In the documentary Clownfest: Five Days in the Alley, viewers learn about the working life of a clown. One fascinating aspect is that some clowns worked in corporate America before finding their true calling. A similar, seismic career change looms for the film’s director and producer, TCNJ alumnus Matthew Weber ’03.
Before being laid off in December 2008, Matt was an analyst at Credit Suisse Securities in New York City. Making Clownfest has gotten him thinking, and not about reclaiming a foothold in the shaky financial world.
Matt, 28, has fallen hopelessly in love with filmmaking.
Pursuing that passion is risky (Matt’s gone on job interviews befitting his professional past) but it’s clear where his heart is. “I’d much rather be stressed out and have these questions about film and something I’m creating than something as mundane as working on a PowerPoint presentation,” he says. “That’s so much better.”
Matt made the short film with his youngest brother Mark, who studied television and media at Sacred Heart University. It focuses primarily on the participants and happenings at the titular five-day clown convention in Seaside Heights, NJ.
Despite growing up with a family that, in Mark’s words, “was always familiar with film,” (their father Alan teaches TV production at Rutherford High School), Matt was more into sports. He played football at TCNJ, landed his finance degree in 2003, and immediately entered the work force, which he considered “the responsible thing to do.”
It wasn’t until Mark started studying film in college, and the brothers would have intense discussion about TV shows like Weeds and Entourage, that Matt became interested in filmmaking. “We started to explore what it was like to get into this sort of industry,” Matt says. With Mark returning to school and needing a senior project, the brothers kicked around ideas until a friend told them about Clownfest. In summer 2007, two weeks before the event started, Matt and Mark went for it. They grabbed four cameras and a couple of friends from Sacred Heart to shoot on location.
And an 18-month labor of love began.
On Fridays, Matt would get off the bus from work and embark on the laborious aspects of making a movie, like research and reviewing stock footage. He then waited until Mark graduated in June 2008 to edit 60 hours of footage into a revealing, informative 37 minutes and 32 seconds. “We gave up all of our weekends to do that,” Matt says. “By the end of the project, he [Mark] was probably sick of me.”
Mark, who is cited as the film’s editor, producer, and assistant director, admits he and Matt had creative spats, but that “we had to realize that this is bigger than our disagreements; it is a business and we need to be as professional as possible.” He adds that working together was beneficial: “We almost know what the other is thinking or about to say.”
Matt says that “mutual respect”—Mark’s relevant education and technical experience; his creative direction and project management skills—kept them on course. And, yes, they want to reunite, only this time with a crew. They’re already in the process of raising capital for their next project.
In June, after seeing the movie with an appraiser’s eye an estimated 400 times, an audience of about 100 joined Matt at the Hoboken International Film Festival. It was an amazing experience, he says. “We didn’t know what to expect, but to see it on the big screen, and to see people laugh when [we] expect [them] to laugh, said we’re not crazy. We have a feel for what people want to see.”
“I think what our screening committee liked most about the film was that even in its short running time, it showed many facets of this clown gathering—the fun, the business, even the religion,” says Lauren Bull, vice chairwoman of the HIFF, and a 2007 TCNJ alumna. “Like any good documentary, it takes you into a world you might otherwise have never experienced. I think big things are ahead for Matt and Mark.”
Now that Clownfest has finished its summer festival circuit (the NewFilmmakers Documentary Series and the Jersey Shore Film Festival), Matt is working to get the film entered in some fall festivals. A DVD with bonus feature will be available soon through the film’s Website, www.fivedaysthefilm.com.
As for Matt’s career plans, film school is a possibility as is producing or directing. One thing is clear, movies will be prominent: “This is the industry I want to be in,” he says. “This is what makes me feel alive.”