Making Waves – In Conversation with Matt Pycroft
Written by Harriet Osborne
Photography by John Summerton & Helio Antonio
‘My hunger is for curating, documenting, and recording stories, tales, interactions, and moments so that other people can experience them. And I use the word curating because I’m careful. I’m always conscious of how we tell stories.’ – Matt Pycroft, Creative Director at Coldhouse
We chat with Matt Pycroft, Creative Director at Coldhouse, about adventure-focused storytelling, human connections, and get an insight into shooting big wave surfer Andrew Cotton in Nazaré, Portugal.
Matt Pycroft is a 32-year-old photographer, filmmaker, host of The Adventure Podcast, and Creative Director of Coldhouse, a content agency and platform for authentic storytelling. ‘I love the environments we film in, but for me, it’s about the human connection. It’s the moments at the end of the day when you just feel like you’ve nailed what you set out to do, and you were only capable of doing it because you were all locked in together. Filmmaking is a team sport and often the result is greater than the sum of its parts. And I just adore that.’
Matt has spent more than a decade carefully carving a career that he loves. He had his first taste of the outdoors aged 16, when his school sent him on a course with Outward Bound – an educational charity that helps young people defy limitations in the wild. ‘The Outward Bound course opened my eyes to the world of adventure, mountaineering, and being outdoors, which I hadn’t really had before. I was a wayward and wandering child at the time and it totally changed my life.’
The course inspired Matt to study a degree in Adventure Media, during which he gained an internship with Polish climbing photographer Lukasz Warzecha. He travelled around the world with him for a year, bought a how-to-film book about Final Cut Pro 7, taught himself to edit in the tent at night, and delivered the project three weeks later. ‘That was hard, a really hard graft, but I learned an unbelievable amount in a short space of time.’
Matt graduated with a wealth of experience but lacked funding for his projects. ‘Filmmaking is expensive, it takes a long time, and camera equipment costs a lot of money,’ he says. ‘So we borrowed cameras and made films on a couple of SLRs. And then we thought, we can’t afford to make the films, so let’s go and ask brands if they want us to film them. And what if we take an agency approach to this? Why don’t we go to a brand and say, “What do you need to achieve this season? What do you want to make? And how can we use storytelling to help with that?”’
Since then, Matt has worked with a portfolio of respected brands and clients who share an appreciation for both the wonder and fragility of the natural world. Matt is hugely passionate about the work he does, but with this passion comes an immense amount of pressure. ‘I’m a chronic micromanager and a huge control freak,’ he admits. ‘And I think that comes from a place of passion. I’m a perfectionist to the point of fault. Nothing’s ever finished and nothing’s ever good enough. I’m also very impulsive and I thrive on pressure. I’m at my best under pressure. But I have to be really careful not to create stress where there isn’t any.’
This year, Matt and his team at Coldhouse partnered with Sidetracked and Porsche to deliver on a brief that would tell the story of big-wave surfer Andrew Cotton in Nazaré, Portugal, supporting the launch of the new Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo. The teams spent months meticulously planning every detail that goes into a production of this scale: organising road closures, police on motorbikes, drone permits, location permits, and a ‘nightmarish amount of paperwork’, only to arrive to waves that were completely flat.
It was in this moment that Matt discovered Andrew’s latest passion – foil boarding or ‘hydrofoiling’, an idea that would become the focal point of the story. Foiling is a pioneering technology that attaches a surfboard to a hydrofoil (a fin with wings) and enables the rider to glide effortlessly and smoothly above the water, redefining what is considered to be a rideable wave. It was from this conversation that the team were able to adapt the storyline to one that was arguably more authentic than before.
Equipped with a new narrative, the team headed out into the water – navigating extensive camera equipment, drones, and jet skis working simultaneously in the water. ‘The logistics were complicated,’ Matt explains. ‘We had access to a camera crane just for one day. That needed to be carefully thought through. We had a water unit with two local experts who needed to be on jet skis. What’s the safety plan? Has someone done a risk assessment? What if, what if, what if? There were also lots of stakeholders, lots of opinions, and varying views on how it could or should work.’
Sitting down at the end of the shoot gave Matt a sense of pride that can only be felt after being creatively stretched and challenged. He says, ‘I’m proud to work with Sidetracked on this project, to put my name to it, and Coldhouse’s name to it. From a creative perspective, the challenge is toeing the line between making something that represents the brand and achieves their goals, while simultaneously creating something genuine, organic, authentic, and tells a real story.’
Matt believes that the success of the shoot came down to not losing the heart and soul of what storytelling is all about, and working with a band of passionate, highly skilled people who believe in what they are doing. ‘The shoot was complicated. But it all worked seamlessly because of how much had been put in place. And that fills me with pride more than anything else’
Matt has achieved so much since his first taste of the outdoors as a teenager. ‘I didn’t know who I was, where I was going, or what I wanted from life,’ he says. But years of experiences and time spent outdoors have answered all of these questions and more. Now, Matt wants to create a platform that will inspire and enable people to tell stories too. ‘I’ve got big ambitions and big things I want to achieve. I look forward to the day when somebody walks on stage to collect an award for a film they’ve made that was backed by Coldhouse. I’m a big believer in providing opportunities for people. Lots of people helped me out through my career and I strive to get to a position to be able help adventure filmmakers tell their own stories.’
Written by Harriet Osborne // @harrietosborne
Photography by John Summerton // @johnsummerton, Matt Pycroft // @mattpycroft & Helio Antonio // @helio_antonio
Film by Coldhouse // @coldhouse_
Produced in partnership with Porsche // @porsche