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



American Tintype: Skywalker Ranch

Scott R. Lewis mixing American Tintype.

Two years ago, I visited Skywalker Ranch for the first time to meet with Bob Edwards and talk about the possibility of working together on Mr. Happy Man. Bob gave me a tour of Skywalker Sound and one of the people he introduced me to was Casey Langfelder. Casey was the sound effects librarian at the time, overseeing the hundreds of thousands of proprietary sound effects. It was his job to cultivate the growing collection, as well as tag the sounds with descriptors and catalogue them for easy search within the facility. 

Over the years, I caught up with Casey whenever I dropped by to visit. Last fall, I was excited to hear that Casey was transitioning to editorial work. When I decided to make American Tintype, I had working with Casey in mind from the beginning. Casey took a look at some footage and jumped on board as sound designer, bringing Scott R. Lewis into the mix (pun intended) to help out with the final assembly.

Scott was great in the room, getting everything done quickly and efficiently and working with us on further tweaks. One of the highlights of working at Skywalker Sound is meeting new people, so it was a pleasure sitting with Casey and getting to know Scott and his buddy Jeremy Bowker at lunch. We talked a bit about photography and I discovered that Jeremy's father, Terry, is a pilot who dabbles in photography as a hobby. The quality of his work is pretty incredible, I highly recommend checking out the photos on his website.

Casey and Scott cutting up in the D. A. Pennebaker suite.

Catching up with Bob Edwards, the coolest guy in any room. Bob mixed Mr. Happy Man and his recent work can be heard in Beasts of The Southern Wild.

With the mix finished, I had time to enjoy being at the Ranch. It was the first time I was able to stay on the property at the Inn, so I was excited about exploring. I'd never been in the main house before, and the lovely Eva Porter was kind enough to show me around. It's hard to describe how beautiful the house is. Every corner of every room is filled with gorgeous furniture, paintings, antiques, and the occassional Star Wars or Indiana Jones prop. 

Lucasfilm Research Library.

 The highlight of the main house is easily the Lucasfilm Research Library. The arts and crafts style room is filled with tens of thousands of books and other research materials. Everything has a soft, warm glow, thanks to the massive stained glass skylight above. Robyn Stanley, one of the librarians, helped me find a few books related to tintypes and took me over to the old Paramount archives to find some tintypes that had been kept on file as reference material for period films. 

Outside the Main House.

I spent most of my free time exploring the property on a bicycle. There are lush gardens filled with vegetables that are available to employees, vineyards, olive trees, lakes, and more wildlife than you can imagine. A small family of foxes were always around the Inn, and it's not uncommon to see large groups of wild turkeys intermingling with deer and quail. 

 There's also a barn area with horses, longhorn cattle, goats, and very free-range chickens (I spotted a few roaming in the woods).

Filmmaking, especially at a large scale, involves maintaining focus for long hours under intense pressure. Working in a beautiful, natural environment is so restorative, relaxing, and creatively inspiring that its easy to see the value of having post-production facilities nestled in the rolling hills of Marin county instead of the traffic-clogged streets of West Hollywood. That kind of atmosphere attracts the best talent and keeps filmmakers coming back with new projects. The Ranch has become one of my favorite places in the world, and the thought of working there again fuels my ambitions to make bigger and better films. 



American Tintype: Hanan Townshend

Ever since I discovered The Thin Red Line in high school, I've been a fan of director Terrence Malick. A few months ago I was watching The Tree of Life and a particular piece of music resonated with me. I tried to locate it on the official soundtrack, but it was nowhere to be found. With some digging, I discovered it was composed by Hanan Townshend. If, like me, you're a completist, you can find all of Hanan's work on the film on iTunes.

I got in touch with Hanan to let him know how much I enjoyed his work. We exchanged emails around the time I was toying with the idea of making a film about Harry Taylor and the tintype photographic process. I'd never worked with a composer before, and Hanan's style seemed like a good match for the tone of the film. Though I'd intended for the film to be very small in scope and quickly put together, I decided to send footage to Hanan. We talked on the phone for a long time and luckily for me, he agreed to compose music for the film.

Working with Hanan has been an incredible experience. Previously, I've always edited footage around a piece of music. It was a real luxury to edit the film beforehand and have the music support what I'd put together visually. I loved the discussions of what instruments to use (Hanan first suggested the double bass as an anchor for the tone of the piece, since the wood and brass reminded him of view cameras and tintype photos) and it was a great opportunity for me to brush up on some classical music terms in an attempt to better communicate. The music gradually shifted and expanded, with Hanan always pushing the piece into new territory. To paraphrase a friend, a good collaborator will execute your vision, but a great one will surprise you with ideas you'd never have thought of yourself.

The footage above is courtesy of Russell Bush. Hanan composed the music for Russell's film The Vulture Project and a portion of American Tintype was recorded during Russell's session. Russell was kind enough to capture some of the process. You'll also be able to hear more of Hanan's work on Terrence Malick's upcoming film, To The Wonder.

I love the piece of music Hanan composed for American Tintype and I can't wait to work with him again. It's always a pleasure to discover people who are as friendly and hardworking as they are talented. 



Johnny Barnes at 89

I shot this footage of Johnny in his garden the day we met. He warns of the consequences of being grumpy.

Johnny Barnes turned 89 last month, so I called him today to find out how he's doing. I received the usual Johnny Barnes phone greeting ("Good morning, I love you, I love your family, this is Johnny Barnes.") and we had a nice chat. As to almost hitting ninety years of age, Johnny said, "I'm only 89. I'm just a little boy!"

Johnny was grateful for the birthday messages and cards he received from all over the world. As for the rest of his birthday, it was pretty low key. "Nothing special. Just ordinary. No cake. I don't need to put on any more weight. Just take it easy, you know? When you get to be my age, you gotta take it easy."

He's been having nice days at the roundabout, waving to commuters and speaking with tourists, many who saw him in Mr. Happy Man. "People from all over the world, they come to visit. They know where to find me, so I don't have to go to them! They come to me!"

We also spoke about gardening ("You've got to put work in it. You don't put nothin' in, you won't get nothin' out of it."), food (Johnny hasn't eaten meat or dairy since 1950, when he was warned it wasn't healthy for him. He loves eating bananas from his garden.), and relationship advice ("Tell her you love her in the bedroom, tell her you love her in the kitchen, tell her you love her every day!").

He's looking forward to another 89 years of health and happiness. His advice for the rest of us? "Keep it cool and keep it sweet."



Dropping by The Barbershop

I filmed Pickin' & Trimmin' in 2007, and since then I've been back about once a year. My favorite thing about The Barbershop is that even though some things change, most of it stays the same. No matter who may have come and gone, the music, friendship, jokes, and delicious peanuts remain.

Last year, however, was the first time I was genuinely concerned about the shop. There was serious water damage to the floor and ceiling, and the shop as a whole was in disrepair. Carroll, Lawrence's son, started a Barbershop Preservation Fund and I made this video in order to bring more attention to their situation: 
Fortunately, with the release of Pickin' & Trimmin' online, donations started coming in. Some local folks donated lumber and labor, and they were able to refurbish the shop.

In June, I screened Mr. Happy Man for a Mountainfilm on Tour screening in Cashiers, NC, and took the opportunity to drive to Drexel and visit with the boys. I was glad to see that the shop looks great and there was plenty of top notch bluegrass in the back room. I shot a little video during the visit.

It was great to see everyone in such good spirits. More needs to be done, including installing a new heating and air system, so any donations are much appreciated.

 Donate to The Barbershop Preservation Fund Online

To donate by check, send a payment made out to “The Barbershop Preservation Fund” and mail to:

Barber Shop Preservation Fund
c/o  L. C. Anthony
2744 Monarch Dr. 
Charlotte, NC 28214



American Tintype

Welcome to the new Matt Morris Films website!
I'll be using this blog to provide updates on the subjects of my previous films, as well as offer a behind-the-scenes look at whatever I'm currently working on.

With that in mind, I'd like to announce my next short documentary, American Tintype.
Self-portrait of Harry and me at the end of filming.
American Tintype is a 4 minute film about Harry Taylor, a North Carolina photographer who specializes in antique photographic processes.

When I released Pickin' & Trimmin' and Mr. Happy Man on Vimeo, I realized how difficult it is to ask for 10 to 20 minutes of someone's attention on the internet. I thought it might be fun to make a film with a running time of less than five minutes. I hadn't shot any of my films entirely myself, and I'd been wanting to try that out as well.

Not long after, I came across an article about Harry and was excited about the prospect of getting tintype engagement photos done. It would be a unique experience, and having a one-of-a-kind physical object as the end result, instead of a CD full of jpeg files, was really appealing to me.

The process was fascinating. Harry's modified 8x10 view camera looked more like a piece of furniture than a camera, especially in an era when most people just use their phones to take photos. There's also a reason why you never see people smiling in 19th century photos- you have to sit perfectly still for about 15 seconds in order to get a decent exposure. Shifting even the slightest amount can result in a blurry photo, and since it takes about 10 minutes to make one image, there's a lot of pressure. 


I was thrilled with the results, so a few months later I returned and spent an afternoon filming with Harry. The film has been edited and should be released at the end of August. One of the most exciting aspects of this particular film is the people I am collaborating with. I'll be writing updates shortly to let you know who they are and how they're contributing to the film. 

In the meantime, wander around the site, and check out the new Matt Morris Films page on Facebook.


Thanks to Stuart Hobday for creating such a great website! 
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