Home Director Interview: Matthew Tibbenham – Director, “Surviving Confession”

Interview: Matthew Tibbenham – Director, “Surviving Confession”


indieactivity : Tell us about your beginnings. Where do you hail from?
Matthew Tibbenham : I’m originally from Plano, TX, but since I was eighteen, I’ve lived all over the world including Chicago, New York, LA, China, Jordan, and now London, England. I’ve always loved film and I grew up in a family that constantly watched movies. We went to Movie Theatre all the time and my parents had a huge VHS and eventually DVD collection.

However, growing up, being a film director and writer wasn’t really something I thought I would ever do. I occasionally made little films for school and church, but it wasn’t really something I thought I’d try to make a career out of. At first, I thought I’d go into Christian service, but after university, making films and writing became more and more appealing and I thought I’d give it a go. It was always something in my life and it felt natural to shift gears and work towards becoming a film director and screenwriter.

indieactivity : And did you grow up with a supportive family, all behind your dream to work in the industry?
Matthew Tibbenham : Yeah, my family is tremendously supportive. My mother and father have always been behind whatever I’ve wanted to do, even if it was a bit crazy. Without their emotional and financial support, there’s no way I would be where I am today.

And my wife, while more level-headed and realistic than myself, has been supportive of my wild dreams and has always been by my side through the ups and downs.

indieactivity : Is anyone else from the clan in the ‘business’?
Matthew Tibbenham : Not really. I think my Great Aunt was an actress, but I think she passed away before I was born. I have a cousin in Hollywood that’s an actor and body builder, but some how I’ve never met him.

For any of those worrying they aren’t part of the establishment, I’ve never found that was a problem. It’s about how hard you work and the quality of that work. That’s all that anyone cares about. It can help if you’re the son or daughter of a famous actor or director, but thankfully, it’s not essential.

indieactivity : What do you consider your big break?
Matthew Tibbenham : I’m not sure I’ve had it yet! Honestly, the biggest break I’ve had was working on Sinister for director Scott Derrickson. I had already been making small films before than, but being the director’s assistant and ultimately doing the second unit directing for the film was huge break for me. I learned a ton from working with Ethan Hawke and writer C. Robert Cargill and it was great seeing how real Hollywood film are made.

But even after working on Sinister, I’m not sure it had any direct bearing on making Surviving Confession other than seeing how other directors and crew work. Filmmaking is a life of constant highs and lows. I just keep working hard and push forward. Almost everything I’ve done has only been a small step forward, but after years of small steps, they add up and you accomplish a lot more than you ever thought you could.

indieactivity : And the project you’re most proud of?
Matthew Tibbenham : Surviving Confession by far. While it was great working on Sinister and the work I did on that movie has horrified millions of people (in a good way), Surviving Confession was such a larger project for myself and I think it’s my best work so far. In some ways I’m a little worried because I set the bar so high for my first feature I’ll never be able to make anything as good again. But heck, I’m going to try!

indieactivity : Tell us how it came about for you?
Matthew Tibbenham : Just over five years ago, Nathan Shane Miller, sent me the script. I had met him because he sent a script to my former boss, director Scott Derrickson, and it was by far the best script I had read from anything Scott was sent through the years. It was a historical horror film that I like to describe as Bridge on the River Kwai meets Kwaidan (Japanese horror) and I had to get in touch with the writer. So Shane and I started corresponding and every script he sent me was brilliant. I knew the horror film he sent Scott was way too big of a budget for us to get made at that point in our careers, but he had another script that I feel in love with and thought we had the chance of raising money for.

Sadly, I was greatly mistaken. After developing the script with him and shooting a sizzle reel for the feature, no one was interested in giving two no-names money to make even a modestly budgeted movie. So one day, Shane sent me a script he wrote that we could produce on our own. That script was Surviving Confession and once again it was brilliant. I couldn’t put it down and I called him immediately telling him we had to make it. And of course, once again I thought we could raise a fairly proper budget for the film since it was so amazing, but after a year, no one invested in the film, so we decided to produce and finance it ourselves. The rest is history.

indieactivity : And was it shot in your neck of the woods?
Matthew Tibbenham : Yeah. When I was living in LA, we shot at a friend’s church just south of LA because they had a lot of free space they weren’t using. We constructed the confessional in one of those rooms and shot 90% of the film there. The sanctuary at my friend’s church didn’t fit the vision I had for the film though so we shot that in a Presbyterian church just north of Hollywood.

indieactivity : Was anyone a comedian in the family?
Matthew Tibbenham : Not even close. Most of the time my family doesn’t even get my jokes. I have an extremely dry, sarcastic humor that I have to tone down since it can get me into a lot of trouble for people who don’t know me, but I always love a good laugh.

indieactivity : What elements of it can you relate to on a personal scale?
Matthew Tibbenham : I definitely relate to most of the movie. While I’m not Catholic and no longer religious, I grew up Christian and dealt with the same struggles Father Morris goes through. I’m always wondering what’s the point of this crazy, absurd world we live on and wonder if I’m actually making a difference. I think we all do. Plus the romance in the film is something that brings memories of my teenage years, wondering whether the other person you like, likes you and wondering whether you should make the leap to confess your love, or just keep it suppressed so your heart doesn’t get broken. These are universal struggles that I believe we all think about and have to deal with.

Amber is the one character I’d say is least like myself and I don’t relate to very well, but even her story hits me personally. I love the mystery surrounding why she’s at confession and why she won’t leave Father Morris alone. Her character arc is wonderful and hit me in a deep emotional way that most other movies don’t usually do.

indieactivity : After the PR rounds on this have done, will you be off to do a new project?
Matthew Tibbenham : Definitely. I always have 3-4 projects I’m working on and right now I actually have half a dozen or more at different stages of development. My next project is a comedy TV pilot about tour guides in London. It’s written by Frances Keyton and Luke Ireland and it’s brilliant. I could see it being the next Office.

One of the producer of Surviving Confession, Jo Rauen, and I are working on a dramatic vampire horror film that we’re hoping to shoot next year in Brazil. I’m also attached to direct another feature with producer Magdalena Herfurtner of Madil Hardis Productions and written by Haydn Worley called “Somewhere In-Between.” It’s bigger than Surviving Confession, but is still a smaller indie film with great emotional depth and an amazing ending written by Haydn and

Shane and I are collaborating on a few films right now. And I’d still love to direct that first script of Shane’s that I was originally sent and what started this crazy journey. If anyone’s looking for a historical horror film in the vein of Guillermo Del Toro, give us a call!

In addition to directing, I’m writing a few features I’m really excited about right now including a philosophical action script I’ve had the idea for almost a decade. Hopefully after Surviving Confession is released, I’ll finally have a chance to breathe and write it.

indieactivity : Where do you hope to be in a decade?
Matthew Tibbenham : 

Directing the fourth Star Wars trilogy!

In all seriousness, I just hope I’m making movies. I’d love to be directing the next big budget sci-fi action movie that blows people away visually as well as intellectually, but I’ll take what I can get. Hopefully in a decade, the budgets will be bigger, but I always want to direct flies that change people’s lives and have them leave the theater pondering life, the universe, and everything.

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