What do Vernon Kay, Ashton Kutcher and Arnold Schwarzenegger have in common? Not much you might think but the answer is they all started out as models.
ll three have gone on to achieve very lucrative careers in front of the camera, proving that modelling can be a great path into showbiz.
What is more unusual, however, is for the photographed to turn photographer. But that’s exactly what 20-year-old Matt Connell has done.
These days Matt, from Waterlooville, is a London-based music video director. Despite starting out as a child model he says he always wanted to be behind the camera instead of in front of it.
‘My first taste of the industry was when I was seven and I did some modelling. It was fun but I was more interested in what was going on behind the scenes,’ he explains.
‘After that, I was always looking for ways to get myself back on to sets and shoots.’
After completing his BTEC in Media and Moving Image at South Downs, he went on to take a BA Honours Degree in Content Creation at Ravensbourne, in London.
While he studied, Matt had a novel and lucrative source of income that also helped him back onto film sets. He signed-up with an extras agency.
‘I was skint at uni,’ he remembers.
‘Working as an extra you get £100 to £250 and you get to meet the production crew, which is even more valuable.’
Matt got more than he bargained for when he wound-up chatting to Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon on the set of their recent movie, Hereafter.
‘I played a tourist in the Charles Dickens Museum in London. I was a guy taking photos with a tour group.
‘I met the director Clint Eastwood and the star Matt Damon. They are dead normal people, really approachable.
‘It’s the music industry that’s full of pretentious people, not the film industry,’ laughs Matt, who works in both.
The former Oaklands Catholic School pupil got more work experience on music video productions and his first paid job was as a production runner for a NEXT advert with Dannii Minogue.
Then, a week or two after he’d finished university, Matt got a job as a studio runner for ITV, where he worked alongside Ant and Dec, Alan Carr, Ricky Gervais and Adele.
It also saw him play football with James Cordon and have a ‘surreal’ three-way conversation with Peter Andre and Jimmy Carr.
After ITV, Matt worked for Bloomberg Television as a technical runner/assistant camera operator, where he was head-hunted by The X Factor director Jonathan Bullen as a runner/trainee director. Unfortunately, the job never materialised and Matt’s contract with Bloomberg came to an end.
‘I found myself coming into 2011 jobless. But, with savings in the bank and free time, I thought “Maybe I should start making my own music videos”,’ says Matt, who shot his first music video for a friend’s band while at university.
‘DIY film making and making music videos is very do-able. I thought “If others can do it, then I can”,’ continues Matt, who decided to join forces with his old college friend, cameraman/editor Matthew Hoare, for the project.
After pitching their ideas to Engineer Records, they got a job making the video for alternative acoustic artist Mikee J Reds’s song Living Well.
‘I spent the whole of January coming up with a good idea and planning the shoot. Then I thought “You know what? This idea sucks. Let’s just go to Paris go all guerrilla and see what we can do”,’ remembers Matt.
Matt, Matthew and Mikee shot the video in 24 hours at the end of January and it has since been aired on Blank TV and Lava TV as well as receiving thousands of hits online on sites including NME.com. The boys are even in talks to have their video screened in high street stores like Burtons.
Matt currently has two more music videos in post-production and two booked to shoot. He and Matthew have even launched their own production company, Fenixx Productions.
‘We got offered another pitch today,’ says Matt, whose mum Florida and 17-year-old brother Melvyn still live in Waterlooville.
While his music video making is clearly burgeoning, Matt has also bagged a new studio job ‘to keep the money coming’, working for Argos TV – a new channel which will launch in May.
‘It’s perfect,’ Matt explains. ‘I’m working shifts of four days on and four days off, which gives me plenty of time for Fenixx.’
Matt says what he really wants is a big budget video. ‘At the moment, we’re working with £300 to £500. It’s hard, because you have to blag a lot.
‘My dream is to become a signed director at a video production company.
‘But I’ll be happy if I can just continue making music videos. If I could do it for the rest of my life, that would be amazing.’
Get in touch for a helping hand into the media
Matt says a key to his success has been the help he’s received from others and he’s keen to do the same for other budding artists. He wants to help creatives in Portsmouth get their first step on the ladder.
Matt and Matthew took Niall Highgate, a budding music video director from Portsmouth, along on their Paris shoot and collaborated with Portsmouth-based graphic designers Thosewho (Matthew Horrocks and Jason Ford) to design the Fenixx Productions logo.
They have also inspired their own younger brothers, who are studying the same courses that Matt and Matthew took.
Matt says: ‘I felt so lucky that people who didn’t know me gave me opportunities and I want to do the same.’
‘I want to encourage others to realise it’s do-able because there are plenty of people out there who have the ability but don’t have the first clue where to start.
‘You don’t have to take a course or buy expensive equipment and you don’t have to be in London. You can get in contact with a band anywhere and arrange to meet,’ explains Matt.
Matt and Matthew are inviting people to get in touch with them via their Facebook page, facebook.com/fenixxproductions. ‘It’s a place where bands can get in touch if they are searching for people for a video, or even if people from home want to get involved,’ says Matt.
Matt also welcomes readers to contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to be part of his productions, or with any questions or requests for advice.
Matt Connell’s partner in his new production company, Fenixx Productions, is Matthew Hoare, who he met during his training at South Downs College.
Matthew is originally from Fareham and now lives in Twickenham. He is currently studying for a degree in Media Arts and finishes on May 4.
‘He shoots and edits. I organise and direct,’ explains Matt.
‘Matt is demanding, which is good,’ adds Matthew. ‘The first time we met, we clicked. We work well because we bounce ideas off each other.’