Billed as “a meditative examination into the mind of an introverted genius who obsesses to solve the complexity of time,” Philadelphia natives Tom Mattera and Dave Mazzoni’s feature film debut “The 4th Dimension” is the type of film you might find yourself having trouble explaining to your neighbor. In an effort to shed some light on the film, and the filmmakers, Film Threat cornered Tom and Dave prior to the film’s World Premiere to get the real backstory of their friendship, the film’s production and what “The 4th Dimension” is really about.
When did you two meet?
Tom: I met Dave in Look Ahead Nursery School when I was 4 years old. I couldn’t stand him. He was so hyper and I was so calm.
Dave: He was the quiet crybaby. Too much noise bothered him. Running around and playing was too strenuous for him. Needless to say, I hated him and he hated me. To this day he has made accusations that I “stole” a toy Dukes of Hazzard car from him when it was “his turn” to play with it.
Tom: I remember waiting in line to play with the Dukes of Hazzard Matchbox car. I waited patiently behind like six kids until it was my turn. And just before I picked up the toy…Dave grabs the car and says, “Mine!” And he runs off with it.
Dave: Bottom line, Tom and I have known each other for over 23 years and have been best friends for 19.
Why become filmmakers?
Dave: “The Godfather.” I was amazed at how perfect the film is. I remember saying to myself, “I want to make movies.” But I dragged my feet. I found myself three years into college studying computer science. Then, it hit me. I couldn’t go through with “playing it safe” anymore. I knew I wanted to make films and I finally got up the courage to “go for it.” I have always been interested in storytelling, but was never a good artist. I can barely draw a stick figure. The medium of films allows me to sit back and watch my vision unfold in front of me on the screen the same way I visualize it in my head.
Tom: I was always into telling crazy stories. I couldn’t think of anything in the arts that I could make a living doing. So I ended up going to college for engineering. Towards the end of school, Dave and I started getting into making short films for fun. Then we made “Mectl” on a home video camera. I became addicted to the world that we were creating. It got to the point where all I wanted to do was get to Dave’s so we could get lost in “Mectl.” I was getting bored with everything else. I graduated school and started working in engineering. Then Dave and I wrote the feature length screenplay for “Mectl” and that did it. We said, “Let’s go to film school and learn how to make films so we can do this thing for real!” I saw myself working really hard at my job and realized that my heart was not in it. My heart had been stolen by “Mectl.” This is when I realized that I would only be happy if I was making films.
Where did the idea for “The 4th Dimension” come from?
Dave: The idea was sparked by a two-minute short film entitled “Reciprication”, which Tom and I shot for HBO’s Project Greenlight Directing competition. The scriptwriting process consisted of five drafts of the script. There was a ton of trial and error. However, after completing the fifth draft, Tom and I both knew that we had finally attained what we were going for and were ready to bring the film to the screen.
How did you go about casting? Was it challenging finding the right people
Dave: We have a great relationship with Diane Heery (Heery Casting) in Philadelphia thanks to one of our film professors, Eugene Martin. We had worked with her on a project while in film school at Temple University and approached her with the project. She agreed to work with us and did an amazing job.
Tom: Everyone really responded to the script as if Dave and I wrote it for them personally. Louis Morabito showed up to the audition dressed as Jack. His demeanor was right on. His look was right out of the script. I’m talking even beyond the wardrobe – right down to his eyes. He told us that from the moment that he received the sides, he knew “Jack.” Dave and I had one of the most amazing experiences with Suzanne Inman. She played Emma in the 4th. We went to her house for dinner after we casted her to discuss the script. Her situation is so similar to Emma’s it was simply unbelievable. After she thanked us for writing the screenplay for her, she told us to come out to the dining room. She had something to show us. So we walked to the dining room and what is sitting on the table against the wall but the same type of antique clock that you see in the film. And get this – the clock was broken! It was stuck on 6:02. Hence, that is why you see the frozen time 6:02 on the clocks in the film.
The film was shot in Super 16mm Black and White, giving it a very noir-look. Why, when it seems like everyone is forsaking film for digital video, did you decide to shoot in this format?
Tom: Dave and I truly fell in love with film the first time we shot it – it was a 4th Dimension short on 16mm black and white reversal for filmmaking class. It was like a crack addiction. We decided on the spot that we would shoot the 4th on film no matter what.
Dave: Film was the only medium for this story. We felt that shooting black and white film was the only honest way to portray the world we were trying to convey.
Tom: Of course it would have been a lot cheaper to shoot on 24p. But we saw it no other way.
How long was the first cut of the film? Did you lose any scenes you wish you could’ve kept?
Tom: Our initial cut of the film was 121 minutes. We went through a total of five cuts to end up with the final cut at 82 minutes. We cut some really beautiful scenes out of the film. But they did not work in the overall picture. At first, I missed them more, because we were so close to them. The locations, the moments. But now I don’t miss them much at all. Because it works better as an overall piece without them. That exercise was a lesson in discipline for us.
Dave: Our film is a dark, lonely piece. In the script, there were several sequences of Jack (our main character) wandering around abandoned places. For overall through line and pacing reasons, some of these sequences were cut or shortened. There are two sequences in particular that I miss. The first occurs when Jack wanders throughout an abandoned train car observing the deterioration. The second is a scene in which Jack finds himself checking a schedule in an abandoned train station.
With all the scientific intellectualism aside, what is “The 4th Dimension” about at its core?
Tom: “The 4th Dimension” is about looking beyond what we see in typical everyday life. It is about finding a deeper meaning. It is about loneliness. It’s about the beauty of the mysterious. It’s about remembering moments of the past. It’s about the power of a photograph. It’s about trying to understand why people die when they do and where they go. It’s about relating all of these things to science and at least getting closer to a better understanding of it all.
Dave: The main message that we wish to convey is that beauty can be found in what seems to be dark, abandoned places. In a sense, we wanted to challenge our audience to find beauty in the strange and mysterious.
What’s the next project for you two?
Dave: Right now we are in development on a feature length Russian mafia film entitled “Mectl.”
Tom: We pulled “Mectl” out from under the cobwebs after four years of hiding. “Mectl” is a thriller about an up and coming thug who gets caught up in the middle of two feuding Russian Mafia leaders. The audience will be trying to figure out who is behind all the mayhem since no one can be trusted. We are looking to reinvent the gangster film by playing against the typical things that you would expect and by incorporating other genres.
Dave: Think of it as a cross between “Goodfellas,” “Snatch,” and “Blue Velvet.”