What: Following the death of his mother, Zach Weber relocates to South Boston when his father Christopher gets a job in the DA’s office as part of a gang task force. Moving from sedate Albany to Boston in mob controlled Southie territory is culture shock of the highest order.
Who: Christopher Weber has come to join a Boston taskforce formed to try to bring down the criminal empire of Irish mob boss Charlie Malloy. Zach Weber, a great kid who has just undergone the shock of his mother’s death and an unwanted move is about to get another rough lesson in life.
Walking to school is lesson number one as he witnesses a gang of punks attack a homeless vet while the cops watch from their car. A great student, track star and all around good kid, Zach also finds adjustment at his new high school problematic. Refusing to stand down to a bully on the first day of school, Zach finds himself in the office of Vice Principal Barnes.
Barnes peruses Zack’s transcript.
Barnes: (reading) Okay… track star. Top five percent of your class… awards. I mean, unless your old school was the last stop on the short bus, you could pass for a smart kid. (beat) So why’d you pick your first day here to start being a tough guy?
Barnes eyeballs him. Intimidation is the only game he knows.
Zack: Well, first day at a new school is a lot like first day in prison; you gotta let everyone know not to mess with you.
Zack smirks. Barnes doesn’t like smugness. Their tension is broken as Zack’s father enters…
Christopher Weber, 40s, bald with horn-rimmed glasses. He’s a little muscular for a lawyer, mostly because he works too hard at everything he does.
Barnes waves him in.
Barnes: Mr. Weber? (shaking hands) Ray Barnes. Vice Principal.
Christopher glares down at Zack.
Christopher: (to Zack) What happened?
Barnes: (interrupting) Your son broke the record for fastest altercation on a first day. The previous champ held one hour, ten minutes. I think Zackie beat him by an hour.
Zack: Don’t call me that.
Christopher’s look silences him.
Christopher: I apologize for my son, Mr. Barnes. I don’t know if you’re aware, but my wife recently passed…
Barnes: I’m sorry to hear that.
Christopher: Thank you. It’s been a difficult year… and with the recent move… new job… (beat) We’re both doing our best to adjust.
But Zack has attracted attention, the kind that every parent dreads. Zack has already been taken under the criminal wing of Tommy Madden, slick, confident, tough, powerful and the nephew of Charlie Malloy, the target of Christopher Weber’s investigation in the DA’s office. Christopher is apoplectic and let’s Zack know it in a knock down drag ‘em out fight.
Seduction is everywhere for Zack, from the free drinks at the local bar owned by Tommy’s brother Nicky, to Megan, the high school girl Zack has his eye on – the current girl friend of bad boy Jake Nolan, another of Tommy’s known associates. Zack is just begging for another beating.
Tommy is unimpressed with Zack and wants to cut him free; Tommy can’t see Zack fitting into the rough and tumble Southie lifestyle of stolen drugs, gun running or extortion that are his family’s stock and trade. But that’s not part of Uncle Charlie’s plan. It was Charlie Malloy who had Tommy target Zack, and demands that Tommy reel Zack in, no matter the cost.
Charlie knows exactly who Zack is, what his father does, and what goes on in that household. The minute a rift is created between Zack and Christopher, Charlie knows about it and is ready to pounce, offering the stuff that teenagers dream of:
Int. Shannon’s Corner – Day
Zack strides in, attitude written on his face. An expression of resolve.
He heads right for the back room.
Bartender: (catching him) where you think you’re goin’?
But Zack doesn’t stop. He can hear his heart beating – we can hear ours, as…
He turns the handle, peering in…
Inside Back Room
Nicky sees Zack enter, rushes over – just as the bartender grabs Zack’s arm.
Nicky: (to Bartender) It’s alright.
The bartender pulls his hand off Zack and leaves. Nicky blocs Zack, but doesn’t touch him.
Nicky: Tommy’s not here.
Zack: I ain’t lookin’ for him… I wanna talk to your boss.
Nicky does a double-take – what did he just say?
Zack: (off Nicky’s reaction) That’s right. I know why you picked me out…
Zack peeks around Nicky, who shields him from the rest of the room.
Nicky: Take a screw.
Zack holds his ground… sees Charlie standing at the bar, his back to him. He’s talking to…
The cop in the black raincoat from Act 2.
Zack speaks loud enough for Charlie to hear:
Zack: You want me to rat on my father… because he works for the DA… and the DA’s building a case against you.
Before Nicky can reply, Charlie turns around. He heard the commotion and approaches…
Charlie: Smart kid… I’m Charlie Malloy.
Charlie holds out his hand, offering a shake. He’s almost charming, but Zack doesn’t move.
Charlie: You’re not going to be rude to me?
Zack reluctantly shakes.
Zack: What makes you think I’d betray m father like that?
Charlie: (to the cop) Play the tape.
The cop in the raincoat activates a small device, playing a digital surveillance recording…
Zack hears the argument between him and his father – the argument they just had! WTF?!...
Charlie: You see, I know you and your old man don’t see eye to eye anymore. That’s too bad… but I can’t blame you. The guy doesn’t know what’s reality… (off Zack’s look) Right? He thinks it’s simple. Do this. Don’t do that. Everything will be alright. (beat) And I know you don’t like this town. But you’re not going anywhere. Old man’s got a good job. You’re between a rock and a hard-on. The city’s dangerous. Everyone’s out to get you. You can’t even trust the cops.
Charlie takes a slow sip of his whiskey, still grinning.
Charlie: At least with me, you know where you stand. You know we’ll always have your back. You provide us with some details from time to time about your old man… the DA’s case… a few files… a password here and there. We’re not asking you to rat… just take advantage of the situation. (beat) I’ll make sure you won’t have to worry about anything. Protection, done. Money, done. Everything a kid your age needs to survive in this town.
Charlie finishes his drink.
Charlie: So what’s it gonna be?
Zack knows the choice he makes now will impact the rest of his life. Charlie’s asking him to betray his father…
Zack looks around the room… at Nicky, the cop in the raincoat and others – all formidable. As he weighs the heavy choice before him…
He takes a deep breath, then looks back at Charlie:
That’s it. But instead of satisfaction, Charlie’s smile slowly warps to a bloodthirsty scowl. He leans closer and leers at Zack.
Charlie: (almost a whisper) You fuck me, and daddy gets popped first.
A troubled Zack, riddled with doubt, leaves the bar, heading for the “T.” Making his way through the passengers awaiting a train, he spots his target.
Zack: They’re in.
Passenger: Good. You’re right where you’re supposed to be.
Zack: The DA story worked perfectly. I never could have gotten in with them faster. Malloy even played me a recording of this morning.
Passenger: That means there’s a second bug in the kitchen.
Who’s zooming who?
No Meaner Place: I love being surprised and I never saw it coming. The premise of young cops going undercover and infiltrating schools is not a new one – “21 Jump Street,” one of the first originals on an upstart mini-network, FBC, now more famous for having been the launching pad of Johnny Depp (I watched it religiously until Richard Grieco became the lead – who on earth thought that killer eyes trumped acting); and, of course, “The Mod Squad” starring the incomparable Peggy Lipton (recently cast as the alcoholic former Miss California in “Cutthroat,” the pilot by Fazekas and Butters) and Clarence Williams III, whose career continues full throttle.
So as a genre: young, hip outlaws working undercover under dangerous circumstances – who wouldn’t watch a well done show like that? It hits all the buttons that a network dreams of – young, male audience; character-driven serial with procedural elements; and edge-of-your-seat pacing with twists you don’t see coming.
The nets are still picking up cop shows, but they tend toward the procedural with ensemble casts of rookies or precinct buddies. The assumption, and it may be true, is that audiences no longer have an appetite for non-soap opera serial dramas unless they are fed a dose of procedural cases as well. Of course there are exceptions on the broadcast nets – “The Good Wife,” “Chicago Code” (now cancelled), “Friday Night Lights” (now cancelled) and “Parenthood” come to mind – but even “The Good Wife” has procedural underpinnings and there are soap opera elements to “Parenthood.”
What to do? What to do?
Life Lessons for Writers: Keep on Trucking.
Neely: Funny story about your script (well not hilarious). I was tidying up my desk, trying hard to get current on all the scripts that had been sent to me, and I found this with some others that a favorite agent had sent. I read it, loved it and then looked up your credits. Lo and behold, you were not sent by that agent. I know your agent at Gersh, but I didn’t remember him sending it. In any case I called and thanked him (he never let on that he hadn’t sent it) and I asked if he would contact you for me, which of course he graciously facilitated.
It wasn’t until I got an email from Nicole Ranadive (The Wizard of Exeter Hall) thanking me for reading and liking the script that the light finally went on. Your friend and colleague from “24” sent me the script thinking I might like it! Well she was right. I did. You are so lucky to have a friend like that!
Matt: Thank you. I am. Nicole is great; I wrote with her on “24” and she’s such a pleasure to work with and such a talented writer. She’s absolutely brilliant. I’ve been very fortunate to work with some great writers who were also really good people and have turned out to be good friends as well. I’m lucky, I guess.
Neely: So where did this idea come from?
Matt: It’s gone through a couple of incarnations. I was a huge “Sopranos” fan and it was born out of my frustrations with the last couple of seasons. I felt that I wanted to do something within that genre by approaching it from a fresh angle, like the perspective of the bottom level guys – the low level soldiers in the organization. What kind of stories could you tell about the soldiers instead of the patriarch, like Tony Soprano? These guys were at the bottom rung of the ladder – the lackeys that Christopher would boss around during those amazing early seasons of “The Sopranos.” I was also influenced by “The Wire.” It’s one of the greatest shows on television and I wanted to play to the kind of themes they tackled on that show – like corruption, society, people trying to balance good and evil, the morally gray area in the middle.
I had some ideas, so I fed them to my manager. He gave me some of his input, which is always great. I wanted to tell what it’s like for those low level soldiers, making difficult, dangerous choices in those crazy early tumultuous years of their lives within this violent illegal organization. I also wanted to show other people like cops and people in the community; how everything affected them. And what about corrupt cops… what about undercover cops? It all just kind of morphed into this story that evolved and took off. Then I started coming up with these twists.
Neely: Your characters are so well defined in this pilot. One of the characters I didn’t describe was “Megan,” the high school heartthrob and object of Zack’s lust. She was your monkey wrench, as we discovered sooner (rather than later) because she was also an undercover cop planted at the high school. Her objective was to infiltrate the Malloy mob by becoming the girl friend of an insider. Megan, however, was completely unaware of Zach’s deal, something that will set her up as a patsy or worse. This was a beautiful ploy that diverted attention from Zach’s actual role (which he kept secret from everyone), making the audience discovery of him as a plant even more surprising and heightening the slyness and irony of Megan deciding that Zach could be her way in. You really finessed this double-triple cross.
Matt: I loved Megan and I wanted to amp her up on a couple of levels. I wanted to take the story that I’d set up in the first two acts and start to really unravel it and just start dropping bombs on the audience – something here and there that would shake up everything we’d just built; take a turn in the opposite direction. The thing I loved about Megan was that she thinks she’s playing Zack and it really could be the other way around. We could do that for the whole season – amp up the sexual tension and play it from both sides, or at least have it be a nice little chunk of the first few episodes. In this neighborhood everyone has become so corrupted that Megan’s intrigued at first by what appears to be Zach’s purity and then later by his confidence – the fact that he can stand morally on his high ground in a situation where everyone is kind of falling apart. But what she doesn’t know is that he has a couple of secrets from his past, like everyone else, and he may be just as dangerous as the others. He’s not as innocent as she thinks.
And with Zack, we have a similar situation where he’s playing Megan and not sure whether he can trust her. He knows who she is and knows she’s playing a role, that she’s acting. As he watches her in these situations, doing what she has to do to get what she wants, he comes to really admire her. It became a vicarious relationship that we know at some point is gonna implode. That was something else that attracted me to it.
Neely: You seem to have a grasp of South Boston subculture. How about that?
Matt: I went to school in Boston, Emerson College. During my time there I made a lot of friends from the area. It’s a tremendously rich culture with lots of diversity; the stories there are seemingly endless. There’s so much going on.
The big thing I wanted for the pilot was realism. I wanted it to feel gritty and harsh and sometimes nasty, but mostly real. I wanted to take a good kid and throw him through the ringer and get his ass kicked and learn to fight back. This wasn’t the Hills, you know, there’s no entitlement here. Everybody here in this community gets what they fight for. I wanted to make this feel like anything but a TV show. I wanted to get a flavor for the things that I had fallen in love with about this culture – the harsh environment, things that may seem kind of depressing when looked at from the outside but that were real. For example, the frigid spring, the poverty, people fighting for work; but at the same time, there’s this level of strength and courage, I wanted the audience to root for these characters whether we agreed with them morally or not – to empathize with them, feel their pain and then cheer when they fight their way up from the muck. I want the audience to recognize the kinds of things that I had recognized when I spent my time in Boston.
Neely: I didn’t interrupt before, but you do realize that there is no diversity in South Boston.
Matt: I’m not just talking about Southie. I’m talking about the city as a whole – you’ve got Italians in the north end, Russians in the east end, you’ve got Greeks and a large Puerto Rican community. If you’re talking specifically about South Boston, then yes, there’s no diversity and that’s one of the reasons this is set there. Ideally over the course of a season we’ll stretch out beyond Southie. Is that what you meant?
Neely: Yes, that was what I meant. South Boston is notoriously non diverse.
Matt: Irish Catholic.
Neely: Yeah, and not even the lace curtain variety.
Matt: Yeah, to clarify, I meant Boston as a whole. When it comes to Southie, though, that’s a very specific kind of environment that if we could capture even a little bit of that flavor without inundating our audience in it, I think that would go a long way, you know.
Neely: Yeah, (laughing) A little bit would go a long way.
What influenced you in probing the Irish mob that still, almost uniquely, exists in that part of the world?
Matt: I guess to some degree “The Departed” was a huge influence. But it wasn’t so much the ethnicity of the family that I wanted as the dynamic. I wanted to get a flavor of Southie; and if you’re going to set something in South Boston then you’re going to default to the Irish mob. But mainly I wanted to do kind of the opposite of “The Sopranos.” Instead of a mob boss gaining or even maintaining his strength and his level of power, this is really the story of the demise of a family. Charlie is on his way down. He’s a patriarch but he’s no longer the mob boss he used to be and he’s starting to get desperate. That idea really intrigued me; the idea that ten years ago you couldn’t get to this guy but now it’s a different story. This is about the concept of “what are people willing to do to survive.” So that kind of ethnicity seemed realistic for the setting and that was the dynamic I wanted.
Neely: We don’t have to talk about the cliff hanger element at the end (although it’s a corker), but how about Zach. He transferred in as a college bound good student. What personality traits was he going to keep? How would you handle the necessary ambivalence in his character?
Matt: In the first season, I envisioned trying to get to understand this guy. Coming out of the pilot, without giving anything away, you really start to get a taste and a tease of who he is. The whole series is really about getting to know him and watching him change. I wanted to do something in the tradition of “21 Jump Street” in the sense that it’s about being put in a situation beyond your ability and having to adapt.
Zach’s forced to make choices that are, in some ways, color blind in that they’re neither black nor white. He’s doing what he has to do to survive and trying to make the most of it. I wanted to have the audience witness him as he’s pushed through the ringer and tries to navigate this world.
The way we pitched this was that ultimately it’s a show about identity. What does life look like when you’re living as somebody else? While Zach’s age group is discovering their own identity, several of our characters are assuming a fraudulent one. This is really about living between the lines of good and evil when it’s your job to live a lie. During that first season, I wanted to take Zack from a person that we think we are getting to know and turn him into somebody else. In the end he would probably emerge as somebody a little more hardened and cynical than when we first met him. Zach’s going to get his hands dirty. He’s going to have to do some really bad things. He’s also going to have to do some very dangerous things to get out of doing certain other things, which of course is going to drive him in even deeper.
We could also change this up every season. It doesn’t have to be the same story - a little bit like what “The Wire” and, to a certain extent, what was done on “24.” Ideally you could reinvent this series every season. Every season we could resolve a crisis in some fashion and then change up the city and location, keeping some of the same characters or not. One season we’re in South Boston, the next we’re in New Orleans, or really mix things up and go to Iowa and do “Reservoir Dogs” in a corn field; or one season we completely examine the hidden lives of our characters and their families. I’ve actually taken a lot of time to look at the series and map it out and examine all the possible ways you could do the show.
Neely: Who else were we going to meet?
Matt: On the journey? Ideally, we’d get to know some of the cops who may or may not be corrupt; we’d try to define what that even means, to be corrupt. Good characters forced to do the wrong things for the right reasons; bad guys doing the right things for the wrong reasons. We’d get to see a little more of Tommy’s family, and understand where they come from. We’d see some of the low level guys in this organization and what they’re forced to do, the choices they’re gonna make. We’re also gonna meet some people from the community who are affected by this situation. Zach’s presence in this community as the new kid in town may influence some of the people he meets - his presence could affect them for good or bad. We’d see how they respond to him.
I’m constantly fascinated by politics – I’m a bit of a political junkie so I wanted to meet some of the politicians, see how they run and examine the same kinds of moral quandaries in their lives. There would be business interests and some very dangerous people who would tie everything together. Without giving away too much about the first season, there are going to be some huge twists in terms of what we thought we were dealing with and the kind of people we thought we were dealing with. And of course we’re going to meet some rival crime families of different ethnicities; they’re going to have an agenda that will clash with our hero. There’s going to be blood.
Neely: That’s a nice segue into my next question (laughing). Who else were you going to kill?
Matt: (laughing) A lot of poor innocent bastards (Neely laughs loudly). I’m kidding… sort of. Seriously, I think all options are on the table; nobody is safe. In this kind of environment, everyone is playing each other so there are going to be consequences. The goal is to put the audience in the hot seat and never let them feel safe; keep a level of tension so that every episode is a nail biter, like what we did on “24.” I want it to feel like everybody’s fair game.
Neely: Realizing that this is Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon and Ben Afflick territory, have you given any thought to turning this into a feature?
Matt: Absolutely. I’m actually working on a feature version right now. Essentially, it’s “Yojimbo” (note: Kurosawa’s classic Samurai film) set in South Boston. New guy in town, a stranger, playing both sides and he has secrets. I don’t think we’ve seen that yet. “A Fistful of Dollars” is one of my favorite films and I really think that this could work as a great series or a great feature. It’s all there; the characters and the story are what counts. There are so many stories to tell.
Neely: I sense an undercurrent of classic film references in this pilot. Was that deliberate or am I reaching too far?
Matt: You’re good. My favorite period of film is the 1970s – that “Easy Rider” “Raging Bull” kind of territory. So this script is a little bit of a throw back to the great thrillers and gangster films from that rock ‘n roll era. There’s a little “Eddie Coyle,” a little “Conversation,” a little “French Connection,” even a little “Parallax View” in here.
Neely: (laughing) That’s a little bit of Gene Hackman goin’ on in there.
Matt: Yeah! I own all those movies. I love ‘em and watch them all the time. I even own the “Easy Riders Raging Bulls” documentary. I love them. But I also threw in some recent stuff too that influenced me like “State of Grace,” “Gone Baby Gone,” “Donnie Brasco” and “The Town” in order to get a flavor of the current culture and the grittiness.
Neely: What kind of research did you do?
Matt: I read a lot. I read everything I can get my hands on about the genre and real cases; also watched as much as I could on Court TV and anything I could get on the Whitey Bulger case. I have a lot of friends that still live back there and it’s always a great treat to go home, get a nice local meal and talk shop, get a real feel for their voices, from the accent and the dialect to the language. All those little things that make it real – the juicy details basically.
Neely: Did this script go out as an original or as a writing sample?
Matt: A little bit of both, actually. I’ve been very fortunate. My manager Alex Herzberg was tremendously influential with it. I’ve gotten a lot of meetings for staffing, which is great; and then not too long ago we actually took it out to the cable channels, but not the broadcast networks. Ideally, we’re going to go to networks next.
We saw this as a cable show. I’ve been very excited about the response. The cable channels all loved it, but ultimately they couldn’t quite figure out a way to make it work. They loved the writing, which I was honored by, but they were mostly concerned about where it would fit. Their main concern was whether it could be “older.” That’s the thing… we’ve got a high school setting for a little bit of it and they wanted to take it out of that environment. I tinkered with it and came up with an “older” version. I have a couple of different drafts on my laptop.
The cable buyers seem to be concerned about the median age of their demographic; whether they were wealthy enough or earning enough to have cable and watch the kind of high caliber shows that they want to make. Our goal then became finding the place for a cable-level sophisticated show for a younger generation – but not too young. Our lead characters don’t have to cross into their 30s, I think we could get away with mid 20s and just take him out of high school. The people in his world would be either high school drop-outs, at the very least they haven’t gone to college, and it doesn’t change the story or characters too much. I think these are superficial things we can deal with.
Neely: I’m not entirely on board with that. Zach’s world would have to change to much. And you know, if you go to network television you’re going to get the exact opposite reaction. They’re going to want it younger, they’re going to want more high school, not less high school.
Matt: Of course we could do it with more high school. I find that intriguing as well. There are a couple of different ways to do this that I think would be equally satisfying and engaging.
Neely: Do you think it might be too graphic for network (even with them “saying” that they’re willing to push the boundaries)?
Matt: You know (sigh) I think that even without a big compromise, we could make it work and not really lose anything. I’ve already got a draft where I could tone down the language with a quick polish and it would be good to go. This thing’s taken the path it has and the route it’s been on for a reason. At this point it’s really about finding its proper home. I hope somebody is out there who will share that vision.
Neely: I see that you’re working on an animated show for the Cartoon Network – “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” How did you land that job?
Matt: I hit the lottery! I’m very very fortunate. It’s really a dream job and so exciting.
I was in the lunch line at “24” one day. We would often have guests touring the set and I looked over and saw some of George Lucas’s people. I had recognized them because I’m a huge nerd – just to out myself here – and I had seen them all in the “Behind the Scenes Making of Star Wars” documentary. My boss on “24,” Joel Surnow, knew what an amazing uber-dork I was and introduced me to them (Neely laughs). We hit it off and went into my office to talk shop; of course I had “Star Wars” poster in my office. They had me in for an interview on their new show and I got it!!. It’s been an incredible ride and has been one of the greatest jobs ever! It’s amazing.
Neely: What’s different about writing for an animated series (besides the lack of Guild benefits)?
Matt: (laughing) Here’s the thing, I’m sure that writing on “Clone Wars” is different than writing on your average animated series. The scripts are much shorter and much tighter, as a result you’re forced to more frugal with the material. You also have to amp up everything; play it faster. But what’s really amazing about this particular series, besides working with the incredible George Lucas and the fantastic Dave Filoni, our director, is that it always seems as if the only limitation is our own creativity. It’s almost as if we dream it up and they can make it happen. It’s amazing!.
Neely: How many writers are you working with?
Matt: Right now, let me see, mmm ummm mmmm… around 6 or 7, I think 6.
Neely: Do you have a traditional writers’ room?
Matt: What we do is pretty amazing. They fly us up to the Skywalker Ranch once a year for a two week summit and we work every day with George in the writers’ room breaking about 3 stories a day. It’s pretty intensive, but we bang out the whole season and end up with these nifty little outlines. Then we go home and we write them. They’ll also start some of the artwork and send us some sketches to help inspire us. They have this amazingly rich tapestry of resources, an entire universe, that they’ve created of all sorts of characters and worlds - awesome concept art and vehicles and everything. It’s so rich and so incredible and they even give us some of this material to help inspire us. So it’s an absolute blast!
Neely: That’s amazing! I’d like to know more about you. Where did you grow up?
Matt: About me? Brown eyes… Gemini…
I grew up in Western Massachusetts in a little town called Agawam. It’s a great place – clean air, yummy water, great food.
Neely: We already know that you went to Emerson in Boston, but what brought you out here?
Matt: From an early age, I wanted to write and be creative. I was always drawing and writing; I was fascinated with any way to express myself. I always wanted to have a voice and be heard. I’m kind of passionate about everything I do and L.A. really seemed like a place that would encourage that. L.A. also allowed me to expand my vision and develop it; at the very least it allowed me to do it for a living and be somewhat successful. There wasn’t really anything else I wanted to do.
When I was really young, I wanted to be an astronaut. But then that seemed a bit out of my range so I became more creative and inspired by a lot of those movies that I grew up with. It all drove me toward being a writer or working in some kind of creative capacity.
Neely: What did you major in?
Matt: I majored in mass communications. I had film courses and writing courses; I covered a broad spectrum. I took some TV, some screenwriting; I’m interested in all of it. Occasionally I’ll write a video game; I’m working on a graphic novel; I’ve got a novel… I’m just trying to do it all. When I have an idea, it’s about translating it to the right medium.
Neely: What was your first job and how did you make it propel you to the next level?
Matt: One of my first jobs was working in casting for some really great people over at Fox – Donna Isaacson and Christian Kaplan. I got on the lot and it was a great gig; I met a lot of people and made a lot of connections. Then I made a friend in the Temp department and she knew that ultimately I wanted to work for a writer. I was doing the casting thing as my day job and writing my screenplays at night and on the weekends. She had a brother who wanted to act, so we had lunch a few times and worked out an arrangement. I agreed to get her brother an audition and in exchange she would allow me to leave casting and cross over to the temp pool. She hooked me up with some great temp jobs and out of this she hooked me up with Howard Gordon who turned out to be an amazing mentor and a great friend. It was just a lot of faith, basically.
Neely: Who else helped you along the way?
Matt: I was writing features at the time with very little luck at cracking them. Howard ended up going over to “24” where I met Joel Surnow who co-created that show. Between the two of them I learned to write TV. I would read everything they wrote and study them. So Howard and Joel have really been my mentors. I’ve been incredibly fortunate and lucky. I’d also have to credit Peter Lenkov; I met him on “24” and we really hit off. They’ve all been so inspirational.
But I really have to give a lot of credit to my parents. I’m very close to them and my mom really pushed me, especially at the early stages of my career, and motivated me. Both my mother and my father have been an amazing comfort and voices of wisdom at times when I desperately needed it. This is a cutthroat industry and, for good or bad, the business is tremendously difficult. It can be equally rewarding and frustrating. My parents and my mentors have provided moments of clarity during some of these points of despair. That’s been so helpful, it really has… having someone there who can pick you up… I’m sure everyone can relate to this, but you’ve got those moments when you’re in front of your laptop literally pulling your hair out and crying. It’s great to have somebody to comfort and encourage you.
Neely: That’s a great answer.
Matt: It’s one of the most important things and I’ve got to give my parents a ton of credit – they’ve been there for me.
Neely: What are you reading now?
Matt: I tend to immerse myself in whatever I’m writing, so I surround myself with all sorts of media – books, television, movies. I’m working on a new spec pilot that’s in the horror genre with action. I’m a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft, so I just decided to go back and fill in all the gaps in my Lovecraft collection and read all the stuff I hadn’t read before. He’s amazing. He’s so creepy and yet so innovative, even today, with these themes of other dimensions and possession. I keep hoping that some of that will come through in my pilot.
And somebody left I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max at my house; so I just picked it up and I’m almost done with it. It’s silly fun.
Neely: I didn’t even know that the movie was based on a book.
Matt: It’s what you’d call a guilty pleasure. (Both laugh)
Neely: How about favorite authors and writers or books that have had an impact on you?
Matt: Starting from the beginning, the thing that got me into reading was Lloyd Alexander who wrote The Chronicles of Prydain, those were my Lord of the Rings when I was a kid. As soon as I got done reading all of those books, I moved into Stephen King. Night Shift really hooked me. I grew up with horror; I’m a huge horror fan - King, Poe, Lovecraft. Then as I got a little older some of the psychedelic books of the 1970s had a big impact on me – things like Cosmic Trigger and all the other Robert Anton Wilson books… Carlos Castaneda - they really opened me up to all sorts of weird worlds out there and these conspiracy theories that intrigued me. On the other hand, I’m a big fan of political satire and culture – Chuck Klosterman, Hunter S. Thompson, Matt Taibbi; I’m constantly trying to keep up with and read everything they’ve done.
Neely: What are you watching right now?
Matt: I love “Breaking Bad,” I love “Walking Dead,” “Justified,” and “Dexter.” Those are great shows and I’m a huge fan of all of them. I just went back and started rewatching some of the last couple of seasons of “The Wire” because I missed some episodes. “The Wire” was some of the best television of all time… absolutely fantastic. I also watch “True Blood,” “Game of Thrones,” “Hawaii 5-0”… you know, some fun stuff. I love “Metalocalypse” on Adult Swim; I think it’s brilliant and I’m not afraid to admit it. I also love “Robot Chicken.” I watch “Californication,” “Eastbound and Down,” and my queue is filled up with “Flight of the Conchords.” I’m a huge fan of all those shows.
Neely: How about favorites from the past?
Matt: Besides “The Wire?” “Twin Peaks.” I love it! I think I’ve watched that whole series four times all the way through. I’ve watched it with friends, with girlfriends, my ex-wife (before she was my ex) – we’ll sit there and run the whole series. I can quote lines from it. On average, I watch the entire “Twin Peaks” series roughly every five years. It’s wicked. I’m also a huge fan of “Battlestar Galactica;” “The Shield” was a great one; and of course the godfather of all television is still “Twilight Zone.” Every New Years they’ve got that marathon on SyFy; I fill a DVR with that.
Neely: There’s a new station called Chiller that also runs episodes all the time.
Matt: Thank you! Let me make a note of that. It’s great, right?
Neely: Yes… it’s the zenith.
Matt: It is!
Neely: Any particular film favorites this season or films that still resonate from days gone by (besides the ones you’ve already mentioned)?
Matt: “Human Centipede?” I’m just kidding (both laugh loudly). I just watched it… it’s soooo bad.
I loved “Social Network;” Fincher is fantastic. I loved “The Fighter;” I really enjoyed “Inception” – I know you’ve got your reservations about that (Neely laughs), but it was entertaining as hell and it really kept you in there at some level; “127 Hours.” I haven’t seen “King’s Speech” yet, but it’s in the queue, it’s next, I promise, I hear it’s great.
Neely: Good, because it’s spectacular. Especially in terms of language, and I’m not being facetious since it’s about a stutterer. It’s not just the storytelling, it’s the way they use the language.
Matt: Right. It should be here… maybe tomorrow (Neely laughs). Literally next. I hear it’s amazing.
Then there are the 70s movies we mentioned as well as everything from “The Godfather” and “The Exorcist” to “Star Wars.” John Carpenter is a massive massive influence on me. “Halloween” “Fog” “Escape from New York.” I’m blown away by the documentaries these days. I think between the great docs and the great TV, it’s almost better than the features we’re getting. I’m a huge fan of “Transcendent Man,” “Gasland,” “Inside Job.” I just dug out “Dogtown and Z Boys,” the Stacy Peralta movie about the whole skateboard and surfing culture of the 60s and 70s in Venice - still one of my favorite documentaries of all time. Some of the documentaries that are being made right now are amazing!
Neely: What are you writing right now? Are you writing any pilots?
Matt: Yes! Thank you for asking. I just finished up a new pilot in the action/horror genre. It’s “A-Team” meets “The X-Files,” but fun. I really kind of want to do an homage to the fun 80s shows but with some creepy “X-Files” elements and take it to the next level; take everything we’ve seen already and then twist it. I feel like it’s time. It’s really something I’ve been wanting to write for a while now, to change it up and expand my horizons and get into that genre. It’s also something that I wanted to use as an engine to be able to view our world; a nice metaphor to be able to tell stories about the craziness of everything that’s going on today, put it through a lens and see what it says about our society and our planet… and fear.
Neely: I loved this script and would love to read more. If no one wants “The Cover” for television (and that would be a crying shame), you should continue to try to develop it as a feature.
Alternatively, from the network standpoint, you might want to revisit it and push into the high school as a parallel metaphor for the gangster activity - paralleling the hierarchies. As “The Sopranos” was to dysfunctional families, The Malloys could be to high school hierarchies. Any way you look at it, you’re very inventive and will make a great addition to any show… someday soon one of your own. Thanks for spending the time.