Working Behind the Scenes

Matt Walters, who studied film at UNT, created and directs The Walt Disney Studios' Motion Picture Labs
Written by: 
Lisa Sciortino
Matt Walters
Matt Walters

Matt Walters doesn't recall a time when he didn't want to make movies.

Growing up in the small town of Washington, Missouri, he would dream up plotlines and, using a bulky VHS camera borrowed from a family friend, shoot the scenes he'd devised throughout his neighborhood.

"I have always enjoyed the art of storytelling and always wanted to go in that direction professionally," says Walters, who majored in film studies and minored in physics while attending UNT from 1993 through 1999.

Back then, he worked on a few productions filmed in Texas including the 1999 drama Any Given Sunday, directed by Oliver Stone, and the 2002 comedy The Last Man Club, starring the late Charles Durning.

Walters relocated to Southern California in 2003 and embarked on a successful, behind-the-scenes career in the film and television industry.

Four years ago, he was hired to create and serve as director of the Motion Picture Labs division at Disney Studio Technology. The collection of specialty filmmaking labs is located at the legendary Walt Disney Studios facility in Burbank, California.

The Walt Disney Company "is one of the greatest storytelling companies in the world," he says. "To be part of that is just an amazing opportunity."

Massive, Chaotic Fun

While studying at UNT -- where he met his wife, Kate Royce Walters ('97), who earned a bachelor's in strategic management and who also works in the entertainment industry as a visual effects accountant for Sony Pictures Entertainment -- Walters was tasked with filming football games at the former Fouts Field.

"It was massive, chaotic fun because you never knew what would happen," he says.

Former radio, television and film professor and lecturer Fred Watkins ('92 M.S.) encouraged Walters to explore his creativity behind the camera.

"It was a great hands-on philosophy, which helped me tremendously because I learn by doing," Walters says. The experience "really helped instill that idea of 'just go out and do it.'"

It was while working on the Galveston set of The Last Man Club that Walters met producer Gina D'Orazio, who helped him land his first film-crew job in Los Angeles on the 2004 western Hidalgo, starring Viggo Mortensen.

Walters went on to spend three years working in multiple behind-the-scenes roles on the 2006 movie Superman Returns. He also served as digital operations supervisor on the 2008 action flick Speed Racer, directed by The Wachowskis.

Walters also spent several years as the chief technology officer at a pair of companies that provide digital products and services to the motion picture industry and others.

'Every Day Is Different'

At The Walt Disney Studios, Walters and the teams that comprise the Motion Picture Labs have a hand in the live-action film and television productions created by the company, including the wildly popular Marvel Studios franchise, among others. 

Other series and films that Walters and the teams have worked on include WandaVision, the first and second seasons of Loki, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Hocus Pocus 2, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Haunted Mansion.

The Labs' purpose is to assist productions as part of the filmmaking process by "creating time" for directors and others with the help of technology. "By removing roadblocks and non-creative tasks," Walters says, it makes certain other processes more efficient.

For example, the Labs' Image and Color team works with film and television directors and other creative professionals to determine the ultimate look and feel of a production, ensuring that their vision remains consistent.

"At some point during production, all the footage shot from our films comes to me," Walters says. "Every day is different, from problem-solving to incorporating new technology into processes."

Making Connections

While at UNT, Walters says he could not have predicted that he would end up in his current role.

"I thought I'd be on set for the rest of my life, but everything about learning how to make films really helped me be able to do what I do now," he says.

"Having the experience of seeing how choices made early in a movie's production affect different departments that usually don't communicate with each other later is what makes me be able to do the job as well as I do it."

Last summer, Walters met with a dozen UNT Department of Media Arts students who spent two weeks studying in Southern California as part of UNT's first-ever Media Arts in Los Angeles program. He gave them an exclusive tour of The Walt Disney Studio's Motion Picture Labs. 

"I saw it as an opportunity to give back and help younger people have an opportunity to do what I did," he says. "I would not be where I'm at without the help I had of someone pulling me into L.A., getting me my first job and helping me make contacts."

His advice for those aspiring to a career in film and television production?

"Learn as much as you can. Try to do as many different jobs as possible because it's all worth it," he says. "Don't get discouraged because it is a lot of hard work, but you'll power through and figure it out."

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