FlixChatter Interview: ‘Lambent Fuse’ director Matt Cici

Hello everyone! Today we’ve got a very special post courtesy of an indie filmmaker Matt Cici, whose film Lambent Fuse will have its Minnesota premiere this coming Sunday. I regretfully didn’t get a chance to see it when it premiered at TCFF last year, so I’m excited to see it this weekend!

Before I get to the interview, here’s some information about the film:

Lambent Fuse is a character-driven drama that illustrates human connection and choice. This complex narrative unfolds in a non-chronological timeframe as the lives of six main characters intertwine.

99 minutes (1hr 39min)

Premiere Info: March 18, 6:00pm
Location: St Anthony Main Theatre
115 Southeast Main Street
Minneapolis, MN 55414

Tickets: http://tickets.lambentfuse.com

Check out the trailer below:

1. Firstly, please share just a bit of background of how you got into filmmaking. How long has film been a passion for you?

I was first introduced to the aspects of filmmaking through my brother. He made videos for his Spanish class with a group of his friends. Through these, however, I had one small acting role. It was a pretty embarrassing role, but then again I had never acted before (on camera or on stage).
One day not so much later, I was reading for the character of Peter in the Diary of Anne Frank in one of my English courses at Osseo Junior High (8th Grade) during a “popcorn” session (someone reads for as long as they feel of something and shouts “popcorn” and the name of the person they want to read after them). I said one phrase, something I can’t remember anymore, but the thing I do remember is that people laughed. And it clicked within. I felt this incredibly giddy feeling in my stomach, and felt like pursuing acting very strongly.

It was only a year later that my energies shifted. In my 9th grade social studies course, I made a baseball film for a project. I worked with my brother on this project: writing, shooting, acting, editing it all together. We shocked the class. That was 2003.

I’ve been making films for fun ever since. I say fun, because it is, even when you’re serious about it.
2. Now, I’m curious about the title of your film Lambent Fuse. What’s the significance of that title to the story and how did you come up with that?

Haha, everyone asks that question. Well, it’s the entire plot of the film neatly knit into two words.

The first, Lambent, has several definitions:
1. running or moving lightly over a surface: lambent tongues offlame.
2. dealing lightly and gracefully with a subject; brilliantly-playful: lambent wit.
3. softly bright or radiant: a lambent light.

We chose to borrow and use the descriptions: “dealing lightly… with a subject” and “playful.”

And “Fuse” is: a tube, cord, or the like, filled or saturated with combustible matter, for igniting an explosive.

There are multiple characters in this story and all of their lives intertwine. They make choices, as everyone does, that cause events that may or may not affect the other characters and their choices. An audience watches this film and becomes more of a participant rather than just a viewer. They may impart judgement on what’s right and what’s not right, following another character down a different path. They may even come to the conclusion that there is no right or wrong choice. This is that “playful” definition. And the characters in the film all deal lightly with each other leading, along the line of a story’s plot to the climax, to an explosion.

We were sitting in a Caribou, like most of our writing days, except this one was just after our first audition for the pre-trailers back in August 2008. We renamed the film using a thesaurus, as I feel most people have never heard the word “Lambent” before Lambent Fuse (as was the case with myself).
Actor Rhett Romsaas (Freddie Goone) practices his lines with Producer/Sound Designer Blake Hosler in Ginger Hop in northeast Minneapolis.

3. How long was the process of bringing this project to life and were you involved in the screenplay process as well?

Before we filmed, we spent 2 1/2 years working on the project. And yes, I served as co-writer. David Marketon, Co-writer/Producer, wrote me a Facebook message some months before we met back in March 2008, nearly four years ago asking if I would like to write a film with him. I accepted. He had been friends with my brother for some time (and they were the ones working on that film I acted in so long ago). At the time we had just imagined writing and selling the screenplay. But, as I began directing several award-winning shorts, I became too attached to the piece and wanted to direct it myself.
The reason why it took 2 1/2 years was because we first started shooting a trailer with the intention that it would help raise funds for the film. We delayed the project a year for two reasons: 1) It needed to be shot in summer, and 2) we applied for a grant and won it. The grant was for studying the techniques and methods of screenwriting as the elements of Lambent Fuse (specifically multiple characters, non-chronilogical plot, and intertwining storylines) challenged many screenwriting theories. During that time we also shot several Character Trailers and had a massive pre-production marketing strategy to generate awareness for the project.
Actors Heidi Fellner (Allison Swanson) and Rhett Romsaas (Freddie Goone) sneak a laugh in the rehearsal of a scene from Lambent Fuse in Ginger Hop in northeast Minneapolis.
4. Your last two projects, Eidolon and The Writer focus on people suffering from some form of psychological affliction, schizophrenia and writer’s block, respectively. Lambent Fuse also carries similar themes of depression, kleptomania, and obsession. Why does that subject matter interest you?

Lambent Fuse
, did not begin as a project that focused on mental illness. It molded into a story like that when I made my decision to direct it.

I am interested in the pursuit of developing a storytelling voice that is true and explores the depths of everyday life. The messages in today’s society are too sensationalized and, all too often, they’re not useful. An example of this is the movie, A Beautiful Mind, where the real-life schizophrenic, John Nash, is shown as a violent man. Sure, it provokes interesting discussion to show schizophrenia in this light, but it is an inaccurate portrayal of the condition, of reality, of truth. The movie received a lot of attention—winning 31 awards—but did a grave injustice to schizophrenics and their families. It is important to research the truths of life and explain them; an audience watches a film for entertainment, but film has also become one of the most powerful ways to send a message.

This film explores the depths of kleptomania, depression, and obsession — aspects of the human condition that are real but often underrepresented or misunderstood.

The overall goal of Lambent Fuse is to shift the paradigm of the stereotypical mental conditions shown in mainstream cinema by portraying the reality of mental illness and human choices in an eye-opening and innovative manner. Eidolon is a 30-minute short film about a man wrestling for control as a schizophrenic was said to be one of the best representations of schizophrenia by a practicing psychiatrist. The careful illustration of each characterʼs true emotions and actions will showcase the psychological landscape in an educational and insightful way. This will give the audience a unique opportunity to experience these conditions along with the characters, forcing viewers to challenge their preconceived notions about mental illness and to approach the conditions with more understanding and empathy.
Director/Co-writer Matt Cici scans the screenplay while the main cast Rhett Romsaas (Freddie Goone) and Heidi Fellner (Allison Swanson) rehearse.
5. The complex narrative unfolds in a non-chronological timeframe as the lives of the six main characters intertwine. What are some of the challenges in filming in such a format?
There are so many. This is what our grant time focused on. Most stories have one or two characters for viewers to follow and become attached to. They are most used to doing this in a simple-to-follow chronological way. We all think stories should be told in order of the events that happened.

But film has the ability to change that, in fact all art does. A story is best told the way it is best told—when it’s most impactful. Events in a film draw emotion and drama from each other, and when aligned in a way that pushes the story forward, they make the audience feel something. Our story also had multiple characters, because it’s not supposed to be about any single one of them. It’s the sum of their lives blended together that make the story what it is.

We risked losing a lot of our audience by complicating our film with these factors, so we did our best to make it feel as if it were chronological. Film is all about suspending disbelief. So, even if it doesn’t feel like that’s an actor in front of you on a giant screen, she is. If done right, it’s invisible.

From left to right, Production Sound Mixer Aaron Huber, Director of Photography Zachary Nelson, and Director/Co-writer Matt Cici examine the framing and lighting in a scene from Lambent Fuse in northeast Minneapolis.
6. What has been your most memorable experience from making this film?
So many experiences are memorable, and it’s too hard to name one over another. I can say the fact that I’ve made a feature is something I hold as a memorable experience. All of the people who helped me along the way have made completing this film incredibly rewarding.

So, I’d have to say that people’s belief in me and this project is the most memorable. I will always remember everyone who sacrificed their time and efforts in order to push this project forward. It was a Minnesota film made for Minnesota by Minnesota. I think that all came full-circle when we sold out TCFF and everyone finally got to see the film. It was a moment that they could all be proud of themselves for working on the film.

7. Has Lambent Fuse been screened at other film festivals or events after Twin Cities Film Fest? How has the reception been for your film?
It screened at Highway 61 Film Festival in Pine City, MN. We won Best Drama Feature at that festival, following Best Minnesota Feature from TCFF. I’m going to be honest about reception, because I encourage honesty with feedback. Film is an art, and therefore it’s subjective.

The response from those that have seen it astounds me every day. It really challenges people and they enjoy that challenge. It’s not something that’s complicated to watch; it’s just hard topics presented in a digestible way. So, to answer your question, we couldn’t be happier by hearing how much people enjoy the movie and are surprised that it was made in Minnesota with a micro-budget. And the reviews that are coming in from around the country are very rewarding. As far as festivals are concerned for Lambent Fuse, it’s all about length, major actors, and the film’s mood. Many feel that a 99 minute movie (1hr 39min) is too long. That’s confusing when the industry defines a feature film as 90-120 minutes. Programming film festivals is a very tough job. You’re never going to make money by running one, so your main concern is to fill seats. And major actors bring a crowd. Because we set out to make a Minnesota film, we chose not to hire out. That hurt us in the festival circuit, but it only empowered the film we feel.

And our film is different than most. It’s a non-chronilogical tale of multiple characters whose lives intertwine. It focuses on mental illness and isn’t a “feel-good” movie. It stands out. When planning a festival, programmers like to make all films play nicely with each other, and ours complicates that.

Nonetheless, we keep trying. Any festival or event we’ve gone to we’ve brought everyone with, promoted it like crazy, and packed the house every time. We’ll continue to do so.

8. Who are your inspirations in the film industry? Tell us your favorite filmmaker(s) and actor(s).

I am inspired by people who look for a challenge. I am a large supporter of Daniel Craig and Tom Cruise (although I remain very picky). I especially like watching Gary Oldman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale, Rooney Mara, Elijah Wood, Tilda Swinton and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

I enjoy many directors: Wong Kar-wai, Coen Brothers, Steven Spielberg, and recently Jochaim Trier, David Fincher, Steve McQueen, Tomas Alfredson, and Sofia Coppola.
9. Now lastly, please share your top five favorite film dramas and why.
I think my list will always change as I grow older, and that excites the heck out of me. Film is about learning and adapting. Changing and improving. You learn from everything. I can say that I’ve learned the most of the craft of filmmaking during recent years from these films:
  1. Reprise
    This fights with Layer Cake every day as my favorite film ever. It’s simply beautiful. One of the most attractive and photographic films I’ve seen in a long time. Because it focuses on mental illness, I was very much inspired by this film before starting to write Lambent Fuse. It has inspired me ever since, and I can say this will be first on my to-do list before starting any film. This film is my mood film.
  2. Layer Cake
    This film introduced me to Daniel Craig, and at that time I really enjoyed crime dramas (not saying I don’t now, just have widened my tastes). Everything about this film: story, cinematography, acting, music, etc. were so precise it was ridiculous. It’s engaging and educational. This out of the entire list is probably the most entertaining film.
  3. Shame
    I can honestly say that this film changed my perception of 2011 as becoming the best year for film (for me). With The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Tree of Life, Drive, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and others released that same year, Shame put the year up where many years probably won’t ever touch.

    is literally perfect. The most well-crafted film I’ve been graced with for as long as I can remember, with its use of transitions, acting, and color. The music became a character of its own. Just as in Lambent Fuse, the music allowed the audience the ability to understand the characters, not just feel for them. I cannot wait for this movie to come out.
  4. A Clockwork Orange
    Wow! If I ever press play, I can’t stop watching. It pulls me in. Stanley Kubrick’s best film in my opinion, and many disagree. I’m not quite sure what draws me to this film the most, but I think the wonderfully unique Nadsat language and acting by Malcolm McDowell do it most. It’s stuck with me ever since.
  5. 2046
    Although I feel like In the Mood for Love was Wong Kar-wai’s strongest film, this is the film that introduced me to him and Asian cinema in general, which is one of the greatest blessings I’ve ever had in film. If I was stuck, at any time, when trying to decide what to watch on Netflix, I’d watch anything from Asia.

    After seeing what I put on this list, I noticed that the subject matter is pretty indigestible for most people, but I guess that’s what attracts me to them. After all Netflix describes my genre as: Dark, visually-compelling, foreign dramas.

Thank you Matt Cici for granting me this interview!

More info: Official Blog | Twitter | Facebook

What do you think of the Lambent Fuse’ trailer? Please share your thoughts on the interview and Matt’s top five list.

23 thoughts on “FlixChatter Interview: ‘Lambent Fuse’ director Matt Cici

  1. PrairieGirl

    Glad this film is packing the theaters. I always love to hear about totally Minnesota “home-grown” films, and to see it being filmed in my Polish relatives stomping ground, “Nordeast” Minneapolis ;-D

  2. Ted S.

    Very good interview Ruth, glad to see more MN filmmakers pursuing their dreams. Lambent Fuse is not the type of genre I seek out but it looks good. Good luck in your film career Matt!

    1. Thanks Ted! Matt’s so gracious in answering every question with such an in-depth attention. And yes, I echo your last statement! 🙂

    1. Ted S.

      Nothing wrong with that Dirty, as long as he’s doing it then even if the movie doesn’t turn out good, at least he tried. Then he can move on to another movie, live and learn, that’s my moto.

      1. I would see the film first before you make such assessment Julian. Nothing wrong with being ambitious on your first project, in fact I commend filmmakers who do that.

        1. Just to be clear, i wasn’t saying that it definitely looks bad or anything like that. For all i know it could be great. I was just being honest with my reservations on it.

  3. Great interview Ruth. Always great to learn more about local filmmakers and hear that they produced something worthy of viewing. Sadly I won’t be able to attend the screening Sunday (have a side-gig at Starbucks so I will be slaving away instead ahah) but I definitely look forward to checking this out another time or on DVD.

    Best of luck to Matt and Lambent Fuse.

    1. Thanks Castor, too bad you have to work that night. Very cool about your side gig. I LOVE Starbucks, I’m kind of a fanatic in fact, ahah. I have to find out which Starbucks you work out so I can bug you 🙂

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