On Saturday 7th July, I battled my way through the LA heatwave to Mimi’s Cafe, near Griffith Park to meet writer, director and producer Michael Matteo Rossi. England had beaten Sweden that morning and there was a replay on the TV screen at the bar. Michael turned up wearing an England shirt, which was surprising and sweet. We had a nice chat over ice-cold waters:
FU: Could you introduce yourself to our readers please?
MMR: My name is Michael Matteo Rossi, I am a writer, director and producer. I have been doing all three for 12 years. I started when I was 19 in college at San Diego State, I graduated from there in 2009 and came back to LA and have been living up here ever since. Professionally, I’ve been doing it for the last 5 or so years. I make somewhat consistent money, this is my exclusive job, this is all I do. To be honest, directing is number one, followed by writing, followed by producing. Producing, of course, is that necessary evil. It’s the business and numbers and all that, there isn’t as much creativity as opposed to directing and writing. But I do all three. I try to stay prolific, I try to make one film a year at least. And for the last couple of years, I’ve delved into mostly just doing feature films, so full-length films that go out and get distributed.
FU: What started your passion for film, as a child? Were you parents in the industry?
MMR: My parents actually aren’t in the industry. Nobody except for my younger brother, who’s a screenwriter is in the industry. So, I didn’t really have a leg-up with it. But my Dad did love cinema and he’d show me a lot of the classic films, he’d show the classic TV shows, like ‘The Twilight Zone’, he’d show the Hitchcock films, classic Film Noirs and that really influenced me. Because as a kid, I would watch them and I just knew from an early age that I wanted to be involved somehow.
Interestingly enough, I actually started in theatre. I did acting; I was in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, ‘Bugsy Malone’, ‘Annie’, I did some Shakespeare plays. So I did that up until I was about 15/16, when I took a creative writing class and that’s when it shifted. I knew I wanted to do writing and tell my own stories. And then in college, direct my own stories. So, I knew pretty early that that is what I wanted to do.
FU: Did you study film in college?
MMR: I did Television, Film and New Media with an emphasis on Critical Studies. But the first short that I made, when I was 19, it was a 4 minute short, it wasn’t a student film. This was a real film, it got into the Burbank Film Festival and I never looked back. I figured I wasn’t going to wait till after college to start making films, might as well cut out the middle man, you know? There you go.
FU: I want to ask you about your first experience working on a film set. What was that like?
MMR: Well that was on that first 4 minute short, I put out an advert on MySpace, of all things (which was really popular at the time). I found a great guy, Josh, who wanted to act in it but also helped me produce it. So we teamed up, we packaged people together, we shot it in one day. I think the whole thing took about 6 hours, it was very smooth. For a first experience, it was brilliant. But for me, it just opened up this whole new world to me. I really saw the process, from start to finish, I worked with my editor on it after and I just loved the process. I loved working with the actors. I mean it’s just like learning a language; you can learn it in class, but actually being there, being out in the field, being in another country, that’s when you learn the most. I learned more on that first project than I learned in some whole semester-long classes, so it was a great first experience for me. You have to get out there and do it. Absolutely.
FU: How did you get started in the industry?
MMR: I feel like everybody can go out there and try to do something, especially in the age we live in now, when even phones and other technologies are so much more accessible, so that’s the approach that I took to it. I reached out, so I tried to bring some other creative minds together and I just did it. No excuses.
FU: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
MMR: To be honest, it’s networking. It’s meeting people, it’s building relationships. That’s the thing. You could be the most talented person, you could have the greatest content, but if you don’t have the proper avenues to get it out there, it’s just going to sit on a piece of paper, it’s just gonna sit in your mind. So, working with people that share that same passion that you do – that’s the best advice that I’ve ever gotten that I still apply to my career now.
FU: That leads me neatly onto my next question which is to do with financing and funding. I think that’s something our readers will be mainly interested in. How do you get from a script or an idea, how do you get the money? I think that’s everyone’s main concern!
MMR: I think that’s the thing – to cut out the middle man and get right to the point. I will say this, and I don’t want to frustrate your readers, but there is no right way to find the money. There’s not ONE way. Of course, I know a lot of people use IndieGoGo or Kickstarter, yes that’s an option. I’ve never used that. Here’s the thing. Knowing even a couple of wealthy people that believe in the content and believe in your work, that want to put in a little bit – that’s it. And then you argue well how do I even get money for a short? You don’t get your money back there. That’s where maybe your Kickstarters can help a little bit. But knowing a couple of people, building a team, finding people, with short films, who will say OK we’ll do it for much less – that type of thing is very important. Meeting people who aren’t going to charge you an arm and a leg at first, that maybe just want to make films.
And then once you start getting into the features; there is money out there. There is more money than you may think. For me, the financing that I’ve gotten from investors, they were actually not film-related investors. These were people in real estate, or doctors, business people, restaurant-owners. It’s proving yourself, too. Especially with a feature film. Make shorts first. Have proof of content. Have content under your belt before you’re ready to ask for something in the five figures, or even four figures. Because even wealthy people, they don’t want to just throw their money away. They want some sort of incentive, so they can think “OK – this could make money. It’s a speculative investment, but at the same time, I’ve seen your other work, I’ve can see who you have involved.” And it all goes back to networking. You never know who you’re going to meet. I’ve met people that have helped me, investment-wise, on Twitter. Seriously, social media. So success breeds success, that’s what I think.
FU: So what would be your top “nuggets” of advice?
MMR: Well first of all, I know I’ve already mentioned it, but networking. That’s number one.
And my other one would be; whether you’re a writer, whether you’re an actor – practice your craft in some way every day. Every day do something that is going to move you forward. If you’re an actor, maybe study a monologue, tape yourself doing it. If you’re a writer, write! If you’ve got writer’s block, start a new thing. Write on a napkin, write on a piece of paper, go old school! If you’re a director, film some stuff.
Compile a little short yourself, edit it yourself. Keep your mind sharp. Every day.
FU: Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment? Can you tell us anything about your next project or your latest project?
MMR: So actually, starting July 30th, I’m going to be doing my feature film that’s called ‘Chase’. It’s a thriller-crime-action film. Little bit like ‘John Wick’ meets ‘Drive’. That’s going to be the biggest feature film that I’ve done, to date. It’s going to be an 18 day shoot, we’re shooting most of August. We actually have a couple of recognisable faces in it as well that you can look and see on IMDb. We’ve been in pre-production for three and a half months. We’re shooting all in LA. Actually, tomorrow we’re having a big cast and crew meeting where we’re going over some of the fight choreography and some of the gun prep stuff. Is it stressful sometimes? Yes. But I feel really good with the cast and the crew that I have. I’ve worked with a lot of the crew before and a couple of the same cast people before. I feel ready for it.
FU: And finally, for the most important question: Does pineapple belong on pizza?
MMR: No. No! I would not eat pineapple on pizza. I’m not that picky with some foods, although I hate cilantro (coriander). It tastes like soap to me.
I then asked Michael a few questions based on his short film ‘Always Remember’
FU: I really liked the music. Was it an original composition or was it a found piece?
MMR: It was an original composition. It was original music from a composer that I actually went to High School with – Marty. We had worked together on something before. He did it from scratch. We’d send him the assembly cut with no music, I’d given him a couple of samples of what I was trying to look for, in terms of style. He’d come back to me with the score and I’d say ‘this works or let’s tweak this.’
FU: How did you find the young girl?
MMR: The young girl was recommended by the guy who plays the husband in it. He had worked with her on a feature where she played the daughter of Adrien Brody and Salma Hayek; ‘Septembers of Shiraz.’ So I met her and she was fantastic. She actually had a role in my last feature film ‘Sable’ as well. She was great to work with, very mature. She was 11, but she looked younger. She looked more like 7 or 8.
FU: And the filming location? How did you find that?
MMR: We filmed that at my next-door neighbour’s place. He’s actually my mentor, his name is Robert Mintz – he actually wrote some of the ‘Batman’ from the 60s. So he’s been in the business a while. He’s a great guy, so we filmed there. It was the perfect location obviously!
FU: I found the signing between the father and the daughter interesting. You didn’t use subtitles when they were signing, you went more for a lip-reading approach. I was wondering what your thought process was behind that?
MMR: I thought I didn’t need subtitles because it was kind of implied what they were saying. I think that you could see it in their facial expressions and their emotions, so we pretty much get what they’re saying. That’s what I was doing with that.
Thank you very much to Michael for taking the time to talk to us here at JUMPCUT and good luck with ‘Chase’!
You can keep up with Michael and his latest work over on Twitter