For New York Film Academy (NYFA) Directing for Cinematographers instructor Matt Kohnen, falling in love with movies was a gradual process. He started in theatre in high school, but eventually turned to writing and directing. His latest feature film effort, The Funeral Guest, a dramedy about a lonely woman who crashes funerals, won Best Director and Best Actress at the LA Indie Film Festival.
Matt took some time to chat with NYFA about his career, his love of science fiction, and a love story that could have only happened at NYFA:
New York Film Academy (NYFA): What kinds of stories did you start off wanting to tell?
Matt Kohnen (MK): I like stories with a touch of the fantastic to them. I’ve always been a fan of sci-fi. Not because of the escapism, but because it allows us to take our own society and its current trajectory. Sort of what Black Mirror does and what the original Blade Runner or Forbidden Planet did back in the day. I still write that stuff, but the reality of independent filmmaking is that the price point of most sci-fi is big.
NYFA: Your films Aaah! Zombies!! and The Funeral Guest center on death and how such an event can bring people together. What is it about the theme of life after death that inspires you?
MK: Funny, I’ve never heard my two features linked in that way. Not sure it’s the “death” issue that links them for me as much as it is the “outsider” parts. Both feature perspectives of people who are on the outside of something looking in. Aaah! Zombies!! began as a funny idea about classic horror, but became more about the characters who were dissatisfied with their current lives. In The Funeral Guest, it’s similar. She’s on the outside of life, looking in on others because she doesn’t have one of her own.
NYFA: Tell us about your latest project.
MK: I’m currently writing a couple new scripts. One of them is very low-budget, the other is trying to swing a bit larger. I’m not in a place to talk about them now, but The Funeral Guest is available on Amazon Prime, soon to be all over.
NYFA: What is your favorite thing about teaching at NYFA?
MK: I love working with my students. I love seeing their eyes open and that “aha” moment that sometimes comes when they realize in class or during shooting what has been lacking in their work up to now, and they make that jump to the next level of the art. It’s extremely rewarding to be a part of that.
Secondarily, I love how international we are, seeing students from such vastly different worlds interacting in a space where they share that one thing they all love. One of my favorite outcomes of this was in an early Cinematography Practicum shoot, a kid from middle-of-nowhere Montana sat next to a young woman from India. Two people who would never have met in any other iteration of the world. They wound up married.
NYFA: What’s your favorite class to teach at NYFA?
MK: Second Semester Cinematography in the MFA. It’s great, because the students have gotten a good base from semester one, and now we start introducing dolly, advanced lighting, and camera, and the ceiling of work we are able to hit raises a lot. I love seeing them rise to the challenge.
NYFA: Is there a piece of advice you give your students as they head toward graduation?
MK: Keep your eyes focused on the horizon, and put one foot in front of the other, every day. Even if it’s only one step, have goals, and know that as hard as it may seem, good work will always be recognized.