Local film student scores a cult hit with ‘To a Tee’

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It is the dream of nearly every independent filmmaker to have their work loved and appreciated by an audience and embraced as a sterling example of the work that they are capable of.

Few actually get to actualize those dreams substantially. When openly gay Watkins film student Matt Riddlehoover started his latest film project entitled “To a Tee” (which he wrote, directed, edited and stars in) he thought it was just another film project. He never imagined that people would actually like his work—much less want to see it.

Upon its completion, the twenty-one-year-old Riddlehoover on a whim put together a trailer for the film and put it up on his MySpace page in April.

Within a few days he got a call from another filmmaker alerting him to the fact that he was in the running for a MySpace Film User’s Choice Award—which he won in May. A few short months later, “To a Tee” was screening at an exclusive one night showing at the Belcourt Theatre in Hillsboro Village.

The film is a seriocomic feature about a playwright (Riddlehoover) who is attracted to the wrong type of guy (played by Jonas Brandon in four separate roles) and insists on always pursuing them despite the fact that it always ends badly.

Things really come to a head after he meets a young newspaper columnist (Lindsey Hancock) who jumps on board to help champion his work. Everything seems okay until he meets her boyfriend (played by Brandon) and things start to get—um—sticky.

With “To a Tee” Riddlehoover delivers a laugh-out-loud script with solid, three-dimensional characters and a great sense for dialogue and comic timing that hints at great things to come for the young filmmaker. The parts are well acted and convincingly delivered—particularly by Riddlehoover himself who manages to convincingly portray a character that is a totally self-absorbed leach of a person despite the fact that he is not only acting, but directing himself—a feat which few actor/directors can pull off well.

Also of note, is an appearance by the phenomenal Tia Shearer and the dark, broody delivery of “the wrong guy” by Jonas Brandon who inspires drooling in every one of his scenes.

It’s not hard to see why the main character always falls for him!

Riddlehoover also gets major points for delivering a story that is realistic and even revealing in it’s unfolding. There are no swelling violins as the end credits roll after everything is resolved and tied up neatly with a bow. In fact, there is not a “happy ending” at all.

In his protagonist, Riddlehoover is unashamed to show a flawed character who refuses to change his ways and remains unchanged by the film’s end. Originally born in Bermuda, Riddlehoover—a softly handsome, slight-of-frame young man with deep, soulful brown eyes and seemingly perpetually tussled dark hair and a quiet, unassuming attitude that has a tendency to depreciate himself—agreed to sit down with me recently over coffee at Fido’s to chat about “To A Tee” and where he plans on going with the film from here.

For more information on Matt Riddlehoover or his film “To a Tee” please visit www.toateemovie.com.

FDK: Congratulations on the MySpace Award and the success of your film.

MR: Thanks! I appreciate it!

FDK: So, is this your directorial debut?

MR: No, but it’s probably the first film I will ever show anyone. I’ve done a few before. My first film was written in 9th grade and made in 10th. It was terrible. It was 1206 pages—three hours and seventeen minutes long. Like I said: terrible.

FDK: You have a great cast with some well-recognized local talent like Tia Shearer from People’s Branch Theatre. Was the film difficult to cast at all?

MR: Actually, they were all friends of mine with the exception of Jonas Brandon who plays the four different guys. With the exception of Jonas, I wrote most everyone’s parts around them so that I could lend to their strengths as actors. It also helped that I knew them all. When I wrote Jonas’ part (s) I wasn’t thinking they would be one person in all four roles. The original idea was to use actors with a similar look, but when Jonas auditioned for the part it clicked that I wanted him to play all four roles.

FDK: That’s a technique often employed in theatre. Do you have a background in theatre?

MR: I actually prefer theatre to film. I have been doing plays since the age of six, but the last production I was a part of was “Les Miserables” my senior year of high school. I employ a lot of my theatre training in “To a Tee”. Most of the shots are one long take from the front of the scene as if you are watching a play—things like that.

FDK: How have your parents received your work?

MR: They have always been incredibly supportive of me and my work. This actually made my mother very happy because it is one of the few films that I have acted in and she always encouraged me to get more into acting but I wanted to pursue film as a whole and not limit myself.

FDK: What was the biggest obstacle for you in the making of “To a Tee”?

MR: The one thing that was the worst was in the end I have to stand there and get bitched out by the other characters which is great on the screen, but while we were filming it was incredibly hard for me to take it because these were some of my closest friends bitching me out. It was a hard scene to do because I wanted to stay in character but it was just so difficult to put myself into that place where I was being attacked by these people I cared deeply for.

FDK: How much of the film is autobiographical?

MR: Not much at all. I’m nothing like the main character. There have been lots of times in my life where people have told me I needed to put something from my life in a film but I want to keep those experiences for myself. I’m an entertainer so I want to entertain and not trivialize my personal life by making it a feature film.

FDK: Would you care to share with our readers a little about some of the techniques you employ while directing and acting?

MR: I never spend too much time on the dialogue and we never spend a lot of time rehearsing. I like for there to be some flexibility to allow for the actors to deliver what they want to bring to the part so a lot changes and moves around once we get on set. It was really easy for us to do an ad-libbing sort of thing with this because I was comfortable with all of my actors and most of us already had great chemistry together.

FDK: What were your goals with “To a Tee”? Did you ever expect this much attention?

MR: To have fun. I actually had no expectations at all. It was really surprising and exciting to me to find out that people actually wanted to watch it—not to mention buy it.

FDK: Are you seeking a product distribution deal now?

MR: I’ve looked into some things and there are a few promising leads. I would really love to be able to sell this film to people so we’ll see. As soon as it’s ready to go, it’s great to know that there are already people who want it.