Matt Riddlehoover - The Provocateur 

In January, MySpace issued its Top 8 of 2008, "a collection of the top eight performers in a number of key metrics from the world of music, film, comedy, technology and video." Topping the film list was director Kevin Smith, followed close behind by Spike Lee. Next was Rob Zombie. At No. 7 was Matt Riddlehoover, just edging out Martin Scorsese.

Back up a sec: Matt Riddlehoover? Believe it. "I only knew because of Google Alert," says the Nashville actor, writer and filmmaker, who at 23 has demonstrated a nerve and PR savvy far beyond his years. In 2006, a trailer Riddlehoover posted for his first film, a romantic drama called To a Tee, caught the eye of the social networking giant. It was featured on the MySpace Film page for months and ultimately won a Viewers' Choice Award, and the attention got Riddlehoover magazine profiles as well as a network of 30,000 friends.

"When it was just getting started, there was more room for do-it-yourself filmmakers to get discovered," says Riddlehoover, a Bermuda native who grew up in Charleston and came to Nashville to study at Watkins Film School. "Then the studios saw how powerful it was. Now, instead of MySpace, it's ad space."

But it did connect Riddlehoover with Steve Balderson, a Kansas filmmaker whose bleak 2005 thriller Firecracker found a champion in Roger Ebert. Balderson was initially going to act in a film Riddlehoover was planning, but the situation reversed and Balderson talked the Nashville writer-director into taking the lead role in his next feature. That turned out to be last year's Watch Out, an explicit, intensely discomforting character study about a sexually squeamish man (Riddlehoover) whose monstrous vanity piques an erotic obsession with only one person—himself.

"The whole nature of the project was so foreign," says Riddlehoover, who spends much of the movie nude, at one point in flagrante with a blow-up doll plastered with his own face. "I would be naked all day, and it was weird, thinking of my body as a costume." Balderson has chronicled the movie's making in a new DVD documentary, Wamego: Ultimatum—essential viewing for any aspiring filmmaker who wants to learn how you wedge a prosthetic penis between the lips of an unwilling Method actor.

Riddlehoover, one of Tennessee's few out filmmakers, may not be ours for much longer. But he says he's happy to see Nashville's film scene grow, singling out the directing team the Deagol Bros. (Make-Out with Violence) for praise. "I loved that movie and that trailer," he says. He isn't sure what he'll do next, but a horror movie is one possibility. What would his mother say if she could see his movies?

"Oh my God, my mom sat right beside me at the Belcourt premiere [of Watch Out]," Riddlehoover says. Not only did she laugh, he says, she wants to know when he's done preparing an edited version for the Logo network: "She said, 'Send it to me so I can show the ladies at church!' " Watch out, indeed.

Photographed on the set of Watch Out by Dustin James

The People Issue 2009

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