matt kohnen
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  • Q&A with New York Film Academy (NYFA) Faculty Matt Kohnen

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    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 Kohnen The Funeral Guest

    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. 

    Matt Kohnen The Funeral Guest

    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. 

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    March 27, 2019 • Faculty Highlights • Views: 893

  • New York Film Academy Los Angeles Hosts Expert Film Festival Panel

    FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailLast month, New York Film Academy (NYFA) Film Festivals Advisor and Liaison Crickett Rumley brought an expert panel to the NYFA Los Angeles campus for an in-depth discussion on the process of getting a film into festivals.

    In her opening remarks, Rumley shared that while many NYFA students are interested in applying to film festivals, she found that not many had actually attended one. The panel of experts was formed to help demystify what can be an intimidating world for newcomers, and help answer their questions. “We need to start talking about film festivals,” Rumley said. “Los Angeles has a lot of festivals, so we have no excuse to not be attending and submitting.”

    Sharing their insights and experiences with NYFA students were industry experts including producer and NYFA Chair of Industry Lab Kim Ogletree, Senior Cinematography Instructor Matt Kohnen, Emmy Award nominee  Alexandra Chando, NYFA Senior Directing Instructor James Rowe, and NYFA alumnus Raphael Bittencourt. Each panelist has premiered a film at major festivals including Sundance, LA Shorts Film Fest, Shanghai Film Festival, and the Austin Film Festival.

    Kickstarting the discussion, Crickett asked the panel, “Why should you attend a film festival, even if you don’t have a film?”

    Rowe began by sharing his reasons for attending the Toronto Film Festival as a non-participant. “I went as a scholar delegate for NYFA to kind of scout things out and see what the landscape is right now for short films in particular.”

    Chando, who represents the Mammoth Film Festival’s Women in Film Initiative and is perhaps best known for her work in “As the World Turns,” pointed out the need for diversity and representation in film festivals across the board. Attendees, filmmakers, and festival organizers all play a role in supporting diversity in the film industry. “Recently, within the last year, I have seriously begun working on the other side of the camera,” she explained. “Especially now, there has been a big push for diversity and, of course, women being behind the camera.“

    Encouraging diversity in film festival representation is a part of the reason why Chando was invited to be a part of the Women in Film initiative of the Mammoth Film Festival, which was founded by a NYFA alumna. 

    Rumley spoke about her experiences with Telluride, a renowned festival she began attending even before she had started making movies. She described the education as invaluable. “I was learning so much as a writer just by watching a ton of films,” she shared, “And I was able to watch them in a festival setting. I could figure out what kind of writer I wanted to be by exploring all of these international and independent domestic films.”

    New York Film Academy panelist Alexandra Chando.

    With thousands of film festivals worldwide, these dynamic events can serve as an essential launchpad for up-and-coming filmmakers. Genre film festivals provide an especially great environment for new cinema voices to be discovered.

    “The major festival will take everything; drama, narrative, documentary,” said Kohnen, “But then, there’s this whole other subset of festivals that are just genre.”

    Choosing to submit to a genre festival can help a film find a more specific audience and make valuable connections with likeminded people in the industry. Knowing his way around the festival circuit helped spark the chain-reaction of success that Kohnen enjoyed with his 2007 film “Wasting Away,” also known as “Aaah! Zombies!” The film won the audience award for Best Film at ScreamFest, and after that its sister festivals began seeking opportunities to screen the film, too.

    New York Film Academy panelist and Chair of Industry Lab Kim Ogletree.

    For his part, Bittencourt said he used his time at film festivals as an opportunity to observe how different audiences connected with his film as well as to forge connections within the industry.

    “It gives me a sense of where I’m going,” he said. “It was part of my strategy to use two different kinds of film festivals to get more attention on my film. … It’s a huge chance to defend your film and get to know other filmmakers. You can also meet the organizers of the festival.” 

    Bittencourt encouraged students that even if they may not have been chosen to screen their film in a particular festival, they can still try to shake hands with those in charge. “[Festival organizers] tend to be really sympathetic to you if they know who you are,” he said.

    Ogletree agreed. She explained to students that film festivals provide opportunities not only for submitting work, but also for gaining direct access to creators from all walks of life. From her time behind the scenes in film festivals, she shared, “We were open to having discussions with students, with other executives, with producers and directors. At the time, folks would just bring their iPads up to speakers after the Q&A and show us their film. That was a way of getting their films out there without even being in the festival.”

    With these networking opportunities in mind, Ogletree went on to highlight the marketing opportunities students should prepare for when attending a festival. “There are certain things you need,” she said. “You need a business card. You need both a press kit and an electronic press kit. You need to have the bios of your key crew members. You need to have conversations, and that’s not something I see happening a lot anymore.”

    Ogletree suggests that when attending a festival with a family member or friend, students remember not to isolate themselves from what is going on. Instead, they should make sure to join outside conversations with members of the industry and to try and meet new people.

    To help get the conversation started at film festivals, Ogletree noted that it’s important to think early and often about where the film will show and how best to promote it once it has aired. Gimmicks also don’t hurt, according to Ogletree, who says that it’s important to find ways to make your film stand out from the crowd at a festival. Hats, pins, and t-shirts are always great and inexpensive options. Budgeting for these products and preparing for film festival conversations should be something students bear in mind even in the pre-production stage of their film.  

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Matt Kohnen, Alex Chando, Kim Ogletree, James Rowe, Raphael Bittencourt, and Crickett Rumley for participating int his in-depth discussion on film festivals.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

  • Matt Kohnen Wins Best Director at LA Indie Festival

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    Matt Kohnen awarded Best Director at LA Indie Film Festival

    Most of us aren’t too fond of attending funerals, but in the case of New York Film Academy instructor Matt Kohnen’s film, The Funeral Guest, the main character, Emily, feels a connection to mourners in the emotionally raw atmosphere. Produced and co-written with his brother, Sean, Kohnen’s dark comedy has been getting terrific responses from the festival circuit. Coming off its premiere at the Shanghai Film Festival and screening at festivals in Carmel and Bahamas, The Funeral Guest recently won both Best Actress for Julianna Robinson and Best Director for Kohnen at the LA Indie Festival.

    “Initially, The Funeral Guest was not written, just a vague idea,” said Kohnen. “But we hustled up and wrote a draft in a month and helped get it financed through the Eyde company, which does real estate in Lansing, MI, where we shot. It was a small budget, and a quick prep time, but we did it; and premiered at the Shanghai Film Festival, where I went and did some work with NYFA, talking to student groups.”

    Kohnen’s first feature as a director, Wasting Away/Aaah! Zombies!! was a horror/comedy that won the Audience Award at Screamfest LA, Best Picture Midnight Extreme at Sitge International SciFi/Horror Fest, Audience Award/Best Screenplay/Best Comedy at the Zompire Genre Fest, Best Picture at the Festivus Film Festival, and has been the hit of a host of other film festivals including the well-regarded London Sci Fi Festival and Lund Fantastik Film Festival, gaining Worldwide distribution.

    Repped by Verve Agency and Writ Large Management, Kohnen has also written for producers such as the aforementioned Rob Fried and developed with a wide array of companies such as Gold Circle Films (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), Spring Creek Productions (Blood Diamond), and Dark Horse Comics (Hellboy).

    With his brother Sean, he is currently working with Producer Michael Shamberg (Django Unchained, Erin Brockovich, Pulp Fiction) on a TV pilot set in the world of illegal arms, and has recently sold a pilot about money laundering to Universal Studios, with Omar Epps (House, Resurrection) attached.

    Next on the festival circuits for The Funeral Guest is the Capitol City Film Festival (Lansing, MI) and the Julian Dubuque Film Festival, and more to come!Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

    March 17, 2016 • Community Highlights, Filmmaking, Screenwriting • Views: 3655