New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film Instructor Matt Toronto has just signed a two-year deal with Netflix to stream his film Face 2 Face.
Together with his brother Aaron, Toronto wrote Face 2 Face about growing up in the age of social media. The film screened at the Manhattan Film Festival and had its premiere at the Edmonton International Film Festival, where it won the jury award for innovation.
The movie follows two teenagers, Teel and Madison, who rekindle a childhood friendship online. Soon, they begin sharing their lives over the internet as a means of coping with the typical problems of adolescent life even though they are at opposite ends of the popularity spectrum. Madison in an A-list party girl, and she takes pity on Teel, the social outcast, vowing to help him win friends on social media.
As their relationship deepens, Madison falls for Teel. She forces him to confess the hidden cause of the bullying he faces. His admission sets off a sequence of events that ultimately motivates Madison to expose her own secret. This digital coming-of-age story examines some of the most pressing and difficult social issues facing teenagers today.
The story was inspired by a vacation Toronto took with his family years ago. While directing a play at the University of Utah, Toronto would FaceTime his wife and kids every night before bed.
“At one point, the thought struck me,” Toronto said, “If we were talking about something interesting, this could be a movie.” That was when he decided to write a movie that takes place completely over video chat.
As a professor working with young people, Toronto saw the effects social media had on his students. “I was working with young people all of the time. I could see how they interact with technology,” he said. “Teenagers seemed like natural choices for the heroes of the film.”
As he dove further into the script, he decided to reach out to his brother, a counselor who has treated many people struggling with the same issues that Madison and Teel face in the script. “Aaron was able to bring a real authenticity to the characters and their development,” Toronto said. “But one of the most important inspirations came from a close cousin of ours who suffered in much the same way that Madison does in the film. We made this film in her honor.”
Some of the issues that the film focuses on include bullying, sexual identity, suicide, and sexual abuse. Raising awareness was a vital part of the filmmaker’s goals, but Toronto described a realistic and honest portrayal of friendship as the true heart of the film: “The film is about the power that friendship has to help us change, to help us become better people, and to help others as well. I hope the movie will inspire people to be friends. We can all be better friends to anyone who needs one. That’s the kind of thing that changes lives.”
Toronto credited his time with the New York Film Academy to opening his worldview. The diversity of the school’s student body, in particular, had a profound effect on him. “I learn every time I teach,” he said. “That diversity has brought new insights and perspectives that I might never have found. Each student expands my point of view on the world and on the craft.”
As an Acting for Film instructor stepping behind the camera, Toronto was able to bring a lot of the lessons from his classroom to the set. “My experience as an actor and an acting teacher are both essential to my work as a director. Actors are the humans that give life to the characters in a script. My background allows me to participate in that process with skill and compassion. I see my actors as designers.”
To any actors looking to make their debut behind the camera, Toronto offered this advice: “Learn the craft of directing.”
As intense as it is to learn the craft of acting, it’s equally important to focus on the details of directing. Toronto warned that it takes years to master directing, but there’s no better time to start than now. “The best actor/directors are the ones that respect both crafts, and put in the effort to grow as artists and storytellers throughout the entire process and on every project.”
Toronto is working on several new projects. He’s keeping it a family affair, working with his wife to develop three television pilots and a feature, and working on two features with his brother, Aaron Toronto. Though it’s thrilling to see his film as he scrolls through Netflix, Toronto says that hasn’t been the most rewarding part.
“About a week after it was released,” Toronto began, “I got a message from a viewer through the film’s website. In it, she shared that she was a teenager struggling with depression. She had been planning to commit suicide, but after watching Face 2 Face, she decided she wanted to live. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Knowing that our film had helped someone in such a profound way is worth more to me than all of the artistic accomplishments in my entire life. That’s what art is all about.”
The New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Toronto on all of his hard work. Face 2 Face is now available on Netflix in the U.S.