An interview with Matteo Belletta | The Painting | VMA19 BEST SCREENPLAY FROM A MOVIE | September Edition
The Painting is the directorial debut for Matteo Belletta, a young and promising Italian cinematographer, director, and editor, who moved to New York to pursue his dreams of becoming a great filmmaker.
Matteo's first short film, recent winner at the Vegas Movie Awards in September, talks about a very hot topic for artists of all kinds: the struggle to find inspiration.
In the following interview with this extremely talented writer and director, Matteo shares his personal and humble experience as a visual storyteller, and tells us how important it is for an artist to accept failures as a fundamental part of one's artistic growth.
• Hello Matteo. First of all, congratulations for your Award of Excellence as Best Screenplay From a Movie at the Vegas Movie Awards - September edition. Despite being a first time director and screenwriter, The Painting already shows your talent and your great passion for cinematography, as well as your attention to detail. When did you first discover your love for filmmaking and what convinced you that it was your true calling?
Hello, and thank you! It’s been great participating in your great festival and I can’t wait to be there in person for the annual event at the end of the year.
For the longest time I wanted to be an actor. I took an acting class for theater, back in Milan, then I moved to Australia, hoping to find better schools, but I couldn’t afford any of them and then the same thing happened when I lived in London. After that I decided to move to America and I realized that my English was definitely not good enough so I decided to study the language and put my dream of becoming an actor aside, at least, until I knew the language better. After a few months though, I was really getting discouraged because everything was moving too slow for me as I was still learning the basics of the language and acting was so far away. One day during lunch break in English class, I decided to start writing a screenplay so I would have a project to work on in the meantime. I picked up a pen and I started writing a scene, after a few pages I was having so much fun that I couldn’t stop, needless to say the scene was awful and the writing was so basic but in that moment I probably realized that I couldn’t care less about being in front of the camera, what I really wanted was to create a movie: write it, shoot it and edit it.
• You were born and raised in Italy, a wonderful country synonym for art, where however artistic professions like yours are often undervalued. How much have the United States, and in particular New York, helped you get where you are now?
Italy is a gorgeous country where, historically speaking, art has been the center of it for many decades. Unfortunately though, at the moment, art is not considered a profession and this is being translated in people not believing that art is something worth investing in, resulting in the only possible conclusion: if you don’t know somebody that can push you further up, you probably won’t have any chance of even putting your work out there. America is still a country based on meritocracy. It’s a place where if you create something that has some sort of value, people will recognize it. This is fundamental for every artist I think.
After months of staring at a blank page, I realized that the actual one thing that I wanted to say at the moment was exactly that: how hard it is to express yourself at times.
• Who and what has most influenced your artistic vision?
I don’t think I can fairly say that one particular movie or one director has been the inspiration for this movie. I have several directors whose work I admire obviously, but for this short movie I didn’t try to recreate any particular style or look, I just tried to create something that could reflect the story in the best way possible. The one thing that I knew I wanted was a dark and high contrast look for a more powerful and dramatic piece and despite the challenges of the location I think it’s fair to say that we accomplished that.
I’m very happy and grateful to the whole crew whose work has been nothing but amazing. • From a writing standpoint, how complex was it to make straight-to-the-point a so delicate topic for an artist such as the lack of creativity?
Figuring out how to start the story, conceptually, was very challenging, but once I started writing the first few words, everything got easier from that point. The process became easier because The Painting represents the struggle that I’ve been through to actually write this movie. Sometime in the last 2 years I decided that I wanted to write a short movie and try to have it produced someday. Since then I literally spent months and months trying to come up with a story that I wanted to tell and the more I tried the more I failed. After realizing that what I was experiencing was going to be the actual movie, everything just started to flow.
Since I don’t believe that a form of art exists that is more complicated than another, I picked a painter as a representative of any artist because to portray an artist with a paint brush, canvas and exquisite colors would naturally lend itself to a great visual. The two biggest challenges were showing boredom without actually boring the audience and showing an internal struggle without counting on voice over (and not because I don’t like voice overs but because I didn’t want to turn this movie into a nice collection of images narrated by a somebody). I found the answer to both those problems with the character Azrael and once that fell into place, everything else was just pure narration.
• How did you come up with the idea behind The Painting, and what drove you to strongly represent the figurative relationship between the artist and his demon, which sometimes deals with depression, with an emphasis on the very inner relationship between apathy and unexpressed creativity?
The interesting thing about not being able to express yourself is that when every day you wake up and try to make something or say something and nothing happens, you slowly start to get into your own head and you become the main person that stops you from actually expressing yourself. After months of staring at a blank page, I realized that the actual one thing that I wanted to say at the moment was exactly that: how hard it is to express yourself at times. The reason why this was so important to me was a conversation that I had with my brother several months before I started writing the movie. He told me that an artist is somebody that dedicates every decision of his/her life toward his/her artistic career, from the biggest and more obvious decisions like what is your next piece going to say to the smaller and more apparently insignificant ones like deciding to not go out that one night with friends to stay home and study to perfect your craft, every single decision should be put toward your art. That really stuck with me and I started thinking of what would happen if you try, as hard as you can, but for whatever reason you can’t produce anything. For me, the only possible conclusion to that problem would be the complete loss of yourself; everything you’re trying to be would just cease to have any meaning or purpose. All we want, as people, is to know that what we do, say or even think has meaning and that maybe, if we’re lucky, we made some sort of difference in the world.
As an artist, all you do is trying to find the best way to do so, no matter the cost and If you start believing that everything you did to try to be better, which in many cases is a path surrounded by failure and years of work with no satisfactions and maybe even suffering, might have been all for nothing, well, that is when it might be hard to find a way out. That’s why Liam couldn’t find any other way to cope with that thought.
• Which part of the process in the making of The Painting did you find most satisfying? The writing part or the direction?
I don’t have a preference really, I like it all to be honest, I love thinking about how the story should be discovered, what a character might say or not and in what context but I also love being on set and working with the actors and with the camera to find the best way to deliver every emotion, or at least what I think would be the best way. The one thing that I can say is that writing feel scarier to me than directing. Writing screenplays has been a private process for me, at least for now, and it’s always nerve-racking to see how it will impact the reader. People always say to do what you want and not worry about what others think. I personally disagree with this concept, it should matter what people think of your art, because we are all trying to tell something to other people and if people don’t respond to it, most of the time it’s not because they just “don’t get it” but because it could have been told better, I really think that the audience is much more smart than we generally give them credit for. Directing on the other hand is much more tangible to me because you can feel the response right away, from your actors, producers, cinematographers and every other person that is on set right there with you, sometime you have to trust your gut, other times you have to trust the people you’re working with and if you did a good job and surrounded yourself with people you trust, they will tell you if they feel differently from what you originally envisioned.
• The actors who played Liam and Azrael were perfect for their roles. What was your casting process like? What kind of emotions did you go through seeing your characters come to life?
Way before starting to cast for the movie I met Kervin Peralta (Liam), shortly after I saw some clips of his previous work, I remember watching one scene where he gave this very intense angry look with very minimal effort, without overselling it and it was just so perfect, I believed him completely. I knew that Liam was not a character that required big theatrical actions but rather very minimal expressions, capable of selling that idea of boredom and lack of creativity without saying a word. I felt that Kervin was the perfect actor for that and I’m very happy for how the movie turned out and I’m very grateful to him for being part of the movie. After that we started the casting audition for Azrael and we saw several actors, most of them were actually pretty good and we considered most of them until we received one clip from the one actor that couldn’t make it to the audition. That’s how we met Brendan McGowan (Azrael), we sent him his part to read and gave him very little direction, he simply delivered exactly what we were looking for and from there it was just an easy choice.
All we want, as people, is to know that what we do, say or even think has meaning and that maybe, if we’re lucky, we made some sort of difference in the world.
• What would you suggest to your peers who wish to undertake a career like yours? What are the most common errors that could be avoided right from the start?
I think the worst thing anybody could do is to not criticize their own work and not learn from their mistakes. Every form of art requires failure so the best thing we could do is to fail as much as possible and always try to do better. Another thing that I think is vital is collaboration, this is especially important for cinema where there’s no such thing as a one person movie. Cinema is the product of a collaborative effort so the best thing we could do, I think, is to find passionate people that know what they’re doing, that share your vision or at least understand it. Always try to bring the movie to the best possible outcome and more importantly find people that are not afraid to tell you that there might be a better way to approach every problem or challenge. At the end of the day, the movie itself always comes first and the entire crew is working to make the final result the best it could possibly be, so I believe that listening to collaborators and sharing ideas is one of the most important aspects of filmmaking.
• What’s next for Matteo Belletta? Where can our readers follow your work?
I’m working on different projects at the moment, including another independent short movie which I hope to produce next year but it’s still in its early stages. You can find a sampling of my work on matteobelletta.com, but I’m most excited about my future work that will be featured on: www.auroracreativemedia.com (the production company that sponsored and produced The Painting). I am working more and more with Aurora and I hope to continue collaborating with them in the future, as they provide excellent production quality and it doesn’t hurt that they are amazing to work with.
• Thanks for being a part of the Vegas Movie Awards with your beautiful project, Matteo, and good look with your future creations. Ciao!
Thanks for having me!
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