Director Matthew Cherry
*The path to Hollywood success is long, treacherous and filled with blind curves, winding passes and mammoth potholes. But the strong of will and those resilient in spirit are able to see their dreams come to fruition, and the fate of the weak? That, dear friends, is a story for another day.
But on this day we’re here to give props to a young man by the name of Matthew Cherry and, trust us when we say, he’s a brother on the verge.
Cherry, 29, was first brought to my attention by a mutual friend. His name did sound familiar but, though his moniker screamed ‘show business’ I had the feeling I remembered him from a different type of ‘show.’ He’s a former football standout at the University of Akron and was even good enough to get some NFL burn. So, how does one go from playing football to film director on the rise?
“When I was going to school I was an athlete and I majored in radio and television production,” Cherry explained. “I always knew that when I got finished playing ball that I wanted to work in communication. I went to school in Ohio and there weren’t many opportunities for video work outside of standard news and radio. Around about my second year in the league I ran into a friend who had interned at a radio station in Ohio and he invited me out to L.A., and I had never been before in my life.”
For those that venture to Los Angeles for the first time it can be a wild trip, figuratively speaking.
“It was an amazing experience because I was so into sports that I never travelled and there was no vacationing or anything,” Matthew told EURweb.com. “I had pretty much lived a sheltered kind of existence. (Los Angeles) was just amazing to me because it seemed like everybody who had a little bit of hustle was just out there getting it. Everybody that had a little hustle, drive or had a goal could make it. I think I saw some kind of celebrity in ‘Starbucks’. It wasn’t nobody hot. It was like Eric Estrada or something and it tripped me out. I was just like ‘Daaaamn, this cat is just up in the Starbucks? This is crazy.’ I had always remembered that and when I got done playing ball I was like ‘I know what I’m doing. I’m going straight to L.A. No questions asked. Even if I’m broke I’m going to figure it out’. So, that’s how I got to Los Angeles.”
Matthew Cherry and Tracy Ellis Ross
The former wide reciever at Akron University wasn’t good enough to get drafted, but did get on the roster for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers and Cincinnati Bengals however a prolonged NFL career just wasn’t in the cards for Matthew. But he didn’t forget about Los Angeles and soon found himself there.
“When I moved to L.A. I started as a production assistant. There’s a non-profit organization called streetlights.org,” he explained. “It’s a non-profit organization that helps minorities get jobs behind the scenes as production assistants on different commercials, TV shows and stuff. It’s pretty amazing. I wouldn’t say it’s guaranteed employment, but they help you get your first couple jobs because the production assistant world is so referral based. They have this thing called CDI, commercial diversity initiative. All these big production companies have a certain amount of minorities they have to hire in the production assistant capacity. This organization is like a training ground. They teach you about the language of the business and it’s extremely vigorous. When I got cut (from the NFL) I was living in Chicago and I applied to it because a friend referred me to it. You’re supposed to already be living in L.A. but I was like ‘If I get this I’m moving to L.A.’ which was kind of stupid on my part, but it worked out. I probably worked on 50 commercials all in the first 6 months of being there. All referral based and word of mouth.”
Some might think success in the film industry comes over night but, as Matthew Cherry can tell you, you have to put in work and grind. But hard work doesn’t go unnoticed. After doing a bunch of commercials Cherry finally got noticed.
“I was working on the set of a Nike commercial and, out of the blue, I get this call from a woman named Sylvia Judge. She was like ‘Yeah, I got your name from…well, I don’t remember where we got your name. But have you ever heard of a show called ‘Girlfriends?’ And I was like ‘Hell yeah, I’ve heard of ‘Girlfriends!’ When she said that I was like ‘Wow, because that was one of my main goals.’ The lady who called me had no idea who referred me. It was just the most amazing thing. I ended up getting the job. I was the set production assistant on ‘Girlfriends’ for the final season. Well, we didn’t have a full season because it got cut short because of the writer’s strike but it was my first job being a production assistant on a television show. ”
As a production assistant you’re the grunt of Hollywood. Whatever menial task that needs to be performed, whether repetitious, dull or strenuous, the production assistant is the one that gets it done. But it is a rewarding job for many. But nobody goes to Hollywood to become a production assistant, do they? Cherry was destined for bigger things, but he didn’t know it yet.
“I was working on ‘Heroes’ and I wanted to start directing and there was this woman, she was the second assistant director, and I asked her what did she see me doing,” said Cherry. “She said ‘I think I see you being a good director.’ It’s really funny how one person can say something and open up a whole new door in your mind. I didn’t even think of that and, when she said it, it just kick-started this thing my brain that was like ‘Yeah, why not?’ I’ve always been a big fan of music video and I’ve really studied it.”
“A lot of film, TV directors got their start doing music videos,” he continued. “Everybody from Antoine Fuqua, F. Gary Gray, I can go on and on. Hundreds of directors have gotten their start doing music videos. It was a cool start. I love music, I’ve always liked to watch the Box, MTV Jams, VH1 Soul and so I was like ‘I want to direct videos. I think that’ll be a good start.’ But I gave myself a plan.”
That plan is finally coming into form. Cherry’s signature video style can be best described as a miniature movie. Cherry says part of his plan was to not do rap videos. Not because he didn’t like rap, but he felt R&B gave him more to work with.
“I said I would not do rap videos. If I’m going to direct I’m going to do R&B videos. A, because I love R&B and B, because I want to tell a story,” said Cherry. “The thing that I’ve noticed with a lot of rap video directors that moved on to film is that the visuals are always cool. Like the opening scene in ‘Belly’ was dope, but the actual movie was like they had trouble telling the story and I always wanted to be a strong storyteller. R&B is always talking about love and relationships so I figured I would be able to do the short film type video.”
At this point I would have to say that Cherry is one of the best, if not the very best director of ‘neo-soul’ and R&B music in the game today. But before the videos for Common, Kindred the Family Soul, N’Dambi, Foreign Exchange and Terry Dexter a brother had to start somewhere.
“What I did was, I was working on ‘Heroes’ as a PA. ‘Heroes’ was ridiculous. It was nothing like ‘Girlfriends.’ ‘Girlfriends was like Monday was a table read for a few hours, Tuesday was producer run through, Wednesdays were director run through, Thursday was the pre-shoot and Friday was the audience. You were chillin’! It was real chill. It was stupid chill. But ‘Heroes’ was 12 hours everyday, PAing hard as hell. It was just exhausting. That year just flew by me. The thing is that I was extremely cool with a lot of the people that worked, like the grips and the electricians and things like that because I had to deal with them everyday. You know, bringing their coffee and things like that. I gave them heads up. I was like ‘Man, I want to start directing. I just wanted to ask you guys, and I don’t know if I should be saying this or not, but if I booked a job would you allow me to use some of your equipment to do something.’ They were like ‘Yeah, man! It’s whatever. We’ll just put something to the side when you’re ready. Just don’t tell anybody’.”
Ask 10 different people a question about how to make it in Hollywood and it’s a safe bet that at least 5 of them will tell you to behave like a total ass. Good thing Matthew didn’t listen to those guys. Because he was humble people wanted to help him out, even when they weren’t really supposed to. So, he had his gear, now it was time for him to get his gig.
“I just said bump it! I’m going to just go hard and try to shoot for some names,” explained Cherry. “I got a subscription to Billboard and I started studying them. I noticed the Urban/AC charts because that’s where a lot of the soul artists that I like, like Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Kindred, that’s where they were. I would just do mad research, which songs are charting, which songs just hit the charts, what songs have been on the charts for a minute and don’t have videos? At the time MySpace was really popular and I would just reach out and say ‘OK, let me reach out to her’. The first artist I reached out to was Terry Dexter. I saw she had a song on the charts called ‘Free’. But how I did it was crazy. I reached out to Deborah Cox, Montell Jordan, all these artists who had songs on the charts but had no visuals. So, I just wrote a treatment and reached out to them on their wall in a long ass MySpace message. I was getting no response. It was just a shot in the dark. In MySpace it could be a crazy fan running it. I wrote about 50 treatments and Terry Dexter was the first artist to get back to me. I would always tell artists ‘I have no problem doing this. All I ask is that you refer me to a friend’.
“From there it was Kindred, which was crazy,” he explained. “They actually wanted to pay and it was just amazing timing because they had been wanting to shoot a video, but they felt the label wasn’t fully supporting them. Kindred was from Philly, and they play at the Black Lilly Festival, and from there I get introduced to Erykah Badu, Anthony Hamilton, Jill Scott, Marsha Ambrosius and everybody. I can honestly say that Fatin and Aja from Kindred the Family Soul went above and beyond, putting me on the phone on three-way and everything.”
We would like to say we already knew about someone as ambitious as Matthew Cherry, but it was mutual friend Ava Duvernay. She, being aware of my own child’s autism diagnosis, sent me a link to the video for Bilal’s “Little One”. I couldn’t stop watching it, and afterwards couldn’t stop crying. Such emotional material is rarely captured in a music video. I knew we had to talk to this dude.
“You know how that video came about?” said Cherry. “Eric Roberson! I never shot a video for Eric Roberson but I was on him pretty hard. He called me the hardest working director in the game because I go hard on artists, man! I blow ‘em up! He caught word from Bilal’s manager that they wanted to do the video for ‘Little One’. They wanted something simple, something that looked like a movie. I heard the song and I knew the cause that was behind it and I really wanted to do that video. I just went above and beyond and did mad research. I didn’t want to throw just anything out there. Holly Robinson-Peete had this book called ‘My Brother Charlie’. I copped the book and read it cover to cover. A lot of the stories she put in there I kind of took them and remixed them into a treatment. I’ll never forget, in her book she said the doctor was just a jerk. He just said ‘Your kid will never look you in the eye and tell you I love you again’. I could not imagine if a doctor would say something like that to a mother. No second opinion, nothing! That was kind of the dialogue in the script. We were able to get some great actors to be in it and it just came together.”
In addition to being one of the most talented video directors in the game today, Cherry is also the director of the critically-acclaimed short “This Time”. He thanks social media for that one as well.
“Twitter is how that came together. For some reason I have a decent number of followers on Twitter and I would always go on there and rant about diversity behind the scenes in the industry. Regan Gomez Preston was on there on this particular day we just happened to be ranting at the same thing. So, I said ‘We’re talking the talk, but are we gonna walk the walk?’
From random rantings came the short film ‘This Time’. Directed by Cherry, the film starred Reagan Gomez Preston, Terri J. Vaughn, Michael Moss and Barry Floyd of “The Game” as well as NFL wide receiver Sinorice Moss, who also appears in the video for Bilal’s “Little One.” The film was a hit on the indie film circuit and was viewed 20,000 times in 48 hours upon being uploaded to the Internet. Late last year Matthew Cherry and celebrity photographer Scott Hebert founded Transparent Filmworks. Its stated mission is to produce innovative music videos, documentaries, features and web content. Currently Transparent Filmworks is close to pre-production on “The Last Fall,” the company’s first feature film.