Matthew Dillon Cohen’s come-up in the film industry is one that many aspiring auteurs may be able to glean some worthwhile nuggets of wisdom from. The burgeoning NYC-based director just released his documentary Bulldozer, a film about one wrestler’s plight in the gritty underworld of deathmatch wrestling, and was able to take some time to build with us to share a few details about his upcoming project and his unassuming journey from simply taking pictures to developing his skills in cinematic storytelling.
Matt, thank you for taking the time to share some thoughts with us! We peeped the trailer for Bulldozer and we were left with knots in our stomachs. How did this project come about?
Thank you for watching! My good friend Giancarlo works at CZW (the wrestling league). One day he kept raving to me about this one wrestler–then he started showing me his videos. Instantly, I knew it was a story worth telling.
How long did you spend compiling the footage and was Tremont very hands on in developing the arc of the film’s narrative?
I spent one weekend with Matt. We just followed him through his day-to-day process. I’m grateful that he really trusted me with his story and allowed me to tell it in the best way I felt fit to. There were definitely multiple stories we could have told, but I found the passion for the work the most important to share.
Collaborating with the artist is the best part–having someone allow you to take their story and tell it visually is the best part of the job.
Was there any footage that you felt was too nauseating to include in the piece?
Honestly, I really wanted to take out the barbed wire scene at the end because I thought it would be too much for people to watch. Thankfully, my team pushed me to keep it in and I’m happy they did. I think it does the important job of raising the stakes and showing how far Matt pushes himself for the fans and the love.
What things did you and Tremont want people to think about after viewing this film.
Once you meet Matt, he has this undeniably kind nature and truth to him. It’s surprising because most of the footage and photos online portray him as this violent and dangerous dude. My goal for the film was simply show a different side of Matt. I’ve found, luckily, that the takeaway most people have had is how impressed they are with how seriously he takes his work. He’s naturally just a good dude.
You’ve been building a nice portfolio of work over the past few years. Can you tell us how you discovered filmmaking as your outlet for creative expression? And how long have you been shooting professionally?
I started in the creative world as journalist and became friends with a lot of artists through that. When I moved to NYC, I asked some of the musicians I had developed relationships with to let me make music videos for them. I grew up taking photos so directing was a natural transition. Collaborating with the artist is the best part–having someone allow you to take their story and tell it visually is the best part of the job.
What was it like when you secured your first paid client that had a high profile?
I think it was when we did “Nada” that it hit me. Before shooting that video, I only had three other ones out. When we made that and I saw the response I was like shit, I think this whole directing thing can be a legitimate avenue for me.
How do you approach creating visuals for your clients? Could you walk us through [without spilling your secret ingredients] your process for one of your projects? Goldlink’s video for “Crew” was tight.
With music videos, my goal is very simple: help tell the artist’s story. I really love the collaboration process and diving into what’s important to the musician. I’m pretty particular with who I work with in general, so it’s important that when I do, we both are excited about the project.
Goldlink was amazing. That record really speaks for itself. Before that, he had never really been featured in a music video because he hid his identity for the longest time. This was his first time really being on camera and that put a lot of responsibility on me to get the best performance out of him. Luckily, there was a supportive, loving team around the cast and shooting it in their hometown was naturally exciting for the artists.
Where do you pull references from when just looking to stay inspired?
Most bits of inspiration and influences just comes from living life. Meeting people, traveling, trying new things. Obviously watching movies helps but I find being outside in the real world has a strong influence on me. I didn’t go to film school, so I try to use that as advantage with storytelling–I don’t over think things. If it feels right, I do it.
Once I committed to telling stories I wanted in ways that felt honest, the work started to become something I was proud of.
We know you to be a DIY kinda dude with an endless well of energy and ambition. What would you say to a kid looking to break into filmmaking and videography industry? Like… your top three things that you’ve picked up along the way.
1: THERE ARE NO RULES. You don’t need to go to school for film. There are no rules to making a video. Young filmmakers have such an advantage to creating work because they have a fresh perspective. It’s important to do what feels right rather than making a story that seems sensible. I’ve made so many bad films that never saw the light of day because I was convinced I needed to make something serious, dramatic, etc., etc. Once I committed to telling stories I wanted in ways that felt honest, the work started to become something I was proud of.
2: Be resourceful; pull in as many favors as you can. If you have the luxury of being in school, put whatever the budget is into the video. Try to get the best camera you can, and don’t be afraid to ask friends for help (locations, cars, cast etc).
3: Understand your strengths. The biggest issue I find with young filmmakers is that they think they need to do it all (shoot/edit/direct/color). I think it’s important to know how to do it all, but even more important to know when someone else might be a better person for the job. Once I worked with an editor for the first time, I realized that editing is such an art and that certain people are better in that field than others. That goes for shooting and directing too. There is no shame in having others help you create a project. Surround yourself with a great team and the possibilities are endless.
Your career is steadily on an upswing. The 2016 reel looked pretty fresh. What do you have in store after the release of Bulldozer?
Yeah, I’m excited. I have a new video for my good friend Gus Dapperton that we are about to put out. It’s definitely the most ambitious one we have done. Theres another doc and a music video in the works that I think will surprise some people. The goal now is to keep telling these stories. If I can do that, then I’m happy.