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The Directors: Matt Pittroff

The Directors 163 Add to collection

Director, managing partner and founder of Workingstiff Films on his love of challenges - even when working with animals

The Directors: Matt Pittroff

Matt Pittroff, director/managing partner, founded Workingstiff with a goal of creating a production company that honoured the process as much as the product and cultivated new relationships, nurturing them into long standing ones. His mastery of storytelling and unwavering eye for the details create a distinctive yet undeniably accessible brand of humor. As an ever eager problem-solver with innate positivity and flexibility, Pittroff turns challenges into exhilarating and oftentimes absurd, comedic adventures.

He's partnered with client-direct and agency teams to produce campaigns for Heluvagood, Hilton Hotels, National Car Rental, Purina and Stanley, Black & Decker. His short film, “Social Mediation,” also collected many a laurel, most notably “Best Director” Austin Comedy Shorts & “Best Comedy Short” at the Toronto Short Film Festival. 


Name: Matt Pittroff 

Location: Baltimore, MD 

Repped by/in: Brenna Mathers 

Awards: Matt’s work has been featured in Adage, Creativity, Shoot and at Cannes. His short film “Social Mediation” garnered Austin Comedy Shorts’s “Best Director” and “Best Comedy Short” at the Toronto Short Film Festival,but his most notable award is the fact that his clients always call back. 


LBB> What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?

Matt> As a chubby kid that used to wear cords and a windbreaker to the community pool, it’s no wonder I developed a sharp, dark wit at a young age. But no matter how hilarious a story, or gut-busting a punchline I might deliver, my older brother (aka Chet) would remind me how UNFUNNY I actually was. I’ll never forget the first time he truly laughed at/with me. It was like a speedball to my comedic confidence, and there was no turning back. As a result, I LOVE me some comedy and I LOVE me a good underdog. Gimme a mundane, everyday scenario that pays off with a slightly surreal or outlandish punchline, and I’ll do my damndest to deliver a beautifully art directed scene from my voluminous catalog of human observation. When I see this type of opportunity in a script, I feel right at home. And less is more, when it comes to the words on the page, this opens the door for more collaboration along the way, proving the agency team wants the director to be a part of the creative’s evolution, and that is downright titillating. 

LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?

Matt> I'll get an agency’s document, read it a couple of times, and try to forget about it for a bit, though it continues to haunt me with every bated breath until the first creative call, where I try to gather as much info as I can. I not only want to understand the script, but the brand and all of the personalities involved. I try to get a feel for what roads they’ve been down so I'm not dragging them back through some murky trench they've already dug out of. The more the agency talks, the better. How else am I going to regurgitate their words in my treatment? So we listen. Then my team and I catalog all the intel and I get to walking, which is synonymous with writing for me, getting it out of my brain and getting my steps in, all at once. Then comes the filtering and editing and trying to make sense of it all. Next, the inter-webs ravage phase, in search of imagery and further inspiration. Oftentimes I will call Wes Anderson and ask for advice. And speaking of sage advice: always perform Google image searches “incognito.” Too much time spent searching for  “smiling red haired 10 year-old with his shirt off” is a great way to get a visit from the Feds. Here comes the umpteenth hour and time to get back on the phone with the creative team to walk them through the treatment that they likely haven't read (yet?). I’m only half kidding, but regardless...treatments are an integral part of my process, the roadmap of the story, visual vibe, tone, casting, locations, etc. It's a very time and self consuming part of wrapping my head around the creative. So, it’s something I do even when I am not asked for one.  

 

LBB> If the script is for a brand that you're not familiar with/ don’t have a big affinity with or a market you're new to, how important is it for you to do research and understand that strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do it?

Matt> It's most important for me to understand what the agency is trying to accomplish for the brand. What I might find, through my own research, may differ from where the agency is trying to take a brand, so that can be a double-edged sword. My research is focused on humankind. I've always studied people, maybe even creepily so. I hear conversations, watch interactions, study mannerisms...part of the reason I'm clinically insane is because I've catalogued all of that stuff along the way. This serves as my little library of moments to tap into when honing the nuances of a character or story. Recently, I sat in the parking lot of a diner with my son, waiting to see who could possibly be driving the late model Saturn sedan parked next to us. This car was so jam-packed full of unbelievable chattel, I just needed to know who owned/lived in it. It looked like they had bought out every swap meet on the east coast and half the canned food aisle at the ACME. After a lengthy stakeout, not one, but two sharp dressed elderly folks came rolling out, sharing a single cane. It was an extremely slow but well-choreographed exodus. He plopped down in the driver’s seat and she proceeded to lay across the stacks of newspapers and magazines with her torso in the front seat and her legs in the back. You can’t make this shit up! 

So…I’m a storyteller. And to me, the best stories are the ones that expose some human truth. A foible or an idiosyncrasy that the viewer can relate to. And if that human truth has a connection to the brand messaging, YAHTZEE. A spot can't be more successful than that. 

 

LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?

Matt> I’m only as good as my team, and I’m thankful to have great ones all over the country. I work hard to work well with every department head. I need them to be at their best and in my corner. This starts by being prepared and earning their respect, always bringing ideas to the table, but knowing when someone else has a better one. As for agency partners, you have to be able to connect with a writer who may have a very different personality from an art director who likely has a different personality from their producer, which differs from account personnel’s. It’s critical to align with all of those players, effectively communicate as a team or the process becomes littered with roadblocks.

Ultimately, I’m working for the creative team to help advance our vision. But I'd be a fool not to understand it's deeper than that. Everybody’s gotta be behind the vision. The more you drill down on all the details and really rally all people, the better. And while all of the aforementioned relationships are critical, there is none more so than my bond with my partner and producer Steve Blair. We're both vested in the success of not only the work but also the relationships with our clients as well as our the future of our company. It’s a lot like a marriage. It requires us to be in lockstep, in order to get the best out of the job and ensure the phone will ring again. He is literally an extension of me, and I of him. He gets me, what I like, and knows when I say, “this doesn't matter” as he builds budgets, that I really mean this is gonna matter later. He's incredible at what he does. And quite frankly, I'm shocked he hasn't divorced me.

 

LBB> What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?

Matt> Historically, I have been a comedy director, but I’m not solely passionate about the laughs. Unlike many people in the universe, I do something that I really enjoy. I mean, it's work; long, hard hours, featuring a few heartbreaks along the way, but I love what I do. And I take the process as seriously as the product so it’s not a matter of genre or subject matter. It's solving the problems. It's winning the respect of the team I'm working for. It's making a great ad, efficiently and effectively. It’s making my brother laugh. It’s making my producer believe I’m actually listening to him. And it's a storytelling thing. While that might sound like a canned answer, it's the truth. In short, comedy is where I hang my hat. But I like a challenge and am down for any genre or opportunity that breaks outside the mold that I somehow fell into, probably just because I'm fucking hilarious. Oh, and I LOVE musicals. 


LBB> What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?

Matt> The adage, “If you haven’t done it, you can’t do it.” Which is really ironic, ‘cause why would anyone want to do something that has already been done? Anyway, when we are born, we can’t even roll over or wipe our butts but eventually we evolve and learn how to do things that are unfathomable.  We learn these things by taking chances. Some of my best work, and best work relationships, have spawned from chance. Someone was willing to take a chance on me. I know it’s hard, and the stakes are high, but risk is very different from chance. ABBA really nailed it. And just beyond that adage, there’s the whole if-you-do-comedy-you-can’t-do-drama thing. While I love comedy, I don't love being pigeonholed into a particular genre. I get it, you have a comedy board so you're gonna go into the comedy aisle and shop there...why push your cart anywhere other than to that aisle if you know what you want? As a result, we get genre-cised. Ideally a voice could be defined as “good storytelling”. If you can make someone laugh, you can make them cry...and if you’re really good, you can do both at the same time. 


LBB> Have you ever worked with a cost consultant and if so how have your experiences been?

Matt> My experiences are limited with cost consultants and have been instances where agencies spend 10 bucks to save 5. Workingstiff bids competitively, always have and will. It's part of our makeup as a production company. I’m basically our built in cost consultant and we don’t even charge for it! The bid reflects on the company and our desire to nurture a relationship. And other than creating the best ad you can, nothing is more valuable than the relationship. So we aim to put our best foot forward from a cost standpoint, every time. Also available to consult for the cost consultants. 

 

LBB> What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?

Matt> I like to consider them crazy challenges, because there’s always a solution to be had. Every job’s fitting a square peg into a round hole. And if it's not, you're not pushing the concept or the budget to its fullest; if it's an easy fit, something’s left on the table. It’s usually the smallest minutiae that adds up to create the craziest challenges. When you are cutting it close on time, squeezing in 27 setups a day, things have to go right. And ultimately, I hold myself at a very high standard, not as an ownership thing, but I own the project’s advancement. So anything that doesn't go right is on me, and that can make for some aggressive male pattern baldness.

But I’ll attempt to answer the Q. A challenge that is hardest to solve, no matter how much you prepare, is working with animals. And weirdly, I’ve worked with pretty much the whole kingdom. Animals are wild, even the “domesticated” ones. Would you knowingly hire an actor that might kill you upon eye contact? Well, we do, and we make a schedule, and we block out an hour for the Elephant to push the shopping cart down the aisle…bullshit. That docile pachyderm could crush the entire crew in seconds and out on the 101 trampling traffic before lunch. Oh, and cats. They’re the worst. Why do people own such a defiant creature as cats? They never do what you want them to do, even trained ones are not well behaved...but they are good for comedy. 

 

LBB> How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?

Matt> The idea starts with the agency. I fight alongside them while trying to add, enhance, evolve it. Clear and constant communication with agencies, in order to avoid the unexpected, is the best way to protect any idea and pave the way for spontaneity on set.  My job as a director is to help the best ideas rise to the top and end up on the screen. I don't care where they come from...they're obviously usually mine, but I seriously don't care where they come from. 

 

LBB> What are your thoughts on opening up the production world to a more diverse pool of talent? Are you open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set?

Matt> There’s so much talent out there. I learned a long time ago that the only thing I can control is what I do, so there is no sense in looking over my shoulder. This mindset is pretty liberating and allows me to mentor at will. I do it pretty often. Sure, it’s good karma but also, you never know who that PA will be one day. Being able to “impart wisdom” on people newer to the business may seem like mentorship, but it’s self-serving too. I want them to be better at their jobs, so they can help me be better at my job so we can continue to push each other in the spirit of competition. For apprenticeship opportunities, please call 867-5309. How’s that for topical comedy?

 

LBB> How do you feel the pandemic is going to influence the way you work into the longer term? Have you picked up new habits that you feel will stick around for a long time? 

Matt> We’ve had to adapt to protocols that were outside the norm in order to work and we did so quickly and efficiently because that's how production works. I think there are some things that are here to stay. Virtual casting for audition submissions is probably going to stick around. I also think there's some great value in these terribly tiring Zoom meetings, to be able to file and screen share, assuring we are on the same page literally and figuratively is pretty sticky too. I like to be able to read the Zoom ‘room’ on director’s calls but I will always vote for being in the same IRL room, sitting down with persons...agency, actors, whoever. That’s when the best stuff happens. 

 

LBB> Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)? 

Matt> It’s gotta be 100% possible because that’s what is being asked of all of us. I think where the versioning most greatly impacts the process is when you’re trying to create a one-size-fits-all composition. Let’s say you're trying to create comedic tension between two characters. Easy, place them on either side of the frame and let it play out. Well, that shot isn’t possible in 9:16, but, if it’s top of mind from the jump, you can reinvent the tension in a different way, say by ping-ponging back and forth between the two-shot with a little extra nose room. I used to get a little worked up about the various variations, checking frame lines on every shot, but it's become a bit more intuitive these days. The ability to capture such massive files also really helps with the ability to recompose. If the down side’s some hack editor reframing your shots, then it ain’t really that bad after all. The more placements and outlets out there, the more stories there are to tell and therefore, the more opportunities to work. Video is how people digest information these days because it’s the quick (maybe lazy) way to do it. Fine by me. I’ll take it all day and then some. In fact, I’ll suggest some social output add-ons to help further the value of our productions. 

 

LBB> What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work (e.g. virtual production, interactive storytelling, AI/data-driven visuals etc)?

Matt> I love challenges (as established), learning new things and embracing whatever is going to further the story and drive home that human connection. When someone comes to us and says, “Can you do this?” Our answer is 99.9% of the time, “Yes.” Now that’s not to say we know how to do it right now. But it means we're going to figure out how to do so. Recently we delivered 22 360-degree videos all shot on 1 cine lens with a 90 degree field of view. No one told me there would be math. But, you figure it out. The more you know, the more valuable you are to your clients. So, I force myself to embrace new technology—for example I just upgraded to an iPhone6.


LBB> Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why?

HELUVAGOOD -  Camping - verbal gymnastics executed flawlessly by the indomitable Allegra Edwards (Upload).  One of five spots filmed over 2 days.

ENTERPRISE - Happy Trails - overdramatized performances from historical protagonists, blurring the lines between past and present, showcasing period chops while maintaining relevance to the now. Well balanced and accessible style of comedy. 

FURMINATOR - Shedlings - Dark comedy set in the mundane some outlandish but practical FX furballs. 

PA LOTTERY - Buckspotters - meticulously curated visual style, quirkily relatable cast 


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Workingstiff Films, Mon, 23 Aug 2021 15:23:00 GMT