Matt Houghton’s Earth to Cop is a bone-chilling found-footage film on the immediacy of climate change

“This is the premise of the film: that this problem is global and that it is urgent.”

Date
10 November 2021

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London-based director Matt Houghton’s Earth to Cop is a force to be reckoned with. Compiled entirely of real found footage of climate disasters from around the world, the film packs a powerful punch in under five minutes. Matt himself was a late-bloomer to the world of filmmaking, which is hard to believe when watching the incredibly refined and moving film. “I’ve always felt very at-home writing and growing up I wanted to be a journalist,” he tells us. “I’ve loved film for as long as I can remember but I think I ended up in filmmaking because it’s a creative art that combines so many disciplines.” It’s the storytelling aspect which most appealed to Matt, paving the way for him to discover new “visual, aural, structural” ways to push forward stories he felt were important to the world. “I think I’ve been drawn to making documentaries because they’re as much about developing a way of looking at the world as they are about crafting something,” Matt explains. “One of my very close friends said to me that he loves making documentaries because when you hit a wall, you can just go back to the real world and I really subscribe to that.”

It’s mostly Matt’s drive to portray “unfiltered reality” that propels the engine of Earth to Cop. Floods in Europe quickly become hurricanes in Asia which quickly become sandstorms in Australia which quickly become fires in Turkey. What is clear is that Matt portrays climate change as a topic that cannot be portrayed any stronger than simply a reflection of its reality. “Cinema is about creating something that resonates with an audience emotionally, but documentaries are about capturing that,” Matt says. “I definitely get a real rush at the thought of that.” In this sense, Earth to Cop is a definitive “call to action,” as Matt puts it. “We chatted a lot about what we wanted the film to achieve and we all agreed that the way to get people to engage was to affect them emotionally,” he explains. “Facts and figures are hugely important, but we wanted this film to live less in the head and more in the heart.”

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Matt Houghton: Earth to Cop (Copyright © Matt Houghton, 2021)

Coming from the mind of Greg Nugent, and produced by Barnaby Spurrier, Matt was brought on to the project after making a film with them earlier in the year about Cop. “Greg came up with the idea of keeping it all very raw and I really loved the approach,” Matt says. “I felt like these were two people who really wanted to make something different and make a difference.” In addition, the film was edited by Abolfazl Talooni who worked closely with Matt “to give shape to the archive material.” It was a challenge to piece together the fragmented, disparate, and intense series of footage, but they conquered it eventually. “Our goal was to make something that felt complex and sprawling, but it also had to be underpinned by an emotional arc and land on a very clear message,” Matt says. “A sense of balance was also hugely important to us all. We were aware that it would be impossible to address every issue or show every country but broadly-speaking we wanted to make a film that felt representative.” Working to elevate the footage is the beautiful and chilling score of the Academy Award-winning composer Steven Price, best known for his work on Gravity, and the sound design from Will Cohen and Lawrence Kendrick at String & Tins. “The overall idea was to catch glimpses of very specific moments in order to build up a broader picture of the crisis.”

Urgency is what pulsates through the film – and it’s something Matt had in mind from the onset. “Before we started, Greg came up with the idea of stamping each piece of footage with its timezone,” Matt explains. “It draws your attention to the fact that this is happening everywhere, and in some unconscious way, that it’s happening now.” The immediacy of the climate crisis is seen through the eyes of those who filmed it, people experiencing the event rather than observing from afar. It’s “emotional, rather than intellectual”. Matt was persistent in “maintaining that singular perspective” throughout.

Thankfully, a wealth of research from renowned climate change experts helped Matt with the film. “We had a fantastic research team and I leaned on them all the way through to help me understand things better, to fact-check and to steer us towards the right material,” Matt says. “Greg, Barnaby and Liz Sugg are extremely engaged and very well-versed in the complexities of the debate, and were constantly shedding light on issues to be aware of.” He also adds that “Calum Campbell led the research from the start alongside Kirsty Asher, both of whom made it their mission to be highly informed and constantly engaged,” which worked in tandem to the archival producer, Aisling Conboy finding and clearing all of the material for use. “Being able to suggest ideas and know that they would be thoroughly interrogated was very freeing, and being able to rely on the quality and talent of the team was essential.”

The film has now racked up sizeable views across its streaming platforms, and if anything it deserves thousands more. “With most of the films that I make, I work really hard to leave space for the audience to interpret and to make up their own minds,” Matt tells us. “The climate change crisis is extremely complex but what we were trying to do with Earth To Cop was to make something that cuts through the noise and that’s very straightforward in what it’s saying. The message is really clear. We’re simply saying: ‘Look at what’s happening. It’s time to do something’.”

GalleryMatt Houghton: Earth to Cop (Copyright © Matt Houghton, 2021)

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Matt Houghton: Earth to Cop (Copyright © Matt Houghton, 2021)

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About the Author

Joey Levenson

Joey joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in May 2020 after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.

jl@itsnicethat.com

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