Exclusive Interview: Director Mattson Tomlin


Need further proof of the power of social media? Look no further than Mattson Tomlin, a sophomore at SUNY Purchase’s film conservatory.

He has a vision of turning the poem “Solomon Grundy” into a film, and he’s using the Internet to make it happen. He made a short film for $250, but his goal is to raise $10,000 to fund a “Solomon Grundy” feature consisting of seven vignettes, each based on a line from the poem. With the help of Facebook, Twitter and Kickstarter, Tomlin has already raised more than $7,500 for the project.

To find out more about Tomlin and his project, visit his site and check out his interview with It’s Just Movies below.

It’s Just Movies: In a nutshell, what is your Solomon Grundy project about?

Mattson Tomlin: It’s going to wind up being a feature kind of by accident. It’s a seven-part story based on a poem by James Orchard Halliwell that was written in about 1840. And the poem goes: “Solomon Grundy born on a Monday, christened on a Tuesday, married on a Wednesday, took ill on a Thursday, grew worse on a Friday, died on a Saturday, buried on a Sunday.” And the idea behind it is it’s this neo-noir thriller comedy that takes each line from the poem and makes it its own vignette. You wind up with these seven short films and when you watch it together, it turns into not a big story that’s all interconnected but a story of these characters and what they do in this weird world.

IJM: How did you come up with this concept?

MT: The poem has been around me my whole life. It was in a book my parents used to read to me. I always got very specific imagery from it. And then about two years ago, I was working on a short film and I thought, “Oh, I’ll just adapt the poem straight through, born on a Monday, christened on a Tuesday and just show that.” And that ended up not coming through, but I put a lot of work into it.

Then I thought it was time to try again. I really like this character. So I ended up shooting this seven-minute short, which is online now. And people really liked it a lot more than they’ve liked my work before. A lot of people asked what was going on with it, but I didn’t want to do anything unless it made sense to do it. But I thought, “Oh, I can really just take the poem and use it as the basis for that.”

IJM: What needs to be done to get the Solomon Grundy project up to the level where you want it to be, like finding a cast, funding, etc.?

MT: I’m in the middle of writing right now, so finishing that is kind of a big step. It’s nice because my core cast is kind of built in. I was lucky with my fundraising to have something to show beforehand, this thing that I shot for $250 in four hours. I had done the casting already, and just kind of said “this is something what it will be like but with a bigger budget.” There are about 40 speaking parts in the seven episodes, so that means I have to cast 40-plus roles.

There’s actually going to be a bit of visual effects stuff, so finding a visual effects supervisor is something I’m working on now. I’m going back and forth about whether or not I want a cinematographer because I really like shooting my own stuff. I’m set to be shooting at the end of June, so in that time getting my cast, crew and locations together is the next hurdle.

IJM: How did you find the financial backers you’ve gotten so far?

MT: I still am not really sure why so much money has been coming in the way that it has. I’ve put in a lot of work and a lot of time promoting it. But at the end of the day, I have this pitch video and the short film to say “I know how to use a camera, I know how to tell a story and if this entertains you maybe you’ll want to throw some money to it.” I’m at $7,500 right now so I’m almost done.

I’ve pretty much just been promoting using Facebook and Twitter. Some people give $5. I had a guy I was talking to in Australia who was kind of back and forth with me and I wasn’t sure if he was going to help me out or not, and then he was like “I like you, I like the way that you talked, here,” and he gave me $500. It’s so random, when people give a lot of money or friends from high school give me $50.

IJM: How did you develop of relationship with (“Revolutionary Road” producer) Henry Fernaine?

MT: He’s actually producing it now. I was working at a company called Evamere Entertainment about two years ago when they were producing “Revolutionary Road,” so I was the assistant to Henry Fernaine and the guy who owns Evamere, John Hart. Henry and I really hit it off. We have a similar sensibility. Over the years, every so often I’ll check in with him and tell him about a project I’m working on.

I don’t know why but this time he saw the work I was doing and saw the way I was going about raising money and saw the world I created with these characters, and I guess it spoke to him. He got in touch with me and said “Listen, I’d like to produce this.” It’s just been really helpful to have someone who’s seasoned and knows some of the ropes that I don’t.

IJM: What others movies have you made before this one?

MT: When I was in high school, I directed three features and they were all done for a ridiculously little amount of money. They were all done around my town with people that I knew. They were good exercises in giving myself a deadline. Now looking back at them I kind of cringe, but at the same time there are some really good things in some of them.

One that I did when I was a senior was called “The Projectionist,” about a mayoral candidate who gets in a love triangle, and his lover’s jealous ex-boyfriend starts to sabotage the campaign. I would call independent movie theaters and ask if they had downtime when I could show it. I wound up showing it in three or four theaters and strangers would come in and watch it.

I’ve also done a lot of shorts, just playing around with different actors and different locations. About six months ago I bought the rights to a Stephen King short story. I adapted that and there are a lot of creature effects involved in that. For the past year all I’ve done are shorts, so now I’d like to go out and do something bigger.

IJM: How did you first become interested in filmmaking?

MT: I was about six or seven and I’d always wanted to act. I would be in school plays. I was the kid who would come to school and underneath my clothes I’d have a Spider-Man costume on. I was just really into playing all the time. When I got to be about seven, it was becoming not so OK for me to go to school in a Spider-Man costume, and I’m going, “Well why the hell not?”

I started to find out that if you have a camera and you’re filming something, all of a sudden having a Spider-Man costume is not only OK but recommended. Filmmaking at first was kind of an excuse to be a child, and now it’s become a socially acceptable way for me to continue to wear a Spider-Man costume.

IJM: What are some of your favorite movies?

MT: I love David Fincher. I think “Zodiac” is one of the better movies made in the past 10 years. It’s a really well done documentary, and you have no idea that you’re watching a documentary, but the way the information is presented and edited, you’re not really watching a narrative film. There isn’t really a narrative arc with these characters. It’s more something like you’d see on the History Channel. The fact that he managed to pull that off I think is unbelievable.

I’m a big fan of Sidney Lumet. He’s got this ridiculous career. “Twelve Angry Men” came out in 1957 and he’s still making movies today. And he’s so good consistently.

IJM: What’s next for you after the Solomon Grundy project?

MT: Next comes kind of a sci-fi movie. It’s a completely different tone and a completely different flavor. It’s something I’ll be working on for all of my junior year. Solomon Grundy is a project independent of school, but the next thing I have to put my school energy into is this sci-fi thriller. As I’ve been writing it, it’s turned into this fun kind of chase movie that takes place in 2046. This guy is trapped in this world that he’s just trying to get out of. I’m looking forward to it because it’s a completely different style and genre than I’m in right now.

A screencap from the "Solomon Grundy" short.

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