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Matthew Poole (MA Directing) on the benefits of film competitions

By Elise Czyzowska

20 April 2023

Over the last year, MA Directing graduate Matthew Poole has co-directed and entered three shorts into two major film competitions, both of which challenge their entrants in different ways.

In Straight 8, teams are given a single roll of Super 8 film to shoot on, with no chance to edit – or even watch the project back, before judging. With their 2022 entry, Dead Funny, Matthew and the team (many of whom are also MetFilm School students & graduates) made ‘Top 8’ – something they are hoping to replicate with their 2023 entry, Lemonade Stand Off.

The second competition Matthew has been involved in is the 48 Hour Film Project, where teams are challenged to come up with, shoot, edit, and submit a film in just 48 hours. As part of the team ‘Have you MET Us?’, Matthew worked on Spur of the Moment, which won four of its five nominations at the London 2022 Awards, including Best Film, and saw the team invited to Filmapalooza in Los Angeles.

In today’s blog, Matthew spoke about the importance of finding your community and how film competitions are the perfect chance to challenge yourself, and to use limitations to your advantage…

In February, you wrapped your 2023 Straight 8 Entry, Lemonade Stand Off – what can you tell us about the project?

The story follows two rival lemonade stands in a literal turf war, inspired by the classic Tom & Jerry cartoons, and compared to Dead Funny, shooting came with a lot of new challenges. The first day, our camera had a technical issue which stopped the film from rolling, and when we managed to reschedule the shoot with a new camera later that week, some of the cast and crew weren’t available, which led to us making some last-minute decisions.

Thankfully, the rescheduled shoot went off without a hitch. With the false start included, the shoot ended at a staggered three-days, and everyone involved seemed satisfied. It was a lot of fun, and of course we’ll do it again next year – until then, we can’t wait to see the film!

How do you approach the role of ‘director’ for Straight 8, knowing you can’t reshoot or watch scenes back?

With Straight 8 (and using Super 8 film in general), you have to practice and rehearse. For Dead Funny and Lemonade Stand Off, myself and my co-directors would meet up a week before the shoot, to film and edit a digital version of the project. We then used this to polish up our final project. Timing is so important here – the film roll is only 3 minutes and 20 seconds, so it really helps for the final shoot!

But still, it’s not foolproof! We had a shot planned launching a lemon from a catapult – but in the actual shot, the lemon didn’t launch.

As directors, we had a decision to make: stick with the script and ignore the continuity error, or add an extra shot resolving the issue, and risk running low on time. We decided on the latter, and the improvised shot not only made the film flow better, but arguably also worked as an extra gag. I think we all agreed it was the right call in the end.

Behind the scenes of Lemonade Stand Off

You’ve also just returned from Filmapalooza in LA, after your success at the 48 Hour Film Project – what was the trip like?

The excitement amongst the group was huge, and the trip definitely lived up to the hype. While we weren’t amongst those chosen to go to Cannes, just seeing your own film in a Los Angeles theatre, at a festival, is an unreal experience. We met some outstandingly talented filmmakers from all over the world, and made connections we’re sure to keep in touch with.

It was also a massive learning experience, seeing the calibre of stories that can be told in seven minutes (and made in two days) – we’re definitely going to take that experience and knowledge forward in our next attempt later this year.

Spur of the Moment has a great shift halfway through, entering the ‘revenge thriller’ genre. How did you approach such a varied project in just two days?

The initial idea came from our first meeting as a group on the Friday evening, when we randomly chose our genres (revenge, thriller), and possible shooting locations (MetFilm School London and local pub, The Drapers Arms). We settled on a story that Friday by about 1am: relayed through a therapy session, an insurance salesman (played by George Kreitem) sees his complicated relationship with his boss analysed after she dies in a workplace fire.

By 5.30am, our screenwriter, Enrique Pereira Díaz, sent across a script, and we shot for around 10 hours, starting at 8am. The biggest challenge was the fire effect – we discussed having it be entirely offscreen, but through incredible creative lighting from our camera crew (Oscar Miño, Clint Kattwinkel, Isabel Morales-Detková) and a portable smoke machine, we got the effect we were looking for.

Behind the scenes of Spur of the Moment

From Straight 8 to the 48 Hour Film Project, how do you think film competitions help challenge you as a filmmaker?

Limitations, pure and simple. It’s being able to make a film that isn’t just limited by budget or resources – all films have those challenges. What happens when you’ve only got one chance to get the right shot, or a restrictive runtime, or two days to get from an idea to a finished piece. These limitations are what force you to make quick decisions; to trust your gut and to stop overthinking things – which in itself is a blessing in disguise.

What about in your own film projects – can you share any tips for aspiring directors, or challenges you’ve had to overcome?

For my Master’s Project, I made a Halloween-inspired slasher called The Man From Before, where a man breaks into a family home to enact revenge. In terms of challenges – there was unfortunately an incident on the second of our four shooting days which brought production to a pause. This left myself, Dan Millen (1st AD), and Charlotte Thirlwall (Producer) having to reschedule effectively three days of shooting into the two days we had left.

My main objective was to keep the script as in tact as possible, and that’s how we overcame the challenge. We considered what scenes were expendable, or what we could condense, and then we just went for it. Ultimately, we lost about 27 shots, but the script still worked, and the edit told the original story in a cohesive way. Thankfully I worked with an amazing cast and crew, all of whom were committed to the cause from day one.

The cast and crew on set for Dead Funny

Finally, can you share a standout memory from your time on the London MA Directing course?

Rather than one memory in particular, the most invaluable thing would be the connections I made. I’ve entered into three film competitions since last year, and I’ve repeatedly worked with the same people, including:

  • Co-directors: Max Mir, Kanhaiya Trivedi
  • Producers: Gloria Gzz Arteaga, Amie Page, Sophie Polonsky
  • Director of Photography: Oscar Miño
  • Screenwriters: Tori Budden, Luke Norton, Elena Righi, Enrique Pereira Díaz
  • 1st AD: Emma Koch

The people I’ve met and worked with are just as important as the skills and experiences I gained on the course. I’ve lost count of how many things I’ve learnt from just watching my friends and colleagues operate on set.

  • Matthew Poole studied MA Directing – this course is fully booked in London for 2023, with places still available in Berlin and Leeds.
  • Interested in MA Directing? Join us on May 10 at 6pm BST for our Postgraduate Virtual Open Event.