Matt Bird: filmmaker on the rise

BY HEATHER GILL

Curator of short films at the NFSA, Heather Gill, speaks with up-and-coming filmmaker Matt Bird who is charting his own course in the film industry.

When Matt Bird’s University of Technology, Sydney, graduating film won the National Youth Week ‘Shoot-IT’ competition, ABC’s triple j film critic Peter Castaldi declared, ‘Australian screens need a future and this is it!’.

Since then Matt’s short films have won awards and been selected in festivals around the world. In 2013 he became the first filmmaker to be selected as a finalist for three consecutive years in Tropfest, the world’s largest short-film festival. He is the Director and Executive Producer of Sydney film company, Chesterfilm.

What led you to set up a production company?

Matt Bird: I’d been working for a number of years as a freelance director and decided it was time to set up a production company that would serve as a platform to develop my own film projects, while also catering to the needs of clients, agencies and record labels who were coming to me with projects.

You work with a number of regular collaborators at Chesterfilm. How has that ‘collective’ approach influenced your work?

By having a close-knit team of regular collaborators you develop a shorthand on set or in post-production, and that rapport can be invaluable when you’re under pressure or tight on time. But every job entails working with a new team to some extent, even if it’s just a couple of new faces on the crew. I’m always meeting and working with new people.

What’s the advantage of making short films?

Short films are where most filmmakers tend to start out. That’s not to say you can’t go back and make a short film at any point in your career – lots of people do – but short films are definitely a great place to learn your craft. Because of their duration they’re more attainable logistically and financially, but more importantly they’re a great way to master the telling of simpler stories before tackling the complexities of long-form narrative.

Your short films often play with people’s expectations with cinematic short-cuts created through lighting and sound. How does this help you to tell the story?

What I like about playing with people’s expectations is to think how someone will respond to something; to think what their conclusions about a situation might be based on ingrained prejudices that we all have at some level, and then subverting those perceptions. Cinematic devices such as lighting and sound are a great way to get around certain limitations such as resources or budget. Sound especially is great, because it leaves much more to the imagination … Suggesting something is often far more compelling than showing something.

 

What is the best and worst thing about the short-film festival circuit?

The best thing about it is having your work seen by an audience and the feedback and exposure you get from that experience. Once you get into a couple of festivals, it becomes a little easier to get into other ones. Momentum builds. The worst thing about it is the time and cost involved. There are thousands of festivals, so it can be very daunting for a filmmaker to navigate that world. Nearly all festivals have an entry fee so it isn’t financially possible for most people to enter dozens upon dozens of them. Every application consumes a lot of time and being rejected can be pretty disheartening too!

Is there a platform that makes you excited about the future of filmmaking, distribution or audience interaction?

I’m a bit old-fashioned when it comes to watching films – I much prefer being in an immersive environment like a darkened cinema, than watching something on a tiny phone screen with distractions all around me. These new platforms are certainly fantastic for building audience awareness or distributing content, but I’m really hoping that the ritual of going to the movies – to the actual cinema – doesn’t become a thing of the past.

What is coming up next for you?

I’m currently writing a screenplay for a film I plan to direct, while also doing my regular directing gigs and Chesterfilm projects. I’m also attached to another feature project in development – a story that’s currently being adapted from an Australian novel – and that promises to be very exciting.

You can see samples of Matt’s work in short films, television, commercials and music videos on his website.