One college class put everything in perspective for Matthew Buzzell.
“I was studying historic preservation when the opportunity presented itself to take a class with Jim Herbert,” said Buzzell, an award-winning filmmaker who is currently instructing the next generation of filmmakers at Augusta State University.
Herbert, best known for directing music videos for R.E.M. and for several award-winning independent films, was teaching a class at the University of Georgia on Super 8 filmmaking about 1993. The class wasn’t a regular course offering, so Buzzell decided to give it a try while he could.
Buzzell had always wanted a career linked to the dramatic arts. As a child, he was intrigued by film.
Going to the movies was a regular occurrence, and as the son of a soldier, he discovered Fort Gordon’s three cinemas offered a variety of movies that changed on a frequent basis.
“They had a lot of obscure films, spaghetti Westerns, British horror and period drama,” he said.
While at Aquinas High School, Buzzell performed in school productions of West Side Story and The Teahouse of the August Moon. After graduating in 1983, he headed to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. He later lived in New York and Los Angeles while pursuing an acting career.
However, he didn’t find his creative niche until that Herbert class. “I felt right at home behind the camera,” Buzzell said.
To learn more about the craft, he attended the American Film Institute, where he received his Master of Fine Arts in directing in 1999. His senior thesis, 6½, received the Martin Ritt Foundation Award, and he was named director of the year.
Many of Buzzell’s films are tied to music, which is another passion of his.
His film Tell Me Do You Miss Me is about the disbanding of the indie band Luna and was an official selection in the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival.
Two of his films were part of the PBS series Independent Lens. Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew, on the legendary jazz singer, received the audience award in 2004. Compañeras featured Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, an all-female mariachi band.
He recently collaborated with Sabrina Lee, a former classmate at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, on a film called Not Yet Begun to Fight. It was featured at the Atlanta Film Festival last month.
He served as supervising producer and wrote the score, which was a first for him. It was the second time he had worked with Lee.
“One of the things I stress to my students is the art of collaboration. Filmmaking is a collaborative art form,” said Buzzell, who returned to Augusta in 2010 to be closer to his mother.
He has worked with former classmates on many of his films.
Although he’s in Augusta, he continues to connect with his Los Angeles colleagues through his work in the classroom. He’s held videoconferences for his students with actor Chris Parnell, who is currently in the television show Suburgatory; cinematographer George Su; and Mikkel Bondesen, the executive producer of the USA Network show Burn Notice.
Buzzell also is working on a film about author Starkey Flythe, who lives in North Augusta. “He’s one of the great creative spirits,” Buzzell said.
Buzzell has been working on the film for more than a year. He said he started in classic documentary style by conducting interviews.
“That was too easy of a route,” he said. “I wanted to try to do something different.”
Buzzell said the Flythe piece will be more of a portrait film. He hopes to have it completed by next spring.
What comes after that, only time will tell, the filmmaker said.
“I always knew I wanted to teach. I just didn’t think it would be now,” he said.