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The Creative Issue – News for Creatives | November 29, 2021

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360 and Martin McKenna's spin on the Real World

360 and Martin McKenna’s spin on the Real World

| On 15, Jun 2016

It’s Thursday afternoon, finally a little warm at the Tryp Hotel in Fortitude Valley, and I’m thrilled to be sitting down with two guys for whom I have a lot of respect. Director/writer Martin McKenna and Matt Colwell are in Brisbane to showcase their debut foray into the realm of feature films: Is This The Real World.

Martin has an extensive writing career in the Australian television industry, with shows like Neighbours and Packed to the Rafters under his belt. Matt, aka rapper 360, is known for being an Australian hip hop legend. While further developing his music career, Matt now uses his success as a platform to create awareness and support for people who are suffering from mental health problems and addictions.

While reading up on these guys, I instantly warmed to Martin upon finding out that he lists the Toy Story trilogy amongst films that changed his life. Curiosity compels me to ask how.

“They’re so beautifully written,” he tells me. “I cried like a three year old in the third one when they’re in the incinerator, thinking ‘this is a cartoon. How do they have that emotional pull?'” So yeah, basically Martin is all of us.

Matt agrees. “I feel like animated films nail it more than other films. Like when Mufasa dies in the Lion King, I’m weeping.”

“I think it’s just the power of good story,” Martin continues. “No matter what kind of form it takes. The way they constantly refer to adolescence and the kind of joys and loss around family, and it’s just a beautiful piece of work. That’s why I find it inspiring.”

The themes of family, grief and navigating the bridge between child and adulthood are central in Is This The Real World. Speaking of the power of good story, I ask Martin where the inspiration behind Real World came from.

“Personal experience. I was booted out of high school for being a little smart arse. I was put in a principal’s office for a term with my name on his chair — so that part actually happened. It was a mixture of things I had observed and things I’ve lived through, and the desire to write a film in this kind of genre, a film I could make with the team I had around me and the resources we had available — it felt doable.”Matt Colwell in Is This The Real World

Matt plays the protagonist’s older brother Jimmy, a character written with his specific archetype in mind. The brief was ‘junkie larrikin’, and although Martin and Matt joke around about how he took this quite literally and employed some method research techniques, this period of Matt’s life is one he has publicly revealed as a dark time of addiction.

“I was in such a different place back then to what I am now, and honestly, I never saw it ending,” he says. “I never thought I would actually be someone who was able to live every day not having something, like whether it’s alcohol or some sort of drug. I wasn’t at my worst when filming, but there was definitely a lot of partying going on. Looking back on it makes me proud of where I am now. I’m just going to stick at that, and make sure I don’t fuck up.”

“I don’t think you will,” Martin says.

“Yeah, it’s happened before. It’s like what every addict or alcoholic goes through. You’ve gotta expect to have a relapse here or there, but I don’t think I will. I’m determined that that was the end of it. Every time in the past when I was in my younger years and other people were trying to say, ‘alright, it’s time to stop using drugs, time to get clean’, I wasn’t ready. But I was doing it because they were saying so, and so the whole time I was thinking, ‘I can’t wait to get back out and get back on it,’ but this time I reached a point where I was like, ‘I’m too old now, I’ve almost lost everything’ — and I almost did lose everything. Luckily I made a few smart investments and stuff, and I’ve been able to pick myself back up.”

Martin notes that Matt has a high level of commitment to what he puts his mind to. Matt tells us about his childhood as a skilled basketball player, the first time he realised his addictive personality. “I was training before school, after school, playing in massive leagues — it conditioned me so that when I do something that I’m passionate about, it’s all I do.”

Matt Colwell and Sean Keenan

We might see more of Matt Colwell on the silver screen in the coming years. “I’ve always wanted to get into acting, so this film was a godsend.” His approach towards the craft is similar to the way he’s gone about everything else so far. “My life is so PG now, I don’t go out at all. All I do is stay at home and work so at night time all I do is watch movies. I watch them over and over again and really pick up on what [the actors] do and I admire it.” He lists Jake Gyllenhaal, Joaquin Phoenix, Matthew McConaughey and Tom Hardy amongst his exemplars.

Matt’s also thought carefully about the kind of role he would write for himself if ever given the chance. “I’d love to write a movie about a guy who’s kind of a pushover, in a job where everyone takes advantage of him, then he reaches breaking point and shit goes down and he just says ‘fuck it, I’ll do what I want.’ For me that’d be the best role to play, I reckon that’d be so much fun. I think it could be a dark comedy.”

When casting Real World, Martin’s confidence that Matt would be great in the character of Jimmy came from seeing his music videos, interviews, and rap battles. “I was sure he’d nail it. I think hip hop is a really performance based side of music…any acting school is just about learning to listen, respond, and be present in the moment, so it was no surprise to me that people who are brought up in hip hop can move into acting quite naturally.”

Martin’s heart lies in the potential of new feature film projects. “TV was how I paid for the house, and a really good discipline. You get to write scenes and then within a couple of weeks have a cast around you — polishing your skills in high turnaround.”

360 real world

For Martin, the hardest part about being a professional creative is managing the “balance between art and commerce.”

“I suppose I had somewhat of a romantic idea about making a film. The business is pragmatic and real. Trying to be true to yourself but also trying to be realistic about things — wanting it to be real, and not a hobby — is the constant battle.”

Matt believes true art comes from letting projects be what they naturally manifest into, instead of trying to create something according to other people’s criteria. “In music, the most important thing for any creative, anyone who’s a writer, is to not have an agenda — don’t try to think, ‘I’m going to write a smash hit song that will be good for radio, and everyone’s going to love it’ — just write good music. Try and make good art, don’t think about what it’s going to become until it’s finished.”

Martin isn’t short of ideas for the next feature film he will create. “I have a couple kicking around. We’ll just see which project gets off the ground first. One is set in Queensland, and it’s kind of a domestic murder story, quite intentionally different to Is This The Real World. Another is a women’s road movie. Kind of like — not Thelma and Louise, but you can’t avoid the comparisons when you have two women on the road together.” With this man’s stylistic intuition and skilled story weaving, these will be absolute must sees.

Matt will continue working on his music. “I’m just working on a new album. That’s pretty much all I do at the moment, and I’ll hopefully have it finished by the end of the year.”

You can check out Matt and Martin’s feature film debut Is This The Real World at the New Farm Cinema until June 18th.

Images: Label Distribution