BLACK EXCELLENCE: FILMMAKER MATTHEW A. CHERRY, THE FACE OF CHANGE27 Apr 2016, Posted by Film and Television, Lifestyle in
It’s been that way for the 34-year-old Chicago native ever since he decided to hang up his cleats after a way-too-brief stint as a National Football League wide receiver. He was facing a crossroads that no one in their early twenties should have to face—what to do when something you’ve worked all your life for isn’t an option anymore.
He always had an eye for storytelling, so when his life on the field ended, he decided to change fields.
Months after his retirement, he got work as a production assistant for different television show sets including “Girlfriends” and “Heroes.” It was grunt work, just like those training camps he had to endure before making the League. He hustled. Learned. Became proficient behind the camera after applying for, and landing gigs shooting music videos for different R&B artists. He was audacious, landing one of his biggest directing jobs—with a young but wildly talented Jazmine Sullivan for the video “In Love With Another Man”—after coming up with a story treatment, shooting the clip himself and then presenting it to the artist.
The clip went viral almost immediately, and as of this writing has garnered more than 7 million views.
In 2012, Cherry was ready for the spotlight, stepping out from behind the music, so to speak, to release his first feature film, “The Last Fall,” a story about a young athlete who was forced to explore a life after football. It was autobiographical, for sure, but also a story that hadn’t been told from his unique viewpoint. The film won screenwriting and directing awards from various film festivals that year, and sold for major distribution out of SXSW to Image Entertainment.
While fine tuning his writing in preparation for his next film, Cherry capitalized on the popularity of the internet web series, writing, producing and directing the short lived coming-of-age series “Almost 30,” his first stab at comedy. It was well received, and opened up a new lane for the now-established writer. His presence grew on social media, including Twitter, where he would spend a few hours a day engaging with a community of like-minded social activists, sharing their lives 140 characters at a time. The character restrictions forced Cherry to be concise while getting his point across. He’d try jokes, see if they worked. He’d post gifs, create memes. He was telling stories in yet another way. Ironically, those boundaries gave him more freedom.
The short film “Forward,” along with an ambitious attempt to release a video a day for a year, forced the former athlete to compete with himself to meet daily deadlines as well as perfect his editing skills. This past summer he was hand-picked to direct the video for Michelle Williams’ track “Say Yes,” which featured Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland, and garnered a Video of The Year statue during the 2015 Stellar Awards.
Then, in late 2015, after almost two years of working on an ambitious script, Cherry had to suspend shooting on the project as his lead actress suddenly had to bow out due to another commitment. Instead of shutting down production completely and risking losing the rest of the scheduled shoot days with his cast and crew, he changed on the fly, locking himself in a room for three days and coming up with an outline for another project that became the film “9 Rides.”
Shot over six nights across Los Angeles last Thanksgiving on an iPhone 6s, “9 Rides” is a technological breakthrough, being the first shot exclusively on the Apple product, implementing the company’s brand new 4K quality software. It’s also the first film to form an exclusive connection to the shared ride service Uber, spotlighting the shift of a driver and the passengers he encounters on New Year’s Eve. Each ride presents its challenges, and forces both the main character and Cherry as the writer to confront different sides of themselves, something that is rarely explored on screen.
Today, Matthew has so many ideas he’d like to share with the world, from so many perspectives, including one from that of a female protagonist. He’s digging deep. Keeping it fresh. Writing as if his life depended on it. It reminds you of another man with Alexander in his name, one who was also non-stop, one who wrote like he was running out of time—America’s first treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton.
He recently signed with ICM Partners, to be represented in all areas, and already his resume has him in the mix for two major directing jobs this summer. It’s his ability to think outside the societal norms, and his willingness to not only embrace, but conquer new technology that keeps him on a short list of creatives that are willing and able to reach the next level.
No, Matthew A. Cherry isn’t attempting to change the world. He’s ready for the chance to change the way you view it, one project at a time.