The Long Walk Director Mattie Do Raises Her Middle Fingers To The Arthouse World [Interview]

Mattie Do is an artist, but she has no interest in arthouse. The trained dancer and, as she puts it, "accidental filmmaker," is telling the stories she wants to tell, not the stories people expect her to tell. To double down on that fact, she's made her triumphant third feature film, "The Long Walk," a futuristic time travel story with ghosts, a serial killer, and themes of grief, loss, and regret. 

When Do literally raises her two middle fingers to the arthouse world over a Zoom call, you know she means it. 

It was the festival circuit where Do learned genre was her home. She found commonality among horror filmmakers, starting with her directorial debut, "Chanthaly." From there, she made another exceptional genre-bender, "Dearest Sister." Now, Do is back with another film in which the horrors of the past prevail, "The Long Walk."  Recently during a wide-ranging interview, Do talked to us about her journey as an accidental filmmaker, her disdain for beautiful death scenes, quantum entanglement, and much more.

'I don't think that we should train a stupid audience'

There are some fantastic accidental filmmakers, like yourself. I talked to a great director who once said, "I'm just now watching Martin Scorsese's movies for the first time."

I just saw one. My first Martin Scorsese film. It was a black and white film. About the boxer.

Oh, "Raging Bull."

Yes. I saw that. And then I made a really stupid gaff. So, the person who showed that to me was Deborah Kara Unger from "Crash" and her partner. I was staying at their house and she knew I had no filmography, so she decided I need to see certain films. So she played this one film for me. There's a moment at the end when he's like, "I could have been a contender." He's saying this whole thing and I was like, "I know this! I know this quote in 'The Simpsons.'" I totally say it. And she was like, "It's from...." I forget what it was from. It was humiliating. I was like, "The Simpsons did that!"

[Laughs] What did you think of "Raging Bull?"

Well, first of all, I was shocked. Because it's 2022 now and, when I watched it, I was like, "How lucky was this dude that made this film?" Because the sensibility of this film, it feels like a horror film. It's very thrilling. There's a lot of tension. The character dynamics between the relationship of the husband and the wife and his need to have fame was so toxic. They were spiraling out of control, but he had the patience to let it unwind and unravel little by little. There's no way that film could be made today. We need to have these TikTok films that are, like, every 10 minutes, a big surprise. Every five minutes, a big explosion. You have to hold people's hands. You have to have this big explain moment or a flashback or you lose people. I feel like modern day films don't trust their audience the same way that, well, "Raging Bull" did. "Raging Bull" expected you to sit there and absorb all that information and just live a life with the characters. I was a little bit jealous. Because, when I make my films, they're slow burn, deliberately paced art house. "Raging Bull" is pretty deliberate.

Are your movies really slow burns? A lot of happens in "The Long Walk," and "Dearest Sister" is pretty fast.

A lot happens, but everyone says it's subtle slow burn.

Whatever the label, how do you approach pacing your movies? 

Well, I know that it's challenging, but I don't think that my audience is stupid and I don't think that we should train a stupid audience. So, initially, the script was very difficult to write because we were playing with all these different timelines and we had to be so precise about the details. Every detail leads to a ripple effect that affects not just their present, but the past and the future as well. We had to be so careful about that.

Even worse is I have a very tiny film crew out in the jungle. We were not more than 20 people. And in this group of 20, there's no continuity girl, so to be able to keep all of these details and all these props. "What's in the cabinet?" Or, "Is the glass cracked today, or are we not cracked today?" We were all helping each other as an entire crew. Every time we had to arrange the details of what's in the background or these small items that we had to hope that the audience's eyes would catch. The entire crew would whip out their phones and be like, "Oh, oh, oh, on that day, it was like this." We were all doing continuity simultaneously with our normal job. 

It's important for me to challenge my audience because I feel like I'm really tired of films now, Jack. I watch films and it's that whole short attention span problem and the whole not trusting the audience and having to take them like toddlers around a room and pull their attention to something and be like, "This is something that I have to explain to you and I'm going to show it to you again and again. I'm going to bash you over the head with it. And not only that, when we wrap up the film, I'm going to reexplain everything so that you can re-contextualize what just happened." What is it called? Exposition. I'm bored of that. I'm super bored of that.

It's gotten so bad with endings now, too. They rarely end on a high anymore.

Yeah. Let me go with a good taste in my mouth. It's almost like you got a new pastry chef and you had this amazing strawberry shortcake and it had just the right amount of cream and the cream had just the right amount of Madagascar vanilla beans in it. You complimented the chef. You're like, "Chef, it was beautiful. I loved it." And he's like, "What's your favorite part?" I was like, "Well, I really liked the whipped cream. It was really light and just the right amount. It wasn't overwhelming. It wasn't overbearing." And then he grabbed you by your hair, tilted your head back, and then took the can of cream and sprayed it down your f***ing throat. That's modern-day films now.

Well, it seems like you have the right collaborators to tell your stories how you want to tell them.

I'm lucky because my husband is my writer and so he knows exactly what I want and he knows exactly what I'm going for and it's very easy for us to workshop ideas. We pretty much workshop on a 24-hour basis. If I had to write on my own, I would probably hit a lot of writer's blocks. Roadblocks in my writing. Well, I don't write. I mean, you can tell by speaking to me that I'm a person who's kind of all over the place. It would be really difficult for me. That's why I have a writer. But also, if I were working with someone who didn't know me, know the inner workings of my head and what I wanted so well, it might be difficult to communicate a concept like this movie, I think.

It's quite a genre-bender.

The thing is we don't have to have a single genre, right? Who decided that? Who decided that we had to put on a blindfold and pick one? I'm the greedy kid who grabbed it with two handfuls. Put my hands in the raffle box and went for all of it.

Especially sci-fi and horror. We don't see enough sci-fi horror movies.

We need more "Event Horizons," don't we?

'I was just trying to make a f*** you film to the arthouse world'

So, you've said the first draft was a mess.

It was a f***ing mess.

How'd it evolve?

It was missing a lot of these horror elements that I really wanted and needed. It was also missing a lot of the emotional intimacy of the grief that we talk about deeply in this film. This film is a very deep dive into regret and grief. It's an extreme study of what it's like to have loss and what it's like to be lonely and to have regrets in your life, and that's what it was missing. 

The very initial idea for this film came not from death. My dog died while I was writing the film with Chris. And then, when my dog passed away, it reminded me of when my mother passed away. So I was going through a lot of emotional trauma from losing my dog and being reminded of my mother's passing, and that really worked its way into the film. Before that, I was just trying to make a f*** you film to the arthouse world, to be honest.

My film career started out really shaky. It started out like, what are these weird films from this country that no one's really ever heard of? When you make a film from one of these developing countries that no one's ever heard of and when you're the first woman who's ever done it, there's an expectation of what the film should be. And that expectation is it should be poor people, groveling and suffering, long suffering. It should be poverty porn. I once said to someone, "Why do we always have to do that? Why is that the genre for us? Why is it documentary, like we're an anthropological study or some sh*t? Why does it have to be this arthouse movie where some Asian mystic person sits for 10 minutes in the ugliest wide shot possible just staring at the wind, experiencing the world on a different Asian mystic level than white people could possibly hope to understand?"

No. Like, f*** that sh*t. Those are boring films and, if everyone's doing that just to get into the festival, then the festivals aren't doing their job to try and find and discover new stories and new potential, new possibility. When people told me that my first two films were not authentic ... Like, white people telling me that my f***ing Laos films aren't authentic. Because they've been here before, right? I was like, "Well, f*** you. What's authentic?" Well, authentic to them was a dirt road, a hut, and a poor man suffering. So, I was like, "Yeah, fine, I'll give that to you. I'll give you your rural Laos village. I'll give you your dirt road. I'll give you the dude with flip flops and maybe the missing teeth. And it's going to be a time travel film. Sci-fi, motherf***ers. And it's going to be a serial killer film and it's going to have ghosts."

So this movie is just one big, great, f*** you.

Yeah. It's a really great, big f*** you that turned into this super intimate, traumatic, therapeutic release of my own grief and my husband's grief.

It's like the horrors of, I don't want to say "moving on," but not accepting death. What happens when you don't? That's how I saw it.

Oh, definitely. I think that, in general, as a human being, I have a very fatalist view on it and it's very much expressed in my film. After having a lot of sadness from losing [my dog] Mango and my mother, you come to certain realizations. What could you have done? You ponder on, what if you could go back? What could you change? What would you change? But then it's so toxic to put yourself into this cycle because you can't. You can't go back. As difficult as it is, if you could go back, then what? Would you expect a different outcome? There's this movie that I haven't ever seen, but I know the plot of it. It's about death coming for these young adults and they avoid death somehow, and there's like five of these movies, "Final Destination." They do avoid death, but it finds a way, because that's how fate has had it. Maybe I'm telling the story wrong because I haven't seen the f***ing movies.

[Laughs] That's the gist of it.

Is that right?

You're spot on.

So, even if I could to go back and change the past or attempt to avoid fate in such a way, my mother would've died from cancer at some point anyway and my dog was 17. There wasn't much that we could have done for him. 17 is a really long life for a medium-sized dog. So I think you really see that in this film, that I have a fatalistic point of view. The characters have a difficult time moving on. In some ways, I guess I don't really move on and I feel like we never really move on. It's all always there. That loss is always there. That grief never leaves. Sometimes it feels like a distant memory and sometimes it feels very close, and I think that the film really shows that.

I'm sorry for your loss, Mattie. Did you find making this movie cathartic at all? Maybe that's the wrong word, but how do you feel after making it?

Not cathartic and I wouldn't even say it was therapeutic, but it's empowering to be able to almost relive certain moments. For instance, when the mother dies, I modeled the death after the death of my own mother with the character surrounding her and being there while she's losing her last breath. At the end, she has a death rattle, which I've never heard in a film. A death rattle. When my mother passed away, I remembered that sound. 

It scarred me so deeply because I'd never heard such a horrible and ugly sound. And then I found out that it's common. Almost everybody who dies, that's the sound comes out of their lungs and out of their throat. In all the years of my life having watched films where people die, why has no one ever put something that ugly and brutal in the film? So it was very empowering to be able to do that scene and to be able to watch it from an exterior point of view and to be able to orchestrate it. Maybe that sounds disturbing, Jack.

It sounds honest.

I wanted people to see how ugly death is, too, because people die either in crazy, horribly gory and fantastic ways in genre films or they die these really beautiful deaths. There's nothing really beautiful about death at all. That's not death. And then when they're carrying the bodies around, like after someone's died and they have to carry it away, I'm just like ... I know what rigor mortis is now because I have experienced it. I've seen it. I haven't had rigor mortis, but I've seen it. You couldn't just pick up the body like that. I'm sorry.

'It was strange, the first time I called myself a filmmaker'

As an accidental filmmaker, when did you realize you're a genre filmmaker?

I finished my first feature film and it went to a festival. I went to the first film festival I've ever been to. No, no. That's not true. That's a lie. I had been to a film festival before. I don't remember the year. Whatever year that comedy "Slammin' Salmon" was playing. There was a film called "Slammin' Salmon." My friend's a professional snowboarder. She actually is one of the world's top extreme snowboarders. I guess some of her friends worked on that film, so she was like, "Oh, let's go to this film festival and let's watch it."

It was the first time I'd been to Park City, the first time I went to a film festival, and it was the strangest experience of my life. Because it kind of matched my expectation of what I thought a film festival would be, which is you sit in this conference room or ballroom in a hotel and you watch a movie and there's conference room chairs. So, when I finished my first feature, "Chanthaly," and it got invited to Fantastic Fest, I thought it was going to be in a high school auditorium. They were going to give us these red plastic solo cups. One with popcorn, one with gallon punch, and that they were going to roll out a TV on a stand and play my little film for maybe the 10 people who are interested in Laos films.

So, when I hit Texas and went to Fantastic Fest for the first time, I was like, "What the f*** is this?" I couldn't believe it. People were watching movies back-to-back and then the big screen experience — it was nuts. People were so interested. They were just like, "Oh, you made this film," and then they had the Q&A and the interviews. I had to tell myself to call myself a filmmaker because, at that time, I didn't consider myself a filmmaker yet. My husband had always told me, "You can't call yourself a filmmaker until you've made a film. Until your film has finished and it's shown somewhere, you are not allowed to call yourself a filmmaker." It was strange, the first time I called myself a filmmaker. It was when I was at Fantastic Fest being interviewed by Todd Graham.

Was it a good feeling saying it, though?

It was uncomfortable. I felt I was masquerading as something that I was not. Especially since so many of my colleagues there had dreamt their entire lives of being a filmmaker and had worked so hard towards it and had gone to school to specifically study it. There were a lot of conversations happening around me at the film festival where I just didn't know what the f*** was going on. They were talking about all these famous people. 

I was meeting famous directors, actors, and producers and I had no idea who the f*** they were, Jack. I actually met the curly-haired guy from Metallica because he had some film, interactive film, there. I didn't know who the f*** he was and I kept calling him by his wrong name. He had all these bodyguards and I stupidly turned to him, and I was like, "What's up with all these dudes in their earpieces and suits?" He laughed at me.

I've met all these people. I had no idea who they were. I've offended some people, too. I won't say who because you know who they are. I'm that clueless about the world of film. So yeah, it was hard for me to call myself a filmmaker initially because I didn't fit in with them. But genre is a great place to not fit in because they're such a warm, loving family that once they see that you don't get what's going on, they're just like, "Oh, it's cool. You don't have to know who Fellini is. Here's a cocktail. Have a beer."

How were you feeling as a filmmaker after your second movie, "Dearest Sister," then?

Oh, that was bad, because then I had festival experience. I was like, "Wow, festivals are cool. I got to get myself back to one of these and, to do that, I have to make another movie." So I made another movie. Everybody was so proud and surprised by the trajectory from me coming out of nowhere and making these films that were really oddball. There was a lot of expectation for like, "Oh, a Laos film, a film from an unheard of country with a really exotic culture." There was this idea that you need to get to an "A" festival. Now, the goal is like Berlin and Venice. All these big festivals. That was what I had my eyes set on. My sights were set on this because now I knew what it was. I'd gone to a few of them to develop my next film, to workshop the script, and I got the taste. I got the taste of champagne in my mouth, Jack. I was like, "That's where I want to go next." "Dearest Sister" didn't make it. It didn't get to go to Sundance. It didn't get to go to Cannes. It didn't get to go to Venice. I was so disappointed. I was just like, "Am I doing the right thing? Am I a filmmaker? What am I? Should I be here? Do I have a voice?"

I got really depressed initially, but my producer Annick [Mahnert] and my husband, Chris, sat me down at one point and they were just like, "Mattie, you didn't even know that these places existed before you made it. You didn't even know what a f***ing film festival was. You literally thought that you were going to get a cup of popcorn and a cup of soda in an auditorium with basketball hoops. You were going to watch a movie under a basketball hoop. Now you've got your eyes set on Cannes and Sundance and Venice? Why are you so sad about this? So you didn't get them, but you got to go to all the genre fests that you love. All these amazing places that you had so much fun at and where you made so many new friends and so many supporters." It was a good kick in the ass, Jack. They were right. 

When I started making "The Long Walk," every day that we shoot, we upload and backup footage and I was sending daily footage to my producers. I was sending it to Annick, who is my mainstay. She believes in everything I do creatively. And then Todd Brown, I can't remember what kind of producer he was on this film, but there was credit squabble. Not with him, but with another group. I was sending my footage to them every day and they were getting excited. They were like, "Oh my God, this is it. This is going to be the one that gets to the 'A' festival. This is beautiful. It's going to go."

I was pissed. I'm dying out here in the jungle, first of all. There's no air conditioning in the jungle. We are making a movie in some rough ass conditions with like 20 people. Sh*t's falling apart. Stuff's happening that's completely unexpected. We've got problems. Don't talk to me about "A" festivals. I don't even want to hear it and I don't want to get my hopes up for this because I tasted that disappointment before and it tastes like the worst counterfeit champagne that we could ever buy. They just kept talking about it. Finally, I submitted my films and I was like, "Whatever. Whatever happens, happens, but we'll be happy to get into the festivals that I love and that I care about."

I was in a night market in Bangkok, with one of my dearest friends who designs all my dresses that I wear on red carpet. He asked me, "You've basically finished a film and I haven't heard anything about your next event. What are you going to wear? Should I be working on something?" And I was like, "Nah. I mean, whatever you make, you can make, but don't think of any gala gowns or anything like that because it's not going to happen." It starts storming and we were stuck with our cheap beers. We were drinking the sh*ttiest beers ever under this tent, all huddled. I get this email on my phone and it's a rejection from Venice. No joke, Jack. It's a rejection. It's like, "You are not selected to main competition."

I was like, "See?" And then he and our friends were just like, "Oh, let's just drink to being together. F*** it. We finished a film. That's all that matters." And then, all of a sudden, my phone's buzzing out of control. It's buzzing, buzzing, buzzing and I was like, my husband knows I'm out getting wasted with my gay friends. He is not going to be calling me to come home unless it's an emergency. I opened my phone and it's my producers being like, "Check your goddamn messages." I look at it and I got into the other section at Venice. So, I didn't make it into competition, but I got into Venice and I freaked out. I'm screaming in the storm, in the rain, with my cheap beer. We're all singing and dancing and crying. My friend turns to me and he's like, "Well, b*tch, I guess I got to work on that dress."

'Sh*t gets real rough'

Something that stands out about your work is the sound. You hear everything.

You do. I put so much work into the soundscape. The soundscape of "Long Walk" I did with Alex Boyesen. The composer, Anthony [Weeden], it was his first compositional work, actually. Because he had been the orchestrator for, what's his name? The man who composed "Arrival."

Jóhann Jóhannsson?

Yes. He was his orchestrator. He wanted to take the helm of being the composer. I met him and we got wasted at a bar here in Laos and he said that he would work on my film. He's, by the way, the conductor of the London Royal Philharmonic. And Alex is this amazing guy who lives in Chiang Mai in Thailand and he knows the sounds of Asia. He's so particular. Even the motorcycles, the bugs, the sound is so rich. He would send an assistant while we were shooting to just pick up sounds of the insects and to pick up sounds of water gurgling. You hear Laos. You hear everything about Laos and Asia in this film. We built the sound bed up in so many layers, but it took us more than two months to do this and the reason why was because, when you're here in Laos, it's loud. Even out in the jungle. You know that high-pitched sound in the future?


That's a bug. That's an actual bug. We never heard that sound before until we were out there one day and we just heard this high-pitched sound. It was pervasive. It was everywhere. We panicked. We thought it was an electrical failure in some of our equipment. The AD was like, "Everybody turn off all your equipment. Batteries out. Unplug everything." We did, but the sound was still there. We were like, "Holy sh*t, that's a bug." I fell in love. I was just like, "This sound sounds like a metallic noise pollution and imagine if the future had that because the air is so polluted with whatever technology that we are using now in the future, it's inundating our auditory systems. That's a sound I want for the future."

Whereas before that day, my idea was to eliminate the sounds of the bugs and the birds and nature in the future so that you realize that, in the future, we're missing a lot more of these animals, the flora and the fauna in life. We did that, too. We eliminated a lot of that. The problem with it was we had to take two months because those bugs, when you call action, they don't work on demand. Whenever we were shooting the past timeline with the little boy, those bugs were there. So we had to clean the bugs out of all the past and present audio and only use it in the old man's timeline. It was so hard to clean those bugs out of the little boy's timeline.

I had no idea that was a bug, but it adds such an eeriness to the atmosphere. It's great.

I'm so glad you liked that. Some people thought it was problematic or they wondered why I put that in. It wasn't that I layered it in. It was there naturally and I erased it from the moments where I didn't want it.

With your next film, how are you going to raise two middle fingers to the arthouse world again? 

Oh, dude. You're going to love it. My next film ... well, one of my films, because I'm working on three films right now. One of my films is a love story. I'm for real shooting a love story. Do you know about the phenomenon of quantum entanglement?

I don't.

It's something that happens in physics. I'm not a nuclear scientist or a rocket scientist for that matter, but I first stumbled on it when I heard about these triplets. Not the ones from the documentary, but another set of triplets who were adopted and grew up in separate places and their lives ended up so similar. They like the same things. They bought the same car. They work in the same field. They married women of the same name, the same looks. They didn't even meet each other until they were well into their second marriage. Just imagine. This connection that existed between these triplets and twins, it's fascinating.

I went down the rabbit hole and heard about quantum entanglement, which is when there are two atoms that are not connected in any way, that are not even in the same location, but the atom reacts to what the other atom is feeling or whatever you do. This stimulus. So, if you do something to this atom, this one also reacts as if it had been touched or shaken or probed. There's no real explanation for how that can be because they're not connected in any way.

I thought, "Well, what if I had two girls who are not twins and who are connected like quantum entanglement? What if they're connected through their feelings and through their pain?" We came up with this concept of a rural American country girl in buttf*** nowhere America finding out, after an accident where her leg has to get amputated, that she's connected to a girl, a super wealthy, super sophisticated, privileged but ultra-sheltered, rich girl in Bangkok, Thailand living in like a skyscraper, like a gilded cage. 

They encounter each other and realize that it doesn't matter that they have this cultural barrier, that they don't match. Their society and class is not the same. There's nothing in common about them. They've never been gay or queer before. Their love and their connection transcends gender, transcends society and culture, transcends class. It transcends everything because they're soulmates. But what happens when you rip that apart?

What happens when that gets ripped apart?

Sh*t gets real rough. It gets dark real fast, Jack.

"The Long Walk" is now available to rent on VOD.