As part of our continuing 3Questions series, I present Matt Siegel, currently the Senior Vice President of Production for EQAL, the social entertainment company behind LonelyGirl15, Kate Modern, and Harper’s Globe.
At EQAL, Seigel oversees production and creative affairs on all of EQAL’s properties and their partners’. Prior to joining EQAL, Seigel spent over six years as a producing partner to feature film director, Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door). During that time he Executive Produced Universal Pictures’ hit comedy Role Models and oversaw development of projects at major studios and networks such as Fox, Universal, Sony, HBO, ABC and CBS.
HBAD: So, tell us, how did you get your start?
MS: I initially wanted to be an actor and managed to get into the BFA Acting program at USC. I was a young, naïve student who thought he made it into some sort of “elite” arts program and was on the fast track to success. Well, I soon found out a few things:
1) “Elite” is bullshit. No matter what school I was at or how many people were selected into my so called “elite” program...nobody else gave a shit where I went to school or what program I was in. It wasn’t going to get me any job above serving coffee or answering phones...for free. Yup, it helped me get internships. However, that has more to do with me going to school in Los Angeles than it does the school I was at (I’ve hired many an intern over the years who weren’t at any school during the internship). So that’s what I did...I got internships at different types of entertainment companies every semester I was in school. My first internship led to my second biggest takeaway from my freshman year at college.
2) I wanted to produce. It’s funny, I can’t see myself acting at all now, but back in the day it was a big part of my life. My career focus changed during my second semester at USC, when I interned for a producer, John H. Williams (not the composer). At the time, Dreamworks was brand new and he was one of the first producers with a deal there. He had produced “Seven Years In Tibet” and was starting work on an animated movie that had Chris Farley attached as the voice of the lead character. I soon found myself in heaven.
Now, this wasn’t your typical internship. There were no coffee runs or photocopies being made (I ended up doing plenty of those in later internships, but not this one). I just read. I read scripts, books, anything and everything they would give me. Once a week I would give my opinions on everything. I just loved it. They allowed me to be a real voice in their development process. Everything revolved around finding and developing stories with cinematic potential. I just fell in love with it. Soon after, I realized that a career in acting wasn’t for me and transferred out of the theatre school and into the film school.
By the way, after Chris Farley passed away, another actor came on board to that animated film. It was Mike Meyers. And that little animated script that they were working on when I first arrived at the company, later evolved into one of the biggest animated franchises in history -- Shrek.
HBAD: What are the most difficult challenges you've encountered on your career path?
MS: I’ve been working in the industry for about thirteen years. And I have encountered a slew of challenges. Some I’ve conquered, others...well, not so much.
I’d probably say that biggest and most difficult challenge for me personally was the same thing that turned me onto the film business in the first place: feature film development. I remember hearing the warnings from others when I first expressed my love for development. It took me a while, but I eventually learned why they call it development hell. The long and the short of it is --you can work on a script forever and no matter how hard you work and no matter what actor agrees to wanting be a part of the film or how powerful the person is who says they want to make the film, 99% of the time the script never gets made. And the reality of this, began to tear at me over the years.
After developing over a dozen features and watching several “greenlights” miraculously turn red again and again, it started to wear on me. Much of this is attributed to my own personal challenge of getting too emotionally invested in the work itself. It’s a double edge sword. You need the passion as the fuel to get things done as best they can be. And you also need the personal connection to maintain a strong point of view as a creative. However, if and when you take things personally (e.g. A project being passed on, negative notes being given, a great project getting lost to politics, etc.) you will be disappointed and distraught time and time again. And no matter how many times I’ve been told or I’ve told myself, “It’s not personal” (and it almost never is), it’s been my biggest struggle. And it’s that investment combined with the realization that no matter how hard I work, I may never see a project come to fruition (e.g. The movie being made and released in theatres).
But, as I have learned (by finally getting to see a movie I worked on for years come to this so-called “fruition”), perseverance, patience, drive, and the art of not taking things personally are all requirements in conquering the everyday challenge of film development.
HBAD: What advice would you have for someone just starting out in this business, looking to get into producing?
MS: The number one piece of advice I’d probably share with any creative (albeit in Film, TV or the Internet), is to sharpen your authentic voice at every opportunity. Whether you are simply reading a book, an article in a pop-culture magazine, a blog post, a script, a movie — whatever it is — have a point of view.
Notice the world and all its colors (mannerisms, behavior, society, music, art, etc.) and ask yourself what you think of it. Don’t be afraid of having and sharing your point of view. It’s one of the few things you do have that makes you you. There are a ton of actors, writers, directors, bloggers, casting director, cameramen, editors (... the list goes on) in this town. And one of the few things that separates one from another is that unique, authentic personal viewpoint that powers the individual’s creative expression.
You may not get the job, your script may get rewritten, your movie never made, but as cheesy as it may sound, nobody can take away your authenticity. It’s the most rich and compelling asset you have — foster it.