Bringing Apartment 413 to Life with Matthew Patterson
Matthew Patterson started his filmmaking journey like many of us growing up before cell phones—with a VHS recorder and a gang of middle school friends. He went on to Pepperdine University to study theater directing and eventually to LA Film School for directing and cinematography. After grinding through LA as a 1st assistant camera, he founded his own production company in Austin. There, he had his “biggest kick” so far in his career after selling his feature Bindlestiffs to Kevin Smith and hanging out with him at the announcement party.
Recently, he produced and directed Apartment 413, a single-location thriller written by InkTip screenwriter Ron Maede. The film is currently on the festival circuit, and it was a Staff Pick at the Austin Film Festival. If you have the chance to catch a screening of the film, you’re in for a treat of twisting storylines, artistic cinematography, and memorable performances—all shot within a 600 square feet space.
We sat down with Matt to talk about his career, Apartment 413, and the importance of making material instead of waiting.
Chris: As director, what do you look for in a script?
Matt: As a director, I’m looking for a few very important details in any script that I read. Firstly, I know the writers don’t want to hear this (usually), but when I go looking for a script, I have a budget I have to stick to. I don’t expect the writer to know how budgets work, and that’s OK; that’s my job. Write a good script. Period. It might not be the right budget for me, but it might be perfect for someone else.
Secondly, I’m going in knowing that if I make this movie, it’s a 3-4 year process from option to sales. I’m living and breathing this story for 3-4 years. So I have to ask myself if it’s a story that’s worth that amount of my life, time, money, sweat, etc.
Thirdly, I’m not an auteur. I don’t need to be both writer and director… but I do write. A lot. So formatting and overall competency is important. I know that if I option a script, I have to work with this writer. Based on how well it’s written, I can get a clue about how easy or hard developing the script with them to get it ready to shoot will be.
Lastly, the most important thing about any script is how interesting it is, how much I believe the characters and situations, and do I care what happens to them along the way. Does it ask a question that I care about, challenge me in some way? I care way more about characters than plot.
Chris: What attracted you to the script Apartment 413?
Matt: Oh man, it was a combination of the characters, the simple complexity of how the story unfolds, and the fact that it could be all that and produced for a shoestring budget! Ron had a great style in the script and a sly dark sense of humor that pervaded the action but also in his descriptions that hooked me.
Chris: How was working with screenwriter Ron Maede?
Matt: First and foremost, Ron’s super talented and knows character and walking a tightrope of fun and tense moments. He’s also really engaged in wanting to make things the best they can be, and was eager to learn how to get the script into shooting format. He’s challenged me in such great ways every time he’d quiz me on why I made certain direction decisions, editing decisions, or even marketing choices.
Working with Ron Maede on developing the script and then the film has been a real treat. He’s a sweetheart, and just so excited to be a part of this whole experience. Ron was always eager to talk about this baby, pushed back appropriately on notes and rewrites, but never failed to deliver the goods with a smile.
One of the greatest highlights was to have him there for the table read the day before we started principle photography, and watch his face light up like a kid on Christmas.
Chris: The cinematography in the film is great. How has your past experience as a cinematographer elevated your storytelling?
Matt: I can’t take all the credit on the cinematography. My longtime friend and DP Rocky Conly and gaffer David Atkins really made something great with such a small space. My background helps me not only think cinematically but also practically. I know what it will take to get a shot with the time and budget we have. It also helps me speak in shorthand to my cinematographer.
As far as elevating the storytelling, it even helped all the way back at the script development phase. Ron and I were able to rethink a lot of the scenes in a way to “show instead of tell” because of how I knew we would (or could) shoot them. It also helped us keep things interesting by offering new and engaging angles and looks throughout the film.
Chris: Did you face any challenges shooting essentially in one location?
Matt: We had a ton of challenges shooting in one location. It’s great for the budget, but really tough on the crew, morale, and odors. Cramming 15-20 people into a 600 square foot apartment for 12 hours a day gets really stinky! You start to run out of places to hide the camera and lights, and all the people helping. But in the end we made that a check mark in the plus column. We bonded, had fun, and moved quickly.
The biggest challenge was changing up the way we shot the film constantly, so that it never felt boring on screen.
Chris: The cast gave wonderful performances. What’s your secret for bringing the script alive through your actors?
Matt: The cast will be thrilled to hear you say that, and I agree they were amazing. My job was to cast talented people that could bring their own gifts to the performances. Once that jobs done, it’s playtime. I trust them, and hopefully they trust me.
I don’t really have a secret weapon for working with actors. I listen, I play with them, and we rehearse. Every new take we’d add or change something we learned from the previous take. The script provided a strong and cohesive backbone, and we rarely deviated. But exciting discoveries and little moments happen on set that add an extra level of depth that when added to what Ron wrote elevate it to a new place that neither Ron nor I could anticipate before filming.
Chris: The film lets audiences draw their own conclusions to the psychological mysteries of Apartment 413. What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
Matt: That’s the question, what does it all mean?! What really happened? I hope that audiences walk away feeling like they had fun, and if they get in arguments on the drive home because they disagree on what they think happened, even better! The delicious part is that it shifts from person to person, which to me is what art is about. We digest it differently.
Chris: What’s one thing you absolutely love about the film?
Matt: The one thing that I love about Apartment 413 is the fact that we pulled off an interesting, tense, unfolding story in 600 square feet that never fails to shock the audience.
Chris: What’s the one thing you wish you knew earlier in your career?
Matt: This is easy. Don’t wait for permission and don’t wait for the right, perfect project. Make as much as you can, good or bad, and learn from all of them. You’ll only get better each time and might make something great along the way. Either way you’re doing what you love and having a blast while doing it.
Chris: What advice would you give writers who are looking to get their scripts produced?
Matt: Answer this question before posting a script: is this a story, or is it still just an idea?
Most of the scripts I read are just really long ideas that never developed into actually being a story. Ideas are great, they’re the hook. But the story is the struggle I’m interested in. Beginning, middle, end, character development…
Tell me a good story and even if the script isn’t right for me, I’ll pass it along to someone else. We love seeing good stories get made. There’s so few of them.
Embrace the rewrite!
Rewrites are real. And important.
If you get a good director and/or producer, you will have to do rewrites. Period. Nothing written is ever ready to actually shoot. It’s only ready to read. If someone says it doesn’t need to be tweaked, run away! Go in knowing that your script will be re-written three times: Development, during production (by circumstance of involving a bunch of people!), and during editing.