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Matt's blog for exclusive behind-the-scenes photos and videos, news, interviews, updates with film subjects, sources of inspiration, and more.

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Wednesday
Jul302014

Got A Girl

I met the multitalented Mary Elizabeth Winstead through her writer/director husband, Riley Stearns. Mary recently collaborated with producer Dan The Automator on a music project called Got A Girl. It's a fantastic album- alternatively fun and moody, and soaked in vintage French pop and orchestrative hip hop. Sort of he musical equivalent of wearing a velvet smoking jacket and drinking Champagne.  

Mary asked me to direct a series of teasers for the album and I jumped at the opportunity. I've been making documentaries for so long that I've been dying for a chance to try something new. The idea was that the teasers would mostly be inspired by quirky vintage advertisements, with a bit of French New Wave thrown in for good measure. We collaborated with Maker Studios and were able to knock out 10 spots in one day. The idea was to keep everyting simple and abstract, that way we could play with ideas and make things up on the day if we wanted. 

We shot on an Sony F55 with a Fuji Cabrio 19-90 lens- my first time with this camera and a really great experience. DP Jon Na and the rest of the crew were great at switching set ups and keeping things as simple as possible in order for us to maximize the limited time we had available. I couldn't believe we were able to do everything we wanted in one day. 

The post-production was a rush as well- they started rolling out online a week after our shoot. I stayed up editing the night of the shoot and had two spots cut together by morning, which were then color-corrected that afternoon. My friend Diego Ongaro provided the heavily accented narration from his cabin in the woods of the Berkshires via the power of the internet, despite being in post-production of his own film, Bob and The Trees.

I was extremely lucky to work on the color with Natasha Leonnet at Modern Videofilm, who squeezed me in between projects. It was a joy sitting down and establishing the two "looks" for the spots (including glorious film grain), which she would later apply to the others as I finished editing. Sound was edited and mixed by Brandon Proctor at Skywalker Sound. 

Working with a talented actor certainly has its upsides. When I make documentaries, I can't explicitly tell people what to say or do- I have ideas of how I want things to go, and I try to create situations where they will happen without me forcing it. It's an interesting process, but can certainly be frustrating if things aren't going the way you'd like. And of course, the subjects are people who are not familiar with the mechanics of filmmaking, and aren't sure how things will look or cut together, which often works against you. This was a very different experience.

The first spot we shot was a single take of Mary listening to the album. Mary had the idea of using a specific song and we wanted to use a slow zoom and have her eventually look directly down the barrel of the lens. There were a few moving parts here- mostly in terms of timing, and I had ideas about how I wanted Mary's movements to progress, but I figured we'd shoot one just to see how it looked so I could better describe what I wanted and how we should change things for the next take. Instead, Mary nailed it on the first try and every one after that. Her control over her movements and understanding of the progression of feeling was spot on. The mood of the piece was perfect, and it's still one of my favorites.

The rest of the spots were a lot of fun to conceptualize and shoot- especially when you have an excuse to paint a chicken gold or saber a bottle of Champagne in slow motion. Both Dan and Mary brought a lot of great ideas to the table. 

The album is out now and I highly recommend checking it out. Mary can next be seen in Riley's feature film FAULTS, which premiered at SXSW this year. The glimpses of the film that I've seen are enormously exciting- Riley is one of the rare talents with a unique voice who knows exactly who he is as a filmmaker right from the start. Both Mary and Riley are wonderful, inspiring, and talented people, and make me want to move into more narrative filmmaking as soon as possible.

M

Thursday
Dec262013

Albatross

Whenever I discover something new and interesting, I become consumed by the desire to learn more about that subject. For the last few years, I've been practicing photography as a hobby. During my college years, I was fascinated by wine. I was lucky to live near Chapel Hill Wine Company, which is, in my opinion, the best wine shop in the country. The owner, Todd Wielar, would spend hours patiently answering a myriad of questions about why I liked certain wines and didn't like others. I read books, attended tastings, and scoured auctions for odd and interesting bottles. One of my better finds was a particularly obscure bottle of 1980 charbono which also happened to overlap with my interest in filmmaking. 

1980 Niebaum-Coppola Charbono amongst a few other older wines.

The wine was produced as a Christmas gift from the Coppola family in 1982. For me, the label was a fascinating piece of film history. Francis Ford was arguably at the height of his career as a director. Eleanor, Sofia, and Roman would all eventually direct feature films. Sadly, Gian-Carlo died in a tragic accident just four years later.

There isn't a huge market for 25 year old charbono, so I was able to pick it up for about $20. I drank the bottle the next Christmas, which seemed fitting, and really enjoyed it. I kept the empty bottle and it always occupied space near my editing desk. That year, I started making documentaries and as a result, the time I devoted to wine dwindled.

Oak Knoll Ave in Napa, CA, shortly after the 2013 harvest.

This last year, my wife Emma and I moved to Napa. I remember looking at the Coppola bottle with new eyes and wondering if we could do something similar. The connection between film and wine in the bay area is stronger than you might imagine, with Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and John Lasseter all making their own wines. Why not give it a shot?

I've been directing videos for a few wineries and have gotten to know lots of people in the wine industry, and so I started asking questions. The result of all of these questions is ALBATROSS, a 2011 vintage Napa Valley red wine blend. The juice that went into this wine was blended from a high-end winery's declassified barrels and, as a result, I'm not allowed to go into too much detail about exactly where the grapes were grown and who the winemaker was (to all involved- you know who you are. Thank you!) However, that won't always be the case. This is just the first of what I hope will be many collaborations with winemaking friends to create small production wines for friends and family.  

The back label of ALBATROSS includes a quote from The Rime of The Ancient Mariner.

One of the most exciting parts of the process was designing the label. One of my favorite artists, Manfred Krankl, also happens to be one of the greatest winemakers in the world. Manfred and his wife Elaine own and operate the boutique winery Sine Qua Non. I've always loved that Manfred changes the names and labels of his wines each year, following whatever creative path he chooses. As the saying goes, "Good artists copy, great artists steal." I stole quite a bit from Manfred, as well as Bond's Matriarch and Herb Lamb Vineyards.

Jen Kruch proofing artwork at Shipwright & Co.

I collaborated with my talented sister-in-law, Jen Kruch of Shipwright & Co., on the label art. The label is based on a favorite poem of mine, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, which is available to read online at The Poetry Foundation. A Gustave Doré woodcut of an Albatross served as the main inspiration for Jen's illustration. The labels were letterpressed at Ligature in Berkeley, CA. 

Polaroid from prepress at Ligature.

I told a few friends about the project and most had questions about the wine- what varietals were used in the blend? What did it taste like? When should it be opened? As a solution, I thought it would be nice to have an informational card to go along with the wine. When Emma and I were in Florida for a wedding, we spent a night in Winter Park and stopped by Rifle Paper Co. to see our friend Anna Bond.

Polaroid of Emma and Anna at Rifle Paper Co., which suffered some unfortunate damage thanks to Florida humidity.

Anna's a highly accomplished artist and a wonderful person. She created the logo for my business cards and this website, and I couldn't help but think it would be funny to replace the film camera with a glass of red wine. Fortunately, she had time and I love the result. Rifle's wedding project manager, Brittany Stephens, did a brilliant job perfecting the layout of the card. 

Signing the ALBATROSS informational cards made by Rifle Paper Co.

Luckily, my buddy Jake was in town when the wine was ready to be picked up after labeling, and helped me transfer it to storage in my office.

H Street Cellars cellar master Jake Riehle doing some heavy lifting.

I'm still working on getting bottles to friends and family, so the timing could have been a little better, but I'm thrilled with the result and the sheer fact that something like this was possible so soon after moving to Napa. Over the last few years, so many people have helped me in so many ways, both professionally and personally, that it's a privilege and a pleasure to be able to give them a bottle of wine as a small token of appreciation.

I've already begun to plan for next year, which should be even more exciting...

-Matt 

A vineyard in St. Helena that contributed fruit to ALBATROSS.

ALBATROSS 2011 RED WINE

Winemaker Notes: ALBATROSS offers sweet black currant intermixed with smoky oak, loamy soil, licorice, and vanilla. Medium to full-bodied with a silky texture, low acidity, and ripe tannin, this luscious 2011 can be enjoyed over the next decade.

Technical Data:

Alcohol: 14.6%

Composition: 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot, 5% Malbec

Appellation: Napa Valley (50% Calistoga, 45% Oakville, 5% St. Helena)

Barrels: 60% New French Oak 

Cases Produced: 15

Wednesday
Sep112013

Black and White

A few recent shots on Ilford black and white film- my personal favorite.

Emma in Eagle Harbor, MI. Nikkormat FTN 55mm f1.2 Ilford Delta 100

Emma in Eagle Harbor, MI. Nikkormat FTN 55mm f1.2 Ilford Delta 100Bodega Bay, CA. Nikkormat FTN 55mm f1.2 Ilford Delta 100J.C. Penny, Petoskey, MI. Nikkormat FTN 55mm f1.2 Ilford Delta 100 Eagle Harbor, MI. Nikkormat FTN 55mm f1.2 Ilford Delta 100MJ, Chateau Boswell, Calistoga, CA. Nikkormat FTN 55mm f1.2 Ilford Delta 3200MJ, Chateau Boswell, Calistoga, CA. Nikkormat FTN 55mm f1.2 Ilford Delta 3200Lail Vineyard, Yountville, CA. Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515-2 f6.3 Ilford Delta 400

Tuesday
Aug272013

The Joys of Instant Photography

A few months ago, I was in Los Angeles and grabbed coffee with my friend Eric Steelberg. Eric's a talented cinematographer and mentioned a piece of gear he wanted me to check out. Expecting the latest digital gadget to appear out of his bag, I was surprised to see him pull out a large brick of a camera that I'd never seen before. It was a Polaroid 180 Land Camera from the 1970's.

This was not the type of Polaroid I was familiar with. Eric had one of those as well, a SX-70 loaded with Impossible Project film. But it was the 180 I was drawn to. He arbitrarily took a photo, pulled the sheet of film out of the camera, and 90 seconds later peeled away a photograph of incredible quality. Unlike most Polaroid cameras, the 180 has full manual control, the image is rectangular instead of square, and has a nice white border. Fuji still makes two film stocks for these types of cameras- a 100iso color and 3200iso black and white. Even better, you can buy them on Amazon with free shipping.

I couldn't help but but think of Harry Taylor, this subject of my short documentary American Tintype, and his work. There's something amazing about having a physical photographic print in your hands moments after the photo is taken through a purely mechanical and chemical process. No electronics involved. With Eric's encouragement, I set off to find one for myself and within a month, found a lovely 180 on Ebay.


It's been a joy- The photos look amazing, and everyone gets a kick out of seeing the camera and how the prints develop. My heart always beats faster during the 20-90 second wait during development- as I peel away the photo, I wonder, did I capture the moment I wanted? Did my tricky double exposure work? When everything goes well, the feeling can't be beat.

At the same time that I've embraced analog instant photography, I've also spent more time using Instagram (@mattmorrisfilms). I should note that previously, I'd dismissed both Polaroids and Instagrams as gimmicks. I've had people ask me, "Why take a polaroid when you can get a much better image on medium format? Why use the iPhone when a 5D is a much better tool for the job?" Personally, I thought Instagram was more about people being excited about what they were seeing, not how they were seeing it. However, I couldn't deny the appeal of a more visually dynamic photo being taken on a phone. As I've used it more, I've come to really appreciate it as a photographic exercise. Unlike my 5D or Nikkormat, I have my phone on me at all times. It forces me to constantly think with a photographic mindset. The social aspect of it is nice as well, and it's allowed me to discover some wonderful photographers whose work I might not have otherwise discovered.

So what do the old school and new school have in common? For me, it's all about constraints. I find that embracing limitations allows for creative solutions you might not otherwise find- similar to poetry written with specific rhyme and meter. Both my phone and the Polaroid use fixed lenses and have limited controls. The final product comes directly from the device that took the image, and there's the pleasure of seeing the finished photo within minutes of having an idea. Is it making me a better photographer? I hope so. But mostly, it's just a lot of fun.

-M 

More on Land Cameras:

http://photoboothsf.com

http://landcameras.com

A few photographer friends on Instagram:

Riley Stearns

Ben Knight

Michael Ragen

Adam McDaid

Doug Nichol

Wednesday
Dec122012

American Tintype: Method Studios

On all of my previous films, I've created the titles myself. The process was about as rudementary as it gets, I just used Final Cut Pro's "Add Text" feature. I wanted to try something new and part of the fun of this project was reaching out and collaborating with people that I admired, so I asked Mike Dillon, my producer at EFilm, for advice. 

Mike put me in touch with Dan Masciarelli at Method Design, a recent addition to Method Studios.  Dan produced the titles for The Avengers, Captain America, and Cloud Atlas, so I was really excited to speak with him. With small projects like this one, you never know how committed large, established companies will be. Fortunately for me, Method was willing to give my little project the full feature treatment, and as a result I ended up with an end credit sequence that really lifts the piece as a whole to a new level.

Dropping off gelato for the hardworking Method team. Loved seeing the signed Tree of Life poster at reception!

The Method Design team for American Tintype: Kaya Thomas, Hee Bok Lee, and Mary Melendez.

When I was in Los Angeles to work on color correction, I was also stopping by Method to work with them on the titles. Kaya and Hee Bok came up with some great options, and from there we worked out a concept- essentially the end credits would visually mimic the process of a tintype developing. 

Going over Kaya and Hee Bok's initial design ideas.

The title card background would be tintype plates immersed in a liquid like the "fixer" used to develop a tintype. The credits appear and disappear as more plates are developed. The color scheme would also move from a blueish black and white to a brown image, much like a tintype does during development, and ultimately "dry" at the end. 

Filming the liquid elements.

Kaya and Hee Bok filmed liquid elements and then combined them with some After Effects work. Even though filming the liquid elements gave them more work to do in what little time they had, they did it anyway because they knew it would lend itself to a better result. I was impressed with their enthusiastic attitude- with small projects it can be difficult to find people willing to go out of their way to make something the best it can possibly be, but as you may have read from previous blog posts, I was lucky to have brilliantly talented collaborators throughout the post-production process.

Months have passed and I still can't get over how great the titles look. I hope I'm lucky enough to work with Method again in the future!

-M 

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