With all that's going on surrounding the NFL Lockout and antitrust lawsuit filed by the NFL players, this was the perfect time to talk with one former player who started planning early for his life after the NFL. Meet film and music video director and producer Matthew Cherry.
Life in the NFL
I entered the league in 2004 as an undrafted free agent. I was basically on some journeyman stuff. I was with the Jags my first year. I was with the Bengals and then I was released by them. Then I went to Canada for a couple of months [and played] for the Ottawa Renegades. I didn’t like it and came back. I had a tryout with the LA arena team and the Carolina Panthers. I ended up signing with the Panthers [and played in the] NFL Europe. I played for Hamburg, and then came back and was released by the Panthers. Then I tried out with the Patriots and the Ravens. I ended up signing with the Ravens in 2006 and then got released by them and then I was like, “You know, I’m over it.” My thing was like, I never was defined by the sport that I played. I always knew that even when I was in college.
I never just played ball and went to school. I interned at the radio station in college. I was an intern for Elektra Records. I was always doing as much entertainment based stuff as I could do going to college in Akron, Ohio. I always had my hands in stuff that was production based in college and I kind of gave myself a plan. My rookie year I saw a lot of cats who were on like their 10th or 15th team, who had played in the league about 10 years, and were living out of a suitcase, and really didn’t make much money. The biggest misconception I think with professional sports, well at least with the NFL, is that everyone thinks because they see Peyton Manning’s contract or Michael Vick’s contract, they think that everybody’s making that much, and that’s really not the case. Only a few players on every team are making that level money and everybody else is pretty much making the minimum, especially the rookies, whether that be $200,000 or $300,000 a year and you’re only making that 16 to 17 weeks of the year. That’s a lot of downtime not to be getting a check. So, I gave myself three years if I was feeling like I could not make a career out of it. I knew being a free agent that a whole lot of stuff outside of my control was going to have to happen, whether it be injuries or stuff that was just outside of my control, for me to actually get an opportunity to play and it didn’t. So on my 3rd year when I got released by the Ravens I just said, "You know what. I’m just going to take this little bit of money I’ve got saved up and move to LA and pursue production and just basically reinvent myself."
His Advice to Young Athletes
My thing is just have a solid business mind. Even if you can dominate in sports, there’s nothing holding you back saying that you can’t have your business mind right too. Some of the most successful athletes that you see now post-retirement aren’t necessarily getting paid off what they did in sports, but they were able to transition their fame and celebrity and use that and get into business, like a Magic Johnson or even like any of the football players you see hosting on these ESPN and NFL Network shows. Always have a plan, and I wouldn’t even necessarily call it a plan B. It’s really more so your plan A, because it’s just a matter of when that plan is going to come to life. The thing with playing sports is that you never know when that opportunity is going to be taken from you or when you will willing give it up. Very few players, especially NFL, retire voluntarily. A lot of the time you just kind of fade away as opposed to officially announcing a retirement, so just always have something else working.
His Transition to the Entertainment Industry
There’s a program called Streetlights, and it’s a non-profit organization that sounds too good to be true and it really is, that basically helps place minorities into their first production jobs in Los Angeles, working in commercials, music videos, and television shows. It’s a pretty amazing organization. It was founded by this woman named Dorothy Thompson and all the major commercial production companies are a part of it. It promotes diversity throughout the industry. Pretty much every production I worked on I was always the only black person on set. Diversity in television and commercial production is extremely low. A lot of the time we want to be in front of the camera, we want to be the actor, but we don’t necessarily want to learn to be the camera guy. And let me tell you, these are the people who make that money and the people who have 50 year careers as opposed to being an actor and only being hot for half the year and then having to get into other stuff. I applied for it, and it was a situation where you had to live in LA so I got an address and then a line and said I actually lived in LA, and it was basically like if I get into the program I’m moving to LA. I ended up getting into it and it was everything that they said it would be—they train you, they hip you to the lingo of production, and they get you your first couple of jobs. And the thing about production, especially commercial, is that it’s all referrals. It’s all word of mouth. So once you get your first couple of jobs, if you do a good job, you keep working. From there you’ll meet new people and it’s like this never ending chain of events, if you do a good job. And that’s how I got my start. I started in commercials and I’ve worked on probably over 40 commercials.
There’s a book that came out around the time called The Secret and it talks about the law of attraction and you write about things that you want. If you want a million dollars you write a check to yourself. And at the time, you know I’m a Sagittarius, I’m pretty optimistic, so I kind of bought into that. There were like 3 African American people working in LA that really inspired me at the time—Mara Brock Akil, who had the show Girlfriends and The Game, Shonda Rhimes, who had Grey’s Anatomy, and Ali LeRoi, who was the show writer for Everybody Hates Chris, and these are the only black show writers in TV at the time. I always wanted to work in TV because it was more consistent. The thing with commercials is that it’s very inconsistent. It’s like you can’t really schedule anything because they can call you at any time and book you for stuff and you have to take it, because being a production assistant, you don't really make a lot of money. TV was like a regular job. It was like Monday through Friday and you would get a check every week. So, these are the only black show writers and I wanted to work in TV, so I did some [The] Secret type stuff. I got a book called the Hollywood Creative Directory and I wrote a letter to all three, introducing myself and letting them know what I wanted to do; basically, telling them I wanted to work on their show. I moved out to LA probably March of 2007, so fast forward to Summer 2007. I’m still working in commercials and I get a call, a random call, from a production coordinator and she was like, “I got your resume and I want to know if you want to come in for an interview." She said, “I work on this TV show called Girlfriends. Have you ever heard of it?” I was like, “Yeah, no doubt!” So she randomly calls me and I go in for the interview. I’m like, “How did you all get my information?” None of them knew. To this day, nobody knows who referred me for that job. I don’t even know how they got my number. Real talk. It’s the craziest thing about just putting stuff out there in the universe.
The Game and Girlfriends
So that was my transition and how I got my foot in the door in production in general and then in television. I was the production assistant who came after Barry Floyd who plays Tee-Tee on The Game. He was a PA on Girlfriends the year before I came. His story is so crazy. He was the PA on Girlfriends and worked on The Game as Tee-Tee at the exact same time. I was with them [Girlfriends] for the whole final season, Season 8. The thing about Girlfriends is that the stages were side by side, so I would occasionally help out on The Game. It was pretty interesting with me having that football background. I worked on that one, I worked on Heroes, and then I worked on this show called Accidentally On Purpose. When I worked on Heroes is when I started directing my own stuff on the side. Then, after Accidentally On Purpose got canceled, I started doing this full-time.
Creating His Own Opportunities
I studied, did my research, and started getting into the latest Billboard charts. I was looking at who all was on the charts, but who didn’t have a video for the song that was on the charts, and then, this was back when MySpace was popping, I would reach out to the artist. I reached out to all of them. Terry Dexter was on the chart at the time, so I started hitting her up over MySpace and she actually responded. It was this whole process of back and forth and I was like “I’m in a position where I could get equipment and it won’t cost you anything, I noticed you have a song on the chart and I just want to shoot a video for you." It was a process, but eventually we shot one and I did the same thing with Kindred the Family Soul. They put me on the phone with Anthony David, Marsha Ambrosius, Jazmine Sullivan, and they were really instrumental in putting me on with other artists. To this day, I have yet to deal with a label.
I did a video for Jazmine Sullivan. I was dealing with Kindred who put me in touch with Jazmine’s mom who is her manager. We were always talking about doing something and I like to create my own opportunities. So I was like, “I’ve got some actors and I really like this song you have called 'In Love With Another Man' and I want to shoot something for it. I’m going to put this storyline together with actors, like a short film, shoot it, and if you guys like it, I’ll add Jazmine into it later. If not, it will just exist as a short film.” It worked, she liked it, and I shot that. That was considered a spec video. So I wanted to do the same exact thing for this John Legend song called “This Time.” That was supposed to be a spec video and it was this whole concept of a guy sees his old ex and he wants to get back with her, but she’s with another guy. I just envisioned this guy interrupting this wedding trying to get his girl back. It was very much like “A Different World” and Whitley and Dwayne. It was very much a clichéd, Hollywood kind of ending—he breaks up the wedding and they spin around in a circle and drive off. At the time I was pretty big in social media and I was in touch with Reagan Gomez. We would both be on Twitter just talking about the industry and how there’s a lack of opportunities, so I saw it as an opportunity to do something, and I was talking with her about starring in an actual music video for John Legend’s “This Time.” It kept growing. Then we got Terri Vaughn involved, so I was like, this can’t be a music video or spec video; we might as well go all out and make it into a short film. So we did that. But then we didn’t want it to be clichéd with a happy ending so I came up with that twist ending. It was accepted into several film festivals–Martha’s Vineyard, Boston International, GI, Hawaii, Miami.
I recently partnered up with Scott Hebert, who is a photographer. Everything I was doing before, I was doing it on my own (Cherry Entertainment). It’s called Transparent Filmworks. That’s where all of our recent productions have come out of–the Kindred and Snoop Dogg video, The Foreign Exchange, Bilal, and the movie we have coming out will be under that umbrella. The movie is called Married And Dating. It will definitely have some folks you will recognize. My big goal is to create a film fund for independent filmmakers to give back and be able to create more quality content.
(Sinorice Moss, a member of the Super Bowl XLII Champion New York Giants who signed a futures contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, also stars in This Time.)