An interview with Albuquerque filmmaker and martial artist Matt Page.
BY CHRISTOPHER HANNEMANN
With over 43 million views on YouTube, his mug on the cover of Black Belt Magazine and Martial Arts Illustrated, and numerous film and television credits, Albuquerque filmmaker and martial artist Matt Page is living the dream.
ABQ Free Press sat down with Page to talk about his life, his work ethic, and his hilarious YouTube show, Enter the Dojo, a sketch comedy series that parodies life in the contemporary world of martial arts. Over the next few days we’ll be publishing the entire interview, along with video clips.
A little information on Page: He’s a writer, director, actor and martial artist known to the Albuquerque and New Mexico film industry. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 2001 from the College of Santa Fe and has appeared in several locally produced television shows and films, from Breaking Bad to Sicario.
In 2011, he began to cobble all of his various interests in film, comedy and martial arts into a web series on YouTube called Enter the Dojo. His character, Master Ken, is an outlandish amalgamation of all of the different quirks that can be found in martial arts studios across the country.
Both Page and Master Ken have been featured in internationally renowned martial arts magazines and blogs discussing the comedy and culture of martial arts. ABQ Free Press sat down with Page to discuss the filmmaking process and the creative joy necessary to make Enter the Dojo a labor of love for him and his team.
The transcript of the interview has been edited for clarity and length.
AFP: Matt, are you originally from New Mexico?
MP: I am not. I’m from back east. I grew up in Maine, in a very small town, about 3,000 people, and I moved here in 2001 to go to the College of Santa Fe.
AFP: And you’ve been here pretty much since then, right?
MP: Yeah, it’s been, let’s see, yeah it was 2001, so it’s been 16 years.
AFP: Is New Mexico home to you?
MP: Yes! Very much. I intended to just come here for school and then figure out what was next, and the year that I graduated things were hopping. Breaking Bad started, In Plane Sight, both of those were in their first seasons. You know, the studios were still pretty new. I got a couple of lines on a movie called In the Valley of Elah.
One line, actually, which got cut. That was the time I learned that you don’t tell your whole family that you’re in a movie until you see the movie. I told them all to go and then that Friday they called and said “we didn’t see you”, and I was like “yeah I got cut out of the movie”. But it got me into SAG, and so that year that I graduated I got into SAG, and I got a couple of other jobs, and so…
AFP: And SAG is the Screen Actors Guild?
MP: Yeah, the Screen Actors Guild. And so I said, well, I’ll just wrap up the next couple of jobs I get and then I’ll figure out where I’m going next, and it just never stopped. So I decided to stay.
AFP: Do you consider yourself an actor first or a martial artist first?
MP: I would say I consider myself an actor first because I get paid to be an actor, number one. And number two, I think I’m better at acting than I am at martial arts.
I’ve always been an average martial artist at best. I really enjoy martial arts. But, especially through the show, I meet a lot of great martial artists, people who are like, I mean professional UFC fighters, or people who own a whole chain of martial arts schools, or tournament champions, or, you know, whatever. So I meet far superior actual martial artists through my show. So, I love martial arts, it’s always been a hobby that I’m really passionate about, but I think I’m better at acting.
AFP: Okay. I definitely want to touch base later on the other martial artists bit.
MP: Yeah, sure.
AFP: Do you also do theatre?
MP: I have done theatre.
AFP: But you don’t really…?
MP: Yeah, right, like I was always more focused on film. I did theatre because there was just a lack of availability of anything camera-related, film- or television-related. Growing up in rural Maine there just isn’t much in that way going on but community theatre.
I did a couple of summers at a place called the Theatre at Monmouth, which is a Shakespearean theatre. I didn’t do Shakespeare, necessarily. I was standing next to people who did Shakespeare. This is actually true: in Romeo and Juliette, they cast me because they needed somebody to carry Juliette offstage when she was dead. She wasn’t a big girl! They just had a lot of slight gentlemen that season, and they needed somebody who could just sort of scoop her up and whisk her off stage. So they gave me one line.
I went on in the beginning in the sword fight to hold back a Montague or something, and then at the end I had to say… I was the second watchman, I should be able to remember my line, it was only three words…
But otherwise my primary job was to carry her corpse off stage. So that’s like the extent. I didn’t do a ton of theatre. I’ve enjoyed live performance, but I’ve always been a lot more focused on stuff that involved a camera.
AFP: What styles of martial arts do you practice?
MP: My first style was Okinawan Kenpo and Kobudo, so that included the weapons like the staff, the sai, and the nunchaku. That was under a gentleman named Richard Pelletier, Sensei Rich Pelletier, in Maine.
AFP: Did you study the oar as well?
MP: We didn’t have the Okinawan Oar. That was in Shorin-ryu and my instructor knew it, but Shorin-ryu had a few forms and a few weapons that were somewhat different. That’s one of the few weapons I never got to learn any forms of. But I always enjoyed the demonstrations, I thought that’s a cool weapon.
AFP: I never got a chance to study it either. It’s really neat looking but I’d probably hit myself in the back of the head, unsupervised.
MP: Yeah, it’s sort of one of those unsuspecting weapons where I feel like if you end up in a fight using an oar, that’s probably a good story. Like why did you have to fight with an oar? I understand why they had to back then being fishermen, but nowadays why would you have to fight with an oar? But I think it’s a really cool weapon.
So, I did that and then dabbled in a bunch of others. I kinda moved around, I studied a little bit of escrima stick fighting, a little bit of boxing, little bit of aikido, and ultimately settled into American Kenpo, the Jeff Speakman lineage. That was the next art that I actually achieved black belt in. So, Okinawan Kenpo, American Kenpo, and then I’ve been kind of casually studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for the past few years.
AFP: What do you enjoy most about the filmmaking process?
MP: I love production. And specifically I really actually like writing and directing the most. In fact, I almost didn’t cast myself as Master Ken when I wrote the show.
Initially, I was thinking I would cast somebody else because I was much more focused on the filmmaking aspect of things, and I considered a few actors and then the reason I decided to cast myself was just because I felt like I’m gonna have to have such a specific idea of the way that I want this guy to be and I’ve spent years around martial artists, training, that I felt like it would be a shorthand if I just did it myself, rather than trying to craft a whole character with somebody else.
So that was a big part of it was I just didn’t know how I would explain what I wanted the character to be, so I shot a screen test with myself, showed it to a few people, and I was like “does this seem like it will work?” and they said, “yeah, that’s funny, you ought to do it”, and so I decided to do that.
AFP: How did you come up with the Master Ken character?
MP: He’s kind of a Frankenstein of instructors and people that I’ve met over the years. He’s an exaggeration of those types of characters. Some of whom are great martial artists!
I’ve met people who are, I’ve gone to some really crazy martial arts schools, I did go to a school in southern California — I always tell people this — that really did have a thing called groin-sparring. It was a guy who had made up his own martial art and the only way you could win a sparring match was to grab the other person’s groin, and then they made me fight a woman for my first fight. That’s a totally real thing, so when we put that in the show, that wasn’t exaggerated at all.
AFP: How did that fight go?
MP: I lost. I was kinda like, “I don’t know, I just met you, I don’t know how to do this”. She was fierce. But yeah, so it’s a mixture of people like that and then other people who are, like I said, who are really great martial artists who just have said things that in my head I’m like, you know, if I just twist that a little bit that’s pretty funny.
A really great fighter and teacher and friend of mine named Kevin Bankens used to tell us in class, he said, “when you’re about to get in a fight, you want to get you a face. Get you a face on you that is so scary that they don’t want to fight you just looking at that face”, and so I was thinking, I wonder if you can turn your face into a technique and call it the Kill Face, so that became the episode we call the Kill Face, and it’s still something that fans of the show mention to this day, the idea of having a Kill Face that you can put on.
So it’s sort of just taking everything that exists in real life in martial arts and just exaggerating it just a tad.
AFP: What would you say is the difference between production of an indie television series on YouTube vs. a full production, regular film, regular television series? Aside from funding?
MP: Aside from funding! The pace. The pace at which, particularly — and this may be technical stuff that nobody is that interested in — but a lot of the buzz on YouTube this year has been about the new algorithm.
The new algorithm of YouTube favors daily uploads, or as close to it as you can get. So, they’re flat-out telling people this year, people who represent YouTube and consult for YouTube are basically saying if you upload once a week, your channel’s not gonna grow. You need to put out content as often as you possibly can.
So, the production model, I thought once a week was difficult. I used to make three short films a year. Then it went to like, well, let’s release a video once a month, then it was every other week, then it was every week, now we’re going into week three of attempting to release three videos every week, and then we’re gonna see if that doesn’t kill us then we will attempt to go to four or five.
MP: It’s insane. It’s absolutely insane. The pace is crazy. But I also feel like that’s sort of the price you pay. Because when I was making short films even in college, which doesn’t feel like that long ago, there really wasn’t a way to just upload your content, get it out to the whole world, and generate revenue and keep an audience.
AFP: Yeah, there’s no gatekeeper here.
MP: Exactly, and so the price we pay is that once you get somebody following your content then you have to produce all the time. So, the pace is the toughest thing to keep up with because it’s like for those people who’ve done a 48-hour film project, it’s like doing a 48-hour film project every 48 hours.
Rather than have the recovery time of doing it over a weekend and taking a few days to catch your breath, it’s like no, what if you just had to do a 48-hour film every 48 hours and as soon as you’re done you have to do it again?
AFP: Goodness gracious!
MP: So, it’s absolutely insane. It’s been a huge creative challenge, and a challenge of our endurance to keep it up.
AFP: What draws you to this kind of creative work?
MP: I think a big part of it is just being able to be so expressive and to have so much input. I love working on the bigger productions as well, but a lot of times you’re just a small part of a much bigger machine.
And so you’re there to do your one thing, and you’re there to do your one thing as best you can, you’re paid well for it, but that’s your responsibility. And it’s not always the extent of what you’re capable of, I would say.
You know, best example is I know a lot of really, really talented actors who, if they’re lucky, get three or four lines on each role, each movie that they do, even though I have watched them be the leads in plays or independent films and thought, gosh they’re a really great actor, but there’s so much competition for small roles.
So when you create your own work, you can write to your strengths, you can say, well, I never get to do this in movies or TV shows, so I’m going to create a piece where I get to do more. And so, I get to do a lot more as an actor and as a comedian in my own work than I ever get to do anywhere else.
AFP: So there’s a lot of creative joy here?
MP: Big time, big time, yeah. I mean, I feel like that’s actually the biggest payoff is that I get to sort of do whatever I want with the show. And that goes for the live performance too, because I perform as Master Ken. Certain years I do a lot of live performance, and so I go out and I have, you know, 45 minutes to an hour to just tell jokes.
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