Mat Gallagher interviewed Matt Hopkins:
Filmmaker Matt Hopkins first crossed our radar with his portrayal of the London riots back in 2011 and has just released a series of documentaries entitled England Your England. This personal project comprises a collection of films and references George Orwell’s essay of the same name that sought to document the characteristics that made the British who they are. ‘The inspiration really comes from the characters’ Matt tells us. ‘I really wanted to show how many incredible people there are out there, who have stories that are actually quite important and inspiring, but who would never usually be given the time of day to talk about them.
‘When I had to think of a name for the project I started re-reading old Orwell books; I had always loved his social realist works (Road to Wigan Pier, Down and Out in London and Paris) and the way they documented the details of struggle of the everyday person. The Lion and the Unicorn (the book which holds the titled essay) stood out as a strong name, but England Your England had a lot more poetic subtlety, and as the content of the essay was about trying to define and document a nation, I went for it.’
The project was mostly a solo venture for Matt and after making a couple of the films, looked for a way to link the stories together. ‘I prefer to work alone with the subjects’ he says, ‘shooting on DSLR, keeping it low-key a grabbing the moments wherever possible’. Matt then called in Ben Lankester to shoot ‘Leon’ and Dan Graves and Simeon Clarke to compose the music and master the audio.
Each film took around 2 days of shooting and required a great deal of flexibility. ‘I’ll start by spending a bit of time with the person’ he says, ‘and then start shooting. If I know the person already we’ll do the interview early in the shoot and then edit that before shooting more visuals. It’s important that I’m able to create cinematic moments, so sometimes that requires spontaneity (Mark walking through crowded streets in Tottenham) and sometimes planning. As Mark works in prisons I tried for months to get access to him working there but couldn’t get clearance for a creative project – Instead I followed him to a meeting at a shiny building in Victoria, which worked really well.’
Matt mainly shoots with a Nikon D800 and an old Nikkor prime lens. ‘I love this camera’ he says ‘the picture quality far surpasses that of the 5D, which I was previously using, without being too much of a departure from the settings on a Canon.
‘With Ben Lankester on board, we shot the fourth film with a Red Epic. We had it hired in for another job so used a spare day to shoot Leon. Although the picture quality was much better, it’s not a discreet camera that allows you to film pretty much anywhere. However, we got some great tracking shots at 120fps out of the back of my car with it!’
The films were edited in Premiere CS6 and graded in Magic Bullet. For the logo design, Matt called on fellow Brighton-based designers’ fentonforeman.com. ‘We’ve tried to keep the EYE logo on every film title so that people recognise the brand’ he says.
Though each film is little over five minutes in length the stories are extremely powerful and are beautifully shot. In addition to the initial four in this project, Matt is planning to release at least one new film each month this year, so it is worth keeping the site bookmarked and checking back regularly. See the films in full at www.englandyourengland.tv