Someday, bloody someday
Roseville-native turned indie-filmmaker Matt Thompson credits the “school of hard knocks” for his stage and screen education. Certainly, he's paid his dues locally—in 2009, the 29-year-old self-taught writer, actor and director delivered a standout performance as Stanley Kowalski in the Big Idea Theatre's production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Now, his horror-thriller flick Bloodline (from a script that took Thompson 10 years to finish) finally reaches movie theaters on Friday, September 27. A DVD release will follow in January. The movie, filmed in the Eldorado National Forest in 2009 and 2010, follows a seminary student who visits a cabin he recently inherited—only to discover a Native American curse that's followed his family's bloodline through an heirloom necklace. Thompson talked to SN&R about shady acting schools, hypothermia and the art of self-directing.
Tell me about your film education.
When I was trying to become an actor, I realized very quickly that you've got to have something to get something, you have to get something to have something. I talked to a producer, who [advised me to] write something, study it [and] put [myself] in it. I wrote a  film called Fallen Soldier, and I ended up producing the whole thing myself on a Doritos and pizza budget. Once it was done, people encouraged me to explore that directorial side of things.
How did you figure out filmmaking on your own?
Instantly, I got screwed by [one of those] acting schools that supposedly get you straight to the top immediately. I then settled into this school, which, at the time, had Tina Cole from My Three Sons as one of my teachers, and she was in that first film with me. She took me under her wing, taught me about the industry. So, I just went to Borders and loaded my cart full of books like From Reel to Deal [by Dov S-S Simens], Save the Cat! [by Blake Snyder]—those kinds of how-to-make-a-movie, how-to-produce books. I think that if you're passionate about something, you will seek out the materials.
The Bloodline script took 10 years?
Yes. I started it when I was 19, pretty much just out of high school. [The script's] gone through 14 different drafts [and] full rewrites. The seed of Bloodline comes from when I was in one of those private acting classes, and I said, “Let's make something! Let's do something in the horror genre, because it's going to sell. It's going to be commercially viable.” The great thing about horror is a lot of people can start out there, make a lot of mistakes, and it still goes out. There's less judgment. It's really cool to have the opportunity to watch yourself grow in one project. I can go back to the original draft and say, “Oh my God, I wrote that?”
What obstacles did you encounter shooting in the Eldorado National Forest?
For one, it does snow in May. The movie is supposed to take place in summertime, so we figured we'll make it in May, when it's spring; it'll be warm enough. We're in front of the camera in shorts and T-shirts, then cut, we're all huddled around the heater getting warm. We got 3 or 4 inches of snow. You can't shoot a summer movie in snow, so we lost a few days, we had to make them up. The last night of filming the grand-finale scene had us in the lake, but the water was freezing. We had little wetsuits on underneath our clothes, but that doesn't really help. I not only had to be in a really great emotional state to pull off this huge grand-finale scene, but I had to dive into this icy cold water at 3 a.m. I got hypothermia, so they put me in a tent to warm me up, and then threw me back into the water. It was intense.
What was the most challenging aspect of directing yourself?
[Acting and directing] are two totally different jobs, and each one hinges on the other. You have to be able to rip yourself out of the scene, look at the entire thing objectively, criticize yourself constructively, direct the crew, direct the lights, the camera movement, the actors, your co-stars and then jump back into that scene and forget you said anything. You have to trust your crew to get it right.
Which films and directors influenced you?
I studied M. Night Shyamalan's structure in his early films, The Sixth Sense and Signs. I learned how to write screenplays based off Signs. I love [Steven] Spielberg for his visual sense to a convey story and keep you in it. I love [Martin] Scorsese: Nobody can direct actors like that man can. Of course, I love [George] Lucas for his innovations in the industry. The Departed and Blow, those crime-drama movies really get me.
Favorite horror- thriller movies?
Jaws is one. It was totally original, out of the box. [Spielberg] took something that people were naturally afraid of and put it into an awesome story.
Next up on my slate is a movie called Split, where I play a cop who goes undercover in a multimillion-dollar drug ring and becomes corrupt in the process, starts living a double life. I co-wrote that with the person it happened to; it's all based on a true story.