Matt Wilson is a Melbourne based freelance film director. He’s highly regarded in ad agency land – he’s worked for many prestigious clients here and internationally… big names like Coke, Pepsi, McDonalds and Nokia, to name a few. His work has taken him to all the corners of the globe – from Melbourne to Mexico, Egypt, America, India, China… the list goes on!
The standout feature of Matt’s work is its unmistakable visual appeal. His creative vision is clear and uncompromising – from the production design, through to the cinematography and final effects in each of his projects. His trademark, though, seems to be his masterful weaving of motion graphics and type into his films. These superimposed elements are seamlessly intertwined with the live action footage, in a way that is rare in TV commercials these days. The result is delicate and thoughtful… not brash and full of branding!
His website is really worth a look… be sure to check out his reel, but also take a look at his photos… beautiful stuff.
BUT before you do that… read his interview! He gives a candid insight into his creative process, his inspirations and the development of his personal style. Also – nice to know coffee making does lead to success in the end!
Tell me a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing now?
I studied Graphic Design/Photography at Monash then went immediately into a small film production company; it all grew from there….from coffee maker to tvc director! I never formally practiced graphic design but I have kept an interest in design and photography and that’s constantly influenced my work.
What are some of your projects/clients that we might be familiar with?
Projects you might recall here in Australia are Kayser, HWT, Kit Kat, Nutri Grain, Big M, Melbourne Central and Greenpower. Over the years I’ve shot for most of the big advertising agencies in many different countries. The clients you would know are Coke, HBA, Nestle, M&M’s, Kellogg’s, McDonalds, Toshiba, Pepsi, Nokia, VB, Corona, Mazda, Hewlett Packard and Heineken.
How do you approach a brief – what process do you go through when coming up with your initial treatment?
My approach varies a little based on how I am briefed and what style of film it’s proposed to be. Sometimes a brief is restrictive and sometimes it more open, same for all of us I guess?
I receive briefs as scripts, usually including an agency storyboard and sometimes with some other reference. I only write up a treatment after I have spoken with the creative team, it’s a way I can learn what their creative vision is, and what they have gone through to get to this point. I listen to the verbal brief and I’m able to ask questions and get deeper explanations.
I use a notebook everyday and I start a treatment by writing and drawing up my ideas, also importantly I create my own storyboard. I just go for it at this point, it’s stream of conscious, scribbles, hunting and gathering, chopping things up, tearing things out, very organic. Then I simply cross out the dud ideas or leads and circle the things I like and begin to refine them.
I find the time consuming part of doing a treatment is sourcing and creating visual reference. I try to avoid showing the work of others as reference. I prefer to combine things together to illustrate the mood I’m after. In SFX jobs it’s a bit different, I really enjoy piecing the puzzle together so we can get (shoot) the best with a finite budget. Stuff like the possibility of shooting two scenes at one place to avoid moving the crew, and little tricks of the trade. Also stuff like, should I shoot everything in-camera on location or maybe a combination of 3D and in-camera etc. It’s in SFX jobs where my version of the storyboard and matching shot list can become very, very detailed.
My final document with images is written up in Pages and sent out as a PDF.
Your work has a very stylised design aesthetic – how much freedom do you have when determining the ‘look’ of your commercial work? And what factors do you think have determined your style over the years?
I have quite a lot of freedom creating a “look” because this is what my clients are looking for from me; they are not looking for someone weeping after an auto accident, that’s for a different director. I’m the “give me a look” director!
What’s determined my style is my ongoing interest in design and my ability to combine on set experience and knowledge with what can be done in postproduction. When a job calls for graphics I have been very fortunate to collaborate with fantastic designers, I can talk “design-speak” with my team.
One of the recognisable features of a lot of your work is a really interesting use of superimposed text and motion graphics… how do you design these graphic elements? Do you have a clear idea of how these effects will look before shooting, and if so, how does this effect the production design and composition of the shot on shoot day?
Yes I’ll certainly go into a shoot with a very clear idea and I know the capabilities of what can be done in post. It all starts with a pen and paper and the pen and paper method continues throughout each project. When a client needs instant explanation I’ll flip open my book, sit beside them, draw and explain.
I’ll design and suggest a style once I’m comfortable with the overall personality of the project – is it to be bold aggressive type, delicate, fast or slow etc. This appears in my treatment, usually on still images.
When I am into pre-production I lay graphics on the stills I take at the chosen locations (I may have presented with stills from my collection), or ideally I have the designer I’m working with take over and create a test design and animation also over a still image. This way we know how much negative space we’ll use for type and decorative elements, get a feel for texture and importantly how much screen time is required.
Are there any particular designers, artists or creative people you look up to or are inspired by?
There are so many inspiring people! This week it’s Tomokazu Matsuyama, Thomas Campbell, Robert Frank, Guillermo del Toro, Lee Friedlander, Stephen Shore, Bill Henson, Daido Moriyama, William Eggleston, Ed Ruscha, Eugenio Recuenco, Psyop, Shilo, Stardust, Imaginary Forces, David Lynch, Michel Gondry, Steven Soderbergh, Wilco, Devo, The Editors….
Are there any jobs you would turn down?
I’ve knocked back cigarette commercials.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
There’s no typical day but they all start with coffee.
What are you most proud of professionally?
That I still have ideas flowing and that I’ve successfully collaborated with people from other cultures and passed on knowledge. Also I have evolved as our industry changes and won a few awards along the way. One week I’m proud of a certain job, the next week I’ll hate it!
Where do you find inspiration?
From my son Curtis, wife Joy, from friends, from surfing and music. I find inspiration when I relax, when I take away the pressure of “got to think up something cool right now”. If I distract myself something materialises!
What’s the best thing about your job?
It’s spontaneous. New ideas and ways of thinking, variety, interesting people, travel and when I receive genuine positive acknowledgement and thanks for my work.
And the worst?
Disappointment, exploitation and misinformation.
What would be your dream project?
A sci-fi film or a Radiohead music video.
What are you looking forward to – professionally or personally?
Learning and moving forward, working again with some of the people I have become friends with and enjoy collaborating with.
What’s on your ‘to do’ list this week?
I’m in pre production for a 2 day shoot, I’m working on a number of treatments, I’m helping a photographer with some shots, I have a location survey, my website and reel update is in progress and to see Died Pretty and drink beer.
What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?
Capellini at Blue Tongue.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Surfing early, then taking my son Curtis to Taekwondo.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
Albert Park Bookshop.