Tracing Matthew Rolston’s enduring influence on a recent alum’s first film, starring Kristin Chenoweth


Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Nalaboff on the set of "Hard Sell"

Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Nalaboff on the set of “Hard Sell”

After wrapping a 19-day movie shoot near his hometown in Long Island, alumnus Sean Nalaboff, who graduated in 2012 with a BFA in film, is moving forward with gusto. Mentored by fellow Art Center alumnus, acclaimed photographer-director Matthew Rolston, Nalaboff has attracted a lot of attention to his nascent filmmaking career, even as he toils in a dark edit bay putting the finishing touches on his directorial debut, Hard Sell.

The movie stars Katrina Bowden of 30 Rock, and Kristin Chenoweth who knew Nalaboff, 25, from a previous project and asked him to consider her for the part of an alcoholic mother. The story revolves around a young science geek who enlists a stripper to help raise money to save the family dog. For more about the movie and the shoot, read this Newsday article.

The up-and-coming director met Chenoweth after shooting a behind-the-scenes video of her 2012 concert tour. The project was a result of his work with Rolston. The actress was impressed with Nalaboff’s talent and told him to keep her in mind for future projects.

“I knew this guy was going to do great things,” the star told Newsday.

Nalaboff credits his mentor for providing valuable opportunities post-Art Center. “Matthew has been a very positive force in my life,” says Nalaboff.

Rolston, who earned a BFA in photography in ’78, is widely recognized as one of the leading photographers and directors of his generation. He’s mentored several students and established a scholarship. After many meetings and discussions about the world of image making, Nalaboff and Rolston began collaborating on professional projects. Here’s what Nalaboff had to say about Rolston’s role in igniting his directorial debut:

“Matthew (M.R.) has influenced me in a lot of different ways. He is the kind of guy you want to impress. I feel like that’s a quality in all great teachers — they challenge you without constraining you. When I first met with him, I observed the activity in his office and how he went about his business.  He always put his calls on speaker so I could listen in and learn how deals were being made.

I must have browsed through every book in his library. When something interested me photographically, I asked M.R. how to break down the mechanics of it. This process not only helped develop my taste, but it helped me communicate what I liked to other people. At some point, I started bringing a camera on the set of his productions and then I would edit together behind the scenes videos. They were a hit in the office and thus launched our professional relationship. Soon I was getting hired to create these videos on other people’s sets. I’ve created more than 20 videos with M.R. that range from behind-the-scenes to brand videos and music videos to short films.  It was by doing these videos that I developed a style. I gravitated toward things that looked like a documented event, that were voyeuristic, and that seemed real even when staged. I have to attribute that to my work with M.R.

I don’t have any ‘golden nuggets’ to storytelling at this point, but I definitely have developed certain mantras that help me stay focused. I always believed that if you move forward, you will find support. The key thing is to move forward. I said that everyday when I was raising money for my first film and continued to say it throughout the production. I kept pushing forward and somehow I found the relief I needed to get this feature produced. Also, one of the best lines, which is not a novel idea, but has always made me laugh, is ‘Fake it, ’til you make it.’  That little pearl of wisdom I got from a famous actress on one of M.R.’s sets. Never underestimate the power of bullshit.

It’s crazy how one project can lead to another. I was following an actress around doing these videos and then her manager asked me to make a video for another one of her clients as she prepared to go on her nationwide tour. This client turned out to be Emmy and Tony award-winner Kristin Chenoweth. When I set out to make my first feature film, I received a call from Kristin’s team asking for the script. Next thing I know, Kristin is attached and this movie is green lit.  I may have never met Kristin if it weren’t for M.R. Just wait until you see her in this movie, she knocked it out of the park. I also have to give a big thank you to Art Center film faculty members Eric Sherman, Brad Saunders and Doug Eboch who all played a huge part in the development stages of this project.”

Stay tuned to The Dotted Line for news on the release of the film.

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