Filmmaker Q&A Mattie Do
by Phillip Wilcox "Our Movie Demon"
First of all I must say I thoroughly enjoyed Dearest Sister! Can you tell us about the story, what it means to you and where did it stem from?
I’m so glad you enjoyed Dearest Sister! It’s one of those out there films that start out building all the characters at a slow and steady pace, but when you hit the point of no return, I like to believe it becomes very gratifying… if you can get there! So yes, thank you for watching it.
The story is kind of funny, because I KNEW I had to make Dearest Sister come hell or high water for multiple reasons. First, I want to show stories that are authentically Lao and really capture modern day Laos as well as our people’s personalities, mannerisms, and motivations. I really can’t stand the idea of pandering to what other people consider authentic or exotic, or imitating other cultures for cool factor or commercial prospects. I don’t know, in some way maybe that hurts me because I rarely get awarded support from artistic organizations because I’m not feeding into the whole “Sad and Brown” status quo that lots of people want to see, and in regards to the entertainment sector like our general genre audiences, I’m also not giving them hardcore Korean slashers and Japanese jump scares, so like I said, my work might easily fall between the gaps! But things like ghosts bringing lottery numbers, or having your own relatives from a village acting as servants, or that obscene wealth divide… these were all things that are a very real part of Laos that I wanted to show, and hell, I’m in a unique position to see, understand, and know what is freakishly weird for other countries yet absolutely acceptable and mundane to us, so I figure that I may as well put it out there!
Secondly, the first film festival I ever officially attended was Fantastic Fest. I was like a lost puppy there, I had never seen anything of that magnitude and such passionate film people! It was one of the most intense experiences in my film life, and after being there, I knew I had to, and needed to come back. And the only way I really could come back and recapture that experience was to make another film, so I made Dearest Sister! Thankfully they chose to screen it! Haha, I also learned a lot about film festivals and how out-of-your-control it is to be selected in general, so I consider myself enormously fortunate that my second film was taken into the Fantastic Fest fold.
Can you walk us through a bit about the process of what it took to get this film made?
Literally the process of making a film for me is always random. I accidentally made my first film, then I accidentally ran into or met my producers, and then I learn along the way what has to be done and I get to continue making more films! I was told I should apply for a project lab called “La Fabrique des Cinemas du Monde” from L’Institut Francais in Cannes. So I did! Dearest Sister’s script was one of ten accepted, it was a really intense workshop teaching us all sorts of things about the business of film and getting your project picked up. I feel like I hit the ground running. There I started the process of picking up my French and Estonian Co-Producers, but also at the same time was invited to try Indiegogo fro crowdfunding. So imagine! I was learning how to be a legitimate filmmaker while at the same time running a crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo! It was wild and crazy as hell. I learned so much, but mostly, I feel like I came away from Indiegogo with a huge film family. Literally, my contributors were such an active part of the entire process. I don’t mean just funding the production of the film, but some of them visited, worked on our set with us, and even acted in the film or took Executive and Associate Producer roles! I still run into all kinds of Dearest Sister Indiegogo posse when I go to film fests, etc. It's so fun! I feel like we’re a big long distance family.
What was the most challenging Or fun part about making this film?
The fun part about making a film is making a freaking film! Like, when in your life does someone get to say, “I made a film”? Even for myself, I feel like every time I get the opportunity to even consider making a film, it’s amazing. How the heck did this happen? I never imagined I would get to be a filmmaker and now I’m working on my third one! I realize how lucky I am, and I won’t forget that... I've read the statistics about this career and it can be pretty depressing (especially for women, and ESPECIALLY for non white women)!
The most challenging part of making Dearest Sister was kind of tempering my foreign crew’s expectations of Laos. No matter how much I told my crew that we don't have support, we don’t have equipment, we don't have technicians, that we're a developing country and maybe the food options will not be typical, or that we don’t have easy or cheap access to normal things like duct tape or maybe hot glue or bacon and cheese or don’t drink the tap water or whatever.. just really doesn’t register until it's meltdown time 2 weeks into production and they all realize, “Oh my fucking god, I'm in a third world country." Hahaha, I feel like I need to make a guide book to working here. It should be called, “Just think of it like camping, but not in America.” My husband says I should title it, "Imagine making a film on the worst camping trip ever.”
My French producer, Annick Mahnert, was one of the hardcore ones that came out of the experience loving it and wanting to go off the grid here Captain Fantastic style or like Alexander Supertramp.
You made your debut film back in 2012 - What is one important lesson about filmmaking you carried with you to this project?
Honestly, the biggest lesson I learned from Chanthaly wasn't necessarily a filmmaking lesson. You know how they say, "You don't know what you don't know”? The biggest lesson from Chanthaly was somewhat along the lines of when we started to put the first film out there. It was never even a part of my mental equation. It started to sink in when I followed Todd Brown to Hong Kong Filmmart. Making a film is one thing, and of course films can always be improved upon, but the entire world of markets, pitches, festivals, and the entire business and legal side and public relations side was an entirely new aspect that I hadn't even considered. I learned (am still learning) a lot about this and even now, after Dearest Sister, am still encountering all kinds of information I didn’t know I didn't know. I never even knew what was going to happen after I finished Chanthaly. It was kind of like, “Oh. We made a movie. Sweet, we'll play it at our local place here.” I think if I knew what would happen next, I would be much more daunted and intimidated by the prospect of it all. Suddenly with Dearest Sister, there was so much more weight and responsibility attached to it. It couldn’t just be the home video I made with my dog and my friends. I felt like I had to grow up and it was a shock to the system since I didn't grow up making short films, or dreaming of being a filmmaker, or going to film school. Because of that, I didn't know what to expect from this vocation, and when I went to Hong Kong Filmmart and Todd was introducing us to people from huge production companies and distributors, talking to other producers and directors… it was terrifying. Really, I had a moment where I thought, "What the hell am I doing here and who are these people and what the fuck is a distributor and what do they do?” I liked that some of the booths had candy bowls though… that was my initial take away while my husband was basically shaking in his boots.
The other biggest lesson, I guess, was that that if I could make Chanthaly for what some people would consider nickles and dimes, I can sure as to hell learn more about making another feature and make another feature despite all odds.
When did your love for cinema and filmmaking begin, what films have influenced you as a filmmaker, and can you tell us about your journey to being a filmmaker?
My love for cinema began at my first Fantastic Fest. I didn’t know that films were so diverse and could be so crazy! Before I had only really seen some big, commercial Hollywood blockbusters here and there. My love for filmmaking started on the set of Chanthaly, where I realized this was a career where I could be on set with my dog and work with a bunch of my friends creating something from nothing.
The films that have inspired me most are Black Swan and Ratatouille. Both of the films are gorgeously shot, the performances are amazing, the stories are impacting, and really, I could watch these two films over and over again and never get tired of them. Remy the rat is such an outsider in society, he's worse than oppressed, he's considered a menace and the expectation is to kill him on sight! Yet he fights against all odds to achieve his goals and dreams, while balancing his family and friendships through what seems like the impossible. I would die to be able to shoot something like that kitchen or street chase scene from Ratatouille in real life. I want to say, "It's an animation, of course they can pull it off..." but to even have the imagination to create that in the first place is already a level of direction that is already mind-blowing to me.
What Inspires you, not just as an artist, but as a human being?
MD:Dogs inspire me. I don’t really ever think of myself as an artist, it still sounds funny to call myself an artist. I imagine people who dress oddly, speak in a complicated and ambiguous way about profound things that are beyond my comprehension, and perhaps take themselves very seriously. Dogs don't take themselves seriously. Dogs just love you even when you’re sometimes an asshole, or don’t particularly merit that affection, they listen and provide companionship that's sincere and are very matter of fact about things that they want. Dogs are loyal, they aren’t spiteful, and they’re generous and kind. They love eating a filet mignon as much as the don't mind sleeping on the floor every once in a while. I have a lot to learn from dogs. Of course, I don’t intend to go around sniffing anyone's bum or anything, but I think you get what I'm trying to say.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you may be working on for the near future?
I have many films that I’m working on coming up! My next one is freaking crazy… it’s a super dark sci-fi film about a time traveling serial killer in a rural Lao village. It’s kind of a silly, short and sweet one liner that I like saying to people, but it isn’t untrue at all. The story is just really different, I think, and I want it to be gorgeous and to fuck with people’s minds and hearts.