Saturday 17 October 2020

Interview with Matt Harris

Matt Harris is a UK based director of photography and creative director based just outside London in the UK. He is the director and cinematographer of the new upcoming documentary "Rom Boys: 40 Years of Rad", released by 1091 Pictures in October and which recently won best feature documentary at the 2020 Paris Surf and Skate Film Festival. Rom Boys is the first feature length documentary to look at the early skate and BMX scene in London. Now married with two children (and three Staffordshire Bull Terriers), Matt began his visual image making career in the early 90's whilst living in the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean and the Marshall Islands in the Pacific shooting underwater stills and video of big wildlife and WWII shipwrecks. Now he runs a digital marketing and production agency but also shoots and directs anything from documentary to branded content, commercial and music videos for various production houses and brands around the globe. His first feature length film, Rom Boys: 40 years of Rad follows the story of the world's only historically recognised skatepark and the eclectic group of skaters and riders who have kept it thriving for the past forty years. Following a devastating fire the story then highlights the struggle a dogged group of old school skaters, BMX riders and street artists undertake as they team together to fight to keep the park open. The film also looks at the wider influence the skate world has had on UK urban culture from street art to fashion, music and graffiti with interviews from some of the worlds' biggest names in skate, BMX and street art from past and present from the UK and USA.

How did you break into the business, sir?

I'm still not sure I have broken into the business. I'm completely self taught. I didn't go to film school, I was working as a dive instructor in the Pacific when I picked up a stills camera and then taught myself photography above and underwater (back in the day when it was all on 35mm film). Then when the internet came along I began learning web design , graphic design, Photoshop then video editing  and eventually switching to filming on video when the cameras became more accessible price wise. I've never worked for anyone but myself for the last 20 years and I'm still trying to break in.


And have you been juggling a day-time job at the same time?

Yes, there's no way I could have worked on this for five years without any pay. I run a small digital marketing and production agency and also do freelance DP work for corporates, TV and small Indy productions around the UK, Europe and have done shoots for US companies in Africa as well in recent years.


What was the first thing you shot?

The very first commercial filming that I can really remember was some underwater video footage of WWII wrecks in the Western Pacific – I was working as a dive instructor in the Marshall Islands and was given an underwater film camera to shoot 'B' roll for a Brazilian TV crew.


And was that also the first time you realized "hey, this filmmaking thing is working!?"?

Not really. I was more a stills photographer at the time and didn't really get moving image, I was all about the art of composition and the single frame. It was much, much later that I made the switch from stills to the moving image.


How much do you have riding on the doco?

Everything!  This has been five years in the making – when you give that much of yourself to something then it literally takes over your life. I've lost track of what success looks like for this film and for me, off the back of this but I'm hoping it opens some new interesting doors and at the same time closes some not so interesting ones !


Is it a personal project?

Whilst it started life as a personal project but then at some point in the last couple of years became all consuming and was something I thought might actually have some commercial appeal.


Who and what were the inspirations for it?

Taking my daughter, Emma,  to Rom around 5 years ago,I couldn't believe it was still open (I used to go as a kid) – so if I hadn't taken her that day then this film would never have been made. Also the characters at the park, people like Dion and Graham  - if you see the film you'll see just why you're drawn in to wanting to know more about these guys and their stories. They were the real source of inspiration – the original Rom Boys.  But yeah, really,  I guess you could say those last five years of anxiety are all my daughters fault !


Is there a message behind the movie?

I guess the message is really one of community and how the shared passion and love of a place can span generations and create lifelong friendships.


Would you consider a follow-up in 10 years or so?

If you'd asked me six months ago I'd say never, but the way things have progressed at the park and the direction it is heading I think a ten year return could be really interesting. The film is called Rom Boys:40 Years of Rad but now we're really starting to see girls get more involved with the park. Something that has never happened like it is happening now, so I'd like to see if that continues for the next 10 years and we can do a sequel – Rom Girls: The Next 40 Years of Rad !


Buy Rom Girls: The Next 40 Years of Rad !