Danny Matier’s IMDB page reveals him to be a Swiss Army knife of talent. He has worked as an actor, a producer, a set decorator, a production designer, and a director. But his true passion is writing. His first feature length project was 2008’s Punishment. After several short films, Matier has returned to feature lengths films by writing The Unborn. The official summary of this film is as follows: “Tiffany, a security guard, starts a night shift at an abandoned factory along with her partner Joey. As strange events start unfolding, reality holds another, darker secret which has plans for Tiffany’s unborn child.” Wanting to learn more about Matier’s career and The Unborn, I was able to interview him for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Danny Matier: There are a great many stories I love. I was lucky in that my parents loved cinema and my mother loved the theatre. Star Wars had a massive impact on me as did The Karate Kid (the original). I watch The Karate Kid at least twice a year. It was a film that came along at a time in my life that I really needed it. I still get emotional every time I watch it. The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch, Cool Hand Luke, and Shane are others I watch at least once a year.
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to be a professional creator? Was there a moment in which this goal crystalized for you?
Matier: I started in the industry as an actor who wanted to be a writer. My secret ambition was to write stories. I’d been writing since I was a kid. Little poems, short stories, daffy songs. It was something I never thought was possible as a career but for some reason acting seemed plausible. I wanted to play Hamlet, but I’m six-foot five and built like a wrestler, and the role of Hamlet always went to the little fellas. Even though he was a Dane and would have looked like me.
At eighteen, I got off a bus in Brisbane with $200, a suitcase and nowhere to go. I left Melbourne to move to Queensland as they had film studios there. I knew no one in the business and learnt the hard way they hired actors out of Melbourne and Sydney and flew them to Queensland for roles. I look back now and laugh, but it shaped me. I was so driven. If I got a role that was shooting on the Gold Coast, I would catch the last bus from Brisbane to the Gold Coast to make crew call as the buses didn’t start running early enough to make crew call. I slept on the street a number of times as I didn’t have a car and I was always that guy who would never miss crew call.
A moment it all crystalized? Yeah. When I first optioned a feature. I’d been pounding keys for years at that stage and I was having a crisis of faith. I was in my front garden smoking a cigarette. I wasn’t happy. Friends were buying houses and having kids and I felt as though I’d missed some kind of boat. That I’d given years of my life to something that wasn’t really paying off. Then the phone rang with an offer to option one of my feature scripts. I went from the dust to the clouds in a heartbeat.
Yanes: You have been writing and directing professionally for over a decade. In that time, how do you think you’ve professionally grown?
Matier: That’s a good question and I really don’t know how to answer it. I can say I know when to let something go now and I’m not afraid to walk away from anything. That’s probably the biggest one.
I was very lucky in the professionals I knew during my time in London. They were very gracious to me. These were people at the top of their game and I was asking them to read my scripts which was a big thing for me to do. I would have anxiety attacks about making a phone call. But it was their honesty and a thousand red pens that made me better, that got me the eventual options, sales and commissions. I know that and I’ll never forgot those people who helped me.
Yanes: On a broader note, the entertainment industry has substantially changed in the last decade. What are some of the changes that stand out the most to you?
Matier: It was changing when I directed my first feature. A year before, we were making short films on super 16. By the time I had the chance to direct my first feature – we shot digital. It was new tech and my DOP was wary and we wanted to shoot 35. But money being the deciding factor in so much of what we can actually do as creatives, (especially in Australia), we shot digital.
But using digital as an example, it was a time of change, just as streaming is now the norm. I’m still a cinema head. I love going to the cinema as it’s fucking magic.
Until recent events, I was looking at the future of cinema being the equivalent of the opera. Massive budget films would get a cinema release and it would return to being an event. But in light of the current pandemic, independent film should see a huge resurgence. Low budget films that can be made with very small crews will probably dominate the market for the next few years and I would expect the next breakout hit to be shot by a smart young filmmaker on their phone.
It’s a devastating time for the industry and the world, but it is also a time of opportunity to create that content platforms are going to need in six months.
There is someone out there who will be putting something together that will be magic.
Yanes: Your latest movie is The Unborn. What was the inspiration for this film?
Matier: It was combination of things that all began to mash together in my head. One of the turning points for it was when I was looking at a door in a building that was destined to be torn down.
I was working art department on a show and the rent was cheap and the storage adequate. But this damn door intrigued me. It was messed-up, rusty, down a set of stained steps and it just felt wrong and no one would go near it and no one could tell me what was behind it. There was a cold air that seemed to flow through the seals.
I have quite an imagination and it was just inviting me to open it and get an ancient virus or release a shadow or get chewed in half by some kind of monster.
So, then the idea came about of a security guard discovering a doorway to hell.
That’s where it began.
Yanes: Humans have been telling ghost stories for as long we’ve been documenting stories. What is it about ghosts that appeal to you as a story telling device?
Matier: The unknown can be frightening.
“We need to talk.” Those words instill terror in all of us.
I think it’s a combination of the Irish folk tales I grew up with and things I saw as a kid. My mother loved suspense films and I think my taking to it came from her early on. Even now I’ll choose a ghost movie over a slasher film. Even though humans are far more frightening – I’ve always liked suspense.
Growing up in the Catholic church also helped as there was always a constant fear of sin and punishment and going to hell for the lamest of reasons, but then there were these awesome tales of exorcisms and fighting demons. I grew-up thinking that at any moment I could be possessed by some devil.
I often wondered if the priest telling me that playing with myself would get me sent to hell had ever fought a demon. If he’s wielded his cross and bible at some venom spitting beastie. That’s where my head would go in the religious education classes – “would this rosy-nosed cherub, be capable of fighting the legion of hell?”
It was highly unlikely as most of them didn’t have the stamina to tie their shoes.
We had the fire and brimstone types who really believed in hell and the devil and his imps and all of that and they told us that’s where we were going if we dared have sex before marriage. It was utterly bizzare, but most of the students believed it. I didn’t believe a word of it and I fought them tooth and nail.
One of the religious education teachers was an old priest that loved inflicting pain. He had dead eyes and a fat tongue he’d hold between these cracked yellowed teeth. I was convinced he was a ghost that had found a corpse to animate. That’s how I saw him and he appeared in some of my early short stories. He was a horrible bastard who would walk through the corridor of boys getting books out of their lockers to head to the next class with a freshly sharpened pencil before him or a pair of scissors. He drew a lot of blood. For a man of God, he was an evil little prick.
I was also fascinated by castles and dungeons and would read everything I could on them. I was lucky enough as a kid to travel Europe and see these old castles and an oubliette. Oubliette means “to forget” and they drop the prisoner through a trapdoor into this tiny circular room and walk off. There’d be rats and the bodies of others and a spike in the middle of the room. If you were lucky, you’d hit the spike. I remember standing at this ruin thinking about all the poor souls who had suffered in this place and the injustice of it all. The lack of control over their fate frightened me and I’m pretty sure it was that moment that started my fascination with horror.
Yanes: Tiffany (played by Manni L. Perez) is the main character and is pregnant. Given that the movie is called The Unborn, what thematically interested you about pregnancy and ghosts?
Matier: Well. The whole idea was a comment on female reproductive rights and that women must have autonomy over their own bodies. It goes back to the injustice of having a situation forced upon you and your control over it removed.
Yanes: The Unborn was directed by Tal Lazar. Were there elements of the movie he brought to life in unexpected ways?
Matier: It’s always an interesting time handing over a script. I find it exciting handing over this thing for someone else to go and make a reality. What’s lived in my head for however long and my poor wife being subjected to my ramblings and rewrites and waking up in the middle of the night to scribble notes as I’m dreaming about shadows. To get to the end of a story and place it in the hands of others who know the story as well as I do, but have a different perception on character, or a slight tilt on a particular theme – that’s exciting.
No one ever knows what that mesh of people will create, and I don’t expect to see any particular thing other than the whole it becomes.
Yanes: When people finish watching The Unborn what do you hope they take away from it?
Matier: I will have to answer this one with a quote. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Hamlet
Yanes: Given that you love a good class of wine, what wine would you suggest people drink when watching The Unborn?
Matier: Haha. Anything they want. But if you were to twist my arm, then the wine I was drinking when I wrote FADE OUT: on the final version – an Anderson (Rutherglen, Victoria) 2014 Storyteller Durif.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Matier: A limited location thriller set within the stranglehold of regulations, where one rule is more important than humanity itself.
That’s as much as I can say and I realize it doesn’t make much sense. But it’s in my head and while it’s there, it’s mine.