(POSTPERSPECTIVE) Behind the Title: Director Matthias Hoene
Words by postProspective
(POSTPERSPECTIVE) Matthias Hoene is a director at WTP Pictures, a creative production studio that produces commercials, feature films, documentaries, TV series and music videos. The company is based in Detroit and LA but shoots worldwide with filmmakers and creators working in Spain, New York, Mexico and more. The Berlin-bred Hoene directs spots and films. Let’s find out more…
How would you describe directing?
To me, making a film is like cooking a meal. You need to think about the flavor, visual appeal and texture, and then find the right ingredients to make the “dish” come to life. Do you want it to be sweet? Spicy? Umami? Hearty? Light? Nourishing? Vegan? Low-carb? You gather your spices and your carbs and veggies. Then you prepare it and serve it up with an exciting presentation, steaming hot: an olfactory journey for the senses, an adventure for the taste buds, a titillating theme with surprises and an emotional finish… and, most importantly, remember to leave some space for dessert.
What was it about directing that attracted you?
The act of storytelling is a primal and important part of human life. As an artist, I always wanted to move people, inspire them and make them feel alive. This can be done through a unique way of looking at the world, an insightful comment on a current matter or just a playful take on an everyday situation. I love creating worlds or surreal situations or just showing the audience something heartfelt, funny or emotional.
Everyone in my family used to tinker in a workshop making furniture, soldering custom hi-fi equipment together or making handmade fireworks (please don’t try this at home). That, combined with my interest in comic books, drawing, painting and photography, led me to filmmaking.
What I love about directing is that it sits at the intersection of technology and art. To be successful, you have to be intuitive and creative, working from gut instinct while also being tech-savvy, super-organized and methodical. At times, you need to know how to improvise and stick it all together with spit and chewing gum, all in the service of creating something wonderful.
What continues to keep you interested?
Filmmaking is an art that keeps us humble. There is always more to learn, try out, experiment and express. I love working and am excited about how storytelling keeps evolving across new platforms and media. The bottom line is that people will never run out of the need to hear stories to help them make sense of the world (or escape it for a moment), and I’m excited to be part of that journey… and I would love to win an Academy Award one day (laughs).
How do you pick the people you work with on a project?
Directing is teamwork, and I love the families we create to bring each project to fruition. Picking your team is like casting actors. You want to make sure everyone’s unique talent brings out the right flavors in the project. I have a regular go-to crew, but I also pick and choose specific talent when appropriate for specific jobs.
The metaphor is that everyone should have a sandbox to play in and have fun, but within the parameters the story requires. The goal is to combine our varied talents and make something that is bigger than the sum of its parts.
How do you work with your DP? How do you describe the look you are after?
I am very specific about the visual style of each film and spend a lot of time taking photos and filming the locations in prep for the shoot. I share those photos along with visual references and movies with my DP so we can develop the look together.
I always have a camera with me, as a visual sketchbook, to train my eye, discover the world and hone my craft. Plus, I love taking pictures. Because a picture says more than a thousand words, how you stage, frame and light each shot is an intrinsic part of the storytelling and can enhance every commercial or film.
Do you get involved with post at all?
My work can be post-heavy, so I like to be part of the process, especially if it involves character animation. I love bringing extra nuance and a bit of joyful spirit to CGI characters. So when it comes to fine-tuning the details of a performance, you might catch me acting out the performance of an animated ogre or a tap-dancing penguin or whatever else is required.Music and sound design are also crucial to my storytelling. I usually like to work closely with my composer to evolve the music. We keep going until we find the perfect sound and melody, trying to create something cool, unique and memorable. Of course, I also understand that in commercials, sometimes it’s good to step back and let everyone else work on the final polish, so I’ll adapt to each situation as appropriate.
How did the pandemic affect your process and your work?
I remote-directed a few commercials during the pandemic, and I shot the first season of my TV show, Theodosia, during lockdown. I have to say that I don’t miss Zoom-directing or working with masks and having to stick to our social bubbles. But going through this has made a few aspects of the craft easier to organize, and using video conferencing certainly helps with the carbon footprint.
That said, I love the hustle and bustle of a film set, and as a director, I believe that my energy helps shape great performances and get the best out of the crew, so I’m glad we’re back to IRL.
Can you name some recent projects?
I recently completed my third feature film, Little Bone Lodge, which is a contained thriller and has some cracking performances from the entire cast, including Joely Richardson (Nip/Tuck). I recently directed a spot for Lenovo Legion that shows a great crossover between live action and animation, and a film for Adidas about cliff diver Anna Bader that is beautiful and has a worthwhile message. There was also a Chanel spot.
What project are you most proud of?
My first commercial for Club 18-30 won a Golden Lion at Cannes. I was fresh out of college and totally blown away by its success, but the film holds up and still makes me giggle. I directed a couple of 3- to 5-minute shorts for cell phone network Giffgaff that are a lot of fun. I love the magical world of my McCain commercials and I love the escapist world-building of my Lenovo Legion spot.
Was there a particular film or show that inspired you to get into filmmaking?
I have a weird and eclectic bunch of influences, from Terminator 2 and Aliens, Fight Club, The Insider, Best in Show and Amélie. Nevertheless, you’ll find traces of those disparate influences in my work, which ranges from dark and action-packed to whimsical and sweet.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of the job is that there are so many different parts… throughout pitching, development, financing, prep, shoot, post production and release, you constantly have to shift gears and get to do so many different things that it never gets boring. For me, it’s priceless when you see an actor bring a special moment to life; your heart beats a little faster and you remember why you got into this business in the first place.
What’s your least favorite?
My least favorite part of the job is the empty-nester feeling when the project is over and I have to let it go. That said, that’s when promotion starts, and you share it with the rest of the world, so it’s not so bad.
If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing?
I would work for NASA and build a spaceship to take us beyond our solar system into deep space, marking the beginning of mankind’s journey to explore the rest of the universe.
How early did you know this would be your path?
I grew up in Berlin in a family of scientists. I knew no one in the industry, nor did I have any close role models who had made it in the film industry. But I loved movies, especially science-fiction and fantasy. So I started drawing and painting everything that popped into my head before picking up my first film camera at St. Martin’s College in London.
Name three pieces of technology you can’t do without.
The truth is boring: My laptop. My phone. My camera. But, looking beyond that, I love vintage lenses, the mechanical beauty of a Bolex 16mm camera, and my Nikon FM2.
What do you do to de-stress from it all?
Before I made my first feature film, I ran the New York City Marathon. Committing to one thing for that long — the training and then the run itself — was such an empowering experience that it still gives me strength now, and I’ve been running ever since. Nothing is better for de-stressing than a double endorphin hit, feet to the ground, fresh air and nature.
While filming in China, I picked up meditation and now use a pick ‘n’ mix of techniques ranging from mindfulness via transcendental meditation to using the Waking Up app.
And finally, I love traveling, reading, cooking and hanging out with friends… everything that grounds me in reality.