A returning Festival juror, this year for the Animation division, Matt Meindl in his own words is a kind of “hodgepodge filmmaker.”
Matt’s films are self-conscious and quirky, often including the filmmaker himself through image, voice, or narrative. Matt and I each returned to our hometown of Columbus a few years ago, and met one another shortly thereafter.
As a part of an ongoing attempt at highlighting the talented personalities behind the Columbus International Film + Video Festival, I conducted this recent interview via email.
Daniel King: Tell us a little bit about yourself, and what you’re currently doing.
Matt Meindl: Well, I’m very tall which makes it hard to find pants. When I was a teenager I started making monster movies with friends and eventually ended up at the University of Toledo, in the film/video program. The films I saw there by Chel White, Ann Marie Fleming and others really changed my idea of what a film could be and I began pushing myself to make work that was more personal and intricate.
I moved back to Columbus after graduating and have pretty much continued on that track. I’m currently trying to finish an experimental super 8 film that I’ve been shooting off and on for something like 5 years now called Inside Out/Side One. It’s a big nostalgic chunk of images and bits that are both old-timey and infinite. I’m trying to see how far I can take collage-style animation before I get bored with it. I’m also writing a new film about a regretful mummy.
DK: Your films blend a variety of visual languages, like stop motion animation, still images and eclectic film stock. Years ago, these were hallmarks of low budget filmmaking… but today it seems digital video is more economical than ever. What appeals to you about these practices?
MM: Yeah, I’m kind of a hodgepodge filmmaker. I’m always trying out different techniques and creating my own hybridized methods for animation, editing etc. The processes can be pretty tedious and shooting on 16mm and super 8 [film] may seem archaic but I think there is a certain look/feel/energy that is harder to achieve with digital media. Video is swell and cheap and practical but it’s also becoming more and more automated — which means that the results sometimes have less personality. But I’m not a total film purist; I shot Digital Underpants on HDV and I have all my film transferred to video for editing now.
So I sort of exploit what I like about both formats. I think it’s foolish to outright dismiss one or the other. People keep telling me that super 8 is disappearing but Kodak keeps releasing new stocks. In fact, there are more super 8 film stocks available now than in the 1970’s when the format was in its heyday!
DK: Recently you performed a live soundtrack to your film Mumble-Baby. That film strikes me as playful, but deeply personal… almost secretive. Can you tell me a bit about the imagery?
MM: Some of the imagery, especially the saturated sunset, was inspired by Richard Wright’s book “Uncle Tom’s Children” which I was reading at the time. Mumble-Baby was a student film that I made while I was both falling in love and listening to lots of prewar blues. So yeah, love and blues… two things that are emotionally resonant but also mysterious and elusive.
In the film, the wandering bluesman is always silhouetted in the distance, out of reach. You can never really get a handle on the blues because the world it grew out of is all but gone, which I guess makes it easy to romanticize. And love is even more intangible.
I think the playful aspects of the film come from using an optical printer to do the visual effects. Optical printing is an inexact science at best but can be great for experimentation.
I tried all kinds of techniques including multiple-exposure, bi-packing the film, re-photographing at different frame rates and blowing up super 8 to 16mm. I like to perform live music with it now because my singing on the original soundtrack is sort of embarrassing.
DK: Talk to me about where your recent film, T-Shirt of Me, comes from.
MM: T-shirt of Me is a super 8 comedy short with a pretty simple premise: what to do when someone gives you a t-shirt with a picture of your own face on it. It’s the idea that a lot of embarrassment and some grim social implications can arise from a silly novelty gift. Such a thing has never happened to me exactly but I have been in plenty of awkward situations that I over-analyzed to the point of ridiculousness, much like the main character (played by Natalie Lloyd) does.
The story came from Lyn Elliot, who teaches film at Penn State. We’d never met but I had seen her shorts at film festivals and thought they were uniquely funny. I read somewhere that she was interested in writing for other people so I contacted her, thinking we’d be a good creative match.
She emailed me the story and I wrote the screenplay from that so it was sort of a correspondence collaboration. I also showed Lyn an early version of the film and she suggested several cuts be made which improved things greatly.
T-shirt of Me recently screened at the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Boston Underground Film Festival and got an Honorable Mention at The United States Super 8 + Digital Video Festival.
DK: Do you know if Lyn saw any of your short films before writing the story? The subject seems well suited to your visual language.
MM: I mailed her a DVD with a few of my films so that she could decide if I was someone she wanted to work with. She hadn’t previously seen any of my shorts. And yeah, there is definitely a similar sensibility in our work. We both find humor in the mundane.
“Filmmaking used to feel like an imaginary friend but now it’s more like a Siamese twin.” – Matt Meindl
DK: If I handed you a million dollars today, how would you spend it?
MM: I ate lunch with Peter Kubelka once when he visited UT and he told me very politely, “You cannot earn a living making experimental films.” I put down my sandwich.
Kubelka is a significant avant-garde filmmaker whose work is preserved in the Library of Congress and even he has a hard time paying the bills.
So I have no grand illusions about making much money at this. I’m beginning to apply for grants and residencies but I’ll keep making films the way I want regardless ‘cause it’s too much fun and I’ve got lots to learn still. Filmmaking used to feel like an imaginary friend but now it’s more like a Siamese twin. Also, if you gave me a million dollars I’d take you out to Red Lobster. My treat.
DK: What have you seen in terms of the local film production community in Columbus?
MM: I can’t tell if Columbus’ film culture is expanding or if I’m just getting out more, but it does seem like there is a fair amount of new work being made and screened here. There are people making professional-quality (at least technically) shorts and features, trying to compete in the global film market. There are folks creating video art, installations and experimental work. I fall somewhere in between the two. In fact, I do a lot of my shooting alone in my apartment, hunched over my rickety animation stand. I think that sorta keeps me on the fringe of things, for better or worse.
There are other interesting people with fine arts backgrounds who are getting into filmmaking now and doing cool things. I’d like to believe that there is at least some degree of mutual respect among all of these folks as we’re all fighting a lot of the same battles for creation and community support.
DK: Filmmaking is often a highly collaborative process, requiring many hands to make short work of a huge multi-spindled beast. You’re willing to go it alone. Can you talk to me about the creative benefits of working alone in your studio?
MM: Films like Digital Underpants and Inside Out/Side One were made with no script or structure in mind. I was just going on feeling and instinct. And as I filmed I began to see a movie forming and tried to follow it to a satisfying end. Working off-the-cuff like that is much easier to do alone.
I can just start and stop when I want, shoot more weeks or months later when ideas come, work weird hours or holidays etc. It’s not that unusual, really. I think a lot of experimental filmmakers tend to be fairly autonomous.
Now, for scripted narratives like T-shirt of Me I do assemble a cast and crew because that’s a different kind of production process where you very much need lots of extra hands and brains. Those shoots tend to be more memorable ’cause of the friendships that develop and the creative energy that everyone drums up. And sometimes there’s catering.
DK: What keeps you creatively motivated when the energy runs low, or the money runs out?
MM: If I’m feeling low or lazy I might work on some element of a film that’s just busy-work like cutting out pictures or digitizing footage. That way I can still get a little something done each day. Working by myself on animated stuff is actually a great way to keep from going broke because it’s such a slow process and there’s so much for me to do that I can barely shoot more than a roll or two a month. So my expenses get spread out over several months or more. I do have to be careful though ’cause I pay for everything outta my own pocket.
Screenings & More:
T-shirt of Me will be screening at the Brooklyn Lyceum on July 10th as part of a Flicker NYC show (Flicker NYC)
Digital Underpants will be included in the Journal of Short Film, Volume 15 which is produced locally, available now, and includes works from 6 other filmmakers from around the world. (Journal of Short Film – http://www.thejsf.org/) (PS dear readers, an interview with its publisher coming soon!)
Matt’s MySpace filmmaker page: Updated list of screenings, DVD’s for sale, or watch selections of his shorts.
You won’t regret supporting a local filmmaker by picking up Matt’s DVD of T-Shirt of Me & Digital Underpants (in much higher, crystal clear resolution than the myspace versions) thru his Myspace page.
FACEBOOK – Befriend Matt at Facebook.com/optyprinty