Love. Honor. Paintball.

Alumnus and comedian takes aim at an unusual role

Matt Geiler (’97) of Los Angeles, Calif., is not your typical leading man. He’s not the dashing, straight-and-narrow type. In fact, the improvisational comic and Second City Conservatory graduate is rarely the second goofiest guy in the room. (A quick YouTube search will show you what we mean.)

Matt Geiler is comfortable with quirk.But in “Splatter,” an independent film and dramatic comedy written and directed by Lonnie Schuyler, Geiler plays Jack Reynolds, a serious father literally caught in the crossfire of a painful divorce and his strange friendships with some bizarre colleagues.

Geiler said the part was “definitely not my normal wheelhouse of outrageous comedic characters .... That character was an opportunity to pour out the sort of stuff I normally keep to myself.”

Jack’s ex-wife, Deb (Kimberly Kurtenbach Furness) moves on with her life and begins a new career in real estate. Her new boss, a recently widowed businessman named Elgin (Neil Wells), maneuvers to sever Jack from Deb and their young son, Cody (Max Nelson), in order to insert himself as father and husband.

I received that invaluable education as a history major who just loved acting and performing.

When Elgin’s intentions become clear, Jack turns to his coworkers at the used car shop. Their advice is questionable. T-Rex (Clint Curtis) counsels Jack to take Deb to dinner “someplace nice, like Arby’s,” and do something unprintable.

Jack wisely declines. But when Elgin’s undermining impacts Cody’s life at school, Jack is determined to beat Elgin at his own game. Only problem: that game is paintball. And while Jack is regular cannon fodder for 9-year-olds, Elgin is a former Army Ranger and captain of the repeat southeast Iowa paintball champions.

Jack and his friends prepare for the tournament—work that predictably includes trading uncounted rounds to the groin. Cody warns him he’s about to embarrass himself before the whole town. But Jack already knows that.

The processes of winning back Deb’s heart and beating back the evil Elgin aren’t identical. (Deb doesn’t vow to love the tournament champion.) But they do have a lot in common. “Remember when I was telling you that sometimes in order to win you’ve got to be willing to lose and look like a total idiot?” Jack tells Cody when they see Deb and Elgin on a date through the window at a restaurant much fancier than Arby’s. “Well, now is one of those times.”

Jack goes inside, sits down at their table and pours his heart out.

Remember when I was telling you that sometimes in order to win you've got to be willing to lose and look like a total idiot? Well, now is one of those times.

Likewise, Geiler pours his heart into this performance, proving he’s more than just the goofiest guy in the room. More than a comedian. He is a powerful, committed and versatile actor.

He credits NWU for that versatility, pointing to “the breadth of opportunity I had to be in an insanely diverse array of productions.” Those opportunities came his way despite the fact that Geiler wasn’t a theatre major. “I received that invaluable education as a history major who just loved acting and performing.”

“Splatter” premiered at the Dances with Films Festival in Hollywood last year and has been leaving its colorful mark on the national independent film festival circuit ever since. “Splatter” took home several Iowa Motion Picture Awards and was selected as the audience choice feature film at the 2011 Omaha Film Festival.

At the Movies with Matt Geiler 

Matt Geiler (’97) plays Jack Reynolds in the popular independent film, “Splatter”. After the movie took home the Omaha Film Festival’s Audience Choice Award, Geiler sat down to discuss the film and his future. 

Q: I’m accustomed to seeing you play the most outlandish parts. What was it like playing the straight guy here?

A: Playing the straight guy in “Splatter” was a great experience—definitely not my normal wheelhouse of outrageous comedic characters. But it was really interesting to spend a couple of months living in this space where the only attention Jack is receiving is negative.

That character was an opportunity to pour out the sort of stuff I normally keep to myself—worrying that I'm not making it happen as a dad, regrets and realizations that my marriage has suffered because of things I didn't do or say, and moving through certain seasons of life where I question my own value, worth, significance, etc. So, while Jack’s character is definitely not the norm for me, I could pretty easily connect with him because I have had many stretches where, like him, I felt I was a ship at sea with no real direction to port.

However, I do have to say that there are some very funny moments courtesy of Jack. They just don't reside in the "gut-busting" realm. They all have a poignancy or a tinge of sadness to them. In “Splatter,” the directionless “loser” is also the possessor of some shred of wisdom. He is a good man. He just doesn't know it yet.

Q: What’s next for “Splatter”?

A: Right now, Splatter is doing the festival thing. It's played around 15 festivals so far—two screenings here in LA and, most recently, at The Seattle Independent Film Festival. It's being shopped to cable networks by the producer's agent, so hopefully it will find a home and I will receive the back-end of my contract! A DVD release is likely, but the manner of distribution depends upon who ends up with those rights.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: I was in a Toyota commercial a while back. That spot, being a national, has greatly bolstered the income out here. Between that and a lot of voice-over and session singing work, I am able to spend most of my time creating and auditioning. I continue to perform around Hollywood and do the live improvisation and music thing. I also continue to create video sketches at a rampant pace.

Q: How did your time at NWU influence the work you’re doing now?

A: The value of my theatre/acting training at NWU manifested itself in two ways. First, the breadth of opportunity I had to be in an insanely diverse array of productions. I think I acted in 14 main stage plays while I was there, and that covered a ton of material: Durang, French absurdism, Ibsen, Neil Simon. I have yet to meet another working actor in my circles who tackled Djuna Barnes IN THE 90s! That sort of exposure to such a wide array of literature in your undergrad experience is incredible because it informs your creativity from so many different angles. It's like a buffet of all good stuff for your inner artist.

The second way was equally important, and that is that I had instructors and directors who knew how to shape and contribute to my creative growth while still allowing me the creative freedom to make my own choices and strike out on my own paths. That’s like water for the artist; it's a necessity. That's always a rare thing and wonderful if you can find it.

A lot of people think teaching is about telling someone a certain prescription for doing. But I had the good fortune to work with Henry and Phyllis Blanke, Doc Clark, Jay Scott Chipman—all of whom just allowed me to work and be in process while guiding me toward their visions.

It also seems significant to me because I was never a theatre major. I could see the program conferring those benefits on someone who had declared theatre arts as a freshman and who was on scholarship. But I received that invaluable education as a history major who just loved acting and performing.

That illustrates why my NWU experience was so great on a deeper fundamental level. It's a place that doesn't seem to concern itself with traditional boundaries or limits with respect to learning. I always had the sense that I was in a community that recognized powerful transformation is the result of a considered provision of learning opportunities. And the icing on the cake was that the people at Nebraska Wesleyan were very aware that those opportunities can happen anywhere and at any time, regardless of curriculum, course conscriptions, and required reading.

Although, I will read what is required. Honest. I'll do it. Please stop bugging me.

See "Splatter" trailer: