Debunkers, Inc.: Interview with filmmaker Matt Thompson

“Debunkers, Inc.” is a new family movie by filmmaker Matt Thompson. In

“Debunkers, Inc.” is a new family movie by filmmaker Matt Thompson. In all his projects, whether they be feature films he directs for himself or music videos and commercials he’s hired to shoot for a ‘client’, you’ll find filmmaker Matt Thompson’s voice immersed within. A common theme across Thompson’s work is adolescence, and never has the theme been stronger than in his fun, heart-warming new family adventure film ‘’Debunkers, Inc.”

Recently, Matt discussed the film via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): Matt, you’ve been making films since you were 15-years-old- that’s remarkable!  

Matt Thompson (MT): You should see those early ones before you say that! But thank you, I was just a really passionate kid, and consider myself lucky to have found something I truly love from an early age. I’m pretty sure the opening title slide on the 25-minute “E.T.” sequel I made as a 13-year-old was: “Warning, the following film might literally blow your mind” … so yah, no one ever needs to see that film, ever. But that’s how it all started, goofy stuff like that, and honestly, I owe so much to the community of friends, family and mentors who encouraged me from an early age… and put up with me trying to always put a camera in their face.

MM: Why filmmaking?

Matt Thompson (MT): To be honest it doesn’t feel like I chose filmmaking, so much as filmmaking chose me. Everything about it just felt right. When I started making films, I was really young, so it was all about the feeling — not so much a conscious decision at first. It felt right to use my imagination, come up with stories and bring friends together to create something that utilized all their individual talents. It felt right to edit clips together on a computer, and even though it was uncomfortable and I wanted to vomit, it still felt right to sit nervously and watch my friends, family and community absorb what I came up with.

It probably has a lot to do with me wanting to create worlds that I could control because I grew up in an environment where I didn’t always feel in control. I think I liked to live in the world of my imagination as much as possible, and with filmmaking I could exist in worlds I wished I actually existed in. I want to be so many things: an astronaut, a cowboy, a pirate, a soldier, a scientist, a detective.

As I’ve grown up that certainly hasn’t changed, but what’s evolved is I began to truly see the power of storytelling through film. Life is magical, I really believe that, and the movies I truly loved growing up illuminated the magic that most people in real life choose to ignore…or maybe just forget about.

I think I also get to know my own self through the films I make, and that’s very interesting. It’s not necessarily that everything I make represents what I believe, but it represents an angle of something I’m trying to understand at that time in my life. That’s the bold and beautiful thing about film, is it’s a time capsule and I have a lot of time capsules from me as young boy, which – for better or worse – will always be there.

MM: And when did you know you were onto something?

Matt Thompson (MT): At a personal level, back in high school when I would go a whole day without eating and not getting up from my computer to finish a film, I knew that I was in flow, and I knew I was doing what I was meant to do.

From an outside point of view, when I premiered my second feature-length film, Night Sights, at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas it was summer of 2012 and I had just turned 17. The line was out the door and around the corner. I remember thinking: either my sister Maria called every single person and threatened them if they didn’t show up… or maybe there’s something here.

MM: You’ve won awards for some of your films too, right?

Matt Thompson (MT): A few! Night Sights (2012) won the special Jury Award at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY) in Seattle. It also won a silver award at the California Film Awards. The spaghetti-western short film I made in college, Wild West Fan Co. (which we shot super 16mm) was an official selection in a bunch of festivals: LA Shorts Fest, Carmel International Film Fest, won an award at the International Family Film Festival and was a semi-finalist for the Student Academy Awards.

MM: How different is “Debunkers, Inc.” to some of the other projects you’ve made?

Matt Thompson (MT): When I make music videos or documentaries or commercials for other “clients”, I feel like the Pokémon Ditto (the shape-shifting one). I morph into that client for a moment, find the thing inside myself that can relate with their soul and their intention, and I go from there. So those projects can be very diverse, but you’ll always see my voice in there somewhere.

When I write and direct my own films, I’ve noticed there’s a few common themes I naturally gravitate to when my pen hits the page. Usually it’s either a very metaphysical, spiritual or cosmic story that explores a “what if” in relation to life and death, and all the wonder and magic of our world that we can’t see with our eyes (i.e., Night Sights & AFTER — my VR experience about dying.

Another theme is coming-of-age: stories that are about moments which cause the main character to grow up — usually relationship driven, that have to do with a young kid not getting what they really want, and having to use their imagination to get it. So in that respect, this movie is pretty similar. Debunkers, Inc. is a light, coming-of-age, fun movie about a group of boys who use their imagination to get what they really want.

What’s different is the process of making this film was very difficult. It was crazy ambitious. I mean the crew was smaller than small, and we were barely a few months out of college, and we had practically no money, and we had something like 11 days. My projects are typically ambitious, but this was gnarly. I’m super proud of what we were able to do with so little.

MM: Tell us where the inspiration came from

Matt Thompson (MT): Ryan Andrews, the producer of the film, called me in the fall of 2016 and said he wanted to make a feature film. We’d worked together in the past, and he had a little bit of money to invest, and wanted it to be family-friendly (which he knew I was in to) and he said it had to take place at a high school (which was the location he had available). Those were the parameters.

Given that, it was a matter of finding something that would light me up within those creative confines, and a world that I would want to live in for the better part of a year. I’d always wanted to do a detective movie, with a definite hint of comedy. I loved Agent Cody Banks, Spy Kids and even The Pink Panther growing up.

I had just started a company with my creative & business partner (and DP of the film), who I met in college, Matt Law. Our company is called The Matts Productions (David Fincher gave us that name, there’s a cool story there). During that time, so much of our day-to-day was spent in the minutia of owning a business, and we would joke that it would take up more of our brain-space than actually making the movies. So in that respect, the Debunkers being more concerned about their business than the actual mysteries they were solving came from thatvery relatable place.

Also, my current roommates play Super Smash Bros literally every night before going to bed, and I share a wall with the living room, so I used that as inspiration as the code names for the Debunkers…to give a shout out to them. Love my roommates.

MM: Any of the characters based or inspired by a young Matt Thompson, by chance?

Matt Thompson (MT): Well I suppose there’s a little piece of me in all of them. Link is trying to inspire his dad to feel motivated again and get a job. He’s ultimately trying to prove himself to his dad. He’s got a vision and he’s trying to get his friends to buy in on it. He’s determined, and he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing, but he does it anyway with smoke and mirrors. Doc is paranoid because he thinks about all the angles of every situation, at all times. Snake thinks of life like a video game, and he is obsessed with finding the truth. All those things come from a real personal place.

MM: This is clearly made with a family audience in mind. Can you talk about the decision to make a film that appeals to all audiences?

Matt Thompson (MT): That was one of the earliest decisions made. Ryan was adamant about that when he brought me on to write and direct, and I totally agreed with him.

I think, in general, a lot of daily activities are skewing more and more towards individualization and isolation, and I think that anything that can bring a family together is a good thing. I love the idea that anyone can watch this film.

I wanted kids to be motivated like Link, to laugh at Snake, and to be inspired to start their own thing and follow their passion like all the Debunkers (and try to make a living off of it)! And I wanted adults watching it to chuckle at the 1099 jokes and the subtle nods to old Sam Spade and Colombo references.

The films I watched as a kid were the first things that stretched my imagination and made me want to strive to be something extraordinary. So, the opportunity to turn around and make something for younger kids that might be able to do the same is a real treasure.

MM: Do we need more family-friendly films and television, in your opinion? 

Matt Thompson (MT): Yes. I think that anything that brings a family physically, emotionally or spiritually together is a beautiful thing. I think to share a laugh with the people you love is one of God’s most generous gifts, and medicine for virtually any sickness.