Michael Matteo Rossi: A lot of people have a very romantic view what it must be like to grow up in LA, but being an LA native, it always just felt like home. I’m from the Los Feliz area (5 min from Hollywood) and always had friends who were in the industry (or their parents were). I always loved film because my dad would show me many classic films as early as about 5 years old, so it hit me extremely young that this was something I wanted to do. Going into Jr. High and High School, I went to Campbell Hall, a private college prep-school in North Hollywood where a ton of celebrities’ children (or celebrities themselves like the Olsen twins, Briana Evigan, etc. went) so I always felt immersed in the business one way or another. Even if I tried to avoid it, it was always “there.” During my childhood I had the lucky chance to bump into a few famous actors/celebrities like Jeff Daniels, Magic Johnson and even Robert Deniro and this fueled me to want to pursue film even more. It literally was in my face.
FC: Are your parents artists? Are they supportive of your creativity?
Michael Matteo Rossi: My parents actually are both doctors; my dad is a neurologist and my mom is a psychologist, so growing up there was always a notion of “big shoes to fill,” however both of my parents are huge cinephiles so it never felt like I was living with the stereotypical ridged cold doctor. They knew from an early age that going into medicine was not going to be my calling and actually embraced my creative side and helped encourage me to do theater acting in my early teens, which I did.
.FC: What was their reaction when you asked to go to film school?
Michael Matteo Rossi: My parents were very supportive of my choice to go into film. My mom naturally worried a bit of the “not a sure thing” mentality, but also recognized how ambitious I was from the get go about it. My dad’s only real concern was, “You better mention me at the Oscars!”
“With all due respect to everybody who has one, one of my ideas of hell would be a monotonous cubicle 9-5 desk job. I understand and respect people who do it, but some individuals (like me) truly aren’t cut out for it. It was never in my agenda to do that as well. I took the unorthodox road of just throwing myself into film and knew that climbing the ladder slowly (internship, mailroom, office assistant) wasn’t in the cards for me.” Michael Matteo Rossi
FC: What was your first week like at San Diego State University?
Michael Matteo Rossi: I loved San Diego State. The first year there was one of the best years of my life. So much freedom, meeting new people, exciting new experiences; it was overwhelming in the best of ways. I was fortunate to immediately attach myself to a great group of friends in the dorms and the classes were fantastic and engaging too. Truly nothing bad to say.
FC: Since you were a film major, what was the biggest takeaway from those 4 years?
Michael Matteo Rossi: The biggest takeaway from SDSU from a film studies perspective is to network. Meet people. Introduce yourself. This business is about connecting with like-minded talents and building professional and personal relationships. If you make a great impression on somebody, one way or the other, they will remember you. Making that impact is key and you never know how the collaboration can work down the road.
FC: Of the classmates in your graduating class for Film studies, how many of them work in the industry currently?
Michael Matteo Rossi: Of the classmates I still know from SDSU, I’d say it’s probably 50/50 split between the ones that work in the industry now and who have veered off. It’s a no brainer; this business is TOUGH; I almost feel you have to be slightly masochistic to be in it and definitely have thick skin, so it’s not cut out for everybody. I think some realized this harsh truth after college and decided to go for a safer endeavor, while there were other that stuck with it or just changed roles in the industry.
.FC: Do you think aspiring filmmakers can learn more online now than they would in film school?
Michael Matteo Rossi: I personally do think filmmakers can learn more online than maybe film school, HOWEVER, both can go hand in hand. It works best when they are combined with the most important thing, working on set and learning the crafts hands on. It’s like going to a country to learn a language: sure you can learn one by classes and studying, but actually to be immersed in the field is the ideal. That’s what I did Sophomore year of College and never looked back.
FC: You’ve acted as a child/teen. Why are you more swayed toward writing/directing?
Michael Matteo Rossi: I did theater acting as an early teenager and were in a few productions like Annie, Bugsy Malone, Fiddler on the Roof and the Tempest, and it was a blast. I landed a few of the leads actually (I’m pretty sure I still have that old VHS tape of me as Tevye) and it was an incredible experience. I took a creative writing class when I was 16 and a lot changed. I realized that I wanted to be the one who crafted the stories and wrote all the amazing characters. I wanted to paint worlds on film and lead the actors. My acting as a young teen definitely helped me to prepare for that.
FC: How many short films did you make before your first feature MISOGYNIST?
Michael Matteo Rossi: I did about 7 or 8 short films before delving into my feature and it was amazing preparation for it, however nothing could fully prepare me for the realization that shorts and feature are two completely different animals. It seems apparent on the surface, but it truly is night and day and they have to be attacked very differently. Short films are obviously on a much smaller scale on every capacity and although they need the right amount of pre-production, etc can be done fairly easily at this point. The one thing that shorts and features have in common is they demand a great engaging story; where it always starts. I funded most of my shorts myself or with the connections of a great team who wanted to help because they believed in the projects. Shorts usually don’t take too long to film, so people are more willing to jump on board for reduced rates or even free sometimes for the experience.
FC: Are you a good multi-tasker on set?
Michael Matteo Rossi: In the indie film world, you almost always have to wear many “hats” on set. I personally love directing my own written work, but when I am on set, you’ll find that crew and cast alike will often go above and beyond their own designated roles and help out whenever they can in any capacity. It shows the dedication and the merit when they do that because they always want the best project.
FC: Tell us about MISOGYNIST?
Michael Matteo Rossi: Misogynist is my first solo-directed and produced feature film that really came together in an interesting way. I had just got done with about 6 months of hell trying to raise 1 million dollars for another psychological thriller script I wanted to direct. After many let downs, scams and close calls, I was feeling extremely discouraged and depressed. The low point seemed to end after I took a step back, re-evaluated the situation and really told myself to consider doing a feature on a small more manageable scale. I wrote a script that I felt was highly feasible as well as entertaining and rounded up some of my most trusted colleagues for a review of it. Once the script was looking favorable and doable, I was on my way to making the film. It was one of the greatest few months of my professional career thus far.
FC: What intrigues you about dark characters?
Michael Matteo Rossi: I have always been attracted to dark engaging stories about moral conflict and characters with crosses they have to bear. Don’t get me wrong, I love light hearted comedies and Disney films, but my mind is drawn to those powerful character driven stories. I want to feel the chills and the sting and have the film resonate with me for days after. Being a cinephile myself, some of my favorite movies usually have flawed characters who have to go through a journey of hell and sometimes they come out clean and others they destroy themselves; but nevertheless they make an impression on everybody; including the audience.
FC: What was one of the worst moments on the set MISOGYNIST of and how did you get things back on track?
Michael Matteo Rossi: We shot Misogynist in 6 days plus one pick up day and needless to say for anybody that has worked on set, that is an extremely quick shooting schedule for a feature. I attribute it to the amazing cast who really was prepared and the crew who worked like an amazing well oiled machine. We were thriving off passion and joy. The whole experience was incredible, however the worst moment was probably when we were behind schedule on the 2nd day and literally had ONE hour to shoot 4 pages of the script before the location was locked down. If we pushed it to the next day, a domino effect would have happened and the film basically would have been screwed. I had a quick pow wow with my producers and DP and through a miracle not only pulled it off, but it turned out better because we had to cut out a little of the extra fat in the scene. Being relieved was an understatement, but when we were in damage limitation mode, it definitely wasn’t fun.
FC: You’ve said “This business is brutal, but for the strong-willed, they can make it” – Why? What’s brutal about it?
Michael Matteo Rossi: The business is brutal because you unfortunately come across a lot of detractors and people who do nothing but talk. It is vital to keep a clear mind and surround yourself with the positive individuals in your life and stay on track. You will get let down. You will get rejected, however if you keep at it and stick to your work and craft, it will get better. Feeling discouraged from time to time is completely normal. This is a business where you’re as good as your last project, so always aim towards the next one.
FC: What is your barometer for entering a film festival?
Michael Matteo Rossi: I always prefer film festivals to be established and have a great reputation behind them. Being oscar qualifying is always a plus, but basically a festival that is worth submitting to is one where I know the film will be screened to a wider audience and a potential discussion can arise from it. Film festivals are fantastic networking opportunities as well. You showcase your film and see others so it results in great conversation pieces too.
FC: You made MISOGYNIST in 2012 and are now distributing the film in 2015. Why did it take a few years? Can you tell us what the process has been like to find a distributor for your film?
Michael Matteo Rossi: Misogynist was shot in late June of 2013 and finally completed in September. It was a fantastic process overall and I’m really happy with how it turned out. We ran a festival circuit and towards the end of 2013, I began to start the inquiries to distributors: easier said than done, that’s for sure. The most important thing was for me to feel confident that this distributor would give the film the personal attention it deserved and really believe in the project. I shopped around a bit and finally decided with Acort International and Midnight Releasing because not only their track record with indie horror/thrillers, but also the personal attention they gave me. People often overlook the importance of that and not feeling like you are swept under the rug. They believed in the project and currently now have been a joy to work with. The film is being released on March 3rd of this year and I can’t wait!
FC: Have you ever held a 9-5 desk job. Why/why not? If yes, where was it/what did you do?
Michael Matteo Rossi: With all due respect to everybody who has one, one of my ideas of hell would be a monotonous cubicle 9-5 desk job. I understand and respect people who do it, but some individuals (like me) truly aren’t cut out for it. It was never in my agenda to do that as well. I took the unorthodox road of just throwing myself into film and knew that climbing the ladder slowly (internship, mailroom, office assistant) wasn’t in the cards for me.
FC: One of the hardest lessons you’ve had to learn in life?
Michael Matteo Rossi: Very interesting and loaded question. I’d say one of the hardest lessons I had to learn was to balance the line between trusting others and yourself and also keeping guarded at appropriate times too. You want to take everybody at face value and not judge, however this industry is cutthroat and there are sharks out there. There are the people that will say everything you want to hear and completely take advantage of you. You have to mentally prepare yourself for that so that was a lesson that I had to learn and still am learning to this day.
FC: What’s the best way to find actors for a project?
Michael Matteo Rossi: I used to use LA casting sites to find actors when I started out with short films, but after you start to build up a great professional network, you start to use some of the same actors and also reach out to new ones through referrals. I love doing my research on an actor as well. I will obviously watch their reel, recognize their strengths and weaknesses and most importantly gauge if they fit the character that I have written. It’s a very fun process.
FC: You say you love puzzles and games, especially within a story. What are some of your favorite films that exhibit this?
Michael Matteo Rossi: I love mind-bending thought provoking films. Growing up, my dad would show me episodes of the Twilight Zone and I craved every single twist that they threw at the audience. Therefore, some of my favorite directors are Kubrick, Aronofsky, Nolan, Fincher, and Lynch because they are masters of suspense, thrill and have a dark vision that they portray brilliantly. So many of all their films are puzzles that I can try to dissect time and time again when I watch.
FC: Do you hope to make Hollywood films or do you want to remain in the indie film realm?
Michael Matteo Rossi: I personally love independent films because it’s so easy to see the passion behind them. There are no major studios backing you so it’s often a group of creative talents all pulling their weight to make it happen. I think most indie artists would agree though that the one deterrent from indie films is the lack of money. Having the proper budget can always be an Achilles heel for artists and sometimes it shows. I would of course be open to bigger Hollywood studio films in the future, however I really would never compromise my integrity as a filmmaker to do so. I want to stay true to myself and my visions.
FC: Future projects? What’s next for you, Michael?
Michael Matteo Rossi: I am always thinking, writing, brainstorming and working on some sort of film in one way or another. It looks like I’ll most likely be doing a sci-fi/horror in Spring of this year (knock on wood) so I’m very excited for that. With Misogynist coming out on early March, I can only hope that the film is enjoyed and watched by many people who appreciate my style and recognize the potential in me as a young filmmaker!
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Michael has extensively been involved in writing, producing and directing and actively been involved in film projects for the last few years. At 19, during his 2nd year at college Michael decided to make his first short film. Rounding up the contacts he had, he went on to have his film screen at the LA Shorts Fest and be nominated for best short. Feeling the momentum surging, Michael made a few more non-student short films while at school and in 2009, completing San Diego State with a degree in film and finishing top of his class. He moved back up to Los Angeles and continued to make several short films. In 2011, he directed, produced and wrote The Last Wish, which screened at a number of festivals and picked up several awards including the Sierra Nevada Award at the 2012 Mountain Film Awards. In early 2013, Michael knew he was ready to make his first solo-directed feature. Michael directed, produced and wrote the feature, Misogynist, where he was awarded best narrative feature at the Los Angeles Underground Film Festival and starred Jonathan Bennett (Mean Girls), Eve Mauro, Jon Briddell and Tracey E. Bregman (Young and the Restless). The feature was picked up by Midnight Releasing (a prominent indie horror/thriller distributor) and is set for VOD release March 3rd, 2015. Michael was put on several fan-made lists including “Top promising director’s under 30”. At only 27 now, Michael seeks to continue to make engaging, thought-provoking features for years to come.
Jonathan Bennett, Jon Briddell, Eve Mauro, Danielle Lozeau, Alia Raelynn and Tracey E. Bregman.
Michael Matteo Rossi
The film focuses on the life of Trevor; an extreme narcissist, misogynist and border-line sociopath who holds underground “seminars” to teach young men the ways of controlling women. His best student that he treats like a son is Harrison; a student of his ideology for the last 3 years. They have seen it all together. Things start to unravel quickly once Harrison finds out who Trevor really is.