Explorative storytelling vaudevillian Matt Checkowski is touching down in New Zealand well ahead of Wellington's second Semi-Permanent, starting next Friday 18 October, and is primed to reveal more about his sometimes mysterious creative hub The Department of the 4th Dimension, also known as The D4D.
From Boston to North Carolina to LA, Matt's rising trajectory in the worlds of design, digital, entertainment and branded content has seen a westward progression of filmic and theatric proportions.
And with a catalogue of work spanning the dream sequences in Steven Spielberg's Minority Report through to official selections of Matt's latest work in the 2013 Food Film Festival NYC, screening later this month, it's a trajectory that's anything but linear.
As a self-described "modern vaudevillian" Matt adds the caveat that his style is "more of a back-stage, orchestrating-the-whole-show, how-to-hook-the-audience, kind of vaudeville". This makes his appearance at Semi-Permanent all the more special, given his intention to float ideas "out there into the room", and not to leave town without making a "ton more of designer friends".
In an exclusive interview for Idealog, Matt shared some of those ideas in advance.
On what excites Matt Checkowski
"I get most excited by a multifaceted experience where the line between the stage and audience is blurred by some challenging ideas in one direction, and a few projectile tomatoes in the other. That's where I see the vaudeville in our work. I think the exploration of new boundaries is rooted in our drive to better engage our audience.
"We're passionate about storytelling as an act that builds culture. If you take the historical perspective and trace back through history, you find that there have been two essential elements to that process.
"The first is exploration: someone has an innate desire to wander off from the group, over the horizon, in search of something new. And the second happens when they return home: the sharing of those tall tales with the group that stayed behind, those stories ultimately passed down across the generations.
"That combination builds culture and I don't think it's necessarily any different now that the tools for exploration and sharing have evolved. People have always huddle around that spirit and we love being a part of the process.
"To borrow a line from the experts: stories are the flight simulator for life. I don't think we'll ever get enough and the future will only force us into new experiences that we'll need to get our heads and hearts around.
"We'll always need story as a way to compare notes. As for The D4D, I hope we can continue to inspire our audiences not only with innovation but also through the classic humanity found in really great storytelling. It's aiming to strike that balance between the familiar and the wonderful. But yeah: a captive audience is essential and there's no doubt that pushing the boundaries is useful way to get people's attention.
On expectations of online content
"I do think the audience's expectation of online content is becoming more refined. It's moving beyond just comedy or low-budget how-to videos. From a marketing standpoint, I think there's a growing opportunity for well crafted stories if they're targeted intelligently. The 'content' can start giving back to peoples lives. You see that all the time now with film festivals embracing brand-sponsored films and advertising firms attempting less overtly branded content.
"The documentary format is an amazing tool for brands. They need more honest content and their consumers or supporters provide a ready and willing, captive audience.
"I think the biggest challenge with documentary branded content —or any branded content for that matter— is articulating the need and the audience and building the stories to serve them both equally. But I love working with real people, drawing out their stories, and telling them in a way that gets people excited.
On the success of The D4D
"I think we're really lucky to continually find the right clients, and we take pride in the idea that our work is our best calling card. We approach every project with that in mind. I've seen so many brilliant people and companies drift into directions that ultimately aren't sustainable economically or collapse from within because they're not inspired by their own work. We're always tweaking the recipe to avoid that.
"With each project at The D4D, we continue to learn so many interesting lessons on how to build an audience and how people engage in storytelling online. (Added to that) I'm not exclusively in love with any one medium or format. I also try to keep the studio as an ever-evolving cabinet of curiosities.
"We're so all over the place in the kinds of projects we do, that we need to be all over the place in our inspiration. That goes for our team and our collaborators, but is also a big reason why L.A. is our town. There isn't a more diverse, creative city on the planet and our hub is in the downtown Arts District where no one is faking it".
NOTE: Another Semi-Permanent drawcard traveling to Wellington from the creative cauldron of L.A. is advertising maven Scott Harris of the award-winning small agency Mistress. Look for another advance interview on Monday.