Based in Toronto, Canada, The Mad Hatter is one of the most prolific movie blogger around as he is nearing his 1000th post on The Dark of The Matinee and has been a daily destination for many, including us. His annual coverage of The Toronto International Film Festival, which just ended, is one of the most comprehensive around the blogosphere. We caught up with Mad as he was kind enough to take some time off his busy schedule to be part of our first interview.
Hello Mad, can you first tell us a bit about yourself?
MH: Gemini, 5’9″, likes good whiskey and long walks on the beach… Jokes aside I’m 32, have lived in Toronto all my life. My parents raised me on dramatic films and classic rock, which I’m sure played a big part in my love for the greats. Interestingly, my formal training in writing, blogging and journalism is pretty minimal…it’s just something I’ve always had some slight knack for. Perhaps one of these days, I’ll take a few more courses and really unleash the beast within. I lean more towards directors than actors these days, with some favorites being Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, Stephen Soderbergh and Wes Anderson.
Can you tell our readers about your movie blog The Dark of The Matinee?
MH: I started blogging about my life in 2004, and while it was fun for a few years, it never seemed like it was anything more than a daily Christmas Letter. I enjoyed doing it, but wanted to do something that would allow me – perhaps – to talk to more than just my immediate family and friends. That’s where the topic of movies came in. As it was, anytime I saw a film (which as we all know, is “often”), I’d have six or seven different people at work asking me what I thought of said film – separately. So in an effort to avoid repeating myself, The Dark of The Matinee was born.
Get those pesky people to stop bugging you and read your blog instead, great idea! It seems to be working as you are nearing 1000 posts on The Dark of The Matinee, a true feat of consistency and longevity in the blogging world. What do you attribute your success to?
MH: Community. For much of the first year, and especially the first few months, I was still writing for a readership of seven. It’s hard to stay motivated and push yourself when the base you’re pushing yourself for are two bodies short of a baseball team. After writing the blog for close to a year, I started getting suggestions about film blogger communities to join – namely The LAMB – and the interaction fueled my creative fires and pushed me to be a better – and indeed more constant – blogger. That sense of community and never-ending movie conversation is also what led me to branch the blog out into The Matineecast. While it takes a lot of work to put those episodes together, it’s worth it to be able to actually talk movies with some passionate film lovers.
Indeed, a sense of community on one’s blog goes a long way toward becoming a successful blogger. How has blogging affected your life and your understanding of movies?
MH: I’ve met a lot of great people who have become wonderful friends because of blogging, which by far has been the best side effect of this mad tea party. As for the movies I watch, I try to look a little deeper and focus in on the story. In the past, I tended to get hung up on acting and dialogue, which isn’t a bad thing but can lead one to writing off some rather lasting stories. These days I try to zero in on themes and storytelling, so some films that I now trumpet are ones I might have pitched aside in the past. I also watch a lot more than I used to (84 screenings this year and we still have almost three full months to go!)
Wow! That’s a lot of movies. It does help that you live in a vibrant city like Toronto. You have done a great job of covering the Toronto International Film Festival over the years. What do you like most about the city?
MH: I actually mentioned this in Episode 22 of The Matineecast (Mad’s podcast). Without a doubt, the greatest thing about this city for a film lover is the variety of movies at one’s disposal. Besides the fact that there between ten and twenty multiplexes that play a wide range of films, the city is blessed with another dozen smaller art house theaters that give audiences a second chance at titles they might have missed, along with playing classics, indie titles, and playing host to an insane amount of festivals. It’s going to be hard to move away from this sort of bounty someday!
What else do you do aside from blogging?
MH: I take a lot of photos, which makes sense given that I thought I was going to be a photographer. My day job is indeed in the photo industry, but on the supply side instead of the creative side. I also listen to a lot of music (and sing on occasion), read a lot of books, follow baseball religiously, and am becoming a pretty good cook.
So there is a Blue Jays fan! I feel bad for them being stuck in such a challenging AL East year in and year out. What are some of the biggest challenges you have encountered as a blogger?
MH: I’ve quietly made it a mission this year to post every single day, and admittedly that has been helped by the fact that two days of the week I get to put up a placeholder (a weekly trailer, and a weekly screencap for my “Today, I Feel Like This” feature). But at least once a week, I have a day where I don’t have a film to write about or a podcast to hype and I have to riff. This is where writer’s block sets in and it sucks.
There’s also a small measure of sleep deprivation that comes with the deal as I try give my life and my marriage top priority (as they should get). Thus, many of these posts come hand in hand with a late night or an early morning.
Posting every day is truly remarkable and a sign of great dedication that many bloggers lack. What advice do you have for people wanting to start a blog about movies (or in general)?
MH: Write what you’re passionate about. If you spend a lot of your time talking about your passion anyway, then blogging about it will feel a lot more effortless. Once you’ve picked your topic, do what you can to find communities to be a part of. Whatever it is you love – wine, guitars, politics – odds are there are a lot of others out there who love it too and will make for a richer blogging experience.
Who are some of your favorite bloggers that have shaped you and The Dark of the Matinee?
MH: Dylan Fields’ efforts with The LAMB have really molded my passion for community and trying to grow it. My posts tend to be a bit more long form than snappy online tidbits, and that is heavily influenced by Sam Juliano at Wonders in The Dark. As far as what I take away from a film and decide to focus on when talking about it, much of that this past year has been sparked by Jeff Goldsmith at The Creative Screenwriting Podcast.
Final question: Where do you see yourself and The Dark of the Matinee in 5 years?
MH: This is a tough question since I tend not to think more than two steps ahead. Like every other blogger, I’d love to get paid to do it. How to accomplish that is the question. Then again, I might not still be writing it in five years. Our lives continue to change, and we have to accommodate for that. So in five years it’s possible that i might not have the passion or drive for it that I do right now. It’s also possible that the blog could change its focus and shift more towards DVD and/or classics…the sort of source material that can easily be enjoyed from the comfort of my couch.
Thank you The Mad Hatter for your time!
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