Matt Collamer: Visual Storyteller & Filmmaker
Matt Collamer is a filmmaker based in South Korea, by way of Massachusetts. Matt’s work focuses on travel filmmaking to capture his wanderings and explorations around the world. He founded Break Your Boundaries as a way to pursue filmmaking, embrace life’s challenges and inspire others to improve their lives. Currently an English teacher, Matt will soon take the leap to chase his passion full time.
Tell me about your path into filmmaking.
While in college, I was exposed to video making through one of my roommates. We lived in a dorm with 11 other guys, and he always made these short, silly videos depicting our shenanigans. Even though the videos were far from professional or of high quality, I realized that video-making interested me very much. I loved that this media form could capture moments, memories and stories. At this point I started learning about video production and editing. These classes captured my imagination in a way that nothing had before and I knew this was something I was going to do.
Another very influential experience was studying abroad in Australia when I was 20. I got a GoPro to document my trip, and I had a lot of fun with it. At the end of the trip, I made a video recapping my time abroad. The reception was very positive. It was cool to show friends and family from back home and for the people I shared the experience with, it was more like a memory highlight reel. I loved that a video could have such a strong impact on people, and I continued creating more when I returned to New England.
During my senior year I entered a student film contest with one of my friends. The contest was put on by the New England Sports Network (NESN) and obviously had a focus on a sports-related story. We made our video about the Worcester Bravehearts, an independent baseball team in Massachusetts. It took a while to complete, but we were proud of the story we conveyed. We ended up as one of the finalists and were on local television to be interviewed about it. We didn’t win, but I gained more experience, as I fell in love with the process of creating stories through film.
Then, very close to graduation I went to this dinner put on by the communications department of my university. While there, I spoke to one of my media professors and he asked if I’d be interested in joining him and a group of other professors on a trip to Ecuador. Apparently my university was affiliated with an indigenous tribe that was fighting against a big oil company taking over their land. My job would be to document the experience. I was blown away at where a simple yes could lead to. I had been very hesitant to attend this dinner and now here I was being presented this opportunity. So I went and documented what was happening on a daily basis with the tribe. We didn’t create a documentary video because what I filmed was to be part of a larger library of footage to be used in the future. This opportunity impacted me deeply because it gave me a little taste of traveling, exploring and creating videos. All of a sudden this life seemed like a real possibility.
After graduation, I briefly worked at a country club and during this time I was trying to figure out my next move. I knew the 9-5 cubicle life wasn’t for me. Studying in Australia really solidified to me that anything is possible and I wanted to do a job that allowed me to travel and also focus on filmmaking. I was looking for a stepping-stone and that’s how I found out about teaching English abroad. So many people have done that as a way to launch their long-term journey into traveling or other interesting career pursuits and I knew I wanted to do it too.
"I know that willingly facing the challenges that arise on the daily have long-term positive effects. I’m also treating my time abroad as a way to do some self-exploration. I really want to have a clearer idea of who I am, what I like, dislike, what I want, value… South Korea has been a great opportunity for growth and exploration, both personally and professionally."
Can you describe your experience in South Korea from a personal and professional view?
Being in Korea has really allowed me to pursue my passion. Since being here, I’ve been making travel-style videos recapping adventures or explorations I’ve gone on. I’m still learning so much, but I’m happy with the progress I’ve made because I can see I’m getting to where I want to be. I am now trying to explore a more creative and unique approach to my videos. I am really looking to refine my voice within the film realm. I am experimenting with treating it as art rather than simply a way to document. And as with most art forms, my hope is to have a positive effect on others with my work.
I’ve also had the opportunity to travel which has been great because most of the times traveling is romanticized. And being able to see the raw, unfiltered version of travel is valuable to me. During the summer, I traveled to Indonesia and I had an incredible time but what I remember most vividly is the poverty. And these are the kind of experiences that I’m seeking because they will help me better understand others. At the same time, traveling is humbling because it shows us how lucky and privileged we are compared to most. I want to somehow incorporate the feelings that I have about some of these experiences to produce more thought-provoking videos.
"Be as honest as possible with your creative work because people connect and react to authenticity."
On a more personal note, it’s been all about self-growth. Going through logistical things in a new country and problem-solving on your own has really taught me about being independent. Especially with the language barrier. You know, it’s not always easy. It actually is quite hard at times. And sometimes I have these moments of walking around and asking myself What the hell am I doing living in South Korea? But I know that willingly facing the challenges that arise on the daily have long-term positive effects. I’m also treating my time abroad as a way to do some self-exploration. I really want to have a clearer idea of who I am, what I like/dislike, what I want, value… South Korea has been a great opportunity for growth and exploration, both personally and professionally.
What films or movies have been inspiring or influential to you and why?
I really appreciate documentaries. Eventually I want to explore documentary-style videos so I watch a lot of them. One that I can think of is The Act of Killing because of the strong story telling element and how thought provoking it is. Another that sticks out is Meru, which tells the story of these incredible climbers attempting to climb Mount Meru in the Indian Himalayas. I enjoy this one a lot because it’s in the travel, adventure realm. I admire the tenacious spirit at the core of this documentary and also the authentic way in which it’s conveyed. I also draw inspiration from a range of different sources. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of fiction because I like good storytelling. I also have to mention Humans of New York because I enjoy that I’m able to understand how these people think and their own introspection. Recently, I’ve really been trying to apply this to my Instagram. I used to post photos with a short caption but now I try to convey what the image means or represents to me on a deeper level. I find this really powerful because others can relate and connect to many of the themes I share.
Casey Neistat comes to mind because his videos are great, and his story is amazing. He is from the East Coast and at 16 he got a girl pregnant and dropped out of high school to support her. They were on welfare and living in a trailer park. Then when he was 20, he moved to NYC to pursue filmmaking full time. He endured a lot of hardship during this time, which was around 9/11 but he committed 100% full on to his passion and eventually gained recognition and success. I have a lot of respect for that sense of commitment and I look up to him a lot.
His filmmaking isn’t extremely high quality or artistic but I like that he executes his ideas so quickly. He has a incredibly unique style, and he likes to keep it simple. He also says that with all the noise and clutter there is out there, people’s bullshit detectors are very strong. So it’s best to be as honest as possible with your creative work because people connect and react to authenticity.
I also want to mention this guy I know, Alex Rosier, who is not even that well known, but he makes some incredibly artistic videos with many different creative elements. It’s like they are multi-dimensional, because they spark so many emotions. I aspire to create content in the same vein – thoughtful, artistic but with my own personal touch.
"My aim is to have more balance in my life because it’s so easy to give in to anxieties and doubts. But at the same time you do need to be relentless and obsessive with your commitment to your craft. It’s crucial not to let the doubts overshadow your passion."
Talk to me about your creative process.
Recently I’ve been trying to think more about my process. With travel-style videos I film what I think are good moments or instances that highlight what I’m doing. I make sure to capture plenty of footage. The real work is in the editing. That’s when the creating really happens. And I love this process of piecing together a story. For more structured videos, like the interview we did, detailed planning and brainstorming are crucial to get across what you want.
And you know this process is always evolving. A lot of the times you learn as you go to be more efficient by trial and error, you realize what works and what doesn’t. I don’t think I’m at a point where I’ve fully figured out my own, I’m still learning a lot.
Pursuing creative endeavors is a very rewarding path but it’s also accompanied by a plethora of doubts and self-imposed mental barriers. Can you share a bit about these struggles?
Some of my struggles arise when I focus too much on the future and let my mind wonder if it’s all going to work out or not. I love making videos and I want to pursue this path, but during the journey it’s difficult to maintain a consistent level of motivation and drive. And of course the doubts arise. You start to ask yourself, Should I be doing this? Should I stay home right now on a Saturday night working on my videos instead of socializing with friends? Is this work going to eventually pay off? Am I pursing this in the best way possible? Overthinking definitely plays a role in my creative pursuit, but the way I’ve been coping with these mental tricks is by talking to others about it and doing my mourning routine. I wake up at 6 to meditate, exercise and journal because these practices help me stay in the present. My aim is to have more balance in my life because it’s so easy to give in to anxieties and doubts. But at the same time you do need to be relentless and obsessive with your commitment to your craft. It’s crucial not to let the doubts overshadow your passion.
“Spend time with quality people. You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with [quote by Jim Rohn] so make sure they’re good people. The kind of friends that will elevate, inspire or motivate you to be better and do more.”
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
Neil Gaiman comes to mind. He is a well-known writer, and I like his commencement speech in which he talks about not doing anything for the money, but especially art. He is addressing an art school so this advice is geared towards creative and artists. He advocates focusing on creating art, whether painting, writing, filmmaking, anything, with the sole intention of producing something good. Something you can be proud of. And along with that, he mentions the best piece of advice he ever got. He says that when he became a more established writer, Stephen King was at one of his book signings and told him to enjoy it. But he admits that he failed because in the midst of his success, he was worried thinking about the future and his follow-up projects.
BJ Novak, one of the main writers of The Office, when asked by Tim Ferriss what he would tell his younger self, also shared the sentiment of Neil Gaiman: that he would enjoy himself more instead of worrying about where the future is leading to. And I can identify with these ideas a lot.
Another thought is originality. I’ve heard countless times that if I’m doing what everybody else is doing then I must be doing it wrong. And of course I am not speaking of 100% original and unique ideas. As creators it’s inevitable to be influenced and borrow certain elements we like but the important thing is to make the final product your own. To carve your own path in any field, you must be different from the rest. And now I’m at a point where I’m really trying to implement this advice into my craft.
Lastly I’d say to spend time with quality people. You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with so make sure they’re good people. The kind of friends that will elevate, inspire or motivate you to be better and do more. At the end of the day, the people that you interact and make connections with mean everything. This is a huge factor into where you’re going to go and the level of success you’ll have.
What makes you happy?
Staying active and outdoor activities. From skateboarding, to snowboarding, to hiking. I love being in nature because it’s so nice to put everything into perspective. Seeing new places, exploring, traveling, meeting people... I love understanding how people feel and think so having meaningful and genuine conversations is huge for me. Finding people that you can really connect to on a personal level isn’t easy so I’m grateful when it happens.
What does success mean to you?
Enjoying the process of what you do more than the product. And obviously being able to comfortably support yourself from whatever you do is key. But my big picture definition of success is about having a balance between professional aspirations and personal lifestyle. Being healthy physically, mentally and emotionally inevitably leads to a happier life, and that’s what I want.
What are your plans, goals, hopes for after teaching?
Our contract ends in February, which isn’t long at all actually [laughs]. I plan to backpack around Southeast Asia for at least 3 months. I will definitely check out Chiang Mai in Thailand because there is a big group of people that work for themselves and belong to a community I’m part of. It’s a hub for the kind of work that I want to do – location independent. I want to meet these people, make connections and go from there. I know that the traveling will be instrumental in my personal and professional growth, so I’m excited about that. I’ve been very proactive about the life I want to have, and I plan to keep grinding and going. My end goal is to be a location independent filmmaker, and I’m ready to attack my dreams.
“As creators it’s inevitable to be influenced and borrow certain elements we like but the important thing is to make the final product your own. To carve your own path in any field, you must be different from the rest. And now I’m at a point where I’m really trying to implement this advice into my craft.”
Don’t miss out on Matt’s work here: