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Academy Winning Advice - From Oscar Winner and NY Filmmaker Luke Matheny
Written by: Kelly Calabrese
Oscar statue in hand, NY filmmaker Luke Matheny announces, "I should've gotten a haircut!"
Reaction = Roars of laughter... because truth seeps beneath the surface. It opens eyes and create life's funniest moments.
Funny, honest and a very hard worker, Luke Matheny enjoyed his biggest moment to date as he accepted the 2011 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film for God of Love; a comedy about a lounge-singing darts champion who receives a package of love-inducing darts.
In addition to winning an Academy Award, God of Love won a gold medal at the 2010 Student Academy Awards; special jury recognition at Aspen ShortsFest; as well as first prize and the King Award for Screenwriting at the NYU First Run Film Festival.
Luke Matheny wrote, directed and starred in the film as his thesis at NYU's prestigious graduate film program. Already, Luke has several feature films in the works. His career, in flight for sure!
So, how does Luke Matheny induce love into his films and characters? NYCastings found out when we chatted with him...
How to Hit The Double Bull, with Luke Matheny:
Q: If you think of making films as a game of darts, how would you describe your unique process?
My game of darts would be a boring, pleasant game of darts. My style is pretty concentrated on unglamorous, tedious preparation so once we get to set we just paint by numbers until the movie is made. I like to keep all drama in front of the camera.
Q: When you first made God of Love, what goal did you aim for?
It was a student film, through the program. I was hoping to get into a couple of good festivals and get attention from an agent. The film met those expectations quite quickly. Now, with the Oscars, it wildly exceeds the expectations.
Q: God of Love played at over 40 festivals - was that all through Withoutabox? How did you score so many?
It was all Withoutabox applications. Some we got into, some we didn't. I applied to a lot of places. Occasionally, some festivals would invite me to apply but that was the minority. After the nomination and Oscar, I have gotten several more invitations.
Q: When did you realize that this film was on target?
There are two bulls eyes you are aiming for. One... Is the movie working creatively? And two... Is the movie going to help my career in a real way? It was easier to gage the creative success just by showing it to classmates who didn't know me in the editing room. I was happy with how it turned out. Then, it becomes a waiting game to see if anyone will agree with your friends. The Student Academy Awards, during the summer of last year, was how I got an agent and that got me a lot of attention. I definitely thought that would be the culmination of the film's journey.
Q: How did you go from winning the Student Academy Award to an Oscar nom?
In that category, there are a large number of qualifying festivals. If you win a festival, you can submit to the Academy Awards. By winning the gold medal at the Student Oscars, that qualified me to submit. From those who chose to submit, it gets narrowed down to a ten film short list. It got carved down to five and then it carved down to me.
Q: You also star in the film. What came first - a love of acting , writing or directing?
People ask me to rank acting, directing and writing. I will say that to me writing is easily the hardest, most important and most rewarding of the three. It is a maddening process, as well. It is easily more agony than ecstasy. But to me, the writing is hugely what will determine how the movie is in the end.
Directing is a treat if it is all going well and harrowing if there are hiccups. We were lucky to avoid most of those.
Acting is tricky for me to say because the character that I play in this film - I wrote for myself. It's not too far from my own personality. It wasn't really a miracle of chameleonic transformation or anything and I was pretty busy on set, which was good. I didn't have time to over think the performance, so I had spontaneity.
Q: To that point, what are the benefits of writing your own material and acting in it?
If you have a specific tone in mind that you are trying to get across in the film, writing for yourself increases your chances of delivering that tone because you don't have to expand to another person. You can do it the way you envisioned it.
Q: What was the sharpest point / lesson learned during God of Love?
Looking back, it was such a lucky time. It was largely pleasant and boring, which was a blessing. There was a PA that did not show up the day of check out, so I had to drive the grip truck everywhere. But in retrospect, that doesn't really bother me that much.
I think the same lessons that apply to any difficult task apply to filmmaking. It requires the right mix of preparation, patience, good humor, generosity and hoping for the best.
Q: What do you look for when casting actors?
I hate the casting process. I am always just praying that the next person who walks in will be perfect for it. I want it to end as quickly as possible so we can get to work on rehearsing.
I guess, any actor who walks in the door is battling this image that I, as the writer, have in my head. So, you either have to match that image or come up with something better than I thought of. If the actor has accomplished one of those things, then they will make the call backs
Q: So, is it important for actors to do prep work and take chances?
I am less interested in the homework, although I certainly appreciate that stuff, than I am in their flexibility on the spot. It is going to be very hard for an actor to come in and have in mind exactly what the writer had in mind. It is really that second reading where you say, "let's try it this way," where the real opinions are formed.
Q: Do you always give a second shot or only if you think the actor is right for the part?
I probably should just not waste people's time but you never know if they just had something different in their head and you have to give them that chance to make amends.
Q: You mentioned in your acceptance speech, that your mom did craft catering? How was it working with your mom on set?
That's a good call, if you can have your mom cater. And I think it's helpful to have a mom on set because it automatically turns down the dial on a lot of people. Its awkward to scream at the director over something stupid, when the guys mom is right over there.
Q: What advice has kept you inspired?
I followed the guidance of my supportive professors at NYU and my classmates who I learn just as much from. The film school community is a nice one because we all work on each other's films. I was the assistant director on my cinematographers shoot. I was a producer on my assistant camera person's shoot. I produced my composer's shoot and co-wrote my script director's film. We are all going through it together, that's been a huge part of the process.
Q: Based on your process, do you have advice to pass on to other filmmakers?
This is a week after one of the biggest success of my life, so it is hard to really point to exactly what led to it. The one thing I will say is that the movie was not made to satisfy a certain audience segment that a studio market division determined. There was no consideration for things like how it would be received and by whom, only in the most general ways as to would it work or not. Point being, I made a movie that I would really enjoy watching . I think you have to trust that it will tap into something universal. If you enjoy watching it, then someone else will to. The most important thing is to find a style that works for you, or a strategy that works for you.
Q: Do you think the same goes for acting - that actors should find a style that works for them?
Actors have it way harder. The impulse is to do exactly what the director wants. You are always battling what is expected of you and what is in your gut. Actors have a tough road and I deeply appreciate their contributions to the movie.
Q: God of Love has magic, love-inducing darts. When did you first fall in love with films?
Starting when I was twelve or thirteen, when American Classics came on cable and they specialized in older Hollywood stuff. I am so in love with those kinds of movies. I am a real film fan. When I was twelve, I read a biography of Sam Goldwyn. I thought was inspiring.
Q: Where do you keep your Oscar?
Right now, it is in the pantry. It is by my film festival supplies - envelopes, postcards ,video tapes and fabric softener. I don't know where to put it.
Q: You have a Bachelor's Degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. As a writer, what questions would you ask yourself in an interview?
The thing that I am always praying for journalists to ask me is about my strange trivia super power, which is that I happen to have committed to memory every Best Picture winner of the Oscars. It is a useless and somewhat pathetic skill, but I thought, "Finally on my way to winning an Oscar and all these people interviewing me, I could finally put it to use." But only one person did ask me.
If you name any film from 1927 to present, I can tell you who won best picture.
Great super power, Luke!
Next up.... A feature length script that Luke hopes to direct and act in. No doubt, Luke Matheny will soon be committing his own name to memory for the Best Picture category!
CHECK OUT God of Love and learn more about Luke Matheny at...
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