challenges you faced in getting this feature off the ground and completed?

MR:  Well, actually “Drown” wasn’t my first feature film, just my first one with an actual budget. I have made a couple of comedy features called “The Adventures of Matthew Robinson."  The first movie was sixty minutes and the sequel was eighty-four. They were really just made for Youtube and downloads. Those were shot just kind of willy-nilly with no trained actors, budget or real plot. With “Drown” I actually was shelling out the cash and kind of really going for it, so I suppose this was in many ways my first feature film. Budget and time were the biggest concerns getting this project off the ground. I luckily had a friend who became my director of photography named Bryan Deguchi who owned a high grade HD camera which cut down on some of our costs but in the end I still spent upwards of $300 which is a lot when you’re a college student contemplating selling your kidney for textbooks. I really wish that we had more money for sound and lighting equipment. Also since I wasn’t paying my actors I had to work around their schedule and that can bring up issues. I actually had to recast my two leads at one point because of massive scheduling conflicts.

CC:  What are some of the aspects of the film you are particularly proud of?

MR:  I’m very proud of the script for “Drown.”  It was the first time I tried to make something containing fairly serious subject matter and I think it turned out good. I also am very pleased with the characters and how the actors were able to act out my words and really make the people I had in my head come alive. It’s a very satisfying feeling when you see an actor deliver a line just the way you imagined it. Another thing I liked though I can’t take full credit for are some of the camera angles. I had been criticized in the past for bad camera angles and while it was far from perfect, I feel me and my director of photography were able to get in some great shots.

CC:  Talk about some things you learned as a new filmmaker while making “Drown.”

MR:  I definitely learned a lot about the right and wrong way to light a room and the importance of location when you don’t have the greatest sound equipment. I’ll probably be haunted forever by some of the technical mistakes in “Drown” but I’m hoping I’ll move past them and keep it from happening again. I also learned that when you are an independent filmmaker sometimes it’s better to just go with the more committed actor than perhaps the best one. As I mentioned earlier, I had to recast the two leads in “Drown” when the movie was already about 70% finished because of scheduling conflicts. I then had to scramble and luckily I found two good, committed actors in Andy Sidley and John Hays who were able to film all of their required scenes within 24 hours. I think at this level I’d rather have someone who could help me get the job done over someone who might have more of an edge acting-wise. That’s not to say my actors were chosen because of this reason, they all to me were great for the roles and I hope one day when they make it big they remember me. If I make it, I’ll certainly be giving them a call.

CC:  Any new projects on the horizon, or are you just focusing on marketing “Drown” right now?

MR:  I’ve got a lot of stuff on the horizon. I’m working for my college’s television station all the time, in particular a program called “The Randumb Show” which is a sketch comedy program. But I’m also working on a career in broadcasting as I have a radio show on blogtalkradio.com called “The Final Cut”. As far as film projects go I’m working on a period piece comedy based on the true story of a group of teens in 1970’s D.C. who, during a wild night which starts with them stealing a car, end up pretending they are in a rock band to avoid being arrested for trying to sneak into a concert. But I’m far from done with drama/action as I’m going to be directing a short film written by Shaun Maden currently titled “Lover Scorned” about a hitman who begins to question his line of work. I almost kind of wish all I had on my plate was promoting “Drown”.

CC:  Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?

MR:  I think the best advice I can give, and I’m admittedly no expert, is to just go out and make your movie. If you are a director, direct. If you are a writer, write. If you’re an actor, act. Who’s stopping you? Probably only you. Your movie might suck, but it could turn out great.  You never know. I 100% believe that filmmaking is a trial and error process and that you’ll almost never learn anything truly helpful in a textbook about making movies. Just go out, have fun, and make your vision a reality–an audience of only your friends and family is better than nothing.