#17 Matt Hadley – Shooting During COVID

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

COVID has halted nearly all productions but there are a few that have been able to shoot. Matt Hadley, gaffer, recently completed work on one of the fifteen SAG-AFTRA approved projects. He talks with Tanya about working on set in Texas during COVID and how the procedures in place have changed the way he works on set.

Listen to Matt share his stories of working on set during COVID.

Show Notes: COVID protocols Cinematographers Guild Issues Safe Return To Work Protocols Normal Wasn’t Working S*!%&yRigs Line Producer- Jason Roberts Key points: 1:22 How he got started 4:08 Working on Features in New York 4:40 Difference between narrative & commercial lighting 10:23 Working with directors 12:26 Odd ways of lighting on set 13:53 Lighting style 15:26 How he got on Red Stone’s crew 16:18 Working on set during COVID 23:50 COVID protocols that didn’t work 26:18 Surprising effects of regulations 29:20 Changes on the horizon

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Full transcript:

Matt Hadley (00:00):

One of my bigger things to realize are like, growth was when I let go of trying to make everything look so pretty in movies because I came from photography, so I'm like portraits, everything is down to the nth degree perfect. And I think that my movie work got a lot better when I let go of that and let things be like a little bit more imperfect and a little bit more naturalistic.

Tanya Musgrave (00:23):

Welcome to There to Here, an educational podcast where industry professionals talk nuts and bolts on how they got from there to here. On today's show gaffer Matt Hadley takes us on one of the 15 SAG-AFTRA indie film shoots approved to shoot midst COVID. As a new podcast, we're really wanting feedbacks so go to media.colabinc.org, fill out the feedback survey and you'll be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card. Congratulations to this week's winner, Timothy Snyder and from CoLab Inc. I'm Tanya Musgrave.

Tanya Musgrave (00:50):

And today I have Matt Hadley up and coming gaffer having quite literally lit up the screen with Miss Juneteenth, which premiered this year at Sundance. He's just wrapped up shooting in Texas for the indie thriller Red Stone. Also of great interest, it is a one of the first SAG-AFTRA approved to shoot post or midst COVID. Welcome to the show.

Matt Hadley (01:13):

All right, thanks for having me.

Tanya Musgrave (01:14):

So let's start with your There to Here story. Films would not exist without the crews, so what drew you to your particular role in film as a gaffer?

Matt Hadley (01:23):

Before I was really into film, I was a photographer and I think you remember because back in these days we were shooting together a lot and I was really interested in lighting for photography, which when I started getting into film translated as being my strongest base skill set was that I knew how lighting worked really well. So people just started asking me to do it. In film school for their projects and I started doing it professionally and just fell in love with it.

Matt Hadley (01:51):

It's one of those jobs that doesn't, I think get a lot of recognition, but you still have a lot of creative control on a project if you're working with a DP who's really collaborative. So I like it because it allowed me to hyper focus on one aspect of filmmaking, the lighting and get really good at that thing. So that's just where I've been at for the past few years. Just trying to hyper focus on that.

Tanya Musgrave (02:15):

Yeah. I remember probably my earliest memory shooting with you was in good old North Carolina. I think there is a studio that you had set up and we were working with strobes really for the first time. We're just kind of figuring stuff out and hey, like what about this kind of clamshell lighting? What about this? What about that? And then when I got my first light modifier, it kind of threw light a lot like a beauty dish and I was like, hmm, Matt should be able to tell me how to use this thing. And we got just like, I don't know, how many of us were there? Like a dozen people that just showed up at this abandoned house somewhere in Tennessee.

Matt Hadley (02:52):

Oh, man, I remember that from the cab mountain.

Tanya Musgrave (02:55):

Yeah. I heard that house got torn down, but oh, my gosh, it was pretty sketchy going there and there's like-

Matt Hadley (03:00):

Yeah, I'm surprised it was pretty-

Tanya Musgrave (03:00):

Syringes and mattresses.

Matt Hadley (03:00):

Yeah. I do you remember that, that was pretty sketch back in the urban exploration photography place. I remember that was a fun time.

Tanya Musgrave (03:15):

But it was a legit shoot, it turned out because I mean, I remember you very clearly. You were teaching me the inverse square law.

Matt Hadley (03:23):

Yeah, no, that was great. I remember you went in and did post on those photos, like ridiculous, like the water stuff in the kitchen, I remember [crosstalk 00:03:31]-

Tanya Musgrave (03:30):

As the elements, yeah.

Matt Hadley (03:31):

... when you were cranking out like Photoshop photos. I'm just like wow, where did this even come from?

Tanya Musgrave (03:37):

You know it all starts with a light though, and it's really interesting. Like you were saying before that not a lot of people think about it, but it is quite literally, I still remember Fstoppers doing a shoot, even just with an iPhone when they did the iPhone fashion shoot and you can look it up. It's fantastic. They were shooting with an iPhone three and it's of course taking you into film and translated into quite an awesome start. You were shooting in New York a lot. What kind of shoots were you involved with up there?

Matt Hadley (04:09):

I've done two features in New York. One kind of like I did a section of that's called Materna that I've heard has turned out really well. It actually got best cinematography at Tribeca this year. And I did another one up there earlier called What Breaks the Ice, that was a lot of fun. And I've done a few commercial things here or there. I basically have a DP in New York who likes to work with me so whenever she has things that are appropriate I'll generally go up to do those.

Tanya Musgrave (04:36):

Is there a particular style that you gravitate to or that you like better narrative or commercial?

Matt Hadley (04:41):

Yeah, I definitely prefer narrative and I think that is because commercial just has a style already. I think that there's a lot of shoved genres within commercial lighting, but by and large, the most popular way to light a commercial is just like big, bright, no shadows. And that's generally because your onset lighting in front of a bunch of ad agency people who don't know anything. So there's a lot of commercial stuff generally ends up catering to this really specific audience being appeasing agency executives, which I think that narrative filmmaking becomes a lot more about like self-appeasement.

Matt Hadley (05:28):

It is more about you and the director and the DP liking what you see, whereas your opinion really doesn't matter a whole lot in commercial. I mean, there are times where people will trust you and you get to make some really cool looking and I've made some commercials that had really cool edgy looks before, but it's-

Tanya Musgrave (05:47):

It's like cinematic?

Matt Hadley (05:48):

Right, and that's definitely a thing that's becoming more popular, but I feel like it's rare. People tend to be really reserved with the way that commercials look because they're afraid of what might happen.

Tanya Musgrave (06:02):

It's familiar.

Matt Hadley (06:03):

And movies, you can get really out there. If you got a DP who really wants to get weird with it, you can really go out there. And that's what I love about movies just because all of my narrative work, I don't think you could put any two of those films beside each other and draw a ton of comparisons between them because you really approach it in a unique way from the get go, every time you get into a movie, whether that's what your inspiration is or what you draw from.

Matt Hadley (06:32):

One of my favorite movies I did, the DP and the director had given me all of these Vermeer paintings that they were like, this is the feel, this is the aesthetic and the color palette and that's really interesting because what does that even mean? And you get to kind of dissect that. And I think that's what's great about lighting for narrative is that you're always trying to strive for this uniqueness and you're always wanting to find ways to integrate the lighting into the story.

Matt Hadley (07:01):

Why are these things this color? Why did we make this decision? What is the color palette for this house versus this house? How do we want those two locations to feel? Because that's the other thing I think you miss in commercials is movies there's kind of like, you go through so many different spaces. So it's about lighting spaces in a way that they like juxtapose against each other, whereas commercials it's very much usually it's like, this is the house, make this nice pretty house?

Tanya Musgrave (07:30):

So I have a question with particularly connecting your experience with photography. Now, as a photographer is one of those things you're like, oh yeah. As soon as you see a photo I can tell right away that X person, whoever shot that. And that becomes a pinnacle of some sort of a goal out there like, oh yeah, I want to become immediately recognizable and it's something that could serve you well, in a way, if you have directors that want your certain look. But is it something that you're trying to strive for where you want to become recognizable or that you're able to fulfill a director's vision so much that all of your work might be unrecognizable to you? I don't know, because I know for photography, it seems to be something that people do strive for. Is that something that you strive for?

Matt Hadley (08:23):

The photographers definitely do want that, to be the look, right?

Tanya Musgrave (08:26):


Matt Hadley (08:26):

And that is, because photography has this, there's like a name association with it. Like you know a Dave Hill photo when you see it. I don't even know if he still shoots, but I remember that from back in my day or ... But I think it's different in my world. I think specifically for me, not really, right? Because like as a gaffer, you need to be able to slot in with multiple different DPs on a regular basis because grip and electric, I think they move between movies more than any other department because they slot into a lot of different places. I think some DPs strive to have a style, and so I strive to like fit into that person's style or that DP's style. But a lot of my favorite DPs to work with I think would say that they don't have a style.

Tanya Musgrave (09:17):


Matt Hadley (09:17):

Because I think it is the fluidity that is really advantageous, the ability to conform to a director's vision or to conform your own vision in a way that matches this narrative in a really good way.

Tanya Musgrave (09:35):

You just know that its good cinematography as opposed to, oh, I know that that is Matt Hadley cinematography or?

Matt Hadley (09:41):

Yeah. I think the taste is like more important and I've always gone down that line where I'm not great at making direct comparisons to other movies. When talking about how to do something, I've always been more of just like a general kind of aesthetic taste kind of person. I feel like I know what looks good on a specific camera and I strive for what I think people expect to see?

Tanya Musgrave (10:10):

Yeah. Is it something that you're eventually wanting to do where you're wanting to be able to collaborate more with directors or do you like that part where you can just collaborate with the DP, you get to kind of stay out of the politics of stuff or that kind of thing?

Matt Hadley (10:23):

I mean, I like staying a little under the radar on sets, that's why I like gaffing instead of trying to be a DP is that you fly under a lot of the politics of set. I love it when a director wants to be involved and talk about the lighting process, but I find it's rare that there are directors who really get in that deep. I do a lot of indie film production, and so I've worked with a lot of first time directors and I find it's very common in a lot of circumstances that the DP is running that side of the ship anyway and the directors really they kind of hyper focus on the actors.

Matt Hadley (11:08):

You'll hear them talk shot a lot with the DP, but it's rare that I've had a director get down in the nitty gritty of how the film is lit. But when they do generally, I've agreed with them and I've enjoyed the process. But I would say it's rare that they get that granular, unless there's a really specific thing that they're looking for, or like a story beat that is a lighting change or motivation. A lot of the times it's really just being in it with the DP, which is nice because I think DPs, we always click a lot because we're in that same head space.

Tanya Musgrave (11:45):

Yeah. And I feel like you would be able to have a little bit more creative problem solving. Well, it could go both ways like either. Okay, what do you want? Like do you have any idea of what you want and coming up with that or being able to kind of flex that muscle as well and just be able to, hey, well, if they're not sure what they want, let's see what we can do here. So one of the things that you had mentioned before was being able to be really creative with how things are way out there as opposed to commercial and stuff like that. What does that look like on set? Obviously there's, I guess not your three point lighting or what have you, but like what are some of the odd ways that you have come up with to light a set?

Matt Hadley (12:26):

I think that one of the freedoms that you flex a lot in narrative versus commercial, all of cinematography right now, it's like, you can make stuff dark. You can't really get away with having very dark scenes in commercials, rightfully so, because TV rendition is a little bit dodgy and when you're shooting for projection as your main format that everyone's thinking about, you can trust your camera to shoot a little bit darker because projecting something in a dark room you'll be able to get the details of it.

Matt Hadley (12:59):

So I think that's the way a lot of it is like shooting darker scenes and being able to shoot things that are darker, because I really like night stuff if you could get away with it just like slammed way down into the bottom of the image. Instead of having like a very contrast backlight, I like to have a very low contrast, but just super dark, like you can barely see it because it's the only thing I've found that feels realistic to me.

Tanya Musgrave (13:23):


Matt Hadley (13:23):

I struggle with the way that nights are shot in movies.

Tanya Musgrave (13:26):


Matt Hadley (13:26):

Like I don't think it looks very realistic a lot of the time and that's something you can never really pull off if you're not shooting to such a controlled environment because you know that movie screens are generally going to look the same. I think in general, it's like contrast is a lot higher on a movie set, you're getting a lot more like shadows, like lighting people to the backside where you're not necessarily seeing their face so much is something that you'd never get away with doing a commercial.

Matt Hadley (13:53):

My lighting style I like to keep it as natural as I can. Not natural as in I'm not using artificial light because I use a ton of artificial light, natural in the sense of light comes from places that make sense or should make sense in the world. Day light comes from windows, nights light comes from lamps and I think that you break outside of that in the commercial world to try to keep things looking very bright and airy. But in narrative you can really let somebody walk into a dark part of the room because they went over there that's like away from all of the light, so I'm like, it makes sense and that's something you don't get to flex.

Tanya Musgrave (14:34):

Yeah. Sometimes it's just too perfect. It's kind of like your student film, everything actually is like three point lighting.

Matt Hadley (14:39):

I think it definitely was one of my bigger things to realize or growth was when I let go of trying to make everything look so pretty in movies because I came from photography. So I'm like portraits, everything is down to the nth degree perfect. And I think that my movie work got a lot better when I let go of that and let things be a little bit more imperfect and a little bit more naturalistic because it just feels more real to have things that don't necessarily work out what you would call perfect or somebody being lit from not necessarily the most flattering angle, but that's where the light is in the room.

Tanya Musgrave (15:18):

Gigs in the entertainment industry are few and far between at the moment, it's a bit of a unicorn. How did you score a spot on Redstone's group?

Matt Hadley (15:26):

The DP and me worked together on Miss Juneteenth actually. He was first assistant camera on Miss Juneteenth or second assistant camera on Miss Juneteenth. So we had worked together and we talked a lot over the course of that movie and he'd actually had another movie midway through last year that he had tried to get me on and I just wasn't available. So when this came up and they were looking for crew, he reached out to me and Richard Porter, which is my favorite key group down here in Dallas to see if we could come do this movie and everyone was available, so we did. It was mostly just that previous relationship of he had been trying to get us on a movie together. So when this one came up, he reached out and because of COVID-19, I was available.

Tanya Musgrave (16:13):

Yes. So, okay. I'm super curious, from beginning to end, what was life like on set?

Matt Hadley (16:18):

We weren't tested ahead of time, which I get because the infrastructure doesn't even really allow I think for testing-

Tanya Musgrave (16:26):


Matt Hadley (16:26):

... if you're non-symptomatic, right? Like I don't think you could go get a test on the street right now, unless you said that you were presenting symptoms. There's a really big white paper that's out right now that I think is like cross, it's like SAG and IATSE and the DGA all came together and they put out this list of guidelines for shooting during COVID-19. So that was kind of the first thing was the producer sent us all of that and told us to read it. And there's a lot of guidelines. And so once we get into shooting, it's definitely a lot of little things that really add up.

Matt Hadley (17:02):

I think one of our advantages was that we were shooting out of town and we were shooting in a very small town that only had a few cases and we were all staying together for the most part. So I think that to me is the biggest thing for filmmaking is if you can quarantine everybody together so that everybody in the crew is together and there's not a whole lot of outside factors, I think that's your first best bet. But then after that, it was a lot of the stuff you'd imagine, wearing masks on set. There was a heavier emphasis on wearing masks inside than outside, because if you're outside, you can spread out hand sanitizer all over the place.

Matt Hadley (17:43):

Frequent kind of temperature checks from day to day. Individualized meals and crafty, right? So like no buffet catering, which on this movie took the form of, we would order every day, they'd bring us a menu from a local restaurant and they were ordering individualized meals. I did a commercial just after the movie where it was a studio and we had catering and the catering was bringing everything in, in individualized packaged meals. And then for crafty on the movie, it was like, everything was packaged and there was a guy who was distributing it from the station. So you'd go and you tell him what you want and he would distribute it out, so that was definitely interesting.

Tanya Musgrave (18:26):

Did you guys eat in shifts?

Matt Hadley (18:27):

No, we didn't eat in shifts. We generally kind of ate amongst our departments. I eat in my car a lot and that's like not even a COVID thing. That's just like a Matt needs to get away from everybody in the middle of the workday kind of thing. But I guess there wasn't hard and fast rules about like sitting away. There was enough seating that people could stay spread, but I really think that ... I don't know. Making a movie under conditions where you're having to stay away from people like really all the time doesn't seem feasible to me, right?

Matt Hadley (19:02):

I think that we drew more safety from trusting that the other people didn't have it and we did have ... one of our crew members left halfway through, or the first week, one of the producers had to fly to LA. So they had to get checked during that process and came up negative. So there was this kind of like, okay, here's a person who's been in our unit for a week and doesn't have it, so like we don't. So if we can keep altogether, kind of herd mentality, but it's, I don't know, it's weird because there's a lot of ... I think one of the guidelines is only one AD on set and no PAs, which is kind of wild.

Matt Hadley (19:43):

Our AD was like, who does lockups when we cut and roll. All of these little functionality things become a really big deal when you don't have PAs on set. They do a lot of little things here and there. So I think that that was one area where we were a little lighter on it and I think that ... we had SAG come visit us and they didn't really say anything. So it's interesting to me because there's a lot of guidelines and I'm curious how much they are being followed all over the place, especially by bigger shows because like that's the one other thing. We were a tiny show, like 20 person crew maybe if that, so I'm curious what the version of this is that was the big studio movies that managed to get up and off the ground during the time that we were shooting.

Matt Hadley (20:39):

Because I know, from what I heard was there was 15, I think SAG movies shooting at the time that we were shooting who got up. And I wonder how many of those finished because we were in Indy, so we only had a like three week schedule. But like a major movie that's still shooting everything, starting to close back down. So I'm curious how many of those got cut halfway through their schedule just by the fact that states are starting to close down again.

Tanya Musgrave (21:07):

Yeah. Did it slow down at all? Did your production or your work, did it actually get hindered because of it?

Matt Hadley (21:14):

I don't know. I don't think so. We made a pretty good pace, but I think our director helped with that a lot. He knew what he wanted and knew when he got it. We never beat up 40 takes of a scene, which I think is important. I think the crew risk is moderate because we can be in PPE. It's the actor risk that's really high because they have to be without PPE in front of each other.

Tanya Musgrave (21:40):

Of course.

Matt Hadley (21:40):

So I think our director did a really good job of really limiting the amount of time we ever had actors on set out of PPE in front of the camera acting, we weren't beating up scenes. And I think there was some level of encouragement from SAG about that. I know there was a lot of specifics. I think they had to deliver a list of how far the actors will be away from each other in every scene.

Tanya Musgrave (22:06):

Yeah. I was curious about that. I mean any kissing scenes, that kind of thing.

Matt Hadley (22:11):

Yeah, no, I mean, I think there was a lot of specifics they had to deliver about that. They had the whole thing story boarded, which is a rare occurrence to see in indie film because it was a SAG, there's a lot of, I think getting the approval is a really difficult thing because we were on the maybe train for a while of like, is the movie going to happen? They had put dates out to the crew and had people agreed to do it, but they were saying we can't say for sure until we get this SAG approval.

Matt Hadley (22:43):

The SAG approval came in. It was like Friday and not the following Monday, but the Monday after that was the first day of production. So that was definitely a hindrance was that we had not ... and maybe just due to being in the sense of mind of not doing a whole lot, a lot of people, me and the key group included had not put a ton of pre-production work into the movie because we weren't sure it was going to happen. And then it did get approved and we had a week to like, like one week from when we found out to load the truck, which was like going back and forth-

Tanya Musgrave (23:18):

Oh my gosh.

Matt Hadley (23:18):

... with a rental company during that time period is a really stressful fast paced thing because usually you take weeks to adjust stuff. And we didn't scout locations, me and the key group got on the ground and went and visited a couple locations with the DP personally. But there was no pre-scout for everybody just for the sake of keeping people from getting together and going out in public as early on.

Tanya Musgrave (23:43):

So were there any protocols that definitely did not work for you guys? Did it turn out to be like, this is a mistake, this needs to go away.

Matt Hadley (23:51):

I don't know. I think that, especially if you're in a hotter climate area like Texas, the idea of wearing a mask the whole time wouldn't really work if you're outside. Like if you're shooting inside in an air conditioned building, that's okay. But we had a couple like 103 days in the Texas heat. We're like, if you were carrying around equipment while wearing a mask, you're likely to hurt yourself I think in other ways, it really became tough, like even going from inside to outside when you put the mask on, it's definitely a thing.

Tanya Musgrave (24:27):


Matt Hadley (24:28):

And I'm 100% for the idea of wearing masks and stuff in public, but I think as far as, I don't know. I really believe that the secret sauce in filmmaking is creating like a quarantined environment for your crew where you can all feel safe.

Tanya Musgrave (24:44):

Kind of like that whole Tyler Perry model.

Matt Hadley (24:45):

Right. The way that they approached it, where it's like, they're just like straight up locked in there. That feels the safest option to me because I think you'd have a hard time with a whole group of people, and I also think it would just be difficult in a lot of ways. We did as best as we could a lot of the times in all of our interiors, you wear a mask around these people, but like say the grip crew specifically, we were living in a house together. So we went home from work, we weren't wearing masks when you're at home off of work. So at that point you're still getting this potential of contamination, right?

Matt Hadley (25:21):

And you have to trust that people are going to be responsible on the weekends, because we were close enough to Dallas that everyone was going home for the weekend. I think that one thing that makes me feel good is that seeing as COVID has become such a political thing, I think that I can trust that most of the people in this industry agree with me about how serious it is. I don't feel like there's many people in our industry who swing far enough to the other side who are being unsafe about it. I trust that anybody I'm working with is probably going to the lengths that I am going to be safe about it when you're out and about in public.

Tanya Musgrave (25:59):

We've been mentally preparing for this thing, for wearing PPE, getting temperature taken, I think even on college campuses, their temperatures being taken before you even get on campus. Were there any surprising effects of the regulations, effects you weren't necessarily expecting, like good or bad?

Matt Hadley (26:18):

Not necessarily. I think going into it, it was pretty much as we had kind of thought and talked about ahead of time, mostly because we were following this specific list of guidelines that we'd all gone over before we got into it. I think the food thing was definitely one of the weirder ones and this is weird and petty, but it's like sometimes you're more hungry on set and you're locked into this size of meal, which is kind of like, it seems really petty. But if you work in film, you understand how being properly fed is such a big deal, that's why craft services exists. So that was definitely interesting going into, especially the way we did it, where it was trying to be on top of being making orders every day for the next day and the producer having to go around and do it.

Matt Hadley (27:06):

I can imagine that that took an enormous amount of bandwidth from the producing team, which was very small to have to even manage that, right? Like you've got to go and you've got to have somebody to pick up all this stuff on a movie that had two PAs on the entire set, right? I bet production suffered a lot for it. And I think that G&E, we had the general safety guidelines to follow, but a lot of our stuff was business as usual, but I can imagine that on the production department, there must have been hundreds of things that I never even had to really interface with that had to be done differently or approached differently.

Matt Hadley (27:43):

So I think that's definitely the place that I think are going to feel it the worst, which is maybe the nature of film in general is that they have to like produce things and in this case they have to produce this safe environment for us to work in. So I think that they're going to get the brunt of the issues from the changes and the G&E department it's mostly going to be the difficulty of working in PPE. And then also just maybe tending to work with less people physically on set at any given time, especially when you're in interiors. We had a lot more of our guys at the truck. We could have smaller groups of people managing what was going on inside.

Tanya Musgrave (28:22):

So you're basically mentioning all of the changes on the horizon that people have been dreading in a way even just for production. I remember talking with a line producer, he was saying yeah, the number that's kind of floating around is every production is adding like 10% onto the budget and people don't like hearing that, that's one thing. But for your particular job, having to adjust to having lesser crew and stuff like that, what are the changes on the horizon that you're seeing personally that you're going to have to adjust to, for instance, are there other jobs that you're going to have to learn how to do in order to wear more hats? Because I also saw a rebuttal from that white paper talking about how the answer is to not combine job descriptions, because then safety becomes a factor. You don't want a bunch of people wearing a bunch of different hats, that kind of a thing.

Matt Hadley (29:19):

Yes. I super agree with that because I think it's going to-

Tanya Musgrave (29:21):


Matt Hadley (29:21):

A lot of people ... I think some producers ... Like I think what's going to be bad for us is that producers are going to try to do stuff like that to circumvent the amount of money they're spending. Things like we've got a PA who can help you, but I don't want a PA anywhere near touching any of our stuff. It's like you said, safety is a serious concern and especially depending on the department trying to get people to cross train or do other departments work brings us a significant immediate safety risk. And I think that's really true with grip and electric. We're hanging stuff, we're running power that's strong enough to kill people. I don't want help from other departments so that the production can save money by not letting me hire professionals who actually do this job.

Tanya Musgrave (30:07):

Yeah. So okay. I'm going to put you in the position of a producer then. How would you rectify the situation?

Matt Hadley (30:14):

It sucks because man, the first thing that comes to my head is, I don't know, that's not my problem. That's a very like genie, deeply mentality to be like-

Tanya Musgrave (30:24):

But does it become your problem if you ... Like, if you can't get hired, is that a problem? Like that becomes your problem if producers they have to figure out a budget.

Matt Hadley (30:35):

I think that budgets will just have to adapt. I think that there are shows were that amount of money is going to kill the project. But I think by and large, most shows can deal with a 10% increase to budget. If somebody is investing $200,000, which is nothing. If somebody is investing a million dollars in a movie, they can probably invest $1.1 million in that movie to make it happen, right?

Tanya Musgrave (31:03):


Matt Hadley (31:03):

And I think in commercial, there's just no excuse. In the commercial world, ad agencies blow so much money on stuff on commercials, like you guys can definitely afford to have a safe environment. I think we'll see a rise in studio work because that was definitely something that I found was going into an all stage commercial production right after the movie was that it's a lot easier. It seems to have this contained environment in a stage. I've been looking at a lot of stage craft type stuff, right?

Tanya Musgrave (31:35):


Matt Hadley (31:35):

Like the people who did The Mandalorian and the way that that was shot, it is perfectly poised to be the next biggest shit in filmmaking because it already was, it was a cool tech and Favreau showed on The Mandalorian that it was viable. They said they were going to try it when they first went into it. And I think over half of the show uses it in some facet. So that'll be interesting because that's one of those things, it's like looking at that scares me because that's actually something that I could see taking my job.

Tanya Musgrave (32:03):

Is that something that you would be willing to ... I mean, because you think about the lighting that's involved with that as well. I mean, there's still going to be a need for lighting, so how would you adapt your job to fit that kind of?

Matt Hadley (32:16):

For me looking at it a lot, right? A lot of it is very different because it's this blending of game design and film production. It's like a lot of your lighting comes from the sky box. Digital environments are lit via a file called an HTRI, which is basically a 360 degree photograph of an area and you basically get this colored sky box that provides most of the light for stuff like that. But then they'll show in some of the demos, if they want to increase light from this side or adjust it a little bit, that guy goes in on his computer and they'll just draw a big white eight by eight square on the wall, and there's your eight by eight butterfly frame.

Matt Hadley (32:59):

For me I think the next evolution is to be that guy who's controlling that thing, which is, it's a different mindset, but you definitely still have to understand how lighting works. They're still going to need people to tell them how to use those tools effectively or to be the person who can do both. A lot of my recent years I've spent getting really good at DMX controlling lights on set. That has been my kind of niche for a while. It's like my ability to on the fly control, all of the lights on a set, it's popular everywhere right now because it's becoming more of an available thing in film and I think that kind of leads into it. It's the ability to program lights and an environment to work together with this LED screen technology that they're using now to like present backdrops and stuff.

Tanya Musgrave (33:47):

Yeah. Well, I mean old school can still be a boss. I mean, you look at Roger Deakins and what he can accomplish and because he has a foundation of knowing how light works, you still need to know that. I mean, I see plenty of badly lit renders and you're just like, that's not real. You can tell that this is completely not a good writer.

Matt Hadley (34:09):

Yeah, I know. I mean, and that's the thing, right? It's like that the big barrier to this is having camera ready assets, right? One of the things that The Mandalorian had that really helped that be a successful thing for them is a lot of the backdrops in The Mandalorian are very simple. There's a lot of like practical bar interiors and stuff like that, but a lot of that show is him on like a desert planet or stuff like that. So I think as you try to do things that are more complex and complicated backdrops, there will become a wall where you need artists who can create photorealistic assets that are camera ready for this technology and like-

Tanya Musgrave (34:49):

Yeah, interesting.

Matt Hadley (34:50):

The Mandalorian was backed by ILM. So they had the greatest visual artists in the world to make all of their assets, but not every movie I think is going to be able to find digital artists who can make these things or to be able to get really high resolution photo scans, it's the way a lot of people do it.

Tanya Musgrave (35:07):

So kind of having your Adobe Stock?

Matt Hadley (35:11):

Right. Like there will have to be a library and I bet you'll start to see a lot of things show up multiple times because-

Tanya Musgrave (35:17):

"Okay. I recognize that rock pile."

Matt Hadley (35:19):

[inaudible 00:35:19] will have these kind of collection of assets. But I think in like a post COVID world, people will always want to do the traditional thing. A lot of people will, but I think we're going to come out with this being a major thing in film, because what it does is really awesome. Like the being able to tie the specularity of the lighting to your visual effects is something that people spend so much time trying to do on set, and that set up really kind of trivializes the whole process. There's a lot of like, it becomes a pre-production game. Can you build the world to shoot in, and then actually going in there and shooting and its easiest shooting in the real world, but it does.

Matt Hadley (36:02):

It becomes this, which I think a lot of this COVID stuff gets really pre-production heavily weighted as you've really got to spend more time planning these things, which is like good because everybody could stand to spend more time planning movies as it is.

Tanya Musgrave (36:16):

This is true.

Matt Hadley (36:18):

Everybody's always in such a rush to shoot their movie, and if this makes people slow down a little bit and miss less details, then that's kind of a good thing, you kind of need that.

Tanya Musgrave (36:29):

Yeah, of course. Did you guys have shorter shooting days?

Matt Hadley (36:30):

No. Pretty standard twelves plus.

Tanya Musgrave (36:34):


Matt Hadley (36:34):

We went into OT. The commercial I did, did tens and we went over on those quite a few days. So that's interesting because I don't also really see how much more unsafe it is to be in a room with the same people for an extra-

Tanya Musgrave (36:49):

Four hours.

Matt Hadley (36:49):

Four hours or something.

Tanya Musgrave (36:53):

Interesting, exhaustion maybe.

Matt Hadley (36:53):

That I think is one of the things that ... Yeah.

Tanya Musgrave (36:54):

Immune system.

Matt Hadley (36:55):

Yeah, I guess, right? You can say that you're putting your immune system at risk, but I mean yeah, that's just filmmaking is always going to be like that. They're always kind of like grind the crew into the ground. Like that's a conversation that's been going on for years, is like whether we should be allowed to like have lives and work in the entertainment industry.

Tanya Musgrave (37:13):

There's a really interesting article called, like We Don't Want Things To Go Back To Normal; Normal Wasn't Working, basically.

Matt Hadley (37:19):

Yeah. I think I've seen that.

Tanya Musgrave (37:21):

I think it was written by an editor, and so we're going to see if we can try to get him on there, like-

Matt Hadley (37:25):

That must be so hard. Sitting in your room, cutting for too long.

Tanya Musgrave (37:30):

We'll see.

Matt Hadley (37:31):

I get that mentality and because I think it's like, we definitely push it a lot, especially with things like people driving back from set really late at night and getting sleep deprived. I'm kind of a glutton for punishment when it comes to filmmaking those.

Tanya Musgrave (37:43):

I think anybody who's in this industry originally, like they kind of want that, it's kind of a badge of honor.

Matt Hadley (37:48):

Yeah, it's kind of like, I didn't mind not having ... I don't mind not having a whole lot of time to sit and think about my life. It's nice that like projects are so, they just take over everything in my life that I don't really got to worry about anything else, but that might just be me. It definitely is a thing. I think in general we should take a hard look at what we are requiring of people to work in this industry and being more moderate about the time that we're making people work. But also if you work in it, you can see why like leaving at the end of the day, instead of spending two hours to pick up the last pieces of the scene, you're talking about a massive increase in costs to add days to a show.

Matt Hadley (38:35):

The day rate of every person on the show, paying to rent everything for another day. The amount of money that adding time to movies increases the budget, it's astronomical, which makes it really hard in the indie world, which is mostly what I do is the kind of like smaller non-union, skin deep productions. So I think in the big show world, yes, because they can afford on studio projects to come back and do it later. They just want to get it out of the way while they can.

Tanya Musgrave (39:05):

Are you wanting to pursue the union?

Matt Hadley (39:07):

Yeah. I do want to move up to bigger shows. There's definitely bigger stuff that shoots in Texas. A lot of the stuff around here that's bigger is episodic, which is a little daunting to me. I don't know how I feel about working for six months straight, which probably sounds weird to an accountant, who's like, I've worked for 12 years straight. But like the idea of going to work, like the same job every day for six to nine months seems really intense. And I'm really like the like do a commercial here, do a movie here for a month and a half that kind of a guy.

Tanya Musgrave (39:39):

You're an artist, that's why.

Matt Hadley (39:39):

Yeah. But I would like to do bigger stuff, but that's kind of a weird, I'm trying to thread that needle. A lot of people will come up through the union and the industry by working for other people in that position, right? And I am a little bit maybe prideful. I've been gaffing for a long time, just like gaffing my way up smaller productions. So the idea of going on the next Marvel movie to pull cable is not appealing to me at all. That's a step back. I don't care how big the movie is. If I'm not a department head anymore, it's a step back for me. So it's hard. I'm trying to figure out how to thread that needle of getting on a bigger show without having been on a bigger show yet, which is kind of tricky.

Matt Hadley (40:26):

And I think I might've found it recently, is this commercial I just did. I actually just ran the DMX board for a gaffer who's a friend of mine and I actually think that might be the ticket in because it's kind of like, there's still a level of creativity where you've got your hands on it and you can be what about this, and what about that? And you're working very closely with the DP and the gaffer, and also I'm not like having to like pull banded cable in the mud and the rain and stuff, but that's definitely my next kind of big thing is trying to get onto a bigger union. I've got my days. I need to just join IATSE down here, but I just haven't done it.

Tanya Musgrave (41:04):

So we have some listener questions from our Insta and Facebook stories and Twitter. If you want to ask your questions to future guests, our handle on Insta and Twitter is @colabincpodcast. So all right, gaffers and grips are known for outrageous rigging to make things work, taping a shirt to a window to cut reflection, all that fun stuff. There is an Instagram pardon the french @shittyrigs, what would be your proudest submission to that account?

Matt Hadley (41:28):

I think in general, when it comes to like specific rigging that pretty much falls on the grips. If I need a light in a weird place, I don't want to not, it's not my grip scope. Hang that, make it safe. I don't want it to be my responsibility if it falls. But I will say especially on the smaller end as a gaffer, there must be at least one scene in every movie where I am hiding behind something or crouched on the ground, holding a light in this really weird spot. Like lately with my having gained the ability to control lights on set, this is less common, but it used to always be hiding somewhere with a dimmer box or a switch. If somebody goes into a room and turns on a light, I'm crouched underneath the bed with the switch so that when they go to click the light, I can hit the switch to turn all of the lights on in the room.

Matt Hadley (42:20):

I think that, that's something that is a super common little janky thing that you do. And then I think some of the cooler rigging kind of like trick stuff is lately, Titan tubes are all the rage these days. There're this battery powered RGB tubes that are 16 pixels across the length of them. So you can do a lot of cool animations with them and we've done some really awesome process trailer work lately.

Tanya Musgrave (42:44):


Matt Hadley (42:45):

Where we're running a car on the process trailer and then running a bar of Titans down the passenger side of the car high and one down the driver's side of the car low. And then you match your light color to the color of the street lights on the street you're driving and then we'll chase light down the tubes. So as you're shooting into the car, you get the streetlights as the car is passing, which like a lot of the times you don't get the output you want out of existing streetlights.

Matt Hadley (43:15):

And people did Poor Man's Process for forever where they just kind of like, you'd put a light on a T-pole and spin it around over the car if you were in a studio, but bringing some of those techniques to a trailer using these kind of modern LED technologies that we have is a great blending of both worlds. We can have really specific lighting, but still have their realistic environment of them driving around in the background. And we've done all kinds of stuff where it's like streetlights going, we'll have on the passenger side, like it' white light to halfway down the car and then it turns to red light. So you can have a button to make it look like a car passes them on the opposite side. If you want to kick some lighting to the driver for whatever reason.

Matt Hadley (43:58):

And we've used it for crash scenes where somebody swerves to avoid another car instead of actually having another car, we do the entire thing with a programmed light chase. That's some of the more fun stuff I've gotten to do lately. I think that is an interesting new way of kind of blending to older techniques process and Poor Man's Process together to make something that I think looks better than either one of them ever did on their own.

Tanya Musgrave (44:24):

I had no idea about even just like the T-pole thing. That's pretty sweet.

Matt Hadley (44:27):

Yeah. I think my second feature, we did one of those, but it's like a whole ... I mean, because you've got the T thing swinging with like the bastard amber on it and that's the street lights and then you put two 650s pointing like away from the car and then have two guys with silver reflectors and you red the back 650 and they are the cars, and they go like this and they would get in time and one would sweep it down the side and then the guy in the back would pick it up with the red and carry it out.

Matt Hadley (44:58):

Old Poor Man's Process was crazy because I mean, you've got like nine grips and electric sitting there doing weird things to make the light move around on the car. And then there's always the guy at the back who's got the stick underneath the bumper and he's doing this number to make the car move. I mean, that was definitely-

Tanya Musgrave (45:14):

Eating a sandwich...

Matt Hadley (45:14):

It was fun back in the day shooting, but it also always looked about as cheesy as it felt while you're doing it.

Tanya Musgrave (45:23):

Last listener question. When was the time that you felt defeated on set? Like your project was falling apart and how did you fix it?

Matt Hadley (45:30):

I think I've had times where I felt defeated and I don't think I've ever had it where I felt like the film was falling apart. I think if you get the feeling that the film is falling apart, it usually ends up not feeling like it's your fault. There's a lot of like the ... I mean, especially with grips and electric, like to go back to the truck and talk about how awful everything is going because the producers suck. But I've definitely had problems with connecting with DPs that becomes very frustrating where you can't get on the same wavelength with the DP. And that is really and I don't even know what the answer, because that one, the last movie I had where that was the case, it really just spiraled out of control until it ended with me and the guy totally not being able to stand each other at the end of the movie. And I got kicked off of the set, which I never thought was going to happen.

Tanya Musgrave (46:20):

Oh, my gosh.

Matt Hadley (46:21):

So I've definitely had those moments of going out and feeling like you're just not being able to achieve what you think, but you kind of just got to bite your lip and bear it, man because film sets, there's not really time to sit around and think about your decisions. Although I'll say I do spend a fair amount of time thinking about my life decisions while I'm on a film set, but it really becomes one of those things where like, I think it's a key thing in filmmaking to be able to bear it. When things are not going great, you have to bear it because there's no leaving, nothing's going to stop.

Matt Hadley (46:57):

You have to finish today's work and you have to do your best because you're currently on your job interview for your next job. But it definitely is one of those things where there's not a whole lot of room for feeling sorry for yourself, which is something that I love to do. So it's difficult for me at times, but a lot of the times I'll just excuse myself, go outside, take like a breather and then go back in there and just like jump back in and get back at it because like everybody's there and everybody's got to do their part or else it's not going to happen.

Tanya Musgrave (47:27):

Well, thank you so much for taking time especially after very, very quick recovery after your last shoot, but yeah.

Matt Hadley (47:36):


Tanya Musgrave (47:36):

Seriously, thank you so much. If you enjoyed this interview, follow us right here and check out more episodes at media.colabinc.org. If you have comments or know someone who would be a great guest on our show, send in your suggestions to tanya@colabinc.org. Matt, thanks so much again for your time, be well and God bless. We'll see you next time on There to Here.

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