Interview by Natalie Hulla; posted by Dustin Jenkins
We caught up with second-year M.F.A. student Matthew Herbertz to hear more about his recent accomplishments in the Film division.
NH: So, congratulations are in order for your film Suction and for the grant you got!
NH: Let’s start out with the film festival acceptance. It was recently accepted to…
MH: The Ivy Film Festival in Rhode Island. It’s at Brown University. It’s a graduate and undergraduate film festival. I started submitting to festivals only two months ago, so I haven’t heard back from many of them. I’ve only heard back from three. So, this is the first acceptance and I’m pretty excited about this one because I always look at the festivals before I submit to them, or when I’m waiting to hear back, and I was looking it up and there were films from NYU. All the graduate films were from NYU, Columbia, USC. And I was like, “Well, I can scratch that one off.” And then when I got the email, I thought it was a rejection. So, it was nice getting the first acceptance. Hopefully I’ll be competing against -- in the graduate category -- against the NYUs and stuff like that.
NH: Yeah, that’s cool. So, Suction was made in your first year.
MH: Yeah, it was my Film 2 in my first year. I figured that this one would be hard to program, just with the weird content. So, programming that in the festivals I thought would be kind of hard. I expected getting a lot of rejections, but now I’m glad that I found a fit in this festival.
NH: Well, I’d like to highlight the content of the film. In one or two sentences, what is Suction about?
MH: Suction is about an older woman who’s living alone and a mysterious vacuum cleaner shows up on her door, and out of interest and loneliness, she takes the vacuum into the house to explore with it… You know, vacuum cleaners are somewhat sexual, phallic symbols, so it turns that way. On another level, a latent level, I really like the film because it has a lot of different themes. A lot of themes on domestic life and a woman’s role in the house and also domestic housework and what that means. And loneliness, I think.
NH: Yeah, is the content of the film -- did that contribute to your film festival strategy?
MH: Yeah, a little bit. Some of the festivals I submitted to were, like, more women’s festivals, which I thought would be a good thing and I can also see it as a risk, because I think some people might not interpret it the right way. Which is fine with me, but I think it makes strong statements about a woman’s role in general in society, but also connotations when it comes to sexuality and what that means, so I see some people being put off by it and some people understanding. It’s a pretty ambiguous film, I guess.
NH: Best of luck to you as it’s competing! Hopefully more festivals will scoop it up… To segue from Suction to your thesis film, you recently were awarded the Student Enhancement Award and that grant is for $6,000 that’ll go toward your thesis film for next year. So, tell me a little more about that production.
MH: Right. I can touch on it. So, I’ve been toying around with a lot of ideas and there were some grant deadlines coming up and I decided to just hunker down for two weeks and come up with something. Grant writing is a lot different than script writing or creative writing, so I tried to come up with a story that would latch on to and legitimize me wanting to get money from the school. So the original concept when I applied for the grant was about a man traveling Indiana searching for his missing brother, and it dealt a lot with mental illness and someone who’s delusional after a family member’s death. The script was about him finding out that his brother is dead, but since then the story has been progressing and I’m taking it in a different direction. I’m in the process right now, so I’m not totally, totally sure what the film is going to be yet, but it’s moving into a more a film about a vagabond wandering around, kind of wandering around Central or Southern Ohio and questioning his way of life and becoming interested in normal, ‘domestic’ life. So, it’s like a vagabond having a midlife crisis.
MH: What I want to try and do is flip it -- usually it’s domestic people who are having a midlife crisis and want to become vagabonds. It’s actually a vagabond who becomes interested in stability and what that means in society. So, it’s going that way. Whether or not it will touch on mental illness, I don’t think so anymore. But with these grants, as long as you’re submitting to them changes, they like to see that. As long as you’re letting them know, they trust you, they gave you money for a reason. So, I’m not too worried about things changing.
NH: So, have you figured out your creative approach to how you’re going to shoot the film? Or is that later on down the line?
MH: No, I usually start out with visuals and stuff like that. It’s just the way I work. So, I started out with a strong visual -- even for the previous idea -- of a man on this old, rusted bicycle and just riding around in spaces. Spaces is a big influence for me in this film. How someone is wandering and moving through spaces. So, my process right now, what I’m trying to develop, I’m watching reference movies and things that are being recommended to me. But also, I’m trying to go to locations that I might be interested in and just listen to music and walk around. Feel what it’s like to walk through those spaces. And then have that influence the way in which I’m going to approach production. I’m really leaning towards everything being handheld and on steadicam, and this gliding, flowing feeling. Basically, hopefully, for five straight days, we just get this actor wandering through spaces and interacting with people and hopefully cast some other people for him to interact with, and find out what happens. Like, he walks through a town that isn’t on the rise, like Nelsonville, walking through there. Possibly him breaking into a suburban house, seeing what that’s like. Having these fragments, but I’m not totally sure yet.
NH: Yeah. Were there any courses or classes that you took this year that you see are influencing your approach to the film?
MH: I’m taking two documentary courses this year, and I’m really thinking that those courses with Tom Hayes and the one in the media school with Frederick Lewis -- just watching different styles of documentaries, I became a little more interested in that visual style. So, I think some of those classes have influenced me. But the majority of what’s influenced me is what I’m watching or what I’m feeling when I’m walking through spaces. It’s kind of weird and heady.
NH: I think that’s really cool. For a vagabond, I think space is obviously, extremely important and essential to telling a vagabond’s story.
MH: Yeah. I’m still trying to figure out what story I want to tell, but I feel pretty confident. I have visuals and emotions and colors and movement that inspire me. With my last film, my second-year film, that’s kind of where that started out, too. Images, colors, feelings. I translated that into a story somehow.
NH: When are you hoping to film? Is it too early to say?
MH: No, depending on whether or not I have a new draft by the end of this weekend, and if I can start moving on pre-production stuff in the next couple of months, I would really like to shoot at the end of the summer. This summer. I’ve talked to my director of photography, Tom Digges, who shot my second-year film. He’s on board for this last weekend in July, so I’m thinking of doing that. But it all depends on if I can lock some crew and casting, if I actually have a story.
NH: Cool! Best of luck to you, again. I’m excited to see how the film comes together. Thanks for sitting down with me.