For the past 15 years, Detroit native Mathew Bainbridge has worked at the top of the Baltimore film industry. His résumé includes major motion pictures Liberty Heights, Cecil B. Demented, and Head of State. He’s done production work on David Simon’s television series Homicide and The Wire. And from 2004 to 2011, he worked under the wing of John Waters on movies and art exhibits. He’s done a lot.
After earning a film degree at Northern Michigan University, Mathew found a lucky connection through an aunt that worked at Channel Two News. This led him, in the early 2000′s, to Baltimore to work on the Homicide, which in turn got him onto the set of The Wire.
In 2004 Mathew left the world of freelance production to work on his first movie “Partita.” Bainbridge refers to the film as an experimental melodrama influenced by the avant-garde “Dogme 95” film movement. Created by Danish filmmakers, the Dogme 95 manifesto calls for films that are built on solid script-writing and acting rather than special effects.
What Weekly recently had a chance to sit down with Mathew and ask him about Baltimore, the filmmaking process, and his new film, The Turner Exhibit.
Phil: Before we dig into your work, I guess we should get your résumé out of the way. You’ve worked with David Simon and John Waters. As a filmmaker, is your résumé a blessing or a curse?
Mathew: The nice thing about Baltimore is that everyone knows everyone else. The résumé only gives you a modicum of authority with people who don’t do what you do, and really, it can be more of a curse when I try to raise money for a film. People ask, “Why don’t you have John Waters give you the money?” I actually took him off the résumé for six months because of it.
Phil: What do you say to them?
Mathew: There’s no way I can answer that question without making John look bad to people who don’t understand the business. It’s a flat policy–you either make films, or you produce them. You don’t do both. John is a director.
I had the privilege of working for John Waters for six years, learning from him, and using that experience to produce films and meet people. Asking for more seems a little on the selfish side.
Phil: Your résumé includes work with John Waters and David Simon, but your own films are psychological dramas that contain neither gritty street drama nor comedy. I like the idea of having new and varied voices in the city, but what is it about Baltimore that keeps you here making films?
Mathew: I grew up just outside of Detroit. Some people here get upset when I say this, but Baltimore is the most midwestern east-coast city in the world. It’s so comfortable: the way people behave, the life-style, it fit me like a glove. My films don’t take place in specific locales; they’re more about a character’s state of mind than a specific location. But the great thing about Baltimore is that it can go old, it can go very contemporary, can go rural or urban. Within a twenty minute range I can make any kind of tableau I need to sell my idea without getting too specific. For filmmakers that’s a great luxury.
Phil: What moves you as a filmmaker?
Mathew: I’m a huge fan of a screen play like Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation or David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner, where the audience is given only what they need to follow. For example, in the The Conversation: who is Gene Hackman spying on? He’s spying on the director. Why is he spying on the director? The director may be into something. No details are given; everything is thematic in nature.
Phil: How would you describe your own films?
Mathew: Most films concentrate on the “what” of a given scenario, I actually believe that “why” is far more important, so I always say I make thrillers where the mystery isn’t “what,” but “why.”
Phil: Where are you in the process of producing your new film, The Turner Exhibit?
Mathew: It’s in the editing stage, and we’re starting to show it to people. We still need a few more investors in order to complete post-production. My lead actor [David Costabile] just had a major role in Speilberg’s Lincoln, so he’s working all the time, and all my other actors are super busy. With that buzz and promotion I think we’ll get into some nice festivals and more.
Feel free to get in on the buzz yourself at Mathew’s site, http://www.yearoftheratproductions.com/