"That very open minded, free-flowing creativeness that interacts with a multitude of people. That is what I love."
For Matt Miller, junior in theater with a minor in cinema studies, this is the the reason he is a writer, photographer, editor and collaborator.
It is the reason he is an independent filmmaker.
Miller has written and directed "The Roommate Series" and a short film, "The Wayward Date." An excerpt from "The Wayward Date," won the Audience Choice Award for Best Picture at the Handheld Film Festival at Regal Downtown West Stadium 8 in December.
Bill Larsen, a distinguished lecturer in English who taught Miller in multiple film classes, called this story "excellent" and said he may have come up with a trademark for future films.
"His stylistic work only makes the strong narrative that much better," Larsen said. "He has a sharp eye and a fine knack for filming and editing. But maybe best of all, I love that he included the bicycle. ... Anyone who knows Matt knows that his bicycle is a key part of who he is."
"The Wayward Date," was the beginning of Miller's desire to find and share his "voice" as a filmmaker. He said this film, a very "surface layer" film, helped him reach an acceptable level of mastery so he can move on to deeper layers of filmmaking. He credits Wes Anderson's film "Rushmore" with his desire to share his personal style.
"Watching (Anderson's) films, you know exactly what he cares about as a person and the ideas he's trying to share with people and the things he is trying to change in the world through his films," Miller said. "That is what having a voice is about when making movies.
"I feel like pandering to an audience like a blockbuster does washes that out."
Miller admitted he was on his way to becoming a run-of-the-mill blockbuster filmmaker. That is, a filmmaker who creates what the most convenient audience wants to see. In his case, he said Will Ferrell-type films came to mind. It was "American Beauty," directed by Sam Mendes, that helped Miller develop the ideas he has behind a film.
"When I watched 'American Beauty' the second time, I realized that everyone in that film was on board completely," Miller said. "They were like, 'I understand the idea we're trying to show here. Let's show it.' They basically had the feeling of, 'This is the movie I'm making. I'm not making it for you. When I make this movie, it's going to change my life.'"
Larsen said Miller has a motivation that is hard to find in a student, even comparing Miller's shots to those of John Ford. He describes them as having the best possible angle and distance. His "sharp eye" along with his love of film will bring success his way, Larsen said.
"What probably sets Matt apart from other film students is how genuine his passion about learning to become a filmmaker is," Larsen said. "He wants to soak up everything he can learn about film and filmmaking. ... He not only loves film and filmmaking, he lives them."
Like Larsen, Paul Harrill, professor in the school of art, has noticed Miller's desire to learn.
"After class is over, he wants to continue the conversation," Harrill said. "He's reading and researching topics on his own. He's creating projects on his own initiative. He doesn't do things because they're assigned, but because he wants to.
"It's fun to teach students with that kind of curiosity and passion."
Miller is not only passionate about learning the technical aspects of filmmaking, but also emotional aspects as well. He hopes to accomplish making a film with multiple layers, much like films directed by Martin McDonagh such as "Seven Psychopaths."
"(McDonagh's) films have six or seven or eight underlying themes and they don't usually become apparent until you watch the movie multiple times," Miller said. "Every time I watch ('Seven Psychopaths') I get a new philosophical idea, a new viewpoint on life, while at the same time being incredibly entertained."
This is what he will work toward with his new short film, which follows a cellist who loses to his best friend in a competition and makes it his primary goal to win the next competition. It will explore Miller's idea that everyone is either a "fixed mindset person," a person who will perfect specific things, or a "growth mindset person," a person who will challenge themselves continuously while maybe not perfecting one specific thing.
"I have very specific ideas about philosophy that I want to share with people," Miller said. "That's kind of my personal selfish reasons for making film – to get my ideas out there. But you can't just have that reason, because then it becomes a chore, and I've never felt like that while making a film.
"The unique voices independent filmmakers have are pretty phenomenal if you can open your mind far enough."
Miller said he plans to take full advantage of the cinema studies major that will be offered in fall 2014. He also started a Facebook page last semester entitled UTK Filmmaking. Anyone interested in film can join.