Just this past Summer, Matthew James McDonough went from unknown Australian writer, to top 3 winner in our very own Launch Pad Feature Competition, signed writer with Will Rowbotham and Adam Marshall at Caliber Media Co., and he even notched a spot on the 2013 Young & Hungry List. We had a chance to hop on the phone with the comedic newcomer to discuss how life has changed since the contest, what he’s up to now, and what it’s like writing for Hollywood from the other side of the Pacific Ocean.
AN INTERVIEW WITH MATTHEW JAMES MCDONOUGH — PART 2
TB: Well now that we know the deep truths behind Matthew James McDonough, how about we talk about the competition, and your script “The Third Wheel.” Lets start with how you found out about the competition, and why you chose to enter?
MATT: I was a member of the Tracking Board before the contest. I’m a big fan of the site so I thought the competition would be worth checking out too… best investment I ever made, honestly. The judging panel was more than impressive — great range of managers and agents from reputable companies. I also liked that you weren’t offering some rubbish prize like, a thousand bucks, a copy of Final Draft (yeah, that’s helpful because I wrote my script using Microsoft Word) and an hour-long consultation with some screenwriting guru.
I think you’ll find most writers don’t care about that stuff. What we want is connections, the chance to be read by people who can actually do something for your career… and that’s happened to me. I’ve secured representation as a direct result of the Tracking Board so I honestly can’t thank you guys enough.
TB: Thanks man. We are extremely supportive of writers at TB, so being sure we made it worth everyone’s time was very important to us. And clearly that worked out well for you, after landing top 3, you signed with Will Rowbotham and Adam Marshall at Caliber Media, and followed that up with a spot on the 2013 Young & Hungry List!
MATT: Yeah, definitely. All of those good things happened because of you guys.
TB: So, “The Third Wheel” landed you your first reps, but how long have you been writing? And, what kind of writing have you done before this? Did you go to school for this? Was this your first script? Second, third, fiftieth?
MATT: I’ve been writing for a couple of years, focusing on comedy. I went to university here in Queensland studying film, TV and Communication Design. “The Third Wheel” was coincidentally, my third feature script.
I have to say, everything that I have learned that has helped me significantly, I learned outside of university. I absolutely believe you do not need to go to an expensive film school to become a writer. Read scripts and then write your own.
TB: What made you want to become a writer?
MATT: What made me want to become a writer was the desire to make enough money to buy a big house all for myself so I never, ever have to be near my family’s cat ever again.
Haha nah, he’s pretty cool. He just meows a lot when I’m trying to write, to get my attention, which can be annoying… but don’t worry, I get him back. Whenever he’s busy licking himself or dreaming about Whiskas Seafood or whatever the fuck else cats do, I interrupt him by getting all up in that cute little face…
MEOOOWWWWW! MEEEOOOOWWW! I’M A CAT! I’M A F*CKING CAT!
SEE?! YOU SEE HOW ANNOYING THAT IS?! LET’S SEE YOU TRY AND BURY A SH*T WHILE I MEOW IN YOUR EAR!
… ‘Why won’t you luv me? I luv u 100 purrcent’.
And no, I know what you’re thinking… I wasn’t that cruel. I gave that belly a good rub.
But back on topic — I can’t pinpoint the defining moment when I knew I wanted to become a writer. I’ve always been interested in film and TV since I was young. I just started to pursue it more seriously as I got older. I couldn’t imagine living my life without doing something creative.
TB: What has your experience with Hollywood been prior to this contest? Was this your first foray into the biz? Or had you already been knocking on doors? Tell us a little bit about your path here?
MATT: I’ve dabbled in some door knocking. A lot of close calls, not just in the States but here in Australia too.
Shortly after I graduated from university, I had some interest from the head of a TV channel here in Oz for my comedy pilot (that I produced in my final year). After that, I was asked to do a re-write for a kid’s TV show that was meant to be a “go” but they were still waiting to secure financing from Screen Queensland (a government department).
Oh by the way, things are done a bit differently here compared to Hollywood. We don’t have massive studios and producers brimming with money. We’ve got one guy named Steven who works for the government. He looks after the camera. You go ask Steven if you can borrow the camera and Hugh Jackman for the weekend. Steven might say yes. Unless Baz Luhrmann is using it.
Baz has dibsies.
But yeah, in all seriousness, a lot of projects are funded or at least partially funded by government agencies…. So anyway, after I worked on the kid’s TV show I kind of thought well, if I’m going to work on projects for free, they may as well be projects that I want to write… so I started focusing on my own specs.
I wrote the first (male) version of “The Third Wheel” which started to get interest over in the States. Shortly after that point, I re-wrote the script and here we are.
TB: Wow, I guess so. Considering “The Third Wheel” is a female driven comedy that veers into the rom/com land, I guess that rewrite took ahold. What was your inspiration for this script? What inspired the changes, and where did those ideas come from? Any true-to-life stories slip in? And from this script, do you have any favorite characters?
MATT: I guess the marketplace was a major influence. Seeing films like “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat”… but it wasn’t just a decision to follow a trend. The more I thought about it, the more it started to make sense because the gender change allowed the theme to have a stronger impact. Unfortunately, there’s more pressure from society on females to settle down and get married. That perception is starting to change, but a lot of people don’t blink an eye when a male is in his 30s or 40s and isn’t married, but the same can’t be said for women, which isn’t fair.
I know I’m not the first person to express that thought but I don’t think it’s always portrayed in a positive way in film. I mean, I’ve read scripts where I’ve seen ‘career’ used as the flaw in a female protagonist. We’ve all seen the ‘busy career gal’ who doesn’t have time for a man… And it always ends the same in those movies — some A-list dreamboat bats his baby blues and she suddenly realizes she’s put too much of an emphasis on career and then it’s all –
‘ChildrenandSUVsandmomhaircutsandterriblesmalltalkwithneighborsfrombehindwhitepicketfences’ forever after.
“The Third Wheel” is the opposite of that… it’s about rejecting those pressures from society, not marrying someone because you feel you have to and staying true to yourself in order to get what you really want out of life.
It’s also about friendship… Which is probably the theme I want to drive home the most. Friendship is a common theme in film but it rarely takes precedence over love.
There’s a line in the opening of “The Third Wheel” –
‘And even though most people would never, ever admit it, their friendships were nothing more than an intermission before love and family came along’.
I think this is true for a lot of people. I get it, people re-evaluate their priorities when they have families which is the smart thing to do… I’m not saying mom and dad should let the baby change itself while they hammer beers out in a club with their friends… but I wanted to highlight the fact that friendships can often be neglected… and with marriage not really being ‘until death to us part’ for a lot of people these days, maybe your friendships will be the only thing that truly last.
In terms of my favorite character? Probably Whitney… mainly because she’s at the center of all the awkward set pieces in the script and I feel as though she’s the character I personally identify with the most.
TB: We have a logline for your script, but is there anything more you’d like to tell us about it? Why it’s different, and why you think people love it as much as they do?
MATT: Maybe people identify with it. I mean, I’m still a few years away from my thirties but I have friends on both sides of the spectrum. I have friends who are starting to settle down now (or at least trying to). I also have friends who are trying to pursue creative careers… and it can be daunting chasing your dreams as you get older, living without security, especially when everyone else seems to be settling in for a stock-standard (but safer) lifestyle.
So, I guess it’s different for the reasons I mentioned earlier too. This isn’t your typical love story. It’s a love story about friendship and chasing your dreams. This isn’t about a guy and a girl driving off into the sunset together… it’s about two best friends living happily ever after and being 100 f*cking percent okay with that.
TB: What is your routine? Do you have one? What’s your day-to-day like before the contest, and has it changed since?
MATT: I still follow the same routine I had before the contest. Hopefully that will change very, very soon.
I have a day job so generally, I’ll 9 to 5, then head to the gym to sweat out the hate that has accumulated throughout that 9 to 5 then settle in for the night to write in my tiny, tiny room. Let me paint a picture for you…
A bijou bedroom. A ceiling fan (three blades, not four) hums on its highest setting. Cadmium yellow light shimmers through the egg-shell colored curtains–wait, I’m giving you a flowery description of my bedroom. Nobody would ever waste a reader’s time doing that, would they?
I’m not one for all that type of sh*t so why don’t I just show you.
See? Less space than a clingy girlfriend. That’s my writing chair wedged between my Ikea bed and my Ikea clothing rack… Ikea furniture sandwich with Mac and chair filling.
And that’s my thumb… My thumb is not from Ikea.
I got it from a mom and pop store here in Brisbane.
The space is actually fine without the chair, but I need it in my room (it’s easier to concentrate in there).
TB: Has writers block ever hindered you? How do you deal with it when it does? Any tricks of the trade to break out of it?
MATT: Reading scripts is an excellent way to get over writers block. Especially if you read a good script that gets you pumped (i.e. jealous)… Or watch a TV show that you enjoy. It’s pretty difficult to not feel inspired after watching an episode of “Breaking Bad” or “Boardwalk Empire.”
I’m finding more and more it’s extremely important to take breaks. If you spend too much time staring at the screen, it’s harder to come up with fresh ideas and more importantly, fresh solutions to problems.
TB: Would you say that comedy genre is your niche or are you a “play the field” kind of writer? Also, in terms of how you decide what to write, are you a “in the middle of a conversation stop whatever you’re doing and write down ideas” kind of writer or “let it percolate in my brain on simmer until it’s done” kind of writer?
MATT: Comedy is my niche. I think it’s important to establish who you are as a writer, and hammering away in fifty different genres isn’t the best way to do that.
It’s the same with music. Jay-Z doesn’t suddenly go, you know what? I’m gonna stop rapping and release a House album followed up by an Australian Pub Rock style album. Sure, he might rap over some rock beats but he’s still rapping. You can be influenced by other genres and incorporate them into your work, but you’re never going to be the best at everything.
In terms of ideas, I definitely stop in the middle of conversations to write sh*t down, especially dialogue. Stuff that comes up during conversations with friends gets written down immediately. Some of my friends are into comedy and music so it doesn’t look so weird to them, as they do the same thing. Evernote is great for jotting down ideas.
TB: What genre would you most like to try that maybe you’re unsure of? What about genres in general? Do you think Australians are uniquely tailored for say… action thrillers and westerns or is that a stupid question? (If it is a stupid question, I demand you give a stupid answer.)
MATT: Action thrillers and westerns? Man… what do you guys think happens in our day-to-day lives over here in Oz?
What? I wake up, have some Vegemite on toast, maybe a billy tea… ride my f*ckin’ steed on the dusty trail to work panning for gold when BAM! I get accosted by a GANG OF BOXING KANGAROOS.
‘Empty ya bloody pouch ya flamin’ mongrel. We want ya f*ckin’ swag!’
‘I don’t think so, cobber.’
One of them fly-kicks my Akubra off the top of my head. I pick it up, dust it off…
‘You just booted off me f*ckin’ lid. Nobody touches me f*ckin’ lid, mate. Not even me f*ckin’ hair, mate.’
The Kangaroos ark up–
‘If you wanna make it home tonight to see the cheese and kisses, you’re leaving here poor… or ya getting pawed in ya face ya flamin’ galah!’
‘No… you give me what’s in YOUR POUCH YA F*CKIN’ ROCKO WANNABEE ROOS!’
I unholster my boomerang– take most of ‘em out but the last one wraps both his legs around my noggin– He’s just about to end me when–
MY NEMESIS & OCCASIONAL ALLY, KOALA BEAR, LEAPS DOWN AND CLAWS HIS F*CKIN’ EYES OUT.
‘Struth! Why’d ya stop him? You didn’t need to get involved in this blue ya f*ckin’ Koala Bear!’
(retracts claws like Wolverine, even though it’s not physically possible for a Koala to do).
‘ I couldn’t bear to see you go out like that, mate’.
‘That’s a nice play on words, Koala Bear… You’re still a dick.
But yeah, short answer: I guess we should only write westerns.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 3 OF THIS INTERVIEW WITH MATTHEW JAMES MCDONOUGH, AS WE DIVE INTO: