Since earning his Communication degree from Suffolk in 2008, Matt Thompson has founded a thriving production company, creating acclaimed music videos, short films, branded web content and broadcast spots. But perhaps Thompson’s greatest achievement so far is the way he handled one of the most common life experiences: failure.
Developing talent for film and business
When Thompson returns to Suffolk on February 2 to screen his latest short film, Toothbrush, he’ll speak to students about more than just the technical and artistic aspects of film-making. He’ll also share his experiences navigating the business side of the media industry.
“At Suffolk, I honed my skills in production classes and working on projects for [video production club] WSUB,” recalls Thompson. “I had passionate professors who sparked my interest in storytelling, which set me on my current path. I was also able to intern every summer at companies in and around Boston.”
After graduation, Thompson set out to follow his dream of directing in New York. Unfortunately, that decision directly coincided with the country’s economic meltdown, and work was scarce. Thompson returned to Boston in a matter of months.
“I came back and found another internship, which quickly led to a job with ad agency Allen & Gerritsen, which in turn led to more freelance work and increased my connections throughout New England,” he explains. “I saved up some money, and when I met my eventual business partner on a music video shoot we were able to start our production company, Guy Manly, together in New York.”
Combining passion with practicality
Thompson chose to broaden his focus to include other aspects of production work, not just directing. This approach allows him to impact multiple projects at once, instead of devoting all his resources to one film.
“Leaving NYC at first felt like a failure. I thought I wouldn't work in production at all, and was very discouraged. But looking back at my experience, I really think that the failure ended up being invaluable. I learned what I needed to be happy and what I wanted moving forward, which made coming back a year later so much better."
Though Thompson has created short films before – including student productions at Suffolk shown during the Suffolk Cinema Series – Toothbrush is Guy Manly’s first non-commercial narrative project to use professional actors and crew. The budget for this undertaking comes from the company’s profits, as well as crowd-source funding website Kickstarter.com.
The short film tells the story of an average Joe who leaves his house to buy a toothbrush and is yanked out of his comfortable routine by a series of mishaps and unlikely adventures. Thompson hopes to enter Toothbrush into several festivals this year, gaining exposure for Guy Manly and creating opportunities to make more contacts in the industry.
Guy Manly is now in pre-production for its first feature-length film, executive producing If You Stay, the story of a young Persian-American woman on the brink of becoming a US citizen as the “Green Revolution” sparks in Iran.
Thompson hopes that sharing his experiences, including his initial setback, will help other aspiring media professionals at Suffolk.
Here are some of his tips for making it after graduation:
- Always be excited and open to learning. Listen more than you talk. Constantly sharpen your skills, because media changes rapidly and you have to be prepared.
- Intern as much as possible, even after graduation. You’ll enhance your skills, develop your interests, build your portfolio, and make industry contacts.
- Be friendly and pleasant to work with. It sounds really obvious – networking is important in most industries – but media in particular is based on freelance work. Who would you want to work with on a set all day? Someone with lots of talent and a great attitude.
- Choose your company wisely. Collaborate with people whose working style suits yours rather than trying to change someone. If the partnership is forced, it will show in your work!
- Don’t be afraid to totally start over and admit when you’re wrong. What might feel like a huge failure now will likely become just a tiny footnote to your story.