I was introduced to singer, songwriter, and actor Matt Zarley in 2012 with the release of his album Change Begins With Me. I was taken by Matt's honesty and introspective look at love and personal growth with this album and that was enough to make me a fan. It was great to now catch up with Matt to talk about his new project hopefulROMANTIC, a wonderfully innovative short film about love, relationships, and getting back on your feet! The nearly dialogue free narrative is articulated solely through a soulful pop score by Matt and Grammy and Emmy Award winner Andy Zulla and, directed by Benjamin Pollack.
In addition to Matt, hopefulROMANTIC stars Chuck Saculla as "The Boyfriend," Jolie Jenkins as "The Best Friend," and social media/pop culture icon, Star Trek's George Takei as "The Mentor." Watch hopefulROMANTIC here and purchase the soundtrack from Amazon and iTunes!
1. It's great to catch up with you Matt to talk about your new short film hopefulROMANTIC. I just finished viewing it and I have to say it's very well done. Innovative. Timely. I loved how hopefulROMANTIC was filmed, little dialogue and set against your music but at the same time, I wanted it to be a full movie, but then again, I felt the way it was done told the story perfectly. What made you want to film hopefulROMANTIC in this style? Do you think you ever might expand it to a more dialogue-filled feature? First off, THANK YOU! I’m so glad you liked it! With this project, I had a few missions that I wanted to accomplish. I wanted to show that it was possible to have a musical consist of a set of pop songs that equally convey the narrative and move the story forward; as well as being able to stand on their own individually outside of the musical narrative framework. You could pluck any of the songs out of context and throw it on the radio and it would hold its own. (hopefully lol)
My other mission was to show the power of music in emotional storytelling. When the dialogue abruptly ends it was to demonstrate the feeling that I was experiencing in that moment…therefore I felt to not having dialogue from that point on was very powerful. I wouldn’t wanna expand this into a dialogue filled feature. For me, that defeats what I was setting out to do. I didn’t want this to be a typical movie musical format. It’s really 6 mini music videos that link together to tell one cohesive narrative.
2. The movie was inspired by your own relationship ending abruptly. How long after your relationship ended, did you decide to make hopefulROMANTIC? I wrote "Constantly" the week after I broke up with my ex. That song was the catalyst. So I guess the week after.
3. How did making hopefulROMANTIC help heal you? Being creative usually helps me work through emotional issues I may be having at the moment. With this, it sorta broke things down for me and I was able to look at my situation and go through the stages as I was creating each stage of this narrative.
4. One of your co-stars in hopefulROMANTIC is social media/pop icon and Star Trek's George Takei. When putting this film together, when did you say, I want George Takei to be part of it? What was the first thought that went through your head when he said yes? I knew that I wanted a mentor figure in this…someone who has a maternal/paternal appeal, someone who crosses every boundary of any community, social class, gender, etc. George was always our first choice. He embodied everything that I wanted. Thanks to my dear friend, Stafford Arima, I was able to get into contact with him and share some of the music and synopsis. The rest is history. :)
5. hopefulROMANTIC has already received much acclaim and been chosen as an official selection by dozens of film festivals around the world. What is it like to see the film receive such a positive response after being created out of such a tough situation? Hugely rewarding. I’ve been to many of the festivals and the one thing I noticed is that the reception is always the same, regardless if it’s a mainstream festival or a LGBT festival. hopefulROMANTIC was actually in about 50/50. People seem to really relate to it…it’s definitely universal in its message.
6. What was one part of your relationship or break-up that you said to yourself, I have to include this exact moment, as it happened, in the short? In filming that moment, did your original raw emotions come up or were you far enough away from the relationship to just film it as you would film anything else? Well I didn’t include super specifics with the exception of the first date scene…that was pretty verbatim. It was absolutely love at first sight and he did lean over and kiss me at the table. I was still going through it when we were shooting. My break up occurred in August and I was in front of the camera filming this in April.
7. What was the hardest scene of hopefulROMANTIC to film? What was the most fun part to film? "Constantly" was definitely the most emotional to shoot. I was going through it. That was all real. The scenes with my dogs warm my heart. They were so good on the set and were both such stars. I have since lost them both. Breaks my heart.
8. While this was an emotionally charged short to watch, both happy and sad emotions mixed together, it still looked as though everyone got along really well. What were some of the funniest things that happened while filming? Well Chuck is a long time friend and actually an ex of mine. Working with him was a dream and I can’t imagine doing this without him. Jolie is my real life best friend and we can seem to find humor in anything…and we did. And of course working with George was inspiring and beautiful. Such a special week. You could feel the love on the set and that everyone was there for the same reason. Kinda amazing…a special experience I’ll always cherish.
9. The songs in the film are fantastic! It really drove the story forward, but it also works as its own being. You wrote the songs with Grammy and Emmy Award winner Andy Zulla. What made you want to collaborate with Andy on this project? What was one song you guys just instantly clicked on? What was one song that took a little more give and take to write? "Constantly" was the tune that I think Andy and I both knew was our favorite. It came together so effortlessly and organically. "Shiny New TOY" was definitely the "problem child" of the bunch. For some reason, it just took longer than any of the other tunes. We were really trying to do some fun novelty things with the video game sounds, etc, and we wanted to get it right.
10. Since hopefulROMANTIC takes you on the journey of finding love and losing it, what is one thing you learned about love through making this film that you did not know before? I learned that as cliche as it is, everything does happen for a reason. If I didn’t experience what I did, I wouldn’t know what that deep, intense, love felt like….nor would I have ever created this labor of love. For that, I’m eternally grateful for my once broken heart. :)
Matt’s passion for songwriting resulted in his first solo album, Debut, which was released in 2002 through Universal Distribution. The critically acclaimed set featured the dance hit, "You Always Want (What U Ain’t Got)" and "Say Goodbye;" which was also featured on the all-star Human Rights Campaign (HRC) benefit CD, Being Out Rocks. Matt's sophomore album, Here I Am, had its title track chosen as one of the 2008 "American Idol Songwriter" competition’s Top 20 finalists in the prestigious national contest. He co-wrote the tune with Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner, Tom Kitt (Next To Normal) when Tom was serving as Matt's music director for his NYC engagements. The set was also named one of Billboard Magazine’s Critics "Top 10 of 2008."
Change Begins With Me, Matt’s 2012 album release garnered near unanimous acclaim. Critics hailing it "inspiring," "powerful," "passionate," "soaring," "dreamy," "poignant," and "a rare breed of artist….soulful and impressive." The album’s first single, "WTF" became Matt’s 3rd Billboard hit; while the music video became an internet cult classic. His next single, "Trust Me," quickly became Matt’s 4th consecutive Billboard single and, the song’s music video became a viral sensation, having clocked over 100,000 views in its first 2 weeks of release. To top it off, the album received the 2012 OutMusic Award for both "Album of the Year" and "Single of the Year."
Matt began his career at 12 years old starring in national commercials and, subsequently, his career led him to Broadway where, still just a teenager, he made his Broadway debut. Matt has appeared in numerous shows including Chicago, A Chorus Line, and Cats, and has played the title roles in both Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and The Who’s Tommy on Broadway. He has also had the pleasure of performing with Whitney Houston, Reba McEntire, Chaka Khan, Vanessa Williams, Brandy, Usher and Olivia Newton-John, among many others.