Matt Baron met me in the café lounge of New York’s Standard Hotel in a simple black T-shirt & jeans. His boyish looks & relatable energy was surprisingly refresh- ing considering that at only 27 he’s shot campaign videos for some of the world’s most sought after brands including Calvin Klein, H&M, Louis Vuitton & Moncler. He’s managed to make a name for himself through fashion films, documentaries, & advertising content. He’s working to bring elements of fashion film into the sports world & delve deeper into feature length motion pictures. Matt’s work is known for having a strong affinity for light & his use of rich, dark, & vivid imagery creates unforgettable storytelling. He’s also the son of Fabien, founder of Baron & Baron. But Matt is on his own mission creating escapism through films.
RK: What is it about motion pictures that draws you in?
MB: It’s a way to escape your normal life and become absorbed in another story. Films are so special. You can tell a story with a picture and you can feel emotions from music but there is a moment when you’re watching films where you’re totally invested and everything disappears. You can cry. You can feel pure emotions, totally relate and get absorbed and it is a really nice experience. [When making them] you have to be able to relate to every single person: every department… camera, lighting, props and music. You can make architectural references, be a musician, be a photographer, you can be a storyteller, it’s really everything. That’s why it’s so challenging and exciting at the same time.
RK: do you feel that fashion storytelling has evolved since you started making motion pictures?
MB: When I first started it was all BTS [behind-the-scenes] and I would go and shoot over the photographer’s shoulder and no one really had opinions about how the film portion should turn out. Before, I wouldn’t have any time to shoot the film. Now either you have your own shoot day or you have time after each photograph, a half-day or another set when you can give the time to get what you need. You need time. You can take 10 hours behind a photographer’s shoulder of a model looking at a photographer or 10 minutes looking into my camera and that is going to be the footage I want to use. I think it is about having the time and the resources. Also, photography is like a life picture. I totally respect the craft but film is a different beast. I still think clients and brands aren’t aware of how many more facets and how many more things need to come in place to make something special.
RK: Being a young filmmaker and working with such big clients, can you talk a little bit about managing relationships?
MB: I think it is still a little bit challenging with some clients because when they’re on a shoot they’re thinking photography. You’re left to your own devices to make something special and I feel like a lot of the communication lacks in the first part of pre-production. You are kind of doing it all yourself and figuring it out all yourself. It’s harder for them to articulate what they want in a film because it is such a new concept in that world and in that space. If you’re taking a photograph you’ve got a stylist right there. You’ve got the creative director, the client, the photographer, hair and makeup… they are all focused intensely on the picture and they see the picture right there on the screen colored and they are making slight adjustments all the time. When you’re doing a film you may have a second monitor but there is not a lot of suggestions. It is a foreign space so you are left with a lot of trust, which I really like, but at the same time, you need people to bounce ideas off of as they are happening.
RK: there is definitely a shift in how people react working on films vs. fashion photography. People seem to be involved in very different ways. it is a different collaborative effort for sure.
MB: When you are seeing a picture you imagine everything around it and as you are seeing a film, of course there are extra parts that you take from it and add to it, but it has to tell the story fully.
RK: what is your ideal project and when do you want to complete it?
MB: I don’t really have anything ideal. At one point I would love to do features, I want to move out of fashion and do sport films and do more documentaries. You have a crew for a few months and everyone becomes a family and there is a lot of dedication and time into one project and a lot of thought that goes into it. That is something I am really excited about being a part of.
RK: what is it about sports that you love or want to push into more?
MB: I loved sports as a kid and I still play soccer a lot. What I think is cool about the sports market is that it doesn’t include a lot of talking. It’s still in that fashion space where it’s very visual in how it’s captured, but I want to bring in fashion visual graphic elements and apply them to the sport world where people are moving intensely.
RK: Bringing a new way to view it in the blend of fashion.
MB; Yes. I want to capture sports in a beautiful way — where it has a little bit more of an in-studio look or more of a visual treatment. It’s just a way to advance and use the stuff I have learned in fashion and apply it to something I am a little bit more interested in and something that is a little more active.
RK: what would you say inspired you to get into motion pictures?
MB: I was 16 and playing in a metal band and I wanted to be a musician. I also liked taking pictures and being social with people. It was actually my dad who suggested…”You should maybe want to go into filmmaking because you can use music and take pictures.” It encapsulates so many different jobs. It’s fun leading a team, guiding everyone, making people cooperate — working with lots of different types of people and making lots of decisions.
RK: what can you say about being competitive in this space?
MB: I think that is part of the problem with fashion. Everyone is like: “What are you doing? What are you doing?” and fashion is also a lot of recirculating other people’s stuff. I like to do what I want to do and things that inspire me. I get more inspired by actual cinema and more movies and stuff. I want to think.
“Oh, I saw the latest Fincher film. I really like the techniques used there with the camera.” How can I try and experiment with some of those techniques in these fashion films?
RK: what are you doing when you are not working?
MB: When I’m not working I play a lot of soccer. I do watch a lot of movies. I like traveling a lot. I hang out with my dog and my friends. I go out and take a lot of pictures and I ride my bicycle.
RK: what was the last film you saw?
MB: I re-watched Zodiac with my girlfriend because she hasn’t seen any Fincher films. Rk: would you say David Fincher is one of your favorite directors?
MB: David Fincher is one of my favorite directors. The first camera you get is pretty basic and all you have is a tripod and you do what you can with that. Then the second you can afford a nicer camera and a steady cam or a hand held rig then you do everything with your hand held and you try and make everything complex with the camera movements and you try to embellish everything. Then once you do that for a while and watch a Fincher film he doesn’t ever move the camera. Most of the time it’s on a tripod… 99% of the time it’s a fixed camera tripod and the subjects and the story is what’s absorbing about it. What I am saying is that if your story isn’t good, it’s going to suffer and that’s what fashion is missing. It’s missing thought and concepts. You can use a steady cam in slow motion and wrap around someone with a dolly and moving light and it will look pretty but there is not going to be a lot of underlying substance and that’s some- thing I want to get to more in that space.
RK: do you have a set process in how you approach projects?
MB: I think it varies. A lot of times what I’ll do is a synopsis of what I want and I’ll also look for image and video references. You have to decide what is going to be the imagery, who is going to be the talent and then also how you are going to use the camera. Is it going to be hand held or tripod? Do you want it to be on a steady cam? I also DP everything I do so I have to make that decision, which any director would I guess… how the camera is going to work, what kind of lens… is it going to be telephoto or shaky hand held, wide angle, natural light or contin- uous light? I think the process changes between every project. You just have to do some concepting, find inspiration images and make the decisions of what are going to be your three elements in the fashion film. Every film needs a few things that are going to make it special. You have to find visual triggers that you want your audience to see in the film.
RK: music is such an important part of your work. what are your intentions when you find the music for your work?
MB: I think music is fundamental to any kind of fashion film especially if it has no dialogue. Well, even if it has dialogue — either way. Once I start pulling my selects for my film, I play those selects over different types of music and it’s crazy how many different vibes you can create just with a song. I’m just looking for a piece of music that is going to create a vibe and an energy for the type of thing I am doing. What I want in my song is a few stages of development. If I’m making a one-minute video I can’t have the same looping four chords the same time. I need an intro, a little bit of percussion to come in, a kind of crescendo moment and then a release. The intro is a few shots with the logo and then the pace picks up and I have my three hero shorts two-thirds of the way in then the final release which is a slow shot. Video is over and it wraps it up with a nice logo and you have the picture.
RK: what have been your greatest failures and successes?
MB: Oh, I did this edit for “America’s Next Top Model” and I was excited about it since it was going to be on TV. Then I got the footage and Tyra Banks was at my house editing every day and it was just not savable footage. Once I did my edit I was relatively okay with the producers re-cutting it and meshing it with other stuff, so when I finally watched it on TV I was just so embarrassed. I was very upset about that.
RK: what is the work that you’re most proud of?
MB: I think the work that I’m most proud of is my H&M sports video, which is really the stuff I want to be doing. That was just a really fun job. The Madonna documentary I did I’m proud of because it was just me and two other people with no money and really guerrilla style running all over the place. I think we told a good, fast moving story with very little resources. I’m also proud because it’s not about Madonna but it’s a Madonna documentary. It’s really about her dancers. At the end of the film you think Madonna is so great for bringing all of these people together and supporting them but you don’t really see her in the film. I like that. It is probably the longest piece I’ve done too.
RK: what can you tell young filmmakers about making it in the industry?
MB: You need to learn how to do every job. You need how to learn how to use a 5D, how to be a DP, how to talk to people and you very importantly need to learn how to edit if you want to be a fashion filmmaker. Editing is about 75% of the job, at least in the beginning. You’re not given much time and space with someone and if you get very plain footage you need to make that footage special and how you do that is through the edit and through the music you choose. That is how you are able to develop a lot of your style. You need to know how to use the lenses, how to use your light, how to transpose your footage, how to color it and how to edit it. You need to use all those tools and be a one-man show. To successfully execute a film yourself you’re going to need to know how to speak and articulate your ideas to every department. Everyone has the tools these days to make something relatively professional with not a lot of money. The hardest part is just going and doing it, I would say. People put a lot of blocks in their mind to not do things.
RK: what are your concerns about the industry of fashion and film for the future?
MB: My concern is that it’s going to be redundant. I’m concerned that no one is going to put the time, money and thought into bringing true narratives to fashion.
RK: at MONROWE we’ve definitely been focusing on that aspect of it. thanks so much for your time and excited to finally connect.