BlueCat Alumni Matthew Saville: Success in the Industry
Matthew Saville is a New Zealand-based writer and director who recently released his short film Hitch Hike. We did an interview with Matthew to hear more about his path to success and thoughts about the film industry as both a writer and a director. Check it out below!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm a South African-born New Zealander. My mother is Kiwi, my dad South African. I was born in Durban. We moved over to New Zealand when I was six. Mum didn't want me to grow up under Apartheid. I grew up on a farm and went to boarding school. I currently work as a writer and actor in New Zealand.
A number of American shows are shot in New Zealand and I've been lucky enough to be in a few of them-Spartacus and Legend of the Seeker. Outside of acting, I write freelance for film and television in New Zealand.
Most recently I appeared in a Kiwi feature called The Most Fun You Can Have Dying. Currently I'm acting in a 13-part Drama called The Almighty Johnsons and I'm developing a TV series for the company that made that show.
My wife is a novelist and my son Hector is 3 years old and he's awesome!
When did you realize you wanted to make filmmaking your career?
I've always wanted to write and about ten years ago I started writing films. Before that I wrote theatre. My first play was a vaudeville theatre hybrid that told the story of Bob Fitzsimmons-a crazy Kiwi boxer who coined the phrase, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall." Fitzsimmons won the world heavyweight championship and used to drink with Theodore Roosevelt. My second was about a Maori soldier who went off to fight in the Boer war in South Africa.
How old were you when you made your first short?
Sixteen. It was a music video to Ice T's "Cop Killer." It was edited in camera. There was a lot of blood and guts. My mates and I were really into Peter Jackson and Sam Ramie's early films. I still have a soft spot for Army of Darkness and Brain Dead (Dead Alive).
Did you attend film school?
No. I went to Drama School and studied theatre and design at University.
Where did you get the inspiration for your short film debut Hitch Hike?
Hitch Hike was inspired by three separate events: my experiences of hitchhiking through New Zealand, the story of an adopted friend, and a chance meeting in a bar with a character very similar to Maka. After a few beers, I asked him why a brown man would a have swastika tattooed on his face. His answer struck me as quite profound and is included verbatim in the final scene of the film.
How many screenplays have you written?
Eight or Nine. Some have been optioned, a couple have almost been made and another was a finalist in the Final Draft big break competition.
How has feedback from Gordy's workshop helped you with your scripts, Demolition Daisy and Dive?
After the workshop I was determined to finish Demolition Daisy. It was nice to get confirmation that the idea is really strong. Gordy gives really honest criticism and feedback, but is generous with his praise. It's a great combination, which means you have something to build on. Honest feedback is really important in writing.
Did you use the notes from BlueCat competition to improve your short script, Hitch Hike?
I entered the script in the Fellini competition. I think I was a semi-finalist. I knew I was going to film it so it was really important to me to get the script right. I didn't want to waste the money I had raised to make the film by not making sure the script was perfect.
It was very interesting to get the perspective of two different readers. One scored it highly but another thought it was pretty unoriginal.
I decided to enter it because I'd had such a positive experience previously with BlueCat. After utilizing some feedback from a feature I wrote in 2010, I entered it in the Final Draft Big Break competition and was a finalist.
Do you notice a difference in how Americans and New Zealanders approach filmmaking?
From the creative side, not really. We both have a wealth of talent in terms of the skill and craft. Sometimes I think Americans seem a little more confident.
Americans have a strong philanthropic side as well. We don't really have that philanthropic side in New Zealand culture. No one in New Zealand is rich enough to give you money to make your movie. The Kickstarter thing doesn't work so well over here because of the limited population. However, everyone is keen to work for nothing if they like the story and you put on a good spread.
On the financing side, you have very different models. Talent-based and commercial in the US, versus a government-funded bureaucracy, which tries to be talent based and also to meet commercial and cultural mandates, in New Zealand.
I would say in some ways it may be easier to get a start over here, but it's probably harder to build a lasting career, unless you're a producer. In terms of script development, I prefer feedback from American readers.
What do you find more challenging, writing or directing?
The joy of writing is the creating and the conception. They joy of directing comes from seeing it come together and making it work. Collaborating with and getting the best out of people is exciting. Directing is more intense and really engaging. It forces you to really question your writing and be more specific. Writing challenges your sanity-it's very introspective! Directing is more of an extroverted occupation.
What are your greatest fears about screenwriting?
That my work won't connect with its audience the way I intend it too.
You've written films in all genres. What genre is your personal favorite and why?
As a kid, that question would have been easy to answer. Spaceships always took me to a very happy place. Now it's too hard of a question to answer. Now I simply judge films by whether they move me.
In terms of what I write, most of my work is comedy and drama. Hitch Hike is a drama set in the countryside on New Zealand roads, but there are elements of humour. My next film is a dark, surrealist comedy set in a bathroom.
When you found out you were one of a few to receive the grant from the New Zealand Film Commission, who was the first person that you called to tell?
For Hitch Hike, my DP. To tell him he was still going to have to work for free.
What is the highest filmmaking goal you've set for yourself?
Well I hope to make my first feature soonish. After that, it's more of a desire to keep telling stories that are moving. In the long term I want to work outside New Zealand as a writer and director. Hollywood would be great. My dream job would also be scripting and directing the kinds of drama and comedy shows that HBO makes-authentic and original.
You just finished shooting another one of your scripts entitled Dive. What are you most proud of with that film and how do you feel it compares to Hitch Hike?
I guess that's for the audience to decide. We've still got a long way to go in terms of post production on Dive so it hard to compare. However, the two stories are polar opposites in terms of style and execution. Hitch Hike is inspired by real events. Dive is inspired by a surrealist painting. Hitch Hike was shot outside with mostly natural light. Dive was shot in a studio. In terms of the craft of film making, Hitch Hike was a simple road movie. Dive is a real step up in term of using all the tools of filmmaking to tell a story that could not be told in any other medium.