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It’s taken a long time for filmmaker Matt Long to get to make 'Soldiers of Embers'. Here's what you need to know about the indie project.

Indie talent Matt Long on his project ‘Soldiers of Embers’

It’s taken a long time for Matt Long to get to make Soldiers of Embers. After a disappointing project falling through the cracks, and spending years as a supporting role in several major projects, Long took it upon himself to write his own script and tell his own story. 

Following the story of a soldier coming home from war and trying to reconnect to his teenage daughter and civilian life, Soldiers of Embers has former Paratrooper Jack Bishop going down a dark path of brotherhood. A first time script from Long, the film was directed by Danny Cotton of Fabrication Images. 

With a strong debut under his belt, Long is transitioning into more behind the scenes work with more projects in the pipeline. This is far from the end for Long and his filmmaking career. 

Humble beginnings

While initially starting with a career in IT and Project Management, an event in his 30s made Matt Long realize he needed to really take his dreams of being an actor seriously. Attending classes through the Norwich Theater and a variety of other acting workshops, Long worked his way into the field. 

After filling his mind with the acting knowledge he needed, Long began working as support on a variety of TV and film sets, auditioning for project after project. Finally, it seemed like his big break was coming after being cast as the lead in a gritty crime drama. 

Due to the production company falling apart though, so did the project, and it was indefinitely shelved before it could even be sold to a network. But this was far from the end for Long. In fact, it just inspired him to be his own storytelling and write his own scripts. 

Controlling his own work

The first script he wrote was Soldiers of Embers, and he knew he wanted to bring that script to life personally. Especially after seeing how much control the production company has, Long knew he wanted full control over Soldiers of Embers. Creating his own production company Bulldog Films, Long moved into a producing role on the film as well. 

Working with Danny Cotton, cinematographer Andrew Cant, composer Bruno Di Micco, and a plethora of talented folks, Long brough his script to life. Also starring in the film as Jack Bishop, Long wore multiple hats while working on the project. Of course, it all paid off in the end. 

Winning awards at the Minefield Film Festival Albuquerque and the Hollywood International Media Festival, Soldiers of Embers was praised all around by viewers during its festival run. 

Working two films at once

To prove how multitalented Matt Long is though, he was working on more than one film at the same time. While in production with Soldiers of Embers, he was also serving as producer and actor on No More Lights in the Sky. Written and directed by Cotton, the film is a dystopian zombie film through the eyes of the protagonist and his interviews. 

The film was massively praised for its sci-fi plot and direction from Cotton during its festival run. Running on the circuit with Soldiers of Embers, Bulldog Films nabbed over 25 awards for both films during its run. And these were just the production company’s debut films!

Matt Long has already encountered so much success in a short span, but we know this is not the end for him. Soldiers of Embers and No More Lights in the Sky both have international distribution deals, with both available for pre-order on DVD and digital VOD releases coming soon.

Interview with Matt Long

Tell us about the history of your filmmaking career. How did you start your journey?

After being on many film sets, I eventually landed my first lead role which had a great story and a lot of potential but over time I could see things were not going well for the production company.  This was really frustrating as I could clearly see the potential being wasted but despite calling it out, I was ignored and the company came to a halt resulting in the film being shelved which wasted the time of the cast and crew.

I was not prepared to see myself or anyone else in this position again, so I created Bulldog Films.  Having my own production company meant films were made on my terms and I had full control to ensure films were completed.  I had met so many talented people on various film sets and had the idea for Soldiers of Embers in my head so I knew we could do something fantastic.  Danny Cotton and I had met on the set of another film and became good friends.

We both have the same hard-working mentality so it was inevitable that we would start working together.  We bounce off each other really well when it comes to film making.  From there it has been a rollercoaster ride of hard work, little sleep but lots of success.

What other creative people have inspired you?

Neill Blomkamp – I just love his style of film making.  I was blown away by District 9 and Chappie.  He got the perfect balance of making that kind of genre stay grounded in the real world. I was really hoping he would have landed the next Alien sequel movie as his concept images looked stunning and this is what the fans of the Alien franchise truly want.

Christopher Nolan – He makes my head hurt sometimes with his ideas and this is what I love.  Christopher is a genius and has some truly unique film ideas.  I love what he did with the Dark Knight trilogy and I think this will be hard to beat. I cannot wait to see Tenet.

What are the top 5 takeaways you want your audience to experience?

I want them to be able to forget about the outside world and enjoy the film. Get absorbed into the story.  I knew we had done our job when two people watching it were in tears after seeing a couple of emotional scenes.

The film shows that life moves quickly so it’s important to spend time with your children. I want to make the audience laugh; it was important for me to inject some humor into the film given its dark plot.

Enjoy the musical score, Bruno Di Micco has done an amazing job of complimenting the film.

What 3 movies should everyone catch?

Donnie Brasco – Al Pacino and Johnny Depp were perfect.  It was such a powerful build up to the films climax.

The Shining – I watched this film again recently and despite being 40 years old, it is the perfect horror.  All the elements of the film from the cinematography, the score and the incredible performances just fill the audience with dread.

Aliens – Some Sci-Fi films do not hold up so well over time, but this is one of those movies that still looks fantastic.

What was the one movie you saw that made you want to go into a career in film?

Aliens – I always remember watching the movie as a kid and my jaw just dropped, who wouldn’t want to run around as a marine battling Aliens.  As I’ve got older, I could appreciate movies more and Aliens still holds up today.  However, as I’ve become an actor and filmmaker, I watch movies with a different lens to the rest of the audience.  I’m studying performances in more detail, learning; I’m working out the technicalities of how scenes were shot.

How do you go about funding your film projects?

Starting out this was extremely difficult as very few people want to invest in new filmmakers due to the fact that so many films do not get completed.  I have been very fortunate where I live in Norfolk as local businesses and friends have been very supportive and a majority of locations were provided free or charge.  I simply advertised businesses via my website.  There was one location where I was asked to make a small charitable donation which was great.

Product placement is also another way of funding a film. I have also put a lot of my own personal money into projects by working a day job, working overtime and not sleeping much. The two feature films were all about showing what we could make on a smaller budget, to show we can complete and distribute quality award winning films which gives us credibility.  Now we have achieved this we can pitch for bigger budget investments to make our next films.

What TV shows do you think everyone should watch this year?

The Walking Dead – I love where they are going with this show. Angela Kang has done an amazing job as showrunner.

Sons of Anarchy – It finished a few years ago but this is one of my all-time favorite shows. Kurt Sutter is a genius.

Peaky Blinders – I’m such a massive fan of this show. The writing is amazing, the look is so stylish and they have such a talented cast.  I’ve lost count of the amount of people who have said “Matt you would be perfect in that show” . . . I’m just waiting for that call.

Money Heist – I came into this series late after a recommendation and I was hooked.  I cannot wait for the next season.

Where did the concept come from for Soldiers of Embers?

I know several people who were in the armed forces and I have the greatest respect for what they do.  As a father myself I can only imagine how hard it must be for them to leave their families for long periods and know there is always a chance they may not come home.  This was the starting point for my idea.

What have been the greatest successes of your career so far?

It has to be Soldiers of Embers, No more lights in the Sky, and working with Danny.  For SOE in particular, this was a difficult production to complete as it was complex, everything was stacked against us, we hit many bumps in the road along the journey, but it was sheer drive and tenacity that got us over the finish line.

Danny and I also work with a fantastic guy named Adam Sturman and it is the three of us working together that have formed this incredibly strong film making team.  It’s very rare that three guys gel so well together but we all bring our own skills to the table and it works perfectly.

Talk us through your creative process.

From an actor’s perspective my creative process has evolved over time as I’ve built up experience.  I tend to lock myself away alone with a script and start absorbing the story before building the character.  I like to have the back story, what makes the guy tick, how would he react in certain situations, how does he physically carry himself.  Lots of elements make the overall character.  I always remember locking myself in a London hotel room and rehearsing which got a bit loud.  I walked out of my room to go for dinner and was met with some strange looks from the guests next door.  They must have wondered if I was killing someone in my room.

From a filmmakers perspective, If I am writing I start scribbling ideas which then lead me to how I want the film to start and end, although the ending can sometimes change as I get into the story.  I start writing down detailed backgrounds for every single character as this helps me write the story as it determines how all the characters will interact with each other.

I love a plot twist so I’m always thinking of ways to put something in a script that people will not see coming.  I always have my phone by my bed at night as I regularly wake up in the early hours with an amazing idea for my stories which I have to note down instantly so I don’t forget.

When I am in producer mode it all about organisation and planning of every detail which fortunately my project manager background brings this to the table.

What tips do you have for new filmmakers?

Be brave and ignore negativity.  When I started out and said I was going to become an actor and filmmaker I was actually laughed at by some people and not taken seriously.  This attitude is like a red rag to a bull for me as it simply makes me even more determined to prove people wrong and I have now done this.

Be prepared to work hard.  Film making is not easy at all and not cheap.  I can remember working 18-hour days in some cases being the first on set and last off then sitting at home backing up data and preparing for the next day’s shoot.

Plan and prepare, I see so many new filmmakers not covering the basics such as having insurance, having backups of film data, having the correct permissions, and contracts in place.  Also be nice and treat people with respect.  Unfortunately, in this industry you will come across some arrogance, people remember that.

Surround yourself with a reliable team.  You cannot make a film on your own, it is a team effort and requires everyone to pull their weight.

Most importantly listen.  You will be surrounded with a huge amount of experience so some people may have great ideas that you may not have thought of as your head is so deep into your production.  Sometimes an outside perspective is helpful.

What part of cinema culture do you geek out about the most?

Cinema is a fantastic way for people to forget about their troubles for couple of hours and just lock the world away.  It will be interesting to see how cinema changes since the COVID-19 Pandemic came along.  As a lot of films were pushed to VOD during the Pandemic I think this will change the landscape of cinema forever.  Netflix are just getting bigger and bigger and this has significantly changed the way films are viewed.

What’s been your biggest failure?

In my early days I think I was a bit naïve as looking back I found myself getting involved with productions that had no future.  There are people out there who wake up in the morning and decide they are suddenly going to become a filmmaker.  They do not think it through and assume film making is getting a load of people on set, filming for a few hours, and stitching the scenes together for release.

Some of these people get too caught up in attention and massaging of Ego’s but ultimately, they never ever complete anything.  It is really frustrating to see this as these people just waste the time of talented cast and crew.  I am very careful nowadays before committing to an independent film. I do a lot of research into the filmmaker and company to see if they have a good track record before I even consider working with them.

If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life what would it be?

This is a tough one but it would be Rambo – It’s just a perfect movie.  It’s one of those old school movies that I can see on TV and happily sit through again.

Do you run any other projects we need to know about?

As mentioned in this article Feature Film No more lights in the sky has its release shortly after Soldiers of Embers. Danny has written a great script for NML.

Check out my website as there is a short film called Broken Promises there for viewing which was written by the talented Charlene Aldridge.  I produced this film and played a nice role.

Watch this space as I am currently writing my next two feature films.

Whilst I am writing I am looking out for auditions now the film industry is starting to move again. As much as I love being a filmmaker I also love being an actor.  I am at my happiest when on set in front of the camera.

Have you worked with mentors in the past? How would you recommend people go about finding them?

Unfortunately, I have not had this opportunity.  I would love the opportunity to work with Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia of Seven Bucks Productions as I could not think of better mentors.  I have been following these guys for a long time and am amazed at how much they have achieved.  I can see they have worked their butts off to dominate the film industry.  However, it is hard to get in contact as they must get hundreds of people trying to make reach out.  Hopefully, if I am lucky my hard work and articles like this might draw some attention from them. 

I did smile last year when I was trolled online (it happens in this industry) and was called ‘A poor man’s Jason Statham’.  This amused me as technically its true . . . I’m a bald British butt kicking actor and do not have Statham’s bank balance yet.  Perhaps they might have me as Statham’s poorer brother for Hobbs and Shaw 2.

What’s your core creative mission?

The mission is to support British Film and showcase the fantastic talent that we have from all areas of the industry.

What filmmakers should be on our radar?

Danny Cotton – Danny is a script writing machine; I am sure he actually writes in his sleep.  He has some amazing concepts in the pipeline.

Marc Zammit – That guy is making a great name for himself and is clearly putting in the hard graft to do so.  Homeless Ashes is looking fantastic.

James Bushe – I am seeing some amazing ideas being worked on in preparation for new films.

Who would compose the soundtrack of your life?

Well I do love an epic film soundtrack so it would have to be Hans Zimmer.  If it needs to be a rock soundtrack then just give Slash a guitar and let him rip.

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