Film, Interview

INTERVIEW: Matt Farley on ‘MAGIC SPOT’ and DIY Filmmaking

"It's all the fun of community theater, except people can watch it all around the world"


If you’re familiar with the work of Matt Farley– and there’s a good chance you are, even if you don’t know it– it’s likely through his music. Over the past decade, the Danvers native has gained notoriety for his massively prolific output, flooding Spotify and other streaming services with literally thousands of songs designed to match every conceivable search: cities and towns, songs about other popular recording artists, birthday songs tailored for every conceivable name, and lots and lots of songs about poop (for the “children messing with their parents’ Alexa” demographic). His songs are silly by design, but they have afforded him that rarest of things in 2024: a living wage as an independent musician, thanks to royalty fees from hundreds of thousands of plays from curious streamers.

But there is another side to Matt Farley, less well-known, but with perhaps an even more passionate fan base. Since 2002, Farley has made several films, mainly in collaboration with college friend Charlie Roxburgh (in most of their films, Roxburgh directs, Farley stars, and the two write and produce together). These films, released under the “Motern Media” moniker, are largely shaggy, homemade affairs, cast with friends and relatives and shot in and around Danvers. The films have developed a cult following, both online (if you hang around Letterboxd or Film Twitter long enough you’re likely to run into a Motern acolyte) and via local screenings; Farley and Roxburgh’s 2022 opus Magic Spot will screen for free this Saturday, 5/4, at Tapley Hall in Danvers. In anticipation of the event, I spoke with Farley about his creative process, the joy of regional cinema, and Salisbury Beach pizza.

BOSTON HASSLE: Both your music and your movies are all under the shingle of Motern Media. What is the origin of that name?

MATT FARLEY: It’s just a name I made up. I define it as “excessive creativity.”

BH: At this point, it seems safe to say that you’re best known for your music, but you’ve also developed a pretty extensive filmography. Which one of those two pursuits came first?

MF: They were pretty simultaneous. Since I was a teenager, I was writing songs and making movies, and I haven’t stopped. It’s easier to make a lot of songs than it is to make a lot of movies, because you’ve got to collaborate with people. It’s a lot of work.

BH: Most of your movies have been collaborations with Charlie Roxburgh. What is your creative process like in your collaboration?

MF: Usually, whenever we’re making a movie, as we’re going to a new location we’ll kind of brainstorm on what we should do next. And then when we have a good enough idea of what it should be, we start meeting on Skype for a couple hours every week, and just writing a couple of scenes together on a Google Doc. And we do that over the course of six months, and then boom, a script is done. And then we start filming a new movie, and the whole thing starts again.

BH: You tend to work with a lot of the same actors as well, as sort of a troupe. Are you conscious of who’s going to be who when you’re writing the screenplay? Or do you come up with the story first, and then figure out where you can fit everyone in?

MF: We definitely have actors in mind for most of the roles as we’re writing it, and that helps us decide [what happens]. Like, if there’s two people who live near each other, then we know, okay, it makes sense to have these two characters in the same scene together. So for very practical reasons, it’s good to know who’s playing the role. Sometimes someone’s schedule will be changed, and then we’ll have to shuffle it up a little bit, but we definitely go into it with with a pretty strong idea of who’s going to do what.

BH: I want to talk a little bit about Magic Spot, because of course that’s the next film that’s going to be screening in the area. How did this particular film come about?

MF: The big scene– the “Acclimate, Poopy, acclimate!” scene, where we dump the ice on him– that was how it all started. I just had this concept that it’d be funny if there was a scene where everyone in town was encouraging another person to acclimate. That was all I had. And I told Charlie about it, and by the time I was done talking we determined that we could dump ice on somebody to keep their temperature down, which seemed like a really funny and cool image. And then from there we had to retroactively figure out the script! [laughs] Like, how can we get to this point, and then what would happen afterwards? But that was the germ of the idea.

BH: One of the things I loved about the film was all the stories and the lore of Tussleville. I know that Tussleville is not a real town, but it all felt very authentic in a very New England way. Were these stories based at all on any real stories from surrounding towns?

MF: A lot of it was just made up, but like you said it felt like some things kind of ring true even if they’re fictional. But the beach pizza is a real thing, up in Salisbury. I go to Salisbury a lot, and the whole area of Salisbury and Hampton, New Hampshire– especially the way it is in the winter, when everything’s closed down, that was a major inspiration for the setting.

BH: I would not be surprised to hear any of this on an episode of Chronicle or something. It definitely felt very real.

MF: Well, the beach pizza is real. Have you ever had it before?

BH: I don’t think I’ve had any with the provolone on top. I know about the Cape Cod pizza.

MF: The beach pizza at Salisbury– I’ve only seen it at Salisbury and Hampton– it’s those square shaped slices, and they really put a round piece of provolone on it. And I don’t know why. It doesn’t even taste good! I usually get it without the provolone. But I like that they do it. It’s cool that there’s regionally specific food, you know?

BH: Yeah. And that’s one of the things I really find charming about this film, and your films in general. The trajectory of your music career obviously could only have happened in the online age, but your movies, and the scene that’s sort of developed around them, do feel very regional in a way that one might not think would be possible anymore. Is that something that you’ve been conscious of? Or is that just something that sort of developed around the whole project?

MF: Yeah, we definitely like it. You know, Hollywood has never been interested in us, so that makes it easy for us to reject Hollywood. The fact that no one’s knocking down our door to go make a big budget movie emboldens us to go ahead and kind of double down on being local and specific to New England. I wish there were people like this in every state, you know? Like, if there was just a group of people making movies in Nebraska, and all these very specific scenes. I don’t think many people are doing it, but hopefully we inspire a few people to give it a try. It’s all the fun of community theater, except people can watch it all around the world, because you don’t have to go to the local community playhouse to see it.

BH: You do have fairly regular screenings, as well as performances, in the Danvers area. What can one expect from a Motern screening or performance if they haven’t been to one before?

MF: Well, at the screening [on] Saturday, if you look to your left or right, you’re probably gonna see a person who’s on the screen, so that’s a pretty fun, unique experience. Everyone’s very welcoming. You know, I usually lose money on these events, and I don’t even care. It’s just fun to see the movies up on the big screen, and it’s fun to give the actors a chance to see themselves and bring their family and whatnot. I think it’s a fun, fun vibe. And again, I wish more people did stuff like this.

BH: You’ve released a couple of movies since Magic Spot. I’m curious, do you have anything else currently in the works?

MF: We’re going to start making Evil Puddle. We’re gonna start next month. It’s a disaster movie about a series of deadly puddles that a town has to deal with. [laughs]

BH: A universal story.

MF: Everyone can relate to evil puddles!

BH: You talk about how you wish that there were more local movie scenes. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start doing something like this on their own?

MF: One, work within your limitations. If you live in a town that has a lot of woods, write a lot of scenes that take place in the woods, because that’s easy. You can just walk out of your backyard into the woods and start filming. What else? When you write parts, most of your actors are gonna be working for free. They’re going to lose interest after a day. So try to write each character so that you don’t need them for more than a day, because then you’re gonna have to start hunting them down and dragging them back for filming. And then my last advice is [that], at all costs, you have to finish the project! And no matter how many times it breaks your heart– you have to make concessions, it’s not going to be exactly how you want it to come out– but you absolutely just have to finish it. And then, by making one movie, you’ll learn a million things that’ll make the next movie easier to make.

Magic Spot screens Saturday, 5/4, at Tapley Hall in Danvers, MA
Doors at 7:00, film starts at 7:30

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