Rhinelander’s Osterman directs Hollywood feature film
BY MATT PERSIKE
Special to the Star Journal
Storytelling predates written language. Raconteurs through history have evolved and varied between cultures and centuries. From rock art to tribal folk dances to tragedies at the Festival of Dionysus, there is no denying that humankind has long been captivated by epic tales purveyed by practiced poets and others with a flair for the dramatic. Today one Rhinelander native is bringing his stories to the silver screen.
Matt Osterman grew up with a love for movies and has found his voice through the medium of film. He sees the cinema as an extension of a very human love for the theatrical. “It’s a very human thing to sit in a dark room and tell stories,” says Osterman. “Watching a movie with other people is a communal event. Being there together in a crowded theater, it sort of elevates things. People let themselves become immersed in the narrative.”
Working behind a camera was not always Osterman’s goal. After graduating from Rhinelander High School in 1996, he took his interest in technology to the University of Minnesota to study Scientific and Technical Communication. It was not until much later that Osterman became aware of the possibility of working in the film industry.
“Near the end of college I had a friend who told me he was writing a screenplay,” recounts Osterman. “I thought, ‘wait a minute—you can write a screenplay?!’” Once Osterman came to the realization that real people have to do these jobs, he knew he wanted to be involved. “That moment was the proverbial light bulb turning on. I said, ‘this is what I’m going to do.’”
Without any formal experience in filmography, Osterman had little to go on beyond his understanding of the necessary technology, writing skills accrued for his degree, and an interest in cameras. He began by helping friends make their short films. In 2006 he helped produce “Sportsfan,” a documentary following diehard Vikings fans that was produced by Jon Stewart (of Comedy Central’s Daily Show). In the following years he directed a pair of short films on tight budgets before getting a bigger break in 2010 with his first feature-length film “Ghost from the Machine.”
“I’m a movie fan first and foremost.” Osterman says that his fandom informs his sensibilities whether writing or directing movies. He lists David Fincher, Danny Boyle, and Stanley Kubrick among his favorite directors, all of whom are noted for their dark, poignant cinematic masterpieces. “What I tend to enjoy watching or want to do are movies that make the audience think. Things that are a little darker.”
The influence is obvious in “Ghost from the Machine,” a suspenseful sci-fi drama which uses the story of a young man caring for his younger brother after the death of their parents to confront questions of mortality, desperation, and the line between the life and death.
Ghost from the Machine was made in Minnesota, largely with people Osterman knew. Funding came in a big part from the crew’s family and friends, as well as a few fundraising events. However, Osterman’s newest project is slightly larger. Working with a bigger production company, “400 Days” features a few very familiar faces. Like “Ghost from the Machine,” “400 Days” was both written and directed by Osterman. This sci-fi film stars Caity Lotz (“Arrow”); Brandon Routh(“Superman Returns”); Ben Feldman (“Mad Men”); and Tom Cavanagh (“Ed”). Still the biggest name might be comedy superstar Dane Cook.
Osterman admits to initially being intimidated by working with such accomplished actors. Before long, though, he began to realize what a great opportunity it was to collaborate with these Hollywood veterans. “It was actually really great filming and working with them. They were all much nicer than I expected, and very professional.”
Dane Cook is known for his larger-than-life physical comedy, but is reputed to sport a very intense demeanor off the stage. Osterman, though, recalls their first encounter as very friendly and relaxed.
“I was in Los Angeles doing casting, and we must have met with over a hundred actors before we came into contact with Dane’s agent. They were interested, so Dane told us to come on over.” Cook, says Osterman, was well-prepared for their meeting. “We walk up the marble staircase to his huge house in the hills and he came out to meet us and invited us inside. He told me he’d watched Ghost from the Machine three times. And we just sat and chatted for a few hours, and shortly thereafter his role was official.”
The shooting of the movie took place over the course of nineteen hectic days, often working for fifteen hours at a crack. Osterman explains that this is why it is so important to be able to get along with everyone on set. “If we’re not going to have a little fun doing this, then why do it at all?”
Those nineteen days make up only a small fraction of the entire length of the process. From casting to editing to the eventual release, the whole project will have taken nearly two years. “400 Days” is currently in the post-production stage, which has Osterman’s attention twenty to thirty hours every week during time when he is not working his day job at his technology marketing company. As the film’s writer, Osterman says it is difficult to be objective as a director about cutting scenes. “It’s easy to become attached to something in the script, but when looking at the film it maybe didn’t come out quite right. So you really have to learn to kill your darlings.”
Osterman often refers to the humanity of going to see a movie in a theater. “It’s called the suspension of disbelief. The audience knows that what they’re seeing was filmed in a studio, but they are willing to believe the story. Humans want that surprise.” The director’s job, he says, involves a sort of sleight-of-hand. “The trick is to take the audience for a ride, but you never let them see the strings.”
For Osterman, the draw of film comes from the diversity of the medium. “It is the culmination of all artistic endeavors,” he says. “It’s photography, choreography, poetry…” He also loves the ability to work on scripts alone, then collaborate with the cast while filming. “Some directors seem to control the set with an iron fist, but to me the magic of movies lies in the happy accidents of real collaboration.”
Storytelling, as well as story-listening, is at the root of humanity if you ask Osterman. Indeed, everyone has a story to tell; there is only the question of how they put it out into the world. Matt Osterman will say of his medium of choice, quite simply, “it’s magical.”
400 Days is slated for release in late summer of 2015.