Matt Huffman (USA), Actor and Producer, is known for his work with director Clint Eastwood on Flags Of Our Fathers and Blood Work. Matt joins BBFF 2014 from LA for the international premiere of his film, When My Sorrow Died: The Legend of Armen Ra & The Theremin, at Opening Night at the 8th Byron Bay Film Festival.
Here’s what we learned when we had the chance to speak candidly with Matt about some interesting moments he had producing this film.
What was your biggest inspiration to make this film?
Failure. I found the challenges of the position of producer incredibly satisfying. To fail creating this would have hurt personally and professionally. I was not going to fail my role leading and supporting the others committed to creating this fantastic vision. It’s a goalie’s mentality, last line protective instincts kick in. It quickly became clear that this project was good, and worth all my time. There’s a special forces saying that states, “Who Dares Wins”. I’m finding I’m a risk taker, and an entrepreneur as a producer. This was something I believed had incredible up side and that I could get this made, and people would love it.
[ There’s a reason there’s a curtain in the theatre. When the show is ready, the curtain is raised. At that moment I get insanely excited, and happy.]
As a filmmaker there are many ups and downs in the process, what was your absolute favourite/funniest part of making/producing this film?
Most recently, I stood in the back of the theatre as we premiered in Hollywood and I heard rolling laughter. Reference upon reference was landing, and moments were affecting viewers. The audience was with Armen, genuinely moved, interacting emotionally to the music and stories. An emotionally connected audience presents the highest goal of the theatre experience I hope my films create. To hear them have that connection was a visceral high.
Getting accepted to Byron Bay was another huge moment. I was at my father’s home in N.Y. with my extended family, and wondering if the film would go anywhere. My patience was thinning. Checking my email that morning, and reading Byron Bay Film Festival accepted us, and the programmers were so enthusiastic, it was a great rush. This success brought me a great moment of joy, that I could celebrate with my family in my childhood home was very surreal. It brought a perspective that focused me on what could still be ahead, connecting through how far I’ve come. It was a conscious entree to the next step, both with the film, and with my life. Producing this film directly created that experience of life retrospective.
Also, the day the poster image arrived, the poster stopped the office in its tracks. Photographer Tim Palen’s poster is amazing, and you can not walk by it. To see that image blown up as a theatre poster was another moment of connection recognition. It was…”Oh. Yeah. That’s my movie I’m looking at. That’s our poster I’m experiencing.” I relive that moment as a favorite a lot.
Armen Ra is a wonderful character with quite the personality, what was a personal life lesson you gained whilst working closely with Armen?
Armen and I were neighbors, and both shared an understanding of theatre arts before we started this film, so the personal relationship was in good shape and I somewhat understood what I was in for making a personal documentary.
A life lesson I took away from the experience came from one of Armen’s close friends. She encouraged me to listen and re-enforce the positive positions when I heard them, to maintain the level of the present situation at the last positive gain. Whenever we were at an impasse, or people became exhausted from intense days, or wanted to go a different way, I could reinforce what we’d gained, and at least not go backward before going forward again. This seemingly small lesson, “maintain the positive position”, has become a touchstone message for me since.
What does a film festival like Byron Bay Film Festival mean to you and your work?
First, I just want to say, I don’t know of any other festival “like Byron Bay”. From everything I have read, Byron Bay has become a must attend on any filmmakers festival list. It’s an incredible honor to screen here, and be nominated like we are. This will be When My Sorrow Died‘s International Premiere, so I am incredibly excited about the expanding opportunity The Byron Bay Film Festival presents. It’s also on the short list of the coolest festivals to attend, as well as a great chance to travel, which I love. Really looking forward to experiencing Australia for the first time.
Byron Bay Film Festival showcases an array of entertaining, inspiring and thought provoking films. How do you believe When My Sorrow Died helps people open their aperture?
Well, no one has ever seen anything like it. If we were an aperture we’d be wide open. It’s a visual feat, for starters, and I’m very proud with the film’s look. Armen is genuinely unique, a true original in who he is, and how he expresses himself. All the archive footage will give four decades of evolvement for them to experience. Byron Bay’s audience will get to see a story that touches on many of todays social topics, sexuality, bullying, equality, artistic expression, fashion, all beautifully shot in a gorgeous visual experience. Then, Armen will be in attendance and a follow up panel interview with Ed Gibbs… Talk about access and chance for fans to rally and meet Armen in person We’re beyond the aperture now. Also, when do you get to hear a master Thereminist play an amazing concert, to just sit and listen to the incredibly expressive sound in a dark theatre? These moments all together are incredibly rare. The audience spends the first half of the film hardly believing what they are seeing. To get to experience this as part of the film festival over ten days in Byron Bay? What a fantastic opportunity for any film fan.
What is the best piece of advice you can give to future independent filmmakers?
I can only reference to what on When My Sorrow Died worked for me, because every experience will be different for every person. What can I attribute to our film? Start close to home. Armen was my neighbor and friend. Start with something you know, or can become incredibly familiar with, and look forward to spending a lot of time getting into that subject or story. Start with like-minded friends, who are free, encouraging, and participants who are willing and excited to back you up, this will stimulate creative solutions. Be open to them, this group will make you the movie. Budget beforehand so you don’t have to worry about being cheap. If you have to spend, spend the money on the best, but seek value of ability, not cost. Keep a few fire extinguishers close by. Don’t be afraid to fail, but never stop pursing solutions. The show must go on. Use every minute up to your deadline, but be prepared and finished when you get there, so all you have to do is turn it in. Lastly, stay quiet about things until you are ready to act on them, don’t show works in progress, only show someone the polished product, then stay quiet and let the truth of the work imprint the experience on the viewer. There will be no excuses at this point. You’ll know at that moment if you accomplished the experience you set out to create. It all comes down to holding the audiences’ attention and creating an emotional connection, that’s powerful entertainment, and vision, and they’ll respect you for it.
Six things you didn’t know about Matt
Growing up I used to dream of…flying in a crew chief’s seat in a helicopter in Vietnam, weird, I know…
My biggest influence at the moment is….James Turrell, the artist. I just saw his retrospective at the LACMA. His use of light and design and the illusion experience he creates before the eyes of the viewer has been crushing my mind. If you don’t know Mr. Turrell’s work, you should.
To get inspiration I…travel.
To unwind after a hard day’s work I….have problems doing this. I go to work with the mentality that I’m going to sea. On a ship, you serve the ship 24/7 till you return to port. But when I do get a minute, I often watch the sport of Hockey, ride a motorcycle, and do the dishes.
The last movie I watched was….The HBO series True Detective is shot on film…does that count, because it’s awesome.
The feeling I get when I watch my own film…I’m happy. When it’s done, it’s great, it’s what I worked for, and chased all this time. If it’s not great, not what I saw in the story, not there yet…then no one’s watching it at a public level. There’s a reason there’s a curtain in the Theatre. When the show is ready, the curtain is raised. At that moment I get insanely excited, and happy. If the audience agrees, and enjoys the experience, I am ecstatic!
This magical film is a must see. For more information and to buy tickets click here.