Thursday, January 17, 2008

Monster Writer Interview: Matt Federman

Many thanks to Matt for taking time from his busy schedule to do this interview.Not only does he do a wonderful job writing for Jericho but he's a really nice guy.(That's him far left in the photo).

1. You're a writer and producer yet your first job was as a dishwasher? How did the writer in you find his way out?

I totally forgot I put the dishwasher thing on my myspace page. For a second I thought you had done some amazing research. :-)

I started writing in High School because of a class assignment and had that that people talk about when they have found what they want to do for the rest of their life. It just made sense. And I really wasn't good at anything else, so it seemed like the natural direction to go in. Unfortunately, it didn't make me any money. And while I would have been happy to live off my parents, they were less happy with that. Thus, dishwashing and many other jobs that followed. For a long time I was frustrated -- particularly after college. I had set absurd time goals for myself and watched as each one passed and there I was, still not a writer. And finally I had an epiphany: I had nothing to say. No real life experience. So I took a break from trying to write and decided to take as many different jobs as I could. I became a temp, and as soon as I was somewhere long enough to know what I was doing, I switched to a new job. It was a great way of meeting many people and learning a lot of different things.

I think putting the work into myself was as important as putting the work into my writing. Eventually I made my way to L.A. and was much more prepared for the industry than I would have been had I come out right after college. Through assistant work I met up with my writing partner Stephen Scaia. We wrote some stuff that eventually landed us a staff job on Judging Amy where we met Carol Barbee, who brought us to Jericho when it was picked up. We call Carol our "showbiz mom." She's been a great mentor. We were really lucky to land our first job with her because she taught us how to do so many things in the industry, and that you can be a good person and still make it.

2. You've written episodes of Jericho and we all love them. What do you most enjoy about writing for Jericho?

I've always been a fascinated by apocalypse myths and the fact that every culture seems to have one. I've also been a fan of serialized TV shows, and anything with a sociological aspect to it. Also, making things blow up is fun. You can see how Jericho is the perfect show for me. :-) How many shows on TV can you combine so many genres as we do in a given episode: western, mystery, politics, war, romance, action, adventure...there's nothing we can't cover. But the key is, and it took us some time to really learn and apply this, there's something that makes an episode of Jericho what it is: namely, it couldn't work on any other TV show. There needs to be an element of something strange, unexpected...and not just for the purposes of shock but in a way that always expands our world. It's a lot of fun coming up with that stuff. Also scary because we don't have a formula like many shows to fall back on. We just keep at it until we feel like an episode is both entertaining and says something about our characters, and the world we live in today through our Jericho filter. And when we have all that, we trust we're on the right track. Then seeing the fans respond to it, and debate on the boards (and yes, we do read them--so please be nice :-) ), and how those debates are so much like what we were saying in the room months ago when we conceived it--that's a real kick.

3. We've all read about the writer's strike but what makes it an important cause for writers?

It's pretty much our whole future. And it's not just important for writers, it's important for anyone who works in this town. This is because all of the Unions either directly or indirectly (through pension and health funds) receive compensation called residuals (which I'm sure by now you've heard all about). Essentially there are two ways a TV writers gets paid: staff salary and residuals from episodes you wrote being rerun on TV. Residuals, like royalties, patents, etc. reflect a centuries old tradition of creators enjoying profits from the things they create. This gives people an incentive to create and drives industry. But specifically in entertainment, where it is common to not work for a year or two between jobs, residuals support families, pay rent, keep up health insurance, keep people going. And hopefully creating.

Why is all of that endanger now? Because I'm pretty sure my kids will not know what a rerun is. Everything will be On Demand, or Online to your TV/computer. "Convergence" as they have been predicting for years is here. Jericho was very much at the forefront of that, though no one including us knew it until it happened. So many people watched the show online that our ratings were impacted. But for all of those people watching (and yes, ads are run online the same as on TV) we received no compensation. Nor for iTunes sales. And there was no plan to compensate us. That was the vision of our future.

The eventual offer from the AMPTP to compensate us was so low that it actually unified a frequently fractious union. Suddenly, TV and film writers had the same fears, and same demands. And so we went on strike rather than except a de facto paycut of immense proportions.

4. What exactly do the writers want ?

I'm gonna try not to bore you any more than I already have. :-) The biggest issue is a fair compensation formula for work created for, or rerun on the Internet. Yes, there is also the DVD issue (we get 4 cents per DVD sold, we want 8) and other issues of jurisdiction, but new media is the issue that binds us and makes it worth being out of work to protect our future, and the future of all the writers coming after us. If we lose this one, a lot of your future favorite shows will never be created because those writers will have to leave L.A. once they miss a season of work.

5. Many fans support you so is there anything else we can do to assist?

I feel like our fans have already done so much, I'd hate to ask any more of you. If it weren't for you, I (and hundreds of staff and crew) would have been out of work since last April. If I come up with anything that seems worthy of your efforts I'll pass it along. But if history is any indication, you guys will come up with something that we haven't thought of, will brilliantly put it into action, despite even us thinking it can't be done, and will happily prove us all wrong. Just knowing that such passion and intelligence is out there ready to mobilize is very inspiring.

6. Why do you believe the big moguls don't want to pay more and end this strike?

I think it's a basic calculation for them. They think they will make more money in the long run by what they save on this contract by playing hardball then they will lose in the short term by having no product to put out. Morality doesn't play into it, for them. It's simply a bottom line issue.

?. The impact of this strike is felt by actors, writers,hotels, and many other industries. How big is that impact?

There are many estimates from people that know a lot more about this kind of thing then I do. Not only do I have no research, I'm terrible at math. Epically so. It's kind of embarrassing. So for real numbers, you can search on line. What I hear are the stories from people who are in danger of losing their house, who had to cut back on toys for their kids this last Christmas, who have lost their businesses. Honestly, there is a lot of anger in this town at the writers, which emotionally I understand. It seems like we are choosing to hurt people by not working. Unfortunately, the writers did everything they could to avoid this. But the AMPTP calculation was either we will take a bad deal, which is a win, or they can outlast us, and maybe break our union, which is a win. We love our crew and staff and actors, they take words on a page and make them into worlds that people can enjoy. But if we folded at the start, or fold now, we've done no one any favors. They'll just come for more in the next negotiation, from all of us. And one day all of the hard work and sacrifice of those who came before us will be wasted, and the billions of dollars that flow into this industry annually will be concentrated into very few hands.

8. United Artists Entertainment has signed a deal with the Writers Guild of America. How important is this deal to the writers ?

There is no one answer to this. I'm personally in favor of these separate deals. I think anything that puts pressure on the AMPTP is good. Only time will tell really if and how these side deals helped or hurt the cause (as some believe).

9. Is there anything you'd like to add?

Just that we can't say enough about how impressive and inspiring our fans have been, and how much personal gratitude we have towards them for their hard work and time and energy. We take that very seriously and try to put out a show that seems worthy of that effort. I think these next 7 are, and hope you guys will agree. Thanks again, and Happy New Year to you all.

1. "Jericho" (executive story editor) (7 episodes, 2006-2007)
- Heart of Winter (2007) TV episode (executive story editor)
- Black Jack (2007) TV episode (executive story editor)
- The Day Before (2007) TV episode (executive story editor)
- Crossroads (2006) TV episode (executive story editor)
- Rogue River (2006) TV episode (executive story editor)


ka4ist said...

Too cool for words! Thank you both!

maybei said...

Thanks Matt for sharing with us!!! Neat interview :-)

Good luck with the writers strike!! We are all pulling for you!

Looking forward to Season 2 of Jericho and on to Season 3!!!

Balceroregontr said...

It was wonderful to read your story. I support the writer's strike. I know most fans do. I hope that more side deals are struck so that the strike is settled soon. I am waiting on needles and pins to watch the 7 new episodes. I know that your story will blow us away.
Debby from SC

Schumi said...

Great to hear from you Matt. Can't wait for season 2 and really hoping you all get the deal you justly deserve and are back writing soon. Awesome job as always Jane.


terocious said...

Thank you both for a fantastic interview!

rubberpoultry said...

So glad you did this Jane! Great Job.

Thanks Matt for putting things into perspective. You guys do great work, and have inspired so many. I hope you get everything your guild is asking for.


I plan to support the writers in every way I can.

Briarpatch said...

Thanks for a terrific interview. We love our show and writing is what makes it so great. Thanks for your perspective on the strike. It helps to see the big picture. I fully support the writer's strike. Without writers, the networks have nothing to sell to me, and I don't watch.

Skeeterbit said...

Jane you constantly amaze me!

Thank you, Mr. Federman, for the interview, the insight, and the entertainment you have provided. I wish all the writers the best.

Anonymous said...

His credits are my favorite episodes. Can't wait for the next 7!

Jericho Returns said...

Thank you all for commenting. I appreciate it as I'm sure Matt does.

akesling said...

The writing on Jericho was awesome. There are a few lines I've actually used in several letters to friends and family. I'm going to miss this series.