As part of our continuing 3Questions series, I present Matt Payne, an assistant to showrunner Greg Walker, under a development deal with CBS.
Prior to that, Matt was Greg's showrunner assistant on Without a Trace followed by a quick run on the short-lived Three Rivers. In addition to that, Matt has written and spec'd three feature screenplays; keeps three blogs, two personal and one for the Washington Times which is centered around travel and living a full life. He also writes freelance coverage for Relativity Media and Summit Entertainment
HBAD: So, tell us, how did you get your start?
MP: I got my start as a film student in Oklahoma City. I managed to get jobs on whatever small productions would come through town and spent my summers and afternoons interning for a producer named Gray Frederickson, who is most noted for producing The Godfather trilogy. He moved to OKC to escape the insanity of LA and started a small production company. With enough experience, albeit barely, I got a job on a crappy indie film set in Paris, France and after six weeks on set there, headed to LA. I went to visit a family friend who was the AD on the second episode of 24. A PA had failed to show up to work that day so he gave me a walkie talkie and I had my first job.
Since then, I've held every imaginable assistant job from writer's PA to agency and manager's assistant.
HBAD: What are the most difficult challenges you've encountered on your career path?
MP: The most difficult challenge is maintaining a paycheck in an assistant position while keeping momentum on creative projects. It is challenging to identify yourself not as what you spend forty hours a week doing to get a paycheck but by what you spend the rest of your time doing to define yourself creatively.
HBAD: What advice would you have for someone just starting out in this business, looking to get into the position you're in?
MP: I've learned that if I focus on the minutia of my daily tasks supporting other's visions, I lose track of my own. That is not to say I don't do a great job for my boss, but I always identify myself as a writer. The only successful way to do that is to write. Whether it is a blog, short story, random journal entry or a letter to a girlfriend, fine tuning the skill that called you to hollywood is key. The other key is creative humility. I remember reading a Paul Haggis script one time after he had one his second Oscar and thinking, this is shit. If there are people like me that can say that Paul Haggis has fallen short, more than likely, your first script will be subject to far worse scrutiny. Just focus on what you are working on, not what you've already done. Criticism is the only way to grow creatively and as a human. Your readers are rarely going to be your cheerleaders so you have to assume that responsibility yourself.