Rising Star Matt Stoner: “Humans are the greatest force for good that exists on this planet; all we have to do is take that first step to go out of our way to do something good for something else”

One of the most inspiring aspects of the film is Hunter’s ​Do Good Things ​ calendar, and it’s something that I had tried to adopt in my life as well. Every day, Hunter would do something good for someone else to help him recover emotionally, spiritually, and personally, and he would write it down. By […]

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One of the most inspiring aspects of the film is Hunter’s ​Do Good Things ​ calendar, and it’s something that I had tried to adopt in my life as well. Every day, Hunter would do something good for someone else to help him recover emotionally, spiritually, and personally, and he would write it down. By the end of the year, he would have made an impact on at least 365 different people. Imagine if everyone lived their lives this way. Humans are the greatest force for good that exists on this planet; all we have to do is take that first step to go out of our way to do something good for something else.

As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Actor and Producer Matt Stoner. Born and raised in Orange County, California, Matt Stoner was exposed to the arts at a young age. He spent much of his childhood immersed in music and theatre, and began taking acting classes and auditioning for productions at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach at age 9, performing in several West Coast and a World Premier before graduating from high school. He graduated in 2009 after spending 8 years in the Laguna Playhouse Conservatory, and continued his training in the BFA Screen Acting program at Chapman University, graduating with the class of 2013. In 2017, he founded Foxstone Entertainment as a full service film and television production studio and completed his inaugural project, I Wrote This For You (2018). With a goal to raise awareness of racial and gender equality opportunities in film, Foxstone has since begun production on 10 projects in both Television and Feature Film in order to promote these necessary, and often lacking, ideals. He currently resides in Los Angeles.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Matt! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Laguna Hills, CA, just inland from the small artist’s colony of Laguna Beach. I was lucky enough to have parents that believed in a rounded education who took me to theatre starting when I was 7 at a nationally acclaimed theatre company called The Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach, and I was hooked. My father grew up in a mixed Mexican Indian household, and my mother is from a military family, so this was something they didn’t get to experience as children and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity. I was constantly immersed in extracurricular activities; I participated in almost every sport for at least a season with the exception of football, but mostly found myself playing basketball and soccer. I was a Boy Scout and made Eagle Scout just before graduating from high school, and was an altar boy at church, so you could say I had a lot going on in my childhood. In middle school I found my passion for running — I would be that kid that would run two miles “for fun” and continued this in high school. By my junior year I was ranked at a national level and eventually had to make a choice between running track at some of the most prominent schools in the nation, or pursuing my heart and choosing film. I ended up at Chapman University in the BFA Screen acting program, graduating in 2013.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always been interested in the entertainment industry — my uncle is an entertainment attorney and music manager, and I saw some of the work he was doing and was fascinated. Around this same time, my parents bought me a keyboard piano and I was starting to go to the theatre more, so I was

instantly immersed in artistic pursuits. Every time we would go to the theatre I would stay for the talk back after the show and ask the same question: “How can I get to do this?” Eventually my parents signed me up for an Introductory Theatre Class at The Laguna Playhouse and it cemented what I somewhat already knew: I loved to perform, I loved to entertain, and I loved to make people happy. I went on to spend 8 years in The Laguna Playhouse Conservatory and Repertory program, training under Donna Inglima, Kelly Herman, and Joe Lauderdale, while also going to school and running track. Playhouse is where I met some of my closest friends and collaborators, and during this time, I performed in nearly 30 shows in total. Once I was at Chapman, I ended up rounding out my entertainment education with their BFA in Screen Acting degree. The program is incredibly unique; while half of the program is acting centric, the rest of the classes are part of the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts in nearly every discipline. It gave me a more rounded view of the entire entertainment industry that I think is unparalleled in any other degree. After graduation, Brennan Keel Cook (writer and star of ​I Wrote This For You ​ ) and I moved up to LA and hit the ground running. After about 5 years, Brennan was working full time as an actor and came to Jason Zavaleta (Director) and I with this script, and we decided it would be the turning point in our careers. We took things into our own hands and haven’t looked back.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I think it would have to be the story of how we managed to finance the film. Beginning a career as an actor is incredibly tough, so of course you have the “day job” to help pay the bills and allow you to survive while you focus on your career. Mine ended up being, as most actors do, serving and bartending. I bounced around a couple of high end restaurants and hotels in Beverly Hills (huge tip for those of you wanting to learn quickly — I have never learned so much as when I was serving tables around the “movers and shakers” of the industry getting down to business when they think their waiters aren’t listening) and ended up on the opening team of The Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills. At this point, we had begun pre-production on the film and basically said “we don’t care if we have $50 or $500,000, we are going to make this film so we can say we’ve done it.” Then and there I became an independent producer, with an expiration date from this job and a fire lit under me to ensure that we could get this project off the ground. I began telling everyone I met that I was an independent producer, that I was leaving my job at the end of September to finish pre-production and make this project. Many people wished me luck, a few people asked to see a final cut once the film was finished. Then, one day, someone asked for the script, and within 72 hours, our film was more than half financed. I have to admit, this is one of those “Hollywood Dream” stories that people hear and often can’t believe, and to be honest, until I saw the money in our production account, I couldn’t believe it either. But the most important thing is, things like this DO happen, even if rarely, but they only happen because you took that first step.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

As jaded as this sounds, I learned to be wary of who I trust. The entertainment industry is, in effect, a business. And for the most part, the people you meet are reliable, trustworthy, and there for the right reasons. But, there are people who want to take advantage of young, often new to the city, bright eyed and bushy tailed young actors, with grandiose promises and heightened expectations. I, in my early career, fell victim to a few of these situations, from the producer who needed to “borrow” $1000 who I later found out was a cocaine addict (I never saw that money again); to the acting teacher who offered $10 acting classes where I somehow always ended up in a scene in my underwear.

But the most unique was about a year into my career, when Brennan and I were cast in a “fully financed network television series” with name talent attached. The director asked us to meet him at a bar off of Ventura Blvd. next to a run down motel, and of course, we ended up wandering around the property until we came to “the building he owned in the back.” What ensued was a three hour session of manipulation coupled with the most bizarre “acting exercises” I’ve ever experienced, finishing with Brennan and I “loaning” him the money to pay for a motel room because he and his girlfriend had gotten into a fight and he couldn’t go home. Again, I never saw that money back.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

There are always a ton of projects I am interested in working on, but some of the most fun right now are ​Within These Walls, Neighborhood Watch, and Ball Humbug ​ . All of these films are from different genres, most feature minority casts or leads, and all of them speak to me in a different way, which is why I opted to produce them. I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry.

Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television?

How can that potentially affect our culture? This is a very hot button topic right now but it’s absolutely imperative that we have this conversation. For years, we have alienated a massive group of our cultural makeup by “whitewashing” films and not representing the world as it truly is. What started as outright racist and insensitive portrayals in the 1930’s and 1940’s still didn’t fully have its breakthrough until now. We need to be making films that represent society as it is, and this fully lands on the heads of studio executives. It’s sad that the industry has become so financially, and less art, centric that there are questions being asked about movies like ​Crazy Rich Asians ​ or ​Get Out ​ or ​Us ​ at the executive level such as “is it possible to make back our bottom line with films featuring minority casts, and will our audience numbers shrink because it features a more diverse cultural makeup.” What they don’t think about is the inverse. There was rarely a time in which a minority community didn’t go to the cinema because they didn’t see themselves represented on screen. On ​I Wrote This For You ​ , from the beginning I knew that this was an opportunity for this scrappy group of young filmmakers to lead by example. I did all of the casting in the film and tried to make it as diverse as possible to represent the makeup of the world. While some of the roles were written for certain actors (help your friends!) like the characters of Hunter, Phoenix, and Darius, many of the others allowed for a certain level of freedom. This also translated behind the camera as well. I can proudly say that all of our department heads, with the exception of directorial, were women, although both our first and second ADs were. Out of our camera and G&E team, we had a 50/50 ratio of women to men. Our call sheets said “best grip/ best electrical” instead of best boy. While these things may go unnoticed to some, there have been screenings where people pointed it out and it gave the whole team a sense of pride that we were doing the right thing. From a cultural standpoint, it is so important to ensure that minority communities have role models from their own ethnic or socio-econimic makeup that are portrayed in a POSITIVE way. It lifts us up as a society when we all feel heard, seen, and respected. There have been decades of films with caucasian leads and villainized minorities, so it’s ​okay ​ that we see the opposite. People look at the world around them with a realistic lens and, with the exception of the fringe, have come to view the world as the melting pot that it is. When the cinema we create represents the world as it is, all we are doing is telling a more believable story, and taking one more layer away between the audience and the narrative.

From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

1. Remember that as creators, we have a massive influence on the way that groups are seen. In an age that is so tech and media centric, it would be irresponsible for us to portray the world in a way in which we could be the catalyst that allows someone to look down at another group based on their portrayal on screen.

2. For now, it is okay to specifically focus on initiatives in diversity, but the end goal is to not have to think about it at all. We, as a film community, need to be leaders in change, and while there will be pushback and criticism, all we are doing is opening up more opportunities to those who didn’t have them before.

3. The world is a beautiful place, there are millions of stories to be told, and we have been blessed with the task of making it happen. Tell the truth in these stories.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each

1. This is not an easy industry to break into.​ I like to say “for every person that leaves this town, two move in their place.” We are constantly bombarded with stories of success and see the “social media highlight reel” but very rarely do we see the work it takes to get there.

2. You need to surround yourself with positive influences.​ I have been blessed to know Brennan since I was 13 years old, we moved to Los Angeles together, and I haven’t lost hope because of him. His success has been an inspiration and pushes me every day to be a better artist and a better creator. Los Angeles is a city that can suck your soul a little, and it’s really easy to fall into bad habits. Surround yourself with people that won’t allow that to happen.

3. This business takes time.​ I spent five years in Los Angeles, occasionally working background and doing small bit roles here and there in things like the film ​Scumbag ​ or ​Grease (Live!) ​ but it took all five of those years to figure out that acting was my passion, and producing could be my livelihood. You may not end up with your first choice, but the beauty of the film industry is that there’s room for everyone to do everything.

4. You are going to fail, at least once.​ But, you will be better for these failures. One of our first projects seemed all but greenlit when it fell out from underneath us. Yes, it was hard, yes we had to regroup, but we used the lessons from that project to make ​I Wrote This For You ​ and we’ve been so much better for it.

5. Take the leap of faith.​ ​ This film may have never happened if all 287 people that worked on it hadn’t been willing to take this leap with us. There is a lot of fear in doing this. I didn’t know how I would pay my rent and ended up rideshare driving 60 hours a week during post-production to make sure I could pay my bills. But this allowed me the freedom to be present when I was needed.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Find something, artistic or not, that you are really passionate about, and try to do it every day or at least weekly. During production, you will probably feel burnt out. Make sure you are surrounded by good friends and collaborators that work well together, and go with the flow. Life will be so much easier if you work with people you like.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

One of the most inspiring aspects of the film is Hunter’s ​Do Good Things ​ calendar, and it’s something that I had tried to adopt in my life as well. Every day, Hunter would do something good for someone else to help him recover emotionally, spiritually, and personally, and he would write it down. By the end of the year, he would have made an impact on at least 365 different people. Imagine if everyone lived their lives this way. Humans are the greatest force for good that exists on this planet; all we have to do is take that first step to go out of our way to do something good for something else.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

This is tough, because there are so many people who have influenced me in so many ways. I am beyond blessed that I have had a family that unequivocally and wholeheartedly supports what I do. My parents supported me from the time I was 7 years old, knowing fully how difficult this industry is. My grandparents helped me through school and have been one of my biggest supporters to date. My brother has always been a guiding force and helped guide my hand in difficult times. Brennan has been my greatest friend and collaborator since before we moved to LA. It is incredible how important his friendship has been to me. As I mentioned earlier, it is imperative to have someone in your life that can inspire you to keep going. To me, that person is Brennan. With every step forward in his career he takes, he helps push me further towards my goals. He is my giver of sage advice, the friend who lifts me up when I am at my lowest, and my biggest supporter and fan.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This has shaped my production career in ways I would have never imagined. Film is a collaborative medium; you need to treat everyone with respect. It is only in that way that you will be respected as well.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂 As a young producer, I always look for other producers who exemplify the values that I would like to see in myself in my future career, and who create the types of films that I would like to create. One of the strongest memories in any form of entertainment was when Jordan Horowitz (​La La Land ​ ) stood up and admitted that there had been a mistake in the announcing of the Best Picture win and that Barry Jenkins’ ​Moonlight ​ had won. Maybe it was because it followed a rather curt “Well we didn’t win, so…” but this level of grace is something I aspire to, and I would love an opportunity to learn from him and his career path.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I rarely use social media, however I am most active on my Instagram page(s): @matthewmakesmovies for film, @mattmakesmusic for music, and @foxstoneentertainment for production! I’m also at @mattstoneractor on Twitter.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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