This Atlanta couple works together to navigate film and theater careers

Amber McGinnis and Matt Torney met eight years ago in D.C. They moved here in 2020 when he became artistic director at Theatrical Outfit.

Credit: Courtesy of Amber McGinnis and Matt Torney

Credit: Courtesy of Amber McGinnis and Matt Torney

Who says relationships don’t mix with show business? For Matt Torney and Amber McGinnis, marriage offers the role of a lifetime.

McGinnis is the founder of Outskirt Media, which is on a “mission to tell the stories of working-class women who turn their pain into power.” Her film credits include her feature debut as director and producer of “International Falls,” a 2019 dark comedy that won five grand jury prizes and streams on Hulu.

Torney hails from Belfast and worked as a freelance director in Ireland before moving to the United States in 2006 to complete his master’s of fine arts in directing at Columbia University. Before he accepted the role of artistic director at Theatrical Outfit, Torney served as associate artistic director at Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C., for six years.

This artsy couple worked together earlier this year on Theatrical Outfit’s “Tiny Beautiful Things.” ArtsATL caught up with the busy couple to talk about connubial bliss and creative life.

Q: Describe your “meet cute.”

Amber McGinnis: Matt and I first met eight years ago in D.C. at a mutual friend’s birthday party. An actor who was in the play that I was directing at the time was chatting with Matt about the show, and he was telling her how much he enjoyed it. So she said, “Well the director’s right here.” So I like to think that he fell in love with my work before he fell in love with me.

Matt Torney: Very true. I saw two of her plays and was wowed by the energy and dynamism of her work as a director. We had an instant connection when we met and have been together pretty much ever since. We have had lots of adventures and travel, including climbing Machu Picchu. We have moved four times, had two amazing kids and relocated to a whole new state to start a new chapter together.

Credit: Courtesy of Amber McGinnis and Matt Torney

Credit: Courtesy of Amber McGinnis and Matt Torney

Q: What first attracted you to your mate?

McGinnis: I’m going to be honest and say it was the leather jacket and Irish accent that first got my attention. Once we started chatting, I could tell that he was a really authentic person. He enjoyed a good laugh but also wasn’t afraid to talk about the big stuff. To this day, that balance of levity and sincerity in his character is one of the things I appreciate most.

Torney: I did have strong “love at first sight vibes” when I met Amber, and that has just grown and deepened ever since. She is such a deep and kind person and is always thinking and writing and dreaming. I just love to find out what’s going on in her head. Also, she does an amazing electric guitar impression.

Q: What professional strength does he or she bring to the work?

McGinnis: I think Matt’s superpower is connecting to the big ideas: the “why” of the work and the mission. Whether it’s directing or producing, he always brings a macrolevel perspective that keeps everything grounded and truthful. He pushes hard for authenticity but does it all with a great deal of kindness, which is central to the values we have in our home as well.

Torney: Amber is a stone-cold pro in everything that she does. She is always extremely well prepared and brings a decisiveness and intention to everything she does, either in the theater or on a film set. It’s seriously impressive.

Within this strong leadership, she creates a great space for listening and collaboration and brings out the best in everyone around her. Recently, she’s been really stretching herself as a screenwriter, and I’ve been amazed at the way she combines an instinct for structure and craft with bold and imaginative ideas.

Q: You have collaborated on several projects. Can you tell us some of the highlights of working together?

McGinnis: We’ve collaborated on a variety of projects, but we have yet to write or co-direct anything. Matt reads and gives feedback on all of the scripts I write and isn’t scared to give hard notes. That took some getting used to. I remember the first time I let him read a script, he gave me so many notes that I got mad and didn’t speak to him for hours! It’s so funny to think back on that now.

Torney: I think the biggest issue is that we are both perfectionists, so that definitely raises the stakes for everything we do together. But what I love most about working with Amber is that we share core values of kindness and integrity, which really focuses our collaborations and helps us connect to what’s important. Also, she likes to make fun of me to stop me from getting too big-headed.

Q: Is there ever any friction in working together, or is it all seamless — or a combo of both?

McGinnis: Ha. See my last answer. One thing I will add is that, from our frictions, we have learned how to communicate and support one another. Opening nights for example — as a director, you’re all nerves on an opening night. So we’ve both learned that even if we have thoughts or notes as a fellow director, in those moments we just want a supportive partner to hold our hand and re-fill our wine. The notes can come later, but only if requested.

We’ve also gotten better at asking what type of feedback the other needs. Sometimes you just need to talk through things out loud with your partner as a sounding board. At other times, you want them to help you solve the creative problem with you. The rule is, the rules change, depending on the day or the project, so it’s always best to ask.

Torney: A lot of the friction we experience these days is trying to balance being parents with being artists. There have definitely been some crazy days of rushing from rehearsal to day care to the pediatrician to the store then back to work, as every artist parent can relate to. But with good communication and some blind luck, we’ve been able to make it all work so far.

Credit: Courtesy of Amber McGinnis and Matt Torney

Credit: Courtesy of Amber McGinnis and Matt Torney

Q: When did you relocate to Atlanta, and what brought you here?

McGinnis: We moved to Atlanta in 2020 when Matt started the job as artistic director at Theatrical Outfit. But we first became interested in Atlanta the year before, when we were here with my film “International Falls” at the Atlanta Film Festival. We immediately fell in love with the city and the vibrant arts/film community and couldn’t wait to make it our new artistic home.

Q: What do you enjoy doing in Atlanta as a couple?

McGinnis: The thing we love most about Atlanta is the sense of community. Whether you’re out for a festival, walking the neighborhood or hanging out at the local pub, building community with our friends and neighbors is what we cherish most. We love hosting folks on our front porch for an afternoon tea or late-night whiskey.

Torney: Also food. We just love to eat our way around this city every chance we get. From Buford Highway to the amazing soul food, this city has got some real depth and flavor in its food scene, and we can’t get enough of it.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your children.

McGinnis: Isla and Fionn are 4 and 1, so we have our hands full. Being artistic parents is hard work, but it’s so rewarding. The big thing we’ve learned to accept is that it’s going to be hard, but do it anyway. The year Isla was born, my first feature was on the festival circuit, so once or twice a month we were flying around the country — or around the world — and staying in new places. I don’t even want to think about how many hours of sleep we lost that year ... but the memories are so priceless and worth every hard moment.

Torney: They are a pair of wee rascals, and we are absolutely crazy about them!

Q: Is there a dream project that you both share, something you’d like to work together on in the future?

McGinnis: We have several hilarious Christmas movie ideas that I hope we’ll have time to write together someday.

Torney: Definitely the Christmas films. We have a whole sequence of them planned out to write together that are dynamite.

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL


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