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Behind the Moustache - Enter the Dojo creator Matt Page
Behind the Moustache - Enter the Dojo creator Matt PageSo, the other day I was catching up on missed episodes of Enter The Dojo, and a burning question formed in my mind. How has Bullshido not interviewed these people? It then dawned on me that there hasnít been an interview because I havenít stepped up to do it.
Thus, welcome to Bullshidoís first interview with Matthew Page (yes, he has his own IMDB page, you should be so successful). Matt is better known to most of you as Master Ken Poe, the Ameri-Do-Te principal and grand master.
Mattís tale is one of hard work begets success, both in and out of the dojo. Matt was gracious enough to spend some time with me on Skype, the other day, and what follows is the edited and approved transcript (we cut out almost all the bullshit).
Moustaches are bullshit.
Youíve heard of Bullshido?
Pretty much since we started the show, fans of the show have sent me various links to it, and I've gotten to check some of it out, and it's kinda in the same vein, it has the same motive of sort of pointing out some of the ridiculousness in the martial arts world. I think what you guys do is great. I think it fits really well with the world we've created at Enter The Dojo.
Mattís martial arts experience:
My first style was with a great instructor, Rick Pelletier, back in Maine, where I grew up. I got my first degree black belt in Okinawan kenpo and kobudo. I then bounced around various dojos for many years, and ended up settling in to the Jeff Speakman American Kenpo system, and got my second degree black belt under Erika and Tony Potter, who train with Mr. Speakman.
I was unsettled in my early twenties, trying to figure out where I wanted to go, what I wanted to be. So, I would move to a new town, find a dojo, train there for a few months. Then I would move or run out of money or whatever. So, I've trained for a few months in aikido, in stick fighting, in boxing, just whatever I was curious about that was close to my house.
It was great to study all those arts, at least at a base level, and I have several books. I would get books - martial arts books - for Christmas, from my family. I have books on aikido, kickboxing, muay thai and stuff like that. I was interested in learning the differences between all the arts, that also really played into informing the show - everything from the episodes to the Bullshit videos that we do, where Ken comes up with the reasons why some martial arts are not as good as his. All that feeds into [the show].
I currently study Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with some great guys here, in Albuquerque. I am a blue belt, I think I'm a very average Jiu Jitsu stylist. I'd always done Jiu Jitsu casually, but now that I'm in a formal system, Iím realizing that I have a long way to go to being any good at it. I've got guys schooling me every time I roll. It's good, it keeps me humble.
But, it's also frustrating for anybody who's reached black belt level in another style. "OK, now I'm advanced, and now I'm good at what I do." And then to go out of your comfort zone and do another style and get your ass kicked is like, "ugh, OK." So, Iíve got to just keep working. But, it's good because it keeps me as a perpetual student and continues to keep me on that journey of learning more and more, trying to stay humble, trying to keep working. So, I'm a blue belt, currently, and I think I'll be there for a while.
Sometimes I go in [to BJJ class], and I'm focused and I'm with it, and I'm like "I'm doing alright." Then, other days, it's not just me screwing up, it's some guy will come in and he's having that day where he's focused and he's on top of his game, and I'm just getting tied in a pretzel, going "man, this sucks."
But, that's part of training in martial arts, and part of maintaining some humility and realism, and also realizing - which is really important, particularly nowadays - that rank doesn't have a lot to do with what kind of martial artist you are. You're defined as a martial artist not just by your conduct and education, but how often you train, how seriously you take it, how consistent you are. Just because you have a certain color belt around your waist doesn't make you better than anybody when it comes down to a fight.
But, I also don't value all martial arts in the realm of fighting. I think that being a martial artist is kind of a lifestyle, and kind of an overall perspective, so that's important to remember, too. Just because I lose a couple of sparring matches doesn't mean I'm not a martial artist, it just means I've got more work to do. I try to always keep a healthy perspective, on that.
The origins of Enter The Dojo:
I've been making a living since I graduated from film school at a place called - it used to be College of Santa Fe, now it's Santa Fe University. I got my degree and started a company the year I graduated, 2005, and I make videos - promotional videos and short films and things like that. That's how I've made my living - producing, directing, editing. So I already owned the equipment.
Basically, the way the show got started is I became obsessed with Ricky Gervais' BBC version of The Office. I watched it every day for like a year. I was so fascinated with it, I thought it was brilliant. I wanted to do something like that, but I wanted to inject it into a world that I was familiar with, and I've been training in martial arts since I was 16 years old. So, I decided to spoof some of the people that I had met in the martial arts world. That's how it came about.
I sat down and wrote what eventually became the first four episodes. Had some friends read it, they thought it was funny. So, we set a date, and got together for the weekend and just shot a few episodes and released it, just to see how it would go. Man, it caught on real fast, the martial arts world just embraced it. That was two and a half years ago, and we're still going.
Writing Enter The Dojo:
For the first two seasons, I wrote all the scripts for the episodes that had scripts. There are a few episodes that were improvised, I've just had an idea and done a basic outline: here's where we start, and here's the joke, and here's where we end.
We just released the last of the episodes that I came up with for season 3, and the next three episodes were written by my co-director, Adam Rottler, who's been co-directing with me since Season 1. These will be our first experiment with having somebody else write full episodes. I'm excited because he's a great writer.
I also like to give credit to the cast because, especially in the interviews, the talking heads that we do, they come up with a lot of their own stuff. I always try to script something for them to say in their interviews, and then we say "ok now let's play around, let's have fun with it and see what you guys come up with." And, they come up with some of the best stuff.
I love when they surprise me. The guy who plays Billy is a friend of mine, Ben Ziegler, who I went to college with. He kills me, he's so funny, I have to be away from the microphone, because I'll full-on laugh over his takes and will ruin them. He surprises me, I just never know what he's going to say, and it's some wild stuff. That's some of my favorite part, when we give the actors a chance to riff and come up with their own stuff. They're so dedicated, they're so talented, they're really funny.
Casting Enter The Dojo:
I focused on performance, first, because ultimately it's a comedy first, and a martial arts show second. If the comedy doesn't work, then what we're saying on the show, whatever idea I have about something I want to spoof or some message I want to convey, some sort of commentary about the martial arts world, isn't going to work if people aren't laughing.
Some of the actors I wrote parts for. Billy, as I said, Ben Zeigler, my buddy, I wanted him to be my crazy kind of sidekick guy.
I knew that I wanted Rachel Hroncich, who plays Rachel. I had seen her in some local stuff, local films I'd known and worked with her before, I thought she was funny, I thought she'd be a good choice.
Juliet Lopez, who plays Cynthia, she showed up - she's been a friend of mine, I've worked with her as an actor numerous times. I didn't know what to do with her, initially, so you'll notice she's really not featured in the first 2 episodes, very much at all. Once she was developing this shy sort of character after we shot a couple of episodes, I started to have an idea of what I wanted to do with her. She developed the character, and now it kind of runs itself, basically.
I was definitely focused on performance, first. The only disadvantage of that was when we needed to do actual martial arts, it was a little challenging for some of the actors. But, they've done a great job with it.
One of the reasons that I use the character Todd Woodland, played by Joe Conway, I use him in a lot of the instructional videos I do now because he is also a Kenpo black belt, so he can take the punishment, he knows how to move, he knows how to do some slapstick aspects of it, and move like a real martial artist.
The dojo behind The Dojo:
It was really just fortuitous timing. I was living in Santa Fe and training in the Speakman franchise, and I moved to Albuquerque.
Joe Conway actually owns the dojo where we shoot the show - it's a real working dojo called ABQ Karate. Joe had recently moved into that bigger space, and I'd mentioned the idea of the show, and asked if I could... Initially, this was just supposed to be a shoot for a weekend. He said, "sure, come on in, shoot for the weekend." Now it's become this thing where we go pretty much every other weekend and shoot more content. I had trained with him, and he liked what we were doing, and the more we shot at the dojo, the more opportunities there were for him to act in the show, as well.
All the students know the show, and Joe has had the pleasure of being recognized in town, and at martial arts events. He gets a kick out of that.
I, on the other hand, am never recognized. In regular life, I look a lot more like a nerd, I've got glasses and I don't have the moustache, so the look of Master Ken - the upside and the downside is that once I get out of character and go back to my normal voice and my normal look, nobody recognizes me. But, yes, the students at the school do know the show and they get a kick out of seeing the episodes happen in their dojo.
We have to shoot over weekends because there are classes during the week. When we shoot full episodes, we usually shoot 3 episodes in a weekend. We shoot Friday night, we get all the interviews out of the way. Then, we shoot all of the actual skits that make up the episode all day Saturday, all day Sunday.
I could have made Master Ken a Kenpo guy, because I know a lot about Kenpo, but I thought that would exclude too many people, it would probably offended too many Kenpo people, and it probably would have made it hard to relate to for other stylists that maybe didn't know Kenpo.
By creating a fictional martial art, everyone can kind of laugh collectively at what we're doing. That is an aspect of the show that I really like, the harder Ken tries to show his martial art is different, the more it makes it look the same as other martial arts. That's something I've found in other dojos, that the harder somebody tries to explain why their art is unique and different and better, the more - I feel - the more they fail. Because, ultimately, the fundamentals and the principals of most martial arts are related.
On ďappropriateĒ content:
I need to make the show that I want to make, and I need to make the show that entertains me. I tend to favor the adult humor because I like shows like that. I like Reno 911, I like a lot of stuff on Comedy Central that goes that route.
We do try to discourage younger people from watching, and try to tell parents "listen, you should really check this out first before you let your kids watch.Ē Particularly with the live events, the live events are much more adult.
I do actually feel in some ways that maybe that has limited our audience, a little bit. Some fans don't like it when we get into the innuendos and the adult humor and the toilet humor and stuff, but other fans love it. Ultimately, we as a group have to do stuff that we find funny.
We've done a couple of controversial videos, one in fact that I even took down because people were complaining that maybe we might negatively influence kids or get people to do things that are dangerous. But, there's only so much responsibility I can take. If somebody's going to watch a YouTube video that is clearly a spoof, and clearly a comedy, and mimic that behavior, I don't really feel like I can take responsibility for that.
I'm flying to Indianapolis, tomorrow, to perform tomorrow night. I've got to finish rewriting my bit for Indianapolis. I'm always tinkering with my show, right up until I go on stage, every time. I'm always trying new jokes and stuff, so I've got to polish some of this.
As Master Ken, I do these roasts, 20-30 minute stand-up bits. They're similar to what I'm going to do in the UK.
Joe Conway is actually going to be going on tour with me, to Scotland, England, and Germany, doing my Master Ken Live show, here in a couple of weeks. We're going to do a fun comedy show for some people.
Last time I did that, I had to fly to Atlanta, and then fly to Manchester, and then drive like 6 hours to Lincoln, and then I had like 2 hours to get ready at the hotel and perform. So, I was up 30-something hours before, I had to just walk out and perform. But, I love what I do, so it's really great. But, a lot of times, we perform that night. The next morning, get up and drive anywhere from 2 to 4 to 6 hours to another town, get into the hotel, get ready for the show, do another show, and just do that once a day for most of the trip. It's intense, but it's really fun.
Balancing martial arts and entertainment:
The world of martial arts is something I'm around more and more since I started the show. I perform at various events. I'm around a lot of really talented martial artists, and everyone's talking about martial arts.
I read about martial arts in my off time to try to come up with new ideas for videos and episodes. MMA, I'm aware of it, and I know people who are in MMA - obviously, we've had people like Greg Jackson, and Julie Kedzie, and Keith Jardine on the show, and they're all fantastic. I donít follow it as closely as a lot of my friends do, but I'm always trying to keep up with what's going on, at least to figure out what people are interested in, what people are discussing.
I was a big fan of the UFC, the original one that started back when there were no rules and it was really controversial. I don't follow it as much as I probably should nowadays. But, I'm definitely interested in various fights. I love watching Ronda Rousey fight - intense, and she's pretty, and she's controversial.
The other half of my passion is acting and film making, so I'm also spending a lot of time trying to watch non-martial arts related everything that comes out, you know, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, and the big movies that come out - just trying to keep my finger on the pulse of what people are making, what people are watching.
Just informing myself is its own full-time job. I fall behind on that from time to time, but then I also end up occasionally with a weekend where I'll just sit down and marathon like 10 episodes of a show to catch up on what everyone's talking about. It's a tough balance, but I love doing it.
Success for Matt:
Every 6 months, I look back at where we were 6 months ago, or I'll look at an old interview, and I'll pay attention to the views. When you have a YouTube show, it's hard not to become obsessed with the viewership. Right now, we're at 6.3 million views on the channel, and I was looking at an old interview of me talking about the show back when I was really excited because we had just hit 2 million.
The show grows more and more. The more live shows I do - and we try to do things like sell t-shirts and white belt certificates, too - the more of a priority I can make the show.
The show, in the beginning, was an investment. It cost me money, and a ton of time. And, now it's starting to pay me back in various ways. Getting me other jobs, getting me know in the martial arts world, getting me known in the movie and television world. I've acted in more films and television shows since I started the show than I ever have before, because people have become aware of me as an actor. I've been able to audition for a lot more shows, which is great.
It's still a balance. I still have to run my company, I still do promotional videos, I still act in other films and television shows to make a living. The thing that I'm most excited about is that I do make my living, as I have for several years, in the overall umbrella category of entertainment.
I know a lot of really talented people who have to do stuff like wait tables, or personal training, or whatever they can do just to make money, but still be available to go on auditions or work on their script, stuff like that. So I feel very lucky to make a living primarily doing what I do.
I was in Lone Ranger, but I made it into about 2 seconds of that movie. The thing you can see me in right now is a movie called Odd Thomas. I play a character named Harlo, and I've got some great screen time: I have some dialogue, some action, a big chase scene, and a big fight scene with Anton Yelchin, who plays Chekov in the new Star Trek movies.
I did a scene with Ed Harris in a movie coming out called Frontera. I was in a movie called The Guest - which I was really excited about.
Success for the cast and crew:
Some of the other cast members are also doing some pretty amazing stuff. Alex Knight, who plays Anthony the skeptical orange belt, he's got a bunch of stuff coming out. I think his profile, awareness of him as an actor is really going to explode over the next year, because he has booked just a ton of stuff. He's doing like 3 weeks on this movie called Jubilee that's shooting here, about a religious cult. He had a supporting role in The Guest. He was on Breaking Bad. He's done a lot of great stuff that's coming out in the next year.
I think people are going to start seeing, start recognizing their Dojo friends in more and more films and television shows in the next year.
This goes for the crew, as well. People like Corey Weintraub, who is my director of photography, incredibly talented with lighting and camera work, does a great job lighting and shooting the show. But, now he's shooting features, and he's so busy shooting all this great work that I can't nail him down to shoot anything. That's the only sort of ironic downside to doing a show with talented people, is that they get scooped up on other shows.
The Future of Enter The Dojo:
Rachel, Juliet, and Zach Dulin, who plays Steven the hand model - they all live in Los Angeles, now. And actually, Adam Rottler, my co-director, lives in New York City. So, when we do a season of the show, we have to plan months in advance, just to get everybody back here for a couple of weekends.
It's becoming harder and harder to make the structured show, which is part of the reason you see more and more videos of just Master Ken and Todd, because those are easy. We can just go over to the dojo, it's 15 minutes from my house, and we can come up with a bunch of stuff, and just film it.
I do think there will be future seasons, I don't know if we'll be able to keep the same cast or if Master Ken's going to have to switch out a few students here and there, or have some new students and maybe the regular cast isn't in every episode, maybe we kind of alternate? Because, you know, martial arts classes are like that - not everybody shows up to every class, every night.
On the one hand, I think it's really good for Enter The Dojo because as these actors are discovered in other venues, I think it will make people aware of Enter The Dojo that weren't previously aware. On the other hand, it is making it more and more challenging to make the show.
What I'd really love is that at some point we get some kind of sponsorship where I could offer them more money to make it a priority for their schedule, and really lock everybody down. All the work for seasons 1 and 2 was on a volunteer basis.
We did an initial tour of Hollywood, and I kind of feel like it might be time to try it again. But, I kind of also get the feeling sense that once you get a "no" from a network, that's kind of it. I did actually get to pitch the show to Comedy Central, and they passed. FX passed.
Maybe that will change, maybe we'll come back, and they'll be like "ok, maybe we do have a spot for you." I would absolutely love to be on a network. I think the show will only work on - I don't know if it wouldn't work on network, but I think it would be better for cable so we could get away with some of the outrageous stuff that we do. But, it would be fantastic to get out to a wider audience and to - especially, like I said, to get everybody paid like a union rate to do the work they do. The show is a ton of work, and everyone definitely deserves it, it's just something we don't have at this point.
I can haz white belt?
Why, yes, you can. If youíve already watched at least one episode of Enter The Dojo, you are officially aware of how deadly an Ameri-Do-Te white belt can be. Subscribe to Enter The Dojo, then pop over to http://enterthedojoshow.com. Click on CATALOG, but we all know you really just want Master Kenís Package. It looks like heís lowered the white belt testing fee, so nowís the perfect time! Also, youíll need to get your own white belt.
Dear Bully, you have reached the end of this interview. It was not as much fun to produce the written version, above, as it was to chat with Matt (you try typing up and editing 40 minutes of conversation). But, I hope youíve enjoyed it. Heís a genuine, hard working machine who is dedicated to serious comedy, and serious martial arts.
Be sure to stay tuned to Bullshido - there may be some Enter The Dojo surprises, here, in the future.