deadCENTER INTERVIEW: Matt Leach, This Land Press

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Matt Leach brought two of This Land Press’ short films to the deadCENTER Film Festival, both of which screened at the OKIES in Your Corner short film block. After the screenings, Matt took the time to talk with Renegade Cinema about his shorts and the efforts of This Land Press.

I talked to Sterlin Harjo when the OFCC gave him 2011 Tilghman Award about these shorts and he talked about how it was important to go out and actually show what Oklahoma was all about. What kind of things do you look for when you are going to find subjects to do your documentaries about?

Matt Leach: I think personality is part of it, someone who is willing to open up, let you into their life and just people that have real stories. You know, people with real things that have happened to them. The thing that I love about Oklahoma is that I feel like people aren’t nearly as guarded with their life, the media isn’t so pervasive here, there aren’t a million people here with cameras and microphones so people are more willing to just open up. I mean, mostly it is just what intrigues us. But the great thing about working some place like this is there is a lot of other people of similar interests that can say, “oh I think this will be great, I think I talked to this person and it doesn’t seem to make sense for that person, but man it would be great to go film this thing.” You know, that really helps.

How many people do you have now that are working on the filming part?

Matt Leach: It is mostly just Sterlin and I. We have interns, but really it is just two people, it is really small.

One thing I have noticed that is very impressive is the music, you know you see a lot of documentaries and it is like you have a song but you guys actually have incredible scores that goes along with each one. I noticed in Tyson Meade, you actually had him do the score himself, how important is it for the music in these, because it seems to be a big part of you guys’ work?

Matt Leach: I mean, my background is in music videos, and my background is like short films that aren’t documentaries, and so to me the music is super important and especially with the emotion of it. I worked in news too and that always killed me, just so boring. You know, like the most boring way you could tell a story and I think it is important not to like manipulate people’s emotions with the music but it can…

…It plays a character

Matt Leach: Yeah, but I mean it’s a huge part of filmmaking, so to not think about music is, to me, like saying oh don’t worry about the lighting, there don’t need to be any lights. You know, or let’s just shoot in the dark as long as you can hear it, it’s cool. You know I think it is really, really important, especially with the way we edit and Sterling and I are both like that.

Looking at Mannford Fire, the woman lost everything in that fire and that seems to be pretty poignant now in Oklahoma, especially with what happened in Moore, people losing things in the tornadoes. I can’t imagine having someone go back and look at that and still be in good humor like she was. How big was that for you guys to find her, find someone who is that positive after such a devastating event?

Matt Leach: I have to give all credit to Sheila Bright, who helped produce that one, and she is an amazing writer and producer. She has worked in local news, writing newspapers forever. She came across her, and you know that was the thing that really stood out to the both of us, she told me that she is like one of the funniest people you will ever meet. It really was really pretty powerful to be there and have her laughing about some of the toughest things that can happen to you, to lose everything like that, and for a second there I thought “is she in shock?” But then, when I went back and would film with her later, she is really like that. I mean, really the whole reason that I am doing This Land stuff is that I want to find positive things to say about Oklahoma, not cheesy, not sappy, but real things that are positive. I think the people are really strong, and that is what I love about Tyson. You know, I think the thing those two people have in common is that they had a great attitude. Tyson could have so been so f**king bitter and pissed off or just an alcoholic or whatever. But he is what he is. He could be Billy Corrigan right now, but he is not and he does not care. You know, he could also be Kurt Cobain and be dead, and so that is what I loved about that story too is that both of those people just had amazing personalities and, really, it was just like I want to hang out with these people and just ask them whatever comes to mind. So, I don’t know that is a long answer.

Sterlin said originally that he wanted to show Tulsa, but it seems like you guys are moving more out of Tulsa into all of Oklahoma, like a lot of stuff in Norman, you know I recognize this stuff. Are you guys doing more to actually branch out into more of Oklahoma now?

Matt Leach: We are, and we are actually working on a feature film right now that takes place in kind of South East Oklahoma, and it is about Native American Hymns, so I think that will be really cool to get it out of Tulsa and get out to other cities too, tell more of the stories of rural Oklahoma.

And it is a feature length documentary?

Matt Leach: Yes, it is a feature length documentary that we are producing right now.

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About the Author

Shawn S. Lealos
Shawn is a film critic with over 25 years of experience in print and online media. He is a member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle and loves everything from critically acclaimed movies to B-level action flicks.
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