What was your filmmaking background before making The Little Tin Man?
MATTHEW: I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit. My college didn't have a film production program, so I created my own major and apprenticed under a filmmaker who was a professor there at the time. After graduation, I moved to New York City and got a job on a big movie set (American Gangster). Then took an internship at a small production company (GREENESTREET FILMS).
Both of those experiences showed me that no one was going to walk up and say, "Hey, why don't you direct the next one?" So I started doing my own thing and making shorts. Little by little, my work got recognized and I continually got more resources for the next project.
Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like? How did you and Dugan Bridges work together?
MATTHEW: My co-writer Dugan Bridges and I met our lead actor, Aaron Beelner, back in 2004 at The University of Georgia. He was getting his MFA in Acting while we were studying film as undergrads.
We were really intrigued by his plight as a little person and wanted to write a script based on his experiences. As an actor, he was always being typecast in exploitative roles. While most thespians have experienced some form of rejection in their career, Aaron can't turn that off when he walks out of an audition room.
We felt his story was the perfect metaphor for anyone who has ever felt overlooked; or told that they couldn't achieve something because of who they are. Feeling like an underdog is universal. The Little Tin Man allows audiences to walk in someone else's shoes and be inspired by the journey.
Dugan and I quit our jobs to write this script. It was a full time effort. We'd spend the first hour of every writing session talking about everything but the script. It was a distraction purge... just get it all out up front. I always found that really useful. Then we would dive into the material with me manning the computer. The ideas would bounce around the room, but we both had to agree on something for it to make the cut.
How did you cast the movie and did the script change much once you had your cast in place?
MATTHEW: My team had just raised more than $100,000 on Kickstarter and was ready to rock. I needed to cast three principal actors, and from everything I’d heard, signing on a respectable casting director was the first step. But everyone was too swamped for my small project.
Armed with an IMDbPro account, I began cold calling agents and managers to “check avails.” Some were cordial, while others ignored me. One graciously responded, “With your budget, you’d better have the best fucking cast in the world to make this work!” But I persisted and started thinking outside the box. I really wanted “A-list talent,” so how could I find the next big thing?
Having a background in comedy, I looked to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, the launching pad for many great performers. This tireless search led me to a 30 Rock writer named Kay Cannon.
Cannon considered herself “a performer first, who just happens to write.” While she only had a few supporting roles in films, I saw something in her that was perfect for our female lead. I contacted her manager and sent over a formal offer. As fate would have it, she loved the script and had an opening in her schedule before leaving to become a writer-producer on New Girl. We set up a call, and she asked me if I was open to improvisation during filming. Since she has won WGA and Peabody awards and been nominated for Emmys, I agreed, and she signed on.
Cannon’s instincts as a writer enhanced her performance tremendously. We left a lot of room for improv in each scene, and she was constantly adding layers to her character and making the overall story better. My risk paid off. But you want to know a secret? I never considered it a risk. I knew Cannon had the chops from the moment I saw her. Later that fall, my instincts were confirmed again when Pitch Perfect became a box office hit and pop culture sensation. Largely credited to whom? Screenwriter Kay Cannon.
Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?
MATTHEW: Kickstarter is now a pop culture phenomenon, but we launched our campaign well before anyone even knew what the site was. I think we were the 8th film to raise over $100K. It's a stressful 30 days. We were sitting about half the money until the final hour. I guess I am a sucker for photo finishes.
As for recouping our costs, bare minimum, the film will get a digital release and be on VOD in early 2014. But we're still praying for something bigger.
What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?
MATTHEW: We shot on the RED MX. Because the technology is changing so rapidly, sometimes you can get a great deal on the previous generation. In general, I was very happy with the image quality. You can do a lot with 4K. My complaints are pretty common: occasional overheating and a slower workflow.
Did the movie change much in the editing and, if so, why did you make those changes?
MATTHEW: This movie was MADE in the editing room! When you allow for lots of improvisation, a scene could sometimes go in 5 different directions. Particularly with comedy, you have to decide where jokes are appropriate for that particular moment. My editor, Gordon Holmes, and I were constantly trying different combinations. Audiences have been very pleased with the final choices.
What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?
MATTHEW: The smartest thing I did was to cast people who were super funny in their own right and fit the part to a tee. I've always heard that casting is 90% of a movie working.
The dumbest thing I did was not having enough hands. Granted, this was an honest mistake given our microbudget, but one that I will never make again.
And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?
MATTHEW: You don't have to be the smartest person in the room, but always be the most prepared.