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posted: 3/28/2017 5:33 AM

How a Downers Grove filmmaker turned being robbed into a 'success story'

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  • Downers Grove filmmaker Matthew Aaron was living in his car in Los Angeles when thugs robbed him at gunpoint, an event Aaron characterizes as "a success story."

    Downers Grove filmmaker Matthew Aaron was living in his car in Los Angeles when thugs robbed him at gunpoint, an event Aaron characterizes as "a success story."

  • Downers Grove filmmaker Matthew Aaron attended the world premiere of his third feature, "Landline", Sunday night at Chicago's Music Box Theatre. The film opens there Friday, March 31.

    Downers Grove filmmaker Matthew Aaron attended the world premiere of his third feature, "Landline", Sunday night at Chicago's Music Box Theatre. The film opens there Friday, March 31.
    Photo by Timothy M. Schmidt.

  • Video: Matthew Aaron on "Landline"

 

The first time Downers Grove filmmaker Matthew Aaron tried to take Los Angeles by storm, he nearly got blown away.

He lived in his car for two months. One night while he was parked across the street from Drew Barrymore's house, four guys robbed him.

"They put a Taser on my neck and a gun to my head," he said.

Aaron hid his cash so well the robbers missed it. But they took everything else of value. It was the last straw: He returned to live with his parents in Downers Grove.

"By this time," Aaron said, "I'd had my taste of life in L.A. I really didn't want to continue to bathe in Burger King restrooms every day."

Oddly enough, he calls the experience a "success story," one that paved the way for him to write, produce, direct and star in three low-budget comedies since 2015. His third, "Landline" -- about a 30-year-old gay PR agent threatened by the arrival of a more tech-savvy whippersnapper -- begins a one-week run at Chicago's Music Box Theatre on Friday, March 31. It premieres on VOD Tuesday, April 4.

Aaron, who stars as the technophobic main character, snagged comic actor Tom Arnold and Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg as co-stars. Aaron even got permission to shoot a portion of the movie at Wrigley Field with Sandberg.

"The most important thing for me is that this is the first LGBTQ film ever done with a major sports corporation," Aaron said.

Aaron grew up in Downers Grove, graduated from Montini Catholic High School and majored in digital cinema at DePaul University. And he didn't even realize he was gay.

"I didn't even know what gay was until I was like 18 or 19," Aaron said. "I went to a Catholic high school where it was very much not talked about. It wasn't a homophobia thing. It was just something that didn't exist in our lives. We had no clue."

Aaron didn't even suspect famous people could be gay.

"When I found out that Nathan Lane was gay, I was 19 and, like, fell out of my chair. I had no idea!" he said.

He became involved in a long-term relationship with a woman he says he was "madly in love with."

After they broke up, Aaron fell in with a group involved with drugs, drinking and sexual experimentation.

"It was very much like a Larry Clark movie," Aaron said. "I'm not really that proud of those years, but at the same time, it was quite a story to live. I'm not going to lie. I don't regret it. But I'm glad I'm not dead, let's put it that way."

Aaron never started out to be a filmmaker. He wanted to be a teacher, then a business major, then a journalist. But he noticed that journalists had trouble finding work.

"So I figured that if I was going to have trouble getting work, I was going to have trouble doing something I loved to do: make movies!" he said.

He decided to do what Chicago independent filmmaker Joe Swanberg was doing, cranking out often improvised indie pictures on shoestring budgets.

"But I thought there was a more fluid way of doing it," Aaron said. "That's not a knock on Joe. It's just I like scripted material. I like planning things out. I mean, I love improv, I was in Second City, so I get it. But making movies at his price point? That's something I can do."

His made his first movie, "Bromance," in 2015, soon followed by "The Way We Talk." Aaron recently sold all three of his movies; it took three years.

The filmmaker now lives at his old Downers Grove house with his mother, his father, his single-mom sister and her 5-year-old son.

"This kid has been the light of my life," Aaron said. "It's kind of crazy. I feel like a single dad. I'm the one who takes him to school every morning."

Aaron does podcasts from his parents' basement. He compares his life to "Wayne's World" or a bizarre reality TV show.

"Dating's a nightmare," he said. "Nobody wants to date you when you're raising a 5-year-old, at least in the gay community. If that's not bad enough, you're still living with your mother and you're 33 years old."

• Do you know a suburbanite in showbiz who'd made a good story? Contact Jamie Sotonoff and Dann Gire at jsotonoff@dailyherald.com and dgire@dailyherald.com.

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