The Mad Genius of Magic Spot, Motern Media, and Matt Farley

Movies Features Matt Farley
The Mad Genius of Magic Spot, Motern Media, and Matt Farley

If you visit Matt Farley’s Twitter, the first thing you read in his bio is the declaration “Greatest songwriter ever!” attributed to seemingly no one in particular, other than Farley himself. The quality of the songs is debatable, but not the output of their creator. Farley has over 23,000 song credits to his name, an astronomical backlog which spans a variety of different stage names and song topics. This is all in an attempt to cover every hyper-specific interest and possible search result imaginable to draw in every person alive, in order to generate revenue just in advertising and royalties from the volume of songs alone. It’s an elaborate money-making scheme too needless and harebrained not to work.

But this system shouldn’t muddle your view of Farley as some sort of cash-hungry hack. Because the next thing you might notice in Farley’s Twitter bio is that his personal phone number is right there. He wants you to call him. He also wants you to mail things to him (his PO Box number is listed as well). He wants to mail things to you too, and he has been known to send DVD copies of his films to anyone who asks. If you help to financially support his films, he will give you an associate producer credit. I’ve been told that if you DM him on Twitter, he responds promptly and thoughtfully. I’ve yet to message him, though he follows me (Hi Matt! He’s definitely going to read this) and has responded when I’ve tweeted about his films. If you scroll through his timeline, you’ll notice that he will interact with and retweet just about anything pertaining to his work, positive or negative. The bottom line is that he wants you to know that his work exists at all.

With this in mind, I’m writing this article as part of a continued effort to boost Farley’s oeuvre, an effort that other people at Paste contributed to just a few years ago with their Bad Movie Diaries piece about Farley and oft-director Charles Roxburgh’s 2012 masterwork Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! (which led to Paste contributor Jim Vorel having a song written about him).

You see, in addition to his work as a prolific songwriter, Farley has also been making extremely low-budget films in in Manchester, New Hampshire, not far from his hometown of Danvers, Massachusetts, for the past 20 years, under the production banner Motern Media. Some are directed by Farley, some aren’t (Roxburgh has directed over half, and done visual effects on a handful of more prominent productions, such as the Aubrey Plaza-led comedy The To Do List and the Veronica Mars movie). But Farley is always the star of the production as well as the impassioned marketing executive.

Something I would respectfully argue a little counter to my colleagues’ opinions—even considering the aside that Riverbeast “may also be the ‘best’ movie we’ve watched”—is that Riverbeast, along with the other Farley films I’ve seen on my Motern Media journey (including Local Legends, Freaky Farley, Heard She Got Married and their most recent release, Magic Spot) do not even qualify as bad. For what they are, what they’re doing and what they exceedingly accomplish, they are very good movies.

Magic Spot, which premiered on May 14, stars Farley supported by a revolving door of non-professional hometown regulars and family members. I will try to unravel its complex narrative web as succinctly as I possibly can. Walter Moore (Farley), who lives in the respectable, fictional New England town of Tussleville and hosts a local primetime talent show that only airs live. Walter and his cousin, a grown man named Poopy (Chris Peterson), discover that their beloved Uncle Dan (Motern Media fan-favorite Kevin McGee) visited them as a ghost when they were children, teaching them to recite a rhyme about the town’s “Magic Spot.” The Magic Spot in Tussleville is a rock that, when stood atop, allows one to go back in time and observe a realm known as “the beyond” as an impartial specter. The catch with the Magic Spot, however (and what Uncle Dan was attempting to impart to his nieces and nephews with the helpful poem), is that you can only use it in winter. When one travels back in time, they become very cold and need to “acclimate” to the temperature once they return to the present. Hence, why Uncle Dan died of hypothermia in the summer: He used the Magic Spot and failed to acclimate.

The central thrust of the narrative involves two main threads. First, Walter needs to utilize this Magic Spot to figure out what exactly his love interest, Alyssa (Elizabeth Peterson, Farley’s wife), was wearing the last time they went on a date two years prior, because she will only allow Walter to take her out again on the condition that he remembers. Second, Walter and Poopy want to retrieve their Uncle Dan from “the beyond” so that his deceased soul can be put to rest.

Farley’s films seem to typically unfold like this: A simple premise that reveals itself to be far more convoluted (yet never strays too far into the fantastical, presumably due to budgetary constraints), peppered with illogical details and silly dialogue that keep his world in the slightly off-kilter realm of the uncanny. Poopy is plagued with an unquenchable desire to nap at random points during the day (“Poopy is a legend—I see him snoozing all around town!” one character exclaims) and holds a deep passion for playing with bouncy balls. The Magic Spot rules are full of fantastic nuggets of absurd logic: For example, children are closer to death which is why they can see ghosts, but after they turn 10 they can’t see ghosts anymore. Words and phrases that no one would say with any frequency, or ever at all, are repeated by Farley characters ad infinitum: “Acclimate” and “the big city,” and, in the classic case of Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!, “muckraker.”

Part of what makes Farley so charming is that, despite how simultaneously broad and specific he attempts to paint his songwriting palette, his filmmaking work is destined to click with a very niche subset of people. Though very evidently subpar in production value, it bridges and occupies the intangible space between the alternative humor popularized by Tim & Eric and the unintentionally amusing, amateurish auteurism of Tommy Wiseau. The difference between Farley and someone like Wiseau is that Farley is not (at least, from what I can tell) an emotionally manipulative and obtuse tyrant, and he evokes a clear self-awareness that still manages to bear unintended fruit. He also, in part, taps into an absurdist vein just by virtue of his non-professional cast, in addition to some obvious comedic sensibilities and equally obvious ineptitude. Sometimes things are funny in Farley’s work and it’s unclear if he meant it to be or not. But the thing is, the ambiguity in his intent is irrelevant. He achieved it all the same. Farley has a genuine gift that transcends comedic purpose, the kind that other filmmakers and comedians who’ve attempted to recapture the magic of Tim & Eric’s success continuously and embarrassingly fail to do.

Farley inhabits the ideal sphere of artistic prominence. He’s not famous by any standard definition of the word, but he maintains a small contingent of passionate fans (even though some are industry pros). It’s enough to keep his efforts going, and Farley is nothing if not tirelessly working towards his next creative project. Magic Spot is part of a new initiative from Farley and co.’s Motern Media to put out two movies a year through 2025, following a four-year gap between 2017 and 2021. So far, they’re making good on their promise. They released Heard She Got Married and Metal Detector Maniac in 2021; Magic Spot will be succeeded by Boston Johnny later this year. Farley and Motern Media work independently, financing everything themselves, so they have the creative freedom to make whatever they want within those finite means. Farley has participated in a book-length series of interviews, Motern on Motern, and has himself written a book, The Motern Method. He has ritualistically failed to get his films accepted to any film festival, which is more a demerit against the festivals than against Farley’s films.

Shortly after my second Farley movie, Local Legends—a semi-autobiographical look at Farley the quietly eccentric man and Farley the undaunted artist—I read a short Letterboxd review from Will Sloan (who co-wrote Motern on Motern alongside Justin Decloux), which stuck with me. Sloan favorably compares Farley’s film to the Coen brothers’ loosely biographical Inside Llewyn Davis. Both films grapple with artistic failure, what to do with it and where one goes from there. He writes, “The message of the Coens’ movie is: It’s okay to be a failure. It’s a good message in a world that so harshly stigmatizes failure, but I like Farley’s message even better: Even when society tells you you’re a failure, creativity has to be its own reward.”

Of the many things that differentiate Farley from your standard Hollywood vanity project passenger, beyond the fact that Farley is about as far from the Hollywood studio system as a filmmaker could possibly be, he does not allow himself to be limited by his skills (or lack thereof) or resources (or lack thereof). Instead, he is empowered by his enthusiastic impulse to create art beyond any self-imposed or societal constraints of what could potentially qualify as “good” or “bad.” Free from pretension, Farley has become something of a filmmaking genius. He produces work that isn’t trying to be anything grander or more ambitious than he and his friends collaborating on something they love. Now, a devoted audience loves what they do just as much as they love making it; it’s an ideal symbiosis between creator and fan. By writing about Farley, I’m not attempting to push Motern Media into the mainstream. Rather, I only want to shine a spotlight on the profound, inane beauty that can be created in a place as accessible as one’s own backyard.

Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.

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