PA Film Industry Association Interview with Matthew Fridg
Interview By: PAFIA Vice-Chair
Headspace Media (www.headspace.media) owner Matthew Fridg recently sat down with the PA Film Industry Association to talk about his short film, Saving Amelia (www.savingamelia.com), the process behind making the film, and plans for a future film.
Saving Amelia is a short film in the spirit of family adventure films from the 80s and 90s, starring two sisters who must overcome their sibling rivalry after they discover a mysterious radio that can talk to the past. It was directed by Matthew Fridg, owner of Headspace media in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and features his two daughters as actors. They filmed it while locked down in April 2020, and it has gone on to screen all over the world in over 20 festivals, winning nearly 10 of them (including the Pittsburgh Shorts Fest in 2021), and has received an Emmy award.
PA Film Industry Association: How did you come up with the idea and how did you get it going?
Matthew Fridg: I came up with the idea when I was going down a bit of a bunny trail doing a Wikipedia search on Amelia Earhart. I came across one of the theories that she actually landed the plane on an island and was transmitting radio signals for a while until the battery in her airplane died, and there were several different speculations about how that could be true. I found another story about a young girl in the US, on the east coast, who started picking up transmissions from Amelia and wrote them down. But that just got me thinking about how it would feel to get these radio signals from someone. That kind of turned into a contemporary story about two girls who find a radio in the attic, and it's receiving these signals from Amelia. What would they do? What would happen if they actually helped her using today’s technology? What would the world be like if this great female aviator survived and went on to do great things in the world?
PAFIA: What were some of the challenges you encountered?
Matthew: At that time in April of 2020, we were ordered not to leave our homes for any non-essential things during the COVID-19 pandemic. We didn't have any film gear, we didn't have any crew, all we had was whatever was in our house. I had an old camera, an HD camera that was not really up to date. My girls weren't necessarily actors, so we really had to overcome all these obstacles, and then the post-production was done completely remote, right when Zoom and virtual meetings were starting to become more important.
PAFIA: The burning question: How did you arrange the budget?
Matthew: Well, this was pretty much a no-budget film. Really, the thing we spent the most money on was the radio and the microphone. It was important that they look old, even more so than looking like authentic. They had to look cool and interesting for an audience of my daughter's ages. At the time they were nine and eleven years old. So, we wanted that radio to really feel like it was old and from another era. Dusty, interesting and mysterious. So, we searched around a lot at auctions, homes, and all different things. We ended up finding the radio at a local antique shop, and that ended up being probably the biggest piece of our budget.
PAFIA: What are the plans for distribution?
Matthew: We were happy that WQED, our PBS station in Pittsburgh, aired it as part of an independent film showcase. We've gone about the film festival route and we've made it available for physical copy sales on our website (savingamelia.com). Our plans are to just continue finishing the festival run and then making it available for anybody who wants it via physical copy or online viewing.
PAFIA: Care to share all the amazing accomplishments, awards, and selections?
Matthew: When we put it online for all of our friends and family to watch, we had like a thousand views within the first week, and we got a lot of great feedback. So we thought, “Well, maybe we'll put it in a film festival.” We found a family-based film festival, put it in there and we were nominated for the best short film and best family film. And from there, we had great feedback. So, we decided to put it into a bunch of other film festivals and it just kept getting in. I'd say it was accepted probably by 80% of the film festivals we sent it to. And out of probably half of those, it won some sort of award or was nominated for some recognition, so that was kind of surprising. But most surprising that we won an Emmy award. I remember sitting with my wife in a restaurant watching the live stream of the Emmy Awards when Saving Amelia was announced. It was so surprising, and my wife and the girls were overjoyed, especially when we got the trophy and everything. So that was really, really exciting.
PAFIA: Which film festivals do you recommend submitting to?
Matthew: The Boston International Kids Film Festival and the Seattle Children's Film Festival were great for us. The directors of those festivals communicated with me, and they were highly appreciative of the movie and gave great feedback. It made a remote festival experience very personal. But it was very special to be part of the Pittsburgh Shorts Fest and win Best Local Film.
PAFIA: Why did you choose to film in PA and what do you love the most about working in Pennsylvania?
Matthew: Well, we chose to film in PA because we were locked in our house and we live in Pennsylvania! But even if we weren't, we probably would've filmed it in Pennsylvania because Pennsylvania has so many different types of locations. You have forests, cities, fields, four different seasons. It's absolutely gorgeous. In my career, I've shot all over Pennsylvania. You can get so many different looks out of it. And so long as the story can fit in Pennsylvania, I would love to continue working in PA.
PAFIA: What are some of your favorite shooting locations in Pennsylvania?
Matthew: I just think that if you’re looking for that small town, classic American feel, you just can't go wrong in Pennsylvania. We have such quaint little towns, whether blue-collar towns or more touristy-type towns. We have Ligonier on one hand and then Latrobe, which has old mills in it, and we're close to Pittsburgh. I love the tree-covered hills and ridges. It’s just a beautiful place.
PAFIA: How did you get started in the film industry?
Matthew: I went to college for communication at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and really just spent most of my time shooting films and different things. Then, when I moved to Pittsburgh I started working on films as part of the lighting crew and just loved it. I shot my own stuff and worked for different production companies. Eventually, I realized that unless I wanted to move away and not have a family, I probably wouldn't be a director or anything immediately. So, I chose to live in Pennsylvania, raise my family, build a small marketing and video business, and do short films on the side with the intention to do more as I get more time. As my business grows, I hope to eventually raise the money to do larger projects.
PAFIA: What do you love most about your job?
Matthew: I own a marketing agency, and I'm working with people every day to help them solve their problems and grow their business. I love helping business people solve challenges with marketing, advertising, and business growth.
PAFIA: What was your most memorable, most awkward, or funniest on set story while shooting this film?
Matthew: Well, working with my daughters was interesting because they're not actors and they're not formally trained in any way, although they were very interested in it. I was really worried that they would not want to do it, that we'd start and they would kind of fizzle out, but that wasn't the case. My one daughter, who was kind of more into acting, was great. It was my other daughter who I wasn't sure of that really surprised me. They both did a fantastic job. Anna surprised me in her ability and how sweet she was on camera, but she did not like doing multiple takes. We would do one take and she would be like, “Alright, that’s good.” Anytime I film with her in the future, I’ll have to shoot with multiple cameras, so we can get more shots in one take.
PAFIA: Do you have any upcoming Pennsylvania-based projects?
Matthew: We work with a lot of Pennsylvania-based companies, so we plan to shoot some promotional materials and tourism stuff. We do a lot of work in Pennsylvania, but the sequel to saving Amelia that we're currently writing is pretty exciting. We fictionalize the aftermath of a historical event that happened in Western Pennsylvania. It has to do with aliens, the government, and all that kind of fun stuff that every kid’s adventure movies from the 80s kind of deals with. That will definitely be filmed in Pennsylvania, as we develop that idea.
PAFIA: PAFIA has been working hard on increasing the film tax credit in Pennsylvania and bringing more film work to our local crew and talent, but we must all unite to really make a difference. What can you tell our elected officials about the importance of PA film industry and the difference it has made in your life?
Matthew: Without the PA film tax, I never would've worked on movies. It was in 2006 that I started, and only a couple years before that, there had been some changes in the film tax. I worked with a lot of folks on movies in the 90s that filmed in Pittsburgh, like Sudden Death and Silence of the Lambs. They were very excited to get back into it. Without that film tax credit, I don't think films like that would've come back. I wouldn't have had the opportunity to work on films and grow my knowledge and love of film. I don't think Pittsburgh would be on the map as much. I don't think that the industry would've grown here. And since then, we've had tons of movies film here, and it's been really exciting. I know a lot of my friends in the industry have been able to stay in Pennsylvania and have meaningful work instead of having to move to a coast, away from their family and their hometown.
PAFIA: What is your advice for aspiring actors and filmmakers? Some steps to take? Some mistakes to avoid?
Matthew: I think that there's no one path to making films, and the technology is so available, especially since I used an old cruddy camera to make Saving Amelia. I never would use it on a commercial job, but it's almost like nobody cared when they saw the final product. It was the story, the performances, and the excitement of the film that drew people in, not what kind of lights I used, or the number of cranes, cameras, and lenses.
PAFIA: What are some of the most valuable lessons that you have learned about this industry and wish you knew earlier?
Matthew: I think one of the things I learned is everything really starts with a great story. Something that people really will connect with, and obviously good filmmaking techniques are important, the fundamentals of editing and shot structure and things like that, composition. But I think I learned that having the perfect equipment is not as important as having a great story and just doing it. Not waiting until you have everything lined up perfectly, but to just take the first step, make the film, learn from it, grow, and move to the next step.
PAFIA: What is your biggest aspiration in this industry?
Matthew: Honestly, my biggest aspiration is to be able to tell stories I love and do it in a way that allows me to feed my family, live where I want to live, and not have to be changing everything about me to tell stories and make films. I'm 40 now, and as I get older, I love the idea of being able to live in Western PA and being able think of and write great stories, knowing that there are people nearby because of the industry here that could help put on a production. Entering film festivals, being able to share that work on many platforms with the world and knowing that people are really seeing it, that they're happy and enjoying the work. Knowing that if it goes somewhere, if it allows me to make the next film, then it's a win. Just being able to make something that allows me to take that next step, I think is really good.
PAFIA: What would be the best way for our local PA cast and crew to submit to your upcoming projects?
Matthew: Anybody looking to work with Headspace Media on upcoming projects, whether they're our narrative projects or commercial projects for clients can reach out to us by visiting our website, www.headspace.media. You can reach out to us through our website and let us know who you are, and what you're interested in. We'd love to connect with you on the right project.
Pennsylvania Film Industry Association (PAFIA)461 Cochran Road, Box 246Pittsburgh, PA 15228(717) 833-4561 firstname.lastname@example.org