Aeterna Spotlight: Mateo Trujillo-Hobbs

 

Mateo Trujillo-Hobbs is a Los Angeles based Director and a welcome addition to the Aeterna Productions team. With a flare for comedy with heart, Mateo brings the perfect blend of serious and fun to any table he’s a part of.

 

Mateo Hobbs

Photo Credit: Sara Nevels, Talk Studios

What was one of the first signs in your childhood that entertainment was the route you were heading for?

As a child I used to record movies and TV shows on a tape recorder and listen to them as I fell asleep or when I woke up in the morning. It was oddly entertaining to have access to the audio and then imagine the images in my head.  Looking back I wonder what my family must have thought when I listened to movies like Jurassic park as the last 30-40 minutes were basically just people screaming as they ran away from dinosaurs. Surprisingly they never said anything to me despite the disturbing sounds coming from my tape recorder.  

 

What film experience gave you the “I have to make movies,” epiphany?

I don’t really recall having any one movie give me the epiphany. But I was the last person on my block to stop playing make believe. Everyone started playing sports and I was still breaking out the toy guns and costumes. I’ve always been pretty bored with the real world and I think that’s lead to my interest in filmmaking.

 

What is your greatest film school regret? We all have one.

Not going to school in California sooner. I spent four years at a community college making sure I wanted to do film before I moved to LA. But what no counselor tells you before you go to community college is you make your chances of getting into a four year institution incrementally smaller because private institutions (i.e. most film schools in Los Angeles) have no interest in accepting transfer students, because they make more money off students spending all four years at their university. And because they are private institutions they have no obligation to accept transfer students. So by following my high school counselor’s advice, I made my chances of succeeding that much harder.

 

My high school counselor gave me ill-conceived counsel relating to college as well. Did you also have an experience with a teacher that shaped your career trajectory in a positive way?

I learned a lot about directing from John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, Psyche, Supernatural) while studying at Chapman University. His book I’ll be in my trailer was a candid expose on the distrust most actor’s and director’s have while working with each other. The other thing I loved about his class is he demanded that every student had to act in each other’s scenes. I have a theater background so this wasn’t a completely new experience for me but plenty of other would be directors had never been faced with the prospect of getting up in front of an audience before. This was a very humbling exercise and something I think anyone who wants to direct should consider doing. It helps gain perspective and will earn the valuable trust of your acting company in a way that simply wouldn’t be possible if you weren’t willing to risk the same things you are asking your actors to.

 

When did you decide to make the move to Los Angeles?

At the last minute. I was told in June that I had been accepted into Chapman University. But not in my first academic choice (Directing), they had accepted me for Screenwriting. So at first I thought about waiting and then re-applying the following year. My Mom pushed me to go and I’m thankful to this day for her pushing me out of my comfort zone and making me take the hard decision and move at the last minute.

 

First LA job?

I spent years interning. But my first paid job was as a Barista at Starbucks. Which is practically a rite of passage for most newcomers.

 

My favorite project of yours is Running Down Pathe, an epic tale of a young man’s quest to take his beloved grandmother on one last adventure. When/how did you first come up with the idea?

I had the idea right after I finished my thesis at SCC (After-Life), and brainstormed the idea with my A.D. at the time (Andrew Loewith), who would go on to produce it with me two and a half years later. I had a very close relationship with my Granny growing up. She kind of raised me when I was younger and I took care of her in return during high school and college. The idea sort of came out as a wish fulfillment of a trip I wanted to take her on before she passed away and I didn’t have the chance. So when she passed away it became kind of a passion project of sorts.

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Photo Credit: Sara Nevels, Talk Studios

How much time did you spend in pre-production? Do you wish you spent more?

About four months of pre-production. We started roughly in January and shot in April during my Spring Break at Chapman. I desperately could’ve used more time. I think with rare exception, all projects can benefit from more hindsight and time to think about a creative decision. But at some point you have to hit the gas or the project starts to stall.

 

Pathe has many logistical challenges: guns, cars and comedic kick ass fight scenes. What was your greatest production hurdle you had to overcome?

I think the greatest difficulty to overcome came on the second day, when our movie car died in the middle of day two, and we had to stage a car chase with a car that wouldn’t move. We towed it from location to location and used allot of film tricks to hide the fact that we couldn’t move it. And to make matters more difficult, it was an early 90’s Lincoln town car made of steel so it wasn’t as lightweight as modern cars.

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Photo Credit: Sara Nevels, Talk Studios

The soundtrack fits the film perfectly. Did you license existing music or hire a composer?

The soundtrack was something I gave lots of thought about going into the production. One of the biggest challenges I gave myself going into the project was to make a film about a subject I felt very connected to on a deeply personal level, and still make it entertaining to a large audience. My favorite movies growing up were Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, E.T. etc. And those movies don’t really get made anymore. Character driven action movies with small personal stakes that get blown up to larger than life proportions. And half the feeling that comes from those movies is based on how the music drives those themes in the critical moments be it an action or emotional beat. So I wanted to have a composer write the music and I wanted the orchestra at Chapman record it. But none of the departments at Chapman were willing to work together so that fell apart pretty quickly but we got really lucky and found an incredible composer in Rob Himebaugh. He happens to also be a very talented director. I saw one of his AP projects at a student showcase at the end of one semester and fell in love with the evocative score to his haunting film. At the time I had a composer I liked to work with so I just put his name in my back pocket. But when it came time to do our score, my usual composer was busy so I reached out and he agreed to do it. We both shared a love of Alan Silvestri’s work on Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit and those two scores became a tone reference for what I was looking for.

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Photo Credit: Sara Nevels, Talk Studios

How did you find your tone? Did you have it clearly defined in your mind from the beginning, or was it something the project evolved into?

I had felt very strongly going in that the film should encompass several tones. Most of my favorite movies encompass a wide emotional spectrum, sometimes pulling off large tone changes with aplomb and making it seem easy. I learned the hard way that sometimes 23 minutes is not enough time to switch gears effectively, but I learned allot from the things we did right on this film as well as the things that we didn’t quite stick the landing on.

 

What do you find more challenging, writing or directing? Which do you find more rewarding?

I hate writing, haha. The blank page is the worst enemy one can face. Every new project is a challenge. It never get’s easier because each story is its own thing. And with writing unless you have a partner, it’s just you versus the page. Directing, while not easy, is like coaching. You have an army of people working to bring a vision to life so you don’t feel quite as overwhelmed when you come across a problem as you can when you’re alone facing the blank page.

 

Who do you wish was your film industry Yoda?

Probably either Merian C. Cooper or Walt Disney. I admire Cooper because he lived in an age when people didn’t go to school to become filmmakers. The most influential directors that founded this industry lived full lives and brought their life experiences to the table. Like John Ford, they could’ve been war correspondents in the military, or like George R. Miller they could be doctors. Merian C. Cooper explored the world and even discovered some new species of animals before his experiences navigating the darkest corners of the globe eventually brought him to directing the original King Kong. And Walt Disney had that unflappable trust in his own vision. To believe in something as crazy as a feature length animated film, back when the technology was barely there to do a short. Or to have the vision to invent a brand of entertainment like Disneyland, when nothing else like it existed. I appreciate the gumption it must have taken to ignore all the naysayers, and how good it must of felt when the project that everyone deemed as “Walt’s folly” would go on and revolutionize the entertainment industry.