Smart Filmmakers: “My message to first time filmmakers - Do your homework!”


The next installment of our Smart Filmmakers series features an industry expert who started out in the advertising industry before turning his attention to award-winning film directing. Peter Matthews is a lifelong creative who is always looking for new ways to express himself.

What's your background as a filmmaker?

I was born in Zimbabwe where I finished my schooling. There was conscription when I finished school, so I had to spend a year in the National Army. After my service, I moved to South Africa to study Graphic Design at the Durban University of Technology. I never returned to Zimbabwe and worked as an Art Director/Creative Director at various advertising agencies until I started my own ad agency in 1986 – founding partner and Executive Creative Director of Matthews and Charter. By 1992 the agency was rated in the top three most creative agencies in South Africa by Financial Mail and named South African Agency of the Year by Readers Digest having won many local and international awards for the creative work including Cannes, New York and London International. After 16 years as owner and creative head I sold my share in the agency to Ogilvy in order to focus on art and film directing.

Are there any productions or collaborations in particular that you think are noteworthy?

In 2000 I started Peter Matthews Pictures, initially concept development for and directing TV and cinema commercials. In 2007 I directed and co-produced my first motion picture, "Oil on Water". It received Best Picture at the Everglades International Film Festival and was nominated and Official Selection at 10 other international Festivals.

Did you encounter any obstacles in your path?

I got burned! Being a first time indie film maker, I had this product that was half decent, but now I had to sell it! I was so happy to have a distribution company who would market my film worldwide and another that would distribute domestically (USA).
I found out that America is the center of the Universe of entertainment, so that’s why it is referred to as "domestic". "Worldwide" is the rest of the world. So, LongTale LLC based in Santa Monica had a contract for 3 years and gave me figures for projected returns. My investors and I were stoked. We never had one report and didn’t receive one cent from them in 3 years. The emails were not returned either. As for our "domestic" distribution, we contracted Seminal Films who subcontracted E1 Entertainment. We had 30,000 hits on our website when the DVD launched in the US, but never one report or one cent!

So, my message to first time film makers, do your homework. Contact the producers of films on your potential distributors slate and check what kind of relationship they have, or if they have received feedback and payment. You will find the producers through the distributors website.

What kind of projects are you working on these days? 

I am presently working on a documentary called "Township Yogi" - The documentary looks at how yoga can be used as a practice for transformation by HIV sufferers and those living in poor township areas in South Africa. It follows five township youths whose lives are transformed through the power of yoga, and explores what ripple effect this has in poverty-stricken, HIV, TB and crime-ridden communities in which they live in South Africa. These five men were trained as yoga instructors, have qualified and now run their own classes in the townships. We are delighted to have Blair Underwood as a co-producer and narrator for the documentary. The doccie is in post-production at the moment and due to be released early 2015. It started as an experiment which my wife, Elle, conceived. The project has been enormously successful and is presently being rolled out to townships throughout South Africa.

We are also in development on a new major motion picture called "ZULU - Day of the Dead Moon", due to go into production 2015. The film is an action drama – a retelling of two epic historical battles which were fought within 24 hours between Zulu and British forces at Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. The story is told from mostly a Zulu perspective and focuses on a fictitious legendary Zulu warrior – Senzan – and Burton Blake, a British officer. It centers around the events that lead to the development of a reluctant friendship between Senzan and Burton, and how they ultimately end up having to put their loyalty to their own nations before their friendship, and take up arms against each other.

A taut historical action feature, "ZULU - Day of the Dead Moon" is a hard-hitting, emotionally gripping story of loyalty, honour, greed and friendship, based on actual events! It features the breathtaking landscapes and scenery of the KwaZulu Natal Battlefields and surrounding areas, a stellar cast and gritty, graphic-style battle scenes.
It is intended that the film will be produced as a "green" production, which will be a notable first for the South African film industry. It will be a co-production with New Zealand.

What are some personality traits that people recognize you by? How do these help you as a filmmaker?

I am a perfectionist (that is not something to aspire to) and as a result nothing is ever good enough. This is exasperating for the people I work with as "good enough" is never good enough, and I never have the satisfaction of feeling that the job is well done. It’s a curse, but I am working on it.