Episode 233 — Matti Haapoja



Matti Haapoja is a YouTuber and a freelance Director of Photography. He has worked with some global brands such as Nike, San Pellegrino, Epidemic Sound, Rhino, and Visit Norway.  Originally from Finland, he is now based out of Toronto, Canada.

Matti launched his YouTube Channel, originally called Travel Feels, in 2016. Initially, it was a creative outlet to feature his cinematic travel videos. But once he realized that there was a fast growing YouTube filmmaker community, he began sharing his filmmaking know-how, experience and tips. Since 2017, Matti became a full-time YouTuber and his Channel’s name became eponymous.

Matti continues to contribute knowledge to the filmmaking community via his online courses (https://mattihaapoja.com/pages/courses) and free content.

In this Podcast, Allan McKay and Matti Haapoja give advise on how to be a successful business and a brand, the benefits of social media — as well as the power of having an audience — and the importance of learning throughout one’s career.

Matti Haapoja’s Website: https://mattihaapoja.com/
Matti Haapoja on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbvIIQc5Jo9-jIXnkPe03oA
Matti Haapoja on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/mattih
Matti Haapoja’s Filmmaking Courses: https://mattihaapoja.com/pages/courses
Matti Haapoja on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mattih
Matti Haapoja on Twitter: @MattiHaapoja



[03:56] Introduction
[04:35] How Matti Got Started
[06:00] Learning the Technical Aspects
[06:51] Getting the “First Break”
[10:15] Learning to Be a Business
[11:44] Reasons to Take on Any Job in the Beginning
[14:29] Trying out Everything in the Beginning — and How Matti Discovered Passive Income through Filmsupply
[15:51] The Importance of Networking
[17:29] The Importance of Being a Decent Person (Work Etiquette)
[19:33] How to Stand out — and the Power of Empathy (When Doing Your Outreach)
[21:55] How to Approach Working for Free
[25:43] Comparing the Power of YouTube vs Vimeo
[29:19] How to Pick and Choose Jobs
[30:39] The Success Story of Matti’s YouTube Channel
[34:36] Recognizing YouTube as a Powerful Channel
[36:39] The Imposter Syndrome
[40:22] Benefits of Gaining Visibility
[41:46] How Matti Streamlines His Workflow
[44:22] The Importance of Learning Throughout One’s Career
[45:54] The Tools a Filmmaker Needs (Outside of Gear)
[48:18] How to Stand out as a Brand



Welcome to Episode 233! This is Allan McKay. I’m speaking with Matti Haapoja, a filmmaker and YouTuber.

You might know Matti, he’s got over a million followers on YouTube where he shares his insight and advice as a filmmaker. In this Podcast, we get into a lot of stuff like technical aspects of filmmaking, how he got his first break — and how you can apply that to yourself; as well as something I talk a lot about which is adopting a business mindset. He shares a lot of great advice on how to get started, how to blow up on YouTube, how to deal with the imposter syndrome, benefits of gaining visibility — and so, so much more!

Please share this Episode with others.

Let’s dive in!


[00:41] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

[03:25] For anyone who’s in Europe, I’m going to be speaking at the IAMAG Master Class in Paris in March 2020: https://masterclasses.iamag.co/. Other speakers include Doug Chang who pretty much designed Star Wars and other filmmakers who’ve been on the Podcast: Ruairi Robinson (www.allanmckay.com/213), Goro Fujita (www.allanmckay.com/177 and www.allanmckay.com/180) and so many others! I’m really excited for this!

[49:53] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!


[03:56] Allan: Matti, thanks so much for taking the time to chat! Do you want to quickly introduce yourself?

Matti: I’m Matti Haapoja. I’m a filmmaker and, more recently, a YouTuber, I guess.

[04:05] Allan: Awesome, man! Where are you from, in Finland?

Matti: I’m from Central Finland. It’s 4 hours from Helsinki.

[04:35] Allan: Getting into photography and filmmaking, how early did you catch the bug? Were you always interested being creative? Or is it something you picked up later on?

Matti: Definitely later on. To this day, “creative” is borderline, but I definitely don’t call myself an “artist”. I was always into the sciences and things that made sense logically. Hated English, hated art classes. The only thing I did with cameras when I was younger was skating videos. We filmed ourselves rollerblading but it was out of necessity. I was in college. I was probably 21 when I got into photography and filmmaking.

[05:31] Allan: Did you catch on pretty quickly?

Matti: Yeah, I think I do have to thank the rollerblading background. Doing a little of filming and consuming a lot of content made me able to pick it up pretty quickly. I just needed to learn all the technical side and the skills; and how to get what I wanted.

[06:00] Allan: I think that’s pretty important. People think they just need to have a good eye and that’s part of it. But the technical side is the weapon for how to get more out of what [you’re seeing] and whatever weapon you’re using. The more you learn, the more free you get.

Matti: For sure! When I started, the first After Effects tutorial I watched online — I learned everything online — I realized if I learned things on editing, it helped me with shooting. If learned graphic design, it helped me in other areas.

[06:51] Allan: In terms of your career, when did you get your first big break?

Matti: I started pretty early shooting weddings with my brother. And that was pretty successful. Some of them went semi-viral. But I feel like it was more later on when I moved from Finland to Toronto that I started to work for some of the bigger companies, or agencies that were working for bigger companies like Nike. But then I cut it pretty short transitioning into YouTube.

[07:32] Allan: With that, was there more traction? Wherever we are in our careers, we all struggle; but everyone else sees the end result.

Matti: For me, I never had hard times freelancing. I was always business minded so that helped a lot. I tried to maximize the revenue streams. I wasn’t like I just decided to do music videos and that’s all I did. I tried everything until I had enough work to become selective and choose work that I really enjoyed. In the beginning, I was shooting weddings and corporate films, selling stock footage online. As things progressed, I really started doing documentary style. Where I got lucky was with a friend who was already working in the industry in Toronto. I remember the first shoot I was on with him (I was just operating camera for Energizer). I think he rented a couple of C300’s and I’ve only used DSLR’s up until this point. I had to ask how to turn on the C300. Through him, I was able to get in and learn that area. It was years of working hard and learning and watching people; and trying over and over again.

[10:15] Allan: You just touched on business which is such a critical thing. A lot of us think: I’m an artist, I don’t need to know about that stuff. I feel that’s the key thing that’s holding us back. You’ve talked about the 7 Business Essentials. In general, what advice would you give for people to embrace the business side of it all?

Matti: [10:43] If you’re a true artist, you really need to study business. The real creatives I meet are usually missing the business side. What happens then is that they have to work 10 times as harder to make the same amount of money. Which then really slows down your career from getting things you actually want to do. But you have to pay your bills somehow. Focus on the business side. With online, you can maximize your revenue stream. Don’t just rely on one thing, just do a whole bunch of things.

[11:44] Allan: In terms of picking projects early on, do you think that sometime you have to pick jobs you don’t really want that will help finance the projects you’d really like to do? So that you don’t just target the stuff that you enjoy which keeps you poor?

Matti: I think you should totally target the jobs that you don’t want to do in the beginning for two reasons:

1. For the money, obviously. Anytime you’re stressed in your life because of money, it leads to worse decisions (rather than when you have the financial freedom and you can make the decisions you really want to make).

2. You also end up learning a lot. It’s an opportunity to learn and bring those skills into the area that you do enjoy. I think it’s a huge mistake to only shoot music videos and it will be a massive struggle.

[12:52] Allan: I know some people who are stick stuck because they’re turning away those starter jobs while waiting for the bigger companies to call.

Matti: And those first jobs may not be that great but the second and third and fourth jobs may be really great. You never want to shut those doors in the beginning!

[13:18] Allan: In your personal career, are there jobs you’ve done that weren’t pleasant but you learned a lot?

Matti: Almost to a T, the worst jobs are the ones I’ve learned the most from! If everything goes smoothly, you aren’t learning as much. When you’re working with hard clients or having to think about a million different things at once, that’s when you really get stretched thin and you learn way more!

[14:04] Allan: I guess it’s official: You have to eat shit in the beginning of your career.

Matti: And the fact is that none of us make great work in the beginning. It’s probably some of the worst work you’ll ever do. You may not even know what area you want to be in.

[14:29] Allan: Doing lots of stuff rather than one thing is valuable. It comes back to business. You find out what works and you double down on that.

Matti: Exactly! When I was doing stock footage, for example, I got on with Filmsupply. That was something I didn’t know if it would do well. It was a good company and I wanted to be a part of it. I had some epic drone footage from Norway and other places. And within the first month, I made $4,000 USD. I thought, “Oh, my gosh!” It was a complete surprise. Every month, I was making a little bit and it made freelancing easier.

[15:51] Allan: That’s so great! That’s how I met Cody [Dulock, the Director of Filmsupply]. Networking is such a critical aspect, with clients or with other creatives. How critical do you think networking has been to your career?

Matti: Oh, yeah! I learned all the basics from the internet, but I feel that the big stuff I learned on set and from working with other people, seeing how other people worked. I always say that it’s not that hard to make it in freelancing, as long as you’re half decent at what you do and you’re a good person to work with. If you’re a good person to work with, you’re going to get a job and you’re going to get a callback. People remember that really quickly.

[17:29] Allan: Do you think with clients, do you have any advice for building good repoire? Is there standard etiquette that you apply?

Matti: I honestly don’t do that kind of stuff. Maybe I should’ve! The interactions that you have on set — before and after — I try to be as cool as possible. Not that I don’t share my opinion, but there is a way to do that without saying, “This sucks!” That’s what it comes down to: Being a decent person. [18:34] In the end, a lot of the agencies don’t know a lot about actual filmmaking but they all know who a good person is; who is pleasant to have on set and who is not. That ends up speaking more than “this guys is 20% better than that guy”.

[19:33] Allan: You have a lot of experience with this. Obviously, photography, stock footage is a very oversaturated area. Do you have advice for anyone who wants to stand out?

Matti: I think a lot of people are trying to get into the field but there is also so much work out there! It’s just growing and becoming so popular. Videography is a bit easier to get into. It has not been as accessible before, but now with DSLR’s, it is so much more so! I don’t think you need to do anything special outside of getting good work done and being able to prove that you can make a nice video. If you don’t have anything to show (a reel or a short film), you’ve got to get that done first. You can go out and film your friends at sunset, or going out and getting some nice footage. Then, it’s about being a cool person and hustling in that way; sending emails to companies or to your friends who are working — and asking them if you could help them somehow. [21:18] I think that’s one of the mistakes people do: Instead of asking them to do something for you, you should be offering some help to them. If you’re a nobody, there is a hundred people asking the same thing. Instead, your offering to help for free, [people] will keep that in mind if they don’t have a big budget and they need extra help.

[21:55] Allan: I find that working for free is a controversial thing. How would you describe that working for free is not giving away your value at all? It’s a transactional thing: You get experience and opportunity for giving value to someone.

Matti: That’s the harsh reality: Anyone who’s worked for free and acquired success, no one is mad about doing free work. The only people who are mad about doing free work are the people who continue to do free work. That’s just bad business. You do free work in the beginning and then once in a while to get in with some agency. But you don’t keep doing free work. If I’ve done free work for a company, I will not do it again. After that, I will say (as well as say it in the beginning), “This is what I normally charge but I will do it for free this one time”. If that door closes, it’s okay.

[23:38] Allan: It’s important to mention freeloading the conversation. You have to mention your rate in the beginning. That way the expectation is already there.

Matti: And I don’t think you should ever do free work unless there is a benefit to you, be it experience or getting in on a project. There has to be a reason. Some areas have sensitivity about doing spec work. On my YouTube Channel, I needed an editor. I put it out there, I picked 5 people, I asked them for spec work and no one was mad about it. But then I did the same with graphic design. I needed a good graphic designer. There was so much uproar about free work. I don’t know why that is! But essentially, I would never do free work for the same company twice.

[25:43] Allan: I’ve been an advocate for that. It took me a long time to get them to do some test work for free. Going back to your talking about reels, what do you think about getting visibility with your reel? Do you find Vimeo to be a good place to host your reel?

Matti: Honestly, I haven’t gone on Vimeo for 3 years! I think it used to be a really important source, but looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a job from it. I may have a couple of people contacting me but it never led to an actual job. I think nowadays, social media is a lot better. A lot of DP’s make the mistake of posting still clips from their work. Why aren’t you posting videos from your work? Vimeo has really died down over the last couple of years. I think YouTube can have a higher probability to get your reel seen. I think there are more people on YouTube. I think it’s easier to get attention from an agency, but it’s harder to get those emails or contacts of actual companies. They are likely to see your stuff on social media or YouTube.

[29:19] Allan: How do you pick jobs? You’re probably in a situation where you can pick jobs. How do you decide to which?

Matti: Nowadays, I say no to to all jobs that don’t include my Channel somehow. I make pretty good money off my Channel, so I would have to charge a pretty high day rate. That’s part of my asset: I do have that distribution method. My whole plan is to not wait to pick and choose. I want to self fund instead. That was always the ultimate goal!

[30:39] Allan: What was it like when you started the Channel in 2017? Was there instant traction?

Matti: I think it’s unfair telling my story. You don’t see the 8 years of previous learning and public speaking. In 2017, I was getting tired with the commercial industry. The higher I went — the less I had of a say in that business. I would shoot a project and it would come out nothing like I envisioned. I also had to wait on someone to get work and be paid. So what I did was make some stock footage and some online courses (and those did pretty well). Passive income streams worked. If I got an audience, I could make those passive income streams even bigger. I thought about what the legit people in the industry would think about me: “He couldn’t make it in commercials so he went the YouTube route.” I just did enough research. My goal was to make $8,000 in passive income [per month] and hit 100K in subscribers in the first year. That was the crazy goal! I made the announcement video which didn’t get any views. My Channel was called Travel Feels. It was about filmmaking and travel at the same time. My first tutorial was on how to make Go Pro look cinematic. People asked me about my footage a lot. I taught that — and nothing happened. Then a couple of weeks later, it started getting views. I guess the algorithm picked it up. I would get 50, 100 subscribers a day, as long as I kept posting videos. After the first year, I had 250K subscribers.

[34:36] Allan: You’re right! This is a terrible story!

Matti: Terrible story! Yes, I was lucky in timing. Yes, I learned a lot beforehand. But it was more about realizing the power of YouTube. It’s the only platform on which anyone an get discovered because of the way it suggests videos. [35:09] If your video has a good title and good content, and a good thumbnail — that video will get views. It may not get millions. Whereas on Vimeo, it may not get seen at all!

[35:23] Allan: That is so cool! I love that it was that instant. It’s an opportunity to get in front of anyone. I grew up in Australia. When you think of getting 10K followers, it’s [the population] of a whole town liking your work.

Matti: I think it’s a powerful platform that most companies don’t understand yet. Some people think it’s too late for them. I think it’s early stages for YouTube. You see all the companies creating their own content. There is a huge market that can be reached.

[36:39] Allan: I want to talk about the imposter syndrome. Just before you got started, you were guessing what people in your industry would say. Do you still experience that today?

Matti: I don’t actually know how they felt in the beginning, in reality; but to this day, I’ve convinced one of my friends to do a YouTube Channel. I think some people do think I’ve had some success; but I do think there is still that opinion of, “That’s just YouTube content. It’s not ‘real’ content.” It’s not real storytelling. I think there is still some of that. I’m not going to be as proud of a tutorial as I would of a documentary film. But the people don’t see my own end goal of creating my empire. I can now produce my own content and choose what I want to make.

[38:20] Allan: I’m talking about your own internal opinion. Some of us can use that to unbalance ourselves. I was just curious whether you yourself judge yourself. Have you worried about what people thought about you behind your back?

Matti: I think it’s a confidence question, but I don’t think about that. Maybe if I had less success with YouTube, I may be thinking that. The only thing I think about is making higher quality content. That’s the thing I battle with. But then I gave myself permission to grow the business, the Channel, the audience — and then I can make that kind of content.

[40:22] Allan: What is the best thing that came from visibility, for you?

Matti: Obviously, meeting people. I get to meet and work with a lot of people I would never get to meet otherwise. Another thing is to experience things. I think overall the coolest thing is having control and power over the projects that I want to make. It’s not unlimited power. I still have to focus on my Channel but I have way more freedom.

[41:46] Allan: In terms of your storytelling process, and the format, how long did it take you to get into the rhythm with that?

Matti: I’m a pretty logical person so for all my videos, I would come up with an outline of what I want the talking / the point of the video to be. I’ll have the bullet points and then figure out if there could be an interesting intro or storyline. With YouTube, you have to work really fast. Any video could be better but I want to stay consistent. Sometimes, I can film a video in a couple of hours. Sometimes, it may take a day. Then, we start editing it. I have an editor and he will work with the footage while I tweak it. Most of the time, I can finish a video in a day or two days, depending on the video.

[43:27] Allan: I always wondered about how you structure your day. It would be so easy to get overwhelmed.

Matti: I don’t film things that don’t go into videos. I’m already editing in my head. That’s how I’ve been able to streamline my workflow. Even when I did my vlogging for 26 straight days, every single day. Because I had an idea what I wanted the video to be, I didn’t have to film all day long.

[44:22] Allan: On your website, your key slogan is “Learn. Make. Repeat.” How important do you think it’s to keep learning throughout your career?

Matti: If you aren’t learning, you might ride it out for a little while but then you will plateau or everyone else will start going up. I’m constantly trying to learn, be it filmmaking or business stuff. I’m trying to improve constantly. Everyone makes crap in the beginning. The only way to close that gap is to learn, make, repeat.

[45:54] Allan: You’ve mentioned this in one of your videos: What are the 5 main tools every filmmaker should have?

Matti: In terms of gear?

[46:14] Allan: Originally, it was more about gear, but you can talk about mindsets.

Matti: I feel like nowadays gear is so accessible. I’ve done a few videos on iPhone 11. The video is insane! I don’t think gear is really the answer.

  • I think hard work is the key. Skill can only get you so far.
  • Like a said, being a good person to work with.
  • And you have to learn the business side. It will allow you to make one video instead of being stuck making wedding videos.
  • Finding people to work with and building out a team. You don’t have to hire them, but you have to find the people you enjoy working with.
  • You do need a camera.

Most people say, “Story is king” and that should be one of the things I should be listing. I’ve learned storytelling through YouTube. But the gear is really minimal these days.

[48:18] Allan: My final question would be about any advice that you would have for creatives who want to build their brand.

Matti: [48:24] First, do a lot of research. Watch all the stuff that’s popular right now. Understand the platforms — Instagram and YouTube — and why people are doing well. Until you get that far, it’s probably pointless for you to be posting on Instagram. I see DP’s posting on Instagram and they should be showcasing their work. They need to be doing something interesting. Don’t just do what everyone is doing and post cinematic videos.

[49:28] Allan: I want to thank you for taking the time to chat. Is there anything else you want to add?

Matti: No, I think that’s it. If you’re a filmmaker, start dabbling with social media. Even if you build a bit of an audience, it might help your brand a lot.

I hope you enjoyed this Episode. I want to thank Matti for taking the time to chat. I had so much fun connecting with him. I hope to have Matti on the Podcast again down the line.

Please feel free to leave a review on iTunes. Please share this Episode around if you found it valuable.

Next week, I will be back speaking to Lon Molnar, one of the Founders of Monsters Aliens Robots Zombies. We talk about his he got started and how he launched his studio; as well as how he picked a niche to stand out, negotiating, VFX trends.

Until then —

Rock on!


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