Working at a Milford video store jump-started this Nickelodeon director's career

MILFORD — Award-winning director Matthew Pollock has learned that making films is a whole lot more rewarding than renting them.

Pollock, a Milford native who recently directed a Nickelodeon program called Drama Club, said his experience in Milford helped him make a career in directing.

“I worked at a video store in Milford and my boss pushed me to make shorts whenever I could,” he said. “We would be out filming in the parks and people wouldn’t tell us to stop, we would be allowed to do it. It felt like it was possible which I don’t think everyone gets to experience, which is unfortunate, but I wish that could be more of the case because living in Milford really helped for sure.”

Pollock attended Joseph A. Foran High School, graduating in 2002, and it was there that he got into directing even more.

“I was into film making on my own but at Foran, they had classes where you actually learn about the idea that film can be an art form,” he said. “It really embedded in me this idea that the arts are a fantastic form of entertainment and form of expression and also something that could be a legit career path.”

Paul Gulyas, a childhood friend of Pollock, remembers that towards the end of their senior year at Foran, they were trying to finish editing a full-length movie before losing the ability to use the school’s editing room.

“We were scrambling, skipping classes and staying late,” he said. “It came so down to the wire that the exact moment we were outside Foran wrapping up our graduation ceremony, the final scene of the film we’d all made together was being transferred to a master copy VHS tape in the TV production room.”

Patrick Beck, another one of Pollock’s film-making friends from high school, said some of his favorite memories from the old days was listening to Pollock play music under the name DJ Red Smurf.

While at Foran, Pollock and some friends, including Beck and Gulyas, managed to get some of their short videos broadcast on a local public access channel.

“It wasn’t a very good show, but we had fun with it,” Pollock said.

From Foran, Pollock moved on to the School of Visual Arts in New York City. But he never really left Milford behind. After college, he directed a comedy film that his Milford friends, Gulyas and Beck and Jorge Gonzalez III, wrote called Graduates.

“We contacted Matthew to direct the film because, since high school, he always directed our creative endeavors,” said Beck. “He attended film school in college and was, and still is, the most technically sound. It just made sense for him to bring our vision to life.”

Guylas said Pollock was the natural choice for director because they had known and worked with him for so long.

“We have that shorthand that comes in handy when collaborating on stuff. And we don’t have to feel like we need to be polite or censor ourselves when critiquing one another’s work,” he said. “We can just be honest and know we’re not hurting feelings.”

The film helped Pollock land a job at the Los Angeles-based online comedy company CollegeHumor, first as an editor, then a director.

“It sounds fake in a way because of how perfect it is, but that’s really what happened,” he said.

After seven years at CollegeHumor, Pollock struck out on his own, forming the company Matt Edits Inc. His work has since taken him to numerous U.S. states, and Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Sweden, China and England. His work in London, a Mentos commercial, remains one of his career highlights, he said.

“That was a really hard project that was magical to do,” he said. “The concept was that as an adult, it’s hard to make friends, but as a kid, it’s easy.”

He said that they gave adults hidden earpieces to walk around London, and everything they said and did was being fed to them by children watching them on a monitor.

“It was this weird hidden camera and social experiment that went very well and provided a lot of funny moments and a great time,” he said.

In the commercial, offering someone a mint was the ultimate icebreaker.

“It was such a satisfying project because it was so hard to pull off and it actually worked,” he said.

The commercial earned Pollock a Cannes Lion, a global award for creativity in advertising, and led to similar work across Asia.

But despite making successful commercials, and some television directing with the TruTV comedy show Adam Ruins Everything, Pollock was still looking for a way to break into some of the larger networks. And then, the day before Thanksgiving, 2020, his managers called to tell him Nickelodeon was looking for someone to direct two episodes of a new project called Drama Club.

“They sent me the script and I loved it. It’s such a fun and creative show that it’s both funny for kids and funny for adults,” he said.

A few weeks later, he landed the job.

“Every day there were 100 to 150 people on set and we are all dealing with COVID by keeping spaced out, wearing masks/face shields and getting tested every day,” said Pollock. “But at the end of the day, it is just more of the same, you have a script, you have performers, you have cameras and you’ve got to do what you can do.”

A plus of working with Nickelodeon is that they had great talent working on the show, he said. Though the work was stressful, Pollock said he was able to direct the kind of show that he would have liked to watch when he was growing up in a single-parent household in Milford.

With money tight, Pollock said he played sports, and did OK in school. But his heart was in movies and television.

“The way it happened is that I followed my gut and followed my dream and instincts and had determination,” he said. “I had the urge to make funny videos with my friends, and we did it. I submitted some of those videos to a film school, and I got in.”

Of course, it wasn’t all getting breaks and being in the right place, he said. There also was a lot of hard work.

“It’s a thing of working hard and staying true to yourself,” he said.

With technology today, there’s no reason why another teen in Milford, or anywhere else, can’t also become a film director, he said.

“It doesn’t matter where you are growing up because of the cameras that you have on your phones,” he said. “It’s definitely possible to make anything at any moment.”

Drama club can be watched on Nickelodeon at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday nights and it can be streamed on nick.com.