Filmmaker Feature: Matt Kleiner

Capturing natural beauty clearly is a key to filmmaker/photographer Matt Kleiner’s creativity. With great attention to detail and finding those magical moments, he has developed a style of his own that is now recognizable in and out of the surfing world. Utilizing a number of skills, including his musical talents as well as his expertise behind the lens, Matt has become a force to reckon with which is showcased in his latest project, Way of the Ocean, a five part series around the globe revealing the connection between man and the ocean.

What was the initial draw to filmmaking for you?

Initially I was really drawn to film, specifically super 8 and how it really seemed to capture a moment and the feeling. My dad used to film a bunch of super 8 of my brothers and I when we were growing up and it was always so cool to see how it translated to the screen. I think that really sparked my interest and made me look at things differently from then on. Once digital video was introduced and it was actually affordable to practice shooting I picked up a camera and never really looked back.

Did you start shooting video or photos first? And how have the two helped one another along your artistic path?

Video was first for me, partly I think because we had a video camera in the house growing up and it seemed so much cooler at the time because it was new. I didn’t really get into taking photos until a few years ago and it was sort of out of necessity. The work I was doing at the time required stills and we didn’t have a budget for a photographer so I just filled in and started getting really drawn to it. The challenge of capturing an emotion or a story all in one single frame was really cool and it took me awhile to feel comfortable but I think it has helped me develop as a film maker tremendously and vice versa.

What makes surfing such a strong creative focus for you?

I pretty much grew up at the beach and once I started surfing, it took over my thoughts. As most groms do, I would day dream of waves until school let out and I would spend every minute I could in the water. I think surfers are really lucky in the sense that we see things that most people won’t ever get the chance to and maybe it was that perspective that led me into surf film making. Surfing was the reason I started to travel and traveling is what inspires my film making so it all goes hand in hand for me.

How does diversity in filmmaking help one project to the next?Is there a particular type (or genre) of job that you seek out?

For me, diversity is a huge thing and it really helps not to get burnt out or stagnant. With any thing that’s creative it is inevitable that there will be slumps or downtime so having a bit of diversity keeps the brain working in different ways and helps keep things rolling. Its easy to get frustrated with surfing at times because everything is up in the air and you really can’t count on anything. So being able to work on something completely different will allow me to recharge my focus and get excited about the unpredictability of surfing. If I had my choice of a particular job I would just photograph beautiful women in beautiful locations all the time but I think I will always enjoy making surf films even if it’s just for fun.

What tools of the trade do you feel are most important (besides a camera, of course) for you to have a successful shoot?

There are so many factors involved in filming but I think the most important thing is light. Whether is it natural light or artificial light it’s the main ingredient in a successful shoot. Another big thing is making sure you are in the right mind state and able to adapt quickly and make changes as things happen. When you work with sun light it is constantly changing and sometimes there are only a few minutes or less for the perfect shot to take place so you have to be ready. Then there is always the subject, when working with people its all about chemistry. If everyone is having fun or getting really into what they are doing then the outcome is usually reflective of that.


Is there any specific advice that you have received over your career that has stuck with you today that you still go back to?

The best advice I have received was really just to go for what you want, work hard and find something you truly enjoy doing. As clich√© as it all sounds it seems to have worked out. One thing I always try to remember that my parents told me is that you get back what you put out. It’s pretty easy sometimes to get down in this profession. Most of the time work isn’t steady or reliable and there are a lot of ups and downs and no one ever seems to have a budget. Staying positive and putting that positivity out there is a huge key to success and will usually result in good things coming back to you.

Your cinematography and imagery is extremely rich and beautiful. What is the key to finding those images?

It all kind of goes back to light I suppose. I always try to wait for the right time to do shoots and make sure to capture some sort of emotion or a specific feeling. I spend a lot of time choosing locations and finding out what angles look good to me and then just try to make sure I am on it when the time is right. Another thing to keep in mind is camera settings. Its always good to play around with the settings and find the look you are going for. Personally I’m really intrigued by color and usually try to achieve a very rich look and its kind of just trial and error until you find what you are looking for.

You have been HIGHLY involved in every aspect of your latest film, Way of the Ocean, from shooting, editing, music and more. Why take on all these different aspects to the film? And what is the most rewarding part of the film for you?

I really enjoy every aspect of filmmaking. When I’m shooting things a lot of times I can see how I want the edit to work and hear sort of what I want the music to sound like. It can be a bit overwhelming at times to have all that work on one plate but I think I’m just addicted to creating things. Working on all these different aspects of the film allows me to break it up a bit and not just film everyday or not just edit all the time. I really can’t sit still for too long so having to wear a few different hats keeps me plenty busy and I learn a lot in the process.

Way of the Ocean is sort of a personal project for me, it’s something I have been working on and wanting to do for awhile now. I think a lot of surf movies now days are just one giant ad for the big corporations and I really wanted to do something with out any of that. Just really have fun making something with no deadlines or any other cooks in the kitchen so to speak. I’m also pretty lucky in the sense that I have two really talented brothers to work with. We all work well together and between the three of us we can cover all the bases. My older brother Ryan is an insane artist and musician and did all the design and art direction along with a really cool acoustic track for the film. Justin, our younger brother worked with me on the soundtrack for the film and the trailer and all their help really gave the project a unique and cohesive feel.

I would have to say the best part though was spending all that time in Australia working with some of my favorite surfers and scoring great waves. It’s hard to balance between filming and surfing but that was another reason for making this a personal project so I could take my time and enjoy everything.

All in all, I enjoy every singe bit of it and getting to work on my dream project with no bosses or deadlines or any creative hold ups was the best experience ever.

You also are in a band with your brother. How long have you been playing music?

When I was 15 I started messing around making recordings at home and I guess over time it progressed into something more. Music has always been a huge part of my life and a driving force in my visual work so I guess it was natural to get involved with it at some point. My brother Justin started producing music around that same time and after college he started taking it more serious and buying real equipment. He put together an album under the name The Protist and it was really cool stuff for editing so shortly after that we started working on a few tracks for short films and other little projects. We were having so much fun recording that we decided to work together on an album and add vocals and make it more of a full on band. Aside from a bunch of tracks fro the movie, we’re currently working on an album as The Protist that we hope to put out in the next year.

What’s next for Matt Kleiner?

A cold beer and a warm surf trip are in the immediate future. Finishing Way of the Ocean was a huge task and I’m looking forward to releasing it and surfing my brains out for a couple weeks. After a little decompressing, I have a few music videos lined up to shoot, finishing and recording the Protist album and then starting production for Way of the Ocean: North America which should be a lot of fun.

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