Illinois native Curtis Matzke is a name to look out for in the film industry. His recent success as the post-production supervisor, director of photography and co-screenwriter of the college film American Terrorist put his career on a new level when the film was highly praised, winning Best College Film in the 2011 Flint Film Festival and Best Student Narrative in the 2011 Lansing Film Festival.
Film has always been a part of Matzke’s life, especially within his family. “Everyone in my family loves movies of basically all genres,” Matzke said. “My brother and I have always shared an interest in film. My parents even painted a large screen on a wall in our basement so we can project movies there, but I’m really the first in the family to start making movies.”
Matzke has a B.A. in Media Arts and Technology from Michigan State University, and is currently continuing there, working toward his masters. College was a vital stepping-stone to his blooming filmmaking career. “The program has helped me build a portfolio of projects as well as ideas for project development and marketing,” Matzke said. “The ability to complete my own projects and then submit them to festivals and gain credibility as a filmmaker is hugely important for me.”
Matzke’s filmmaking style focuses on strong relationships and developments of characters instead of solely the visuals. “My work emphasizes story and character-driven independent films rather than a lot of student films that seem to get hung up on the visuals too much,” Matzke said. “The marriage between the characters, the story, and what’s presented on screen is what’s really important to me. The goal is to create something that the audience can latch on to and actually have a connection with rather than something that’s just on the surface.”
American Terrorist, created as part of Matzke’s two-semester capstone class for the fiction film specialization program, strays far from the typical college film. “We wanted to do something a lot more edgy and unconventional from most of the student films we had seen,” Matzke said. “Ben Sherman and I wrote the screenplay; Ben then directed the film, while I was post-production supervisor and director of photography with Kris Sundberg.”
The making of this film was a great learning experience for Matzke and the American Terrorist team. “Making the film was a challenge and a learning experience, as the production of all films are,“ Matzke said. “We used professional local actors and local composer, who were especially great to work with. Pulling the final film together was a lot of work, but seeing on the screen was very gratifying. A production without problems is impossible, so how we solve those problems creatively is what makes it fun and challenging.”
Matzke had some words of advice to help advance a college student’s film career. “Be committed and be prepared to work hard. You can only take what you put in to the experience,” Matzke said. “You haven’t really made a film until you’ve made one outside of a class. Being able to pull things together by yourself makes you stand out significantly.”
Matzke currently has two films in production, both short features, one a quirky documentary and the other a fiction film that is part of his thesis project.