On Following Intuition: An interview with filmmaker, Matt Mahoney

Field Notes Interview #73: Matt Mahoney, Filmmaker

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It’s often the difficult moments in an artists’ path that can give more room for creative experimentation. We chat with filmmaker, Matt Mahoney, about his life in film and how the tough times informed his innovation.

Matt Mahoney recently filmed a portrait of Marmoset artist, Rob Casmay (aka The Earth and Arrow), capturing his artistic process. This beautiful film moves in serene fashion with contemplative pacing, making for a thoughtful vignette. Matt simply followed the story, pressed record and let it unfold from there.

We got to know Mahoney, how music influences his work and how he continues to the follow the story wherever it leads him. Enjoy.

M: Who are you and what do you do in the world?

MM: I’m a guy from Phoenixville, PA who likes good food and great bourbon. I go to movies by myself on purpose. I’m an NHL fan. I have too much film gear. I’m a cinematographer and colorist on commercials, narrative film, and documentary productions.

M: How did you get into filmmaking?

MM: When I was younger I was really interested in animation and illustration. My parents put me in art classes and animation schools. It was one of the best parts of my childhood. My interest in filmmaking really started in those years. When I got a little older I’d borrow my parents’ video camera on vacations and just shoot whatever I saw, doing in-camera tricks that I thought were cool at the time. I shot these weird short films for a while and some really bad music videos for my friends’ bands while I was in college with a cheap camcorder and a borrowed copy of Final Cut Pro. I stayed with it though. Truthfully, I owe it all to my parents for allowing me to pursue my artistic endeavors.

M: Why filmmaking? Why do you gravitate to it?

MM: It’s hard to explain why I gravitate to it. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to learn. I make myself crazy over my own work. I spend a crazy amount of time on it and I’m certain that my relationships in life have been compromised by that. However, when I’m on set shooting commercials or working on personal projects, there’s a good feeling that sets in and I don’t want to be anywhere else. Nothing else matters. When the images I have in my head appear on the monitor as I imagined them, it’s a really cool feeling. I’ve been at this for 10 years and I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of cinematography as an art form. I’m hoping that one day when I’m 80 I’ll finally feel like I’ve got a grasp on it. 

M: What makes a good story?

MM: The easy answer would be that a good story grabs a hold of you and never lets go. The way I watch movies and TV shows now is complicated. I’m trying to break down how it was shot in my mind while at the same time paying attention to the story. The silver lining is when I realize that I’ve been sucked into the story and have forgotten all about all the technical stuff I’m usually paying attention to. That’s a really awesome feeling. When it happens I just surrender myself and take the ride. 

M: What was one of the most challenging or rewarding projects you’ve ever been a part of?

MM: Each project has its own set of challenges. Locations can fall through and gear breaks. The projects that are the most challenging and rewarding for me are the ones that carry the heaviest subject matter. Sometimes those are just tough shoots. At the end of the day I know I contributed to telling a really important story, and that’s what makes it worth it.

M: What went into your portrait of The Earth and Arrow?

MM: Rob and I have been friends for around ten years. He’s scored every one of my personal projects and when he signed with Marmoset I was really proud of him. I was thinking about how he started and how far things had come. He’s a pretty quiet guy if you don’t know him. I wanted to tell his story and I asked him if I could make a short film about his journey as a musician. He was into the idea and his personality 100% influenced the way I shot it. He’s at a crossroads in his life with balancing a full time job and being a musician. I wanted the cinematography to reflect that. I didn’t use any tripods or gimbals so the camera kind of felt like it was trying to stay balanced along with him. The use of slow motion in this piece was also deliberate. Rob likes to take his time with things. He’s introspective, cautious, and doesn’t like to be rushed. I thought shooting high speed helped convey that idea, even if only subconsciously. I like to let the stories I shoot tell me how they should be shot, rather than forcing my own aesthetic onto everything. We shot the whole thing with available light to keep things simple. It was just the two of us. I didn’t have a sound tech, which would have made things a little easier.

M: What role do you see music in film?

MM: I think music plays several roles in film. When you watch a film that has basically no soundtrack, it’s so jarring that you really notice it. We’ve gotten so used to hearing music that its absence can be as powerful as its presence. I think that’s something totally unique to music. At the same time it can be surreal when the perfect music cue swells into a scene and you just sit there amazed at whats happening in front of you. Music makes you feel, and it contributes to the emotional intention of a scene. 

M: What was the last album you listened to?

MM: I listen to a ton of soundtracks. I probably have as many soundtracks as I have albums from bands I like. Right now playing on my Spotify is an album called Aesthesis by Dead Letter Circus.

M: What would be the first sentence in a letter to a filmmaker just starting out?

MM: If you try hard enough for long enough, eventually you’ll succeed.



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