Adam interviews Matthew Gentile about writing and directing his new feature film, AMERICAN MURDERER. This true-crime inspired movie stars Tom Pelphrey, Ryan Phillippe, Idina Menzel, and Jackie Weaver. Watch it now on iTunes, Amazon Video,...
Adam interviews Matthew Gentile about writing and directing his new feature film, AMERICAN MURDERER. This true-crime inspired movie stars Tom Pelphrey, Ryan Phillippe, Idina Menzel, and Jackie Weaver. Watch it now on iTunes, Amazon Video, or any other on-demand rental service.
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Interview with Matthew Gentile - Writer and Director of AMERICAN MURDERER - EPISODE 127
Adam: [00:00:00] I'm Adam Richardson, and this is The Writer's Detective Bureau, the podcast dedicated to helping authors and screenwriters write professional quality crime related fiction. Welcome to episode 127. This week I'm interviewing award-winning writer and director Matthew Gentile. We're talking about crime directing and we talk about his upcoming true crime thriller, the film American Murderer, which I had the privilege of helping him with a little bit.
So let's get to. Welcome to the Writer's Detective Bureau. My guest today is award-winning writer and director Matthew Gentile. I met Matthew during the creation of his upcoming feature film American Murderer, based on a 2004 robbery and murder committed by Jason Derek Brown, who remains at large as an FBI most wanted fugitive.
Welcome to the podcast, Matthew. Thank you for having me, and it's a pleasure. Yeah. So returning listeners and now viewers since we're doing the YouTube thing of the podcast, will now, [00:01:00] uh, will know that I rarely do interviews on the show, but Matthew and I got to know each other a little bit during the creation of American Murderer, and we both thought it would be kind of fun to talk a little bit about the process of bringing this story to the screen.
So, in particular, what was it that drew you to this story, and how long ago did the process of bringing the story to the screen.
Matthew Gentile: Well, it goes back quite a long time. Um, so I was 14 years old. Oh, wow. And I was obsessed with the FBI's top 10 most wanted fugitives list. So with this weird curiosity, I, you know, I'd go on the website and I think maybe I could, you know, help up.
Help the FBI catch somebody that was my juvenile fantasy. Um, and you know, right around the time I was 14, the murder and armored car robbery was committed. Jason was not a top 10 fugitive yet, but he was a fugitive and he would become one shortly after that. Um, but I remember seeing, you know, on the top 10 most wanted list, you have really [00:02:00] mean menacing faces like Whitey Bulger or some bin.
Tough looking guys. And then there's this surfer dude with spiky blonde hair from Southern California who your first instinct just says, This guy doesn't really fit the, the profile of a criminal. Um, so I remembered the face really standing out to me so much. So that cut to a, over a decade later I'm graduating film school.
I'm figuring out, you know, trying to figure out what my first feature film is. I have a lot of people asking me that because I was in a very fortunate position. Movies, some short films I made were winning awards, getting me around town, getting me meetings, but I didn't have that first feature lined up.
And so it was the big question. It was like, We love your short, what's your first feature? We love your short, what's your first feature? And I had a couple ideas, but none of them really seemed to be quite right. And you know, there was a project I was almost gonna do, so it was kinda like this, a bit of an existential time.
Um, or I was getting a lot of praise for something I did, and I also had no idea what I was gonna do next. . So I, um, you know, [00:03:00] one day I was storyboarding, I was doing a commercial that I was hired to do, and, um, as I was storyboarding, I always have, uh, true crime documentaries on in the background or some kind of noise to ev and a, um, all of a sudden as I'm drawing for the, for the shoot.
The face of Jason, Derek Brown just popped on the screen and I just saw it and it like is, it was as if it just came rushing back almost like muscle memory. I just was like, Oh my god, this, this guy is still missing. And so I turned the volume up and I started to watch. And what was really interesting about, you know, cuz Jason's story has been covered.
Multiple newspapers, uh, media shows like Dateline, American Greed, um, you know, all those kinds of true crimes to ID discovery. He's been, he's been everywhere. Um, it's a very widely covered story, but this, uh, piece I saw in particular interviewed people who knew him, Uh, the FBI detective who [00:04:00] hunted him, and I started to see that there was something really interesting about story mean.
On the one hand, you. It resembled on the service to be the kinds of movies I grew up loving. You know, the film that made me want to be a filmmaker. It was Dog Day Afternoon, Pacino. I saw that when I was 12. Father showed to be too young. But I loved the movie. I loved the hostage negotiator, I loved all the elements.
Um, and, but I really, I love the character of Sonny, even though he does something really, Herend doesn't despicable, you know, the first scene of the movie, he's putting a gun in people's faces. But I found myself sad for him at the end when he gets caught. And so those are the kinds of movies I loved your movies with, you know, Gray Morality, um, Anti Heroes, You.
Whether it's like, you know, film noir or the Godfather or Good fellows, you know, I always loved movies that kind of lived in that gray area. You know, for a lot of kids my age, it was Pokemon and comic books. For me it was gangsters and fugitives and s um, . So it made sense that it kind of gripped, grip me on this [00:05:00] level.
But what really became so fascinating to me about Jason, Dirk Brown's story, It wasn't so much him as it was the people he knew and who loved him and who saw all these other different sides of him. When I started hearing different people's accounts of what Jason was like, and this was really, as I began researching him and doing like a very deep immersive, like look into like interviewing people, some of whom are composed into characters in the movie.
I won't name who, but there were people I interviewed who were, who were real. And really knew him and gave me accounts. And I realized like Jason meant so many different things to so many different people. And once I really saw that, that's when I really started to see, oh, I think this could actually be a film, um, that I would wanna make and spend years of my life doing.
For sure. So given that we're dealing with a real story, what's the most challenging thing about working a a true story like that? Yeah. You know, and I would say it's a great question. I would say that, You know what I do? Cause I'm doing two other true crime films right now that I'm prepping to go next is I call it [00:06:00] true crime fiction.
So it's based on a true crime. It is a true story. People who know the true story well of American murderer have said to me they're, you know, they, they feel it's quite accurate in a lot of ways. There's some things, but you know, overall, It, it comes off pretty accurate, but there were, I have to be clear off the record that there were absolutely a lot of liberties that I took to dramatize the story.
Because the challenging thing is, and this actually, this tidbit comes from a mentor of mine who I'm sure you've, uh, dealt with before, possibly, uh, Billy Ray who wrote the, the screenplay for Captain Phillips. And he said the reason he took that movie on was because it was the only time he ever read a true story that actually played out completely like an action.
Um, like the story itself just played out that way naturally. That was very rare to find. And so, you know, I, I agree with him that a lot of real life events don't play out like movies, you know, And you need to dramatize things you need to make. So, you know what, when I, when you do a deep immersive research process, like I or a lot of filmmakers [00:07:00] do, and I know you do and you write your scripts like it.
You know, there's a lot of stuff that might be super interesting cuz there were so many fascinating anecdotes I had about Jason, Derek Brown, like infinite. And there was a version of the script that was like, you know, 180 pages that had all these side stories that ended up that I thought were really interesting.
And as and as I really worked the script had to really sculpt. It's kinda like you start with a huge block of mar. And you sculpt down to the tiny little elephant right in the middle of the thing. And so that was kinda like, you know, research is great, but it's also a great way to procrastinate from actually writing anything.
So, you know, I think as I really went through many drafts, and you know this, keep in mind this screenplay was developed beyond, like at first it was just me writing it on spec, which is how most of my projects star. You know, there's the, I occasionally rewrite jobs, but mostly it's, it's been me originating my own stuff.
And then the producers come in and the company comes in, they get involved and then they, then you start having to, you know, show them the menu. Right. present them like a, with something that actually [00:08:00] works. And it was, in doing that, that really made, I think the screenplay evolve and become, you know, one, it did become the movie that it did.
Mm-hmm. . Um, so, you know, I think just, you know, lots of research, but then also being able to kind of chuck it to have the freedom to invent things or restructure things. And I found that in inventing things, I actually got closer to the truth in ways I didn't realize. You know, there, there were some scenes that I just imagined what would happen.
Then I would find out later that that is how it played out. , you know, more or less. So, you know, it kind of, it becomes a thing where I think research can be, I think if you use it right, so that it's liberating. That's kind of. rather than it be like something you just, you know, get too stuck on and be like, No, no, it has to happen this way.
Cause I think, you know, to make a movie, you have to, to make a drama, you know? Cause I, I wouldn't even call a movie a docudrama. Right. I would call it a true thriller. Mm-hmm. based on true, based on true offense. So, you know, I think having that freedom to jump off the real stuff and, you [00:09:00] know, make up what you need to, to make it a compelling story is kind of the, I think that's a challenge that a lot of people who do true stories face.
Adam: Yeah, for sure. If most of the listeners to this podcast are primarily writers themselves, right? And so this really speaks to the importance of story structure and, you know, even when you have the majority of the story kind of fitting an act structure, you know, Right. If you don't have those key elements, it's gonna flop.
So, yeah, I, I think giving yourself that leeway to do the, the fictional stuff and that artistic license is really important.
Matthew Gentile: Yeah. You know, and that is a nice thing about True Story is I'm doing one right now about a bank robber and it is nice to know cuz I'm not a, I used to be bigger into outlining than I am now.
Um, cuz I find that outlining sometimes I just spend so much time outlining, I don't actually quite anything . Um, so I've really become more of a dive in kind of guy where I just dive into the script and then I do the outlying after I do that quote unquote vomit draft. Um, where I really, you [00:10:00] know, But right now, but the cool thing about doing true stories is you kind of do have those points.
You kind of. But they call like the six hooks, right? Um, you know, like you've got an act one, you know, if your character robs 10 banks, like naturally a structure will play out. And it was similar with this, you know, there was kind of a structure, like the murder sequence was always, the robbery was always the climax of the movie, more or less, or that end of act two, like it was always gonna be that, you know, So that is something nice about True Stories.
And I would say if anyone's ever stuck, you know, with writer's block, just write a true story cuz they'll give. The juice you need and there's stuff you can spring.
Adam: Sure, for sure. So in this movie, um, we've got Jason Derek Brown, portrayed by the amazing Tom Pelphrey, who most, um, listeners or viewers will recognize for his role as Ben Davis, the brother of Wendy Byrde in Ozark on Netflix.
Um, and then he's opposite Ryan Phillippe portrayal of FBI agent Special Agent Lance Leising. Uh, the agent that's leading the [00:11:00] hunt for Jason Derek Brown. And then you have an, I mean, this is an incredible cast. I mean, I know you kind of think of this as, uh, you know, won't get into budget, but, you know, low budget to a certain extent.
But man, I mean, the caliber of acting in this and the actors, I mean, you've got, um, Uh, Idina Menzel, who, you know, she was fricking the voice of Elsa in Frozen, and then you got Jackie Weaver. Uh, I mean, it's just, and the list goes on. How, I mean, I don't, I, I realize this is really more of a casting director's job, but what kind of led to this incredible cast, especially given that this is kind of your first feature film outside of, uh, grad school?
Matthew Gentile: Yeah, for sure. Thank you for saying that. Yeah, I agree. It was, it was a ca that I have to say what exceeded my wildest imagination of what the cast could be. Um, I had a lot, you know, in Hollywood we have lists, it's always lists of actors and you know, they always say, be careful about writing a role for somebody cuz you're never gonna get your [00:12:00] top choice.
And that is true to a certain extent. Um, but you know, it was a. There was a lot of luck involved. There was a lot of, you know, great players. First off, you know, I did have an amazing casting director, Patricia DiCerto, her name, she's done Blue Jasmine, um, a lot of the great Woody Allen films. Um, you know, I know he's not in vogue right now, but the films he did with her and the guests she got for him were incredible.
So she had a lot of, you know, she had great ideas and resources, you know, But it is, there are a lot of filmmakers out there who would say, and I'm sure you've heard it before, 80% of a movie is writing and casting. I think it's a Billy Wilder quote. Um, you know, in that other 20, and, you know, look, I don't know, sometimes like I, I feel like there you could say 80% of a movie is anything I've heard.
80% sound and 80% or whatever. So, you know, but writing and casting are definitely too, like, super like, Really crucial things that kind of set you up for success or not. Um, and mis casting is the thing that can is one of the few errors a [00:13:00] filmmaker can make that you really cannot come back from. So it was very important to get it right.
Um, you know, this cast was always gonna fall around who played Jason and that was kind of always the, the big question was, who are we gonna get to play Jason Derek Brown. Um, I was very excited about the possibilities. You know, to be totally honest, Tom initially was not on any list. Um, you know, it was March, 2020 when we set out to cast.
We were kind of in, you know, the world had shut down. I think this is around the time you and I first started chatting, uh, maybe a little bit before that, but close to that. And, you know, I. We didn't really, you know, we were kind of like, we were making some offers weren't really getting too far and it didn't look like we were gonna film, but I kind of just chose to believe in my gut that we were gonna film that year.
So I was prepping every day, like designing my shots and storyboarding and working with my team very closely, working with you, making sure the police procedural details were good. Like all of that. I was like really trying to map out how we would do it when we got to do it, whether it was the end of 2020 or, you know, 2021.
I was like, We're, we're gonna [00:14:00] do it. It's gonna happen. Even though I really had, like I said, no reason to believe it. So one day in April, right when Ozark had dropped my producer, uh, Gia Walsh called me and she said, Hey, are you watching Ozark? And I said, I, um, I'm not. And she said, Well, you need to because this guy Tom Pelphrey is incredible.
And I said, Okay. And I would get a call like this every week from someone being like, This guy's incredible. That guy's incredible. So I was kinda like, Alright, cool. Not be for, Got it. Then two hours later, my brother texts me and he says the exact same. And my brother, by the way, did the score for the fall.
So he was, he was involved in the periphery at the time, and he was like, This, this guy Tom Pelphrey seems like he seems like the guy. And I'm like, Okay, that's weird. And then my friend who's agent calls me and says the same exact. So I'm like, All right, I'll stop what I'm doing and watch us are, And so, I begin watching it and it was really funny cuz back when I was 16, I studied at Carnegie Mellon, I did a [00:15:00] theater program for acting.
There was a teacher he used to say to us in the first five seconds, she was a tough teacher. Those, those directors, they know if you're gonna get the part they know five seconds. And we always like, we kind of like me and the other kids would make fun of them like, You have five seconds, come on. How do they know anything?
When I watched Tom, it was like five seconds and I knew, and I just said, Oh my God, this is the guy, These people all said this for a reason. So I called Gia, my producer up. I said, Gia, we gotta get this guy. What do we do? I'll write a letter. Excuse me, I'll write a letter. Whatever it takes, let's get him.
And so, you know, we went out, we sent him the script, and at that time we really had no idea if we would get. because he was really, he was getting a lot of heat off of Ozark , you know, justifiably, his performance was through the roof and everyone knew it. Um, and so the chances of him coming to do a little indie movie in that time when he's getting that much heat was not necessarily high.
Um, but fortunately for us, you know, he and I met a couple [00:16:00] times. We really got on, we really clicked and connected. He had some concerns about the script that I talked to him about, you know, the character and more, not so much about the writing of the script, but how he was, how we were gonna do it. Mm-hmm.
if we were gonna do it together. And so we talked and we connected and you know, we started like talking about the script and I started making some little adjustments, you know, to make it, tailor it right for him. And sure enough, pretty quickly he attached. And that was in the. and once he attached the rest of the cast kind of came together pretty, pretty quickly.
Um, the second big piece was Ryan Phillippe saying yes to the role of Leising, which, you know, I was saying I didn't expect, I never thought we'd get somebody of that caliber to play that part. Um, but Ryan was really excited about the screenplay and, you know, it was a great, incredible collaborator to work with and just really.
You know, kind of almost like a bit of a mentor's relationship, you know, You know, it's a human mind. Like Ryan's been, he's been acting for as long as I've been alive, basically. Right? Even though he looks younger than me. . And so, You know, Ryan [00:17:00] has stories about working with Robert Altman and Clint Eastwood and Tony Scott.
So, you know, he really, but he really believed in me and, and, and took a, took a shot doing a first time director's movie as did Tom, as did all of them. Um, Jackie Weaver when she joined the cast, I remember a year before, and we were in development on the script, like one of the producers said, You know, if you write this role really well, if we could get Jackie.
Someone like Jackie Weaver and I was like, Yeah, right. It's a small part. She's never gonna do this. Are you guys crazy? Um, but you know, keep in mind we filmed November, 2020, so at this time, Everyone was at home, right? And they were eager to work. And so, you know, I don't want to, there was so much preparation that went to this movie, but all movies getting made, especially these days is there's a huge element of luck involved.
And the fact that, you know, we were going out to film it in this specific time and all these actors were available, I highly doubt. Any other time they would've been, you know, cuz Idina Menzel like, you know, she travels all the time and, and since we wrapped shooting, Tom, all of them. [00:18:00] Tom, Ryan, Idina, Jackie, they all, not stopped Chantel VanSanten, who plays his sister and is fa and is fabulous.
Adam: Yeah, she's awesome.
Matthew Gentile: These guys do not stop working like they are. They have booked show after show, movie after movie. This cast is like, so yeah, it was really stacked and I, you know, felt that as a first time director I. Rise up to that level, you know, and, and push myself to be, you know, at their, you know, to, to meet their level.
But they were really great. I mean, you know, I didn't have, there were no divas, there was no difficult people on the set. It was a really harmonious, creative environment. And I think part of that came from the fact that we all felt very lucky to be getting to make something in that time. And that also wasn't just the guests that was also in the crew.
You know, it was a lot of people's first movie, first job back in a while. Um, so you really felt that. For everyone. And I think it shows off in the final film, .
Adam: Yeah, it definitely does. Uh, I was actually gonna ask, I mean, cuz you mentioned, um, being in school and [00:19:00] learning about, you know, within five seconds, but then also you have this incredible cast.
What's it like directing, Well I was going to ask what it's like directing such talented cast, but like it, have you, do you feel like you've developed a particular style for directing. Uh, or directing talent in particular, especially when it feels like it's so heavily stacked, uh, on the veteran's side of things.
Matthew Gentile: Yeah, I mean, you know, look, casting correctly at what, whatever level you're at, you know, And I've worked with actors of all levels now, um, you know, new, established, you know, anywhere in between. And on this movie, you know, there were a lot of actors, date, what they call them, date players in the cast who had never act.
Some of 'em never acted. , you know, Um, and who played like the local color characters, like mm-hmm. , you know, that filled in that atmosphere and environment. Like some of them were, weren't complete non-actors. So be with this film and before I've worked with a variety of levels and I think it is always kind of the same.
The only thing is, is that, um, every actor has a [00:20:00] different way. Sure. And you're part of your job as a director I think, is to figure that out. You know, hopefully you have some rehearsal time that really helps me. Um, so I do have a method, you know, You know, once the script is done and I'm working with them, what I like to do, um, both of my shorts and I did it here as well, um, I had to do it on Zoom cause we, we didn't have the luxury of having a rehearsal space before the shoot.
Everyone kind of came when they could and were in bubbles. So we did a lot of Zoom rehearsals and you know, really I try to, not so much work. However scene's gonna be exactly, or anything like that. But I really try to make sure that the relation, I really try to, I cast relationships and then I work with the actors on the relationships.
So I would do a Zoom day with Tom and Idina and we would go over all their scenes and see the progression of it all throughout the movie and really go through each and like give them a chance to hear it out, to try it out, to do the broad strokes question. You know, cuz actors will often, sometimes if a line is too screenwritery[00:21:00]
Right, right. Or you know, is too like sound one way in your head. It doesn't sound natural, you know, that's a chance for them to bring it up and it's better to do it there than on set. Although sometimes that happens too. And there's, you know, and that's part of the job, especially of being a writer director, is you have to kind of be able to rewrite on the fly.
Um, but I would do that pretty often, you know, and, and, and let the actors also ad live improvise sometimes, and that would give you some gold, um, you know, that you could sort through when you're editing. But, um, you know, my method was always, yeah, to really work with the actors and sculpt it kind of in the room and, and, and more, it's about, for me, it's about asking questions.
I really don't believe in telling actors how to. Ever. So I would never say to an actor like, Hey, you're really sad here. Or you know, you be like, be, you know, Oh, you really, you know, you should feel the one thing they taught us at AFI was never say, uh, be sexy, , . If you're doing a sexy seat, um, there's a be sexy, be sexier.
But there are directors that do stuff like that and like I have a great mentor named Judith Weston, who wrote, In my opinion, a book that [00:22:00] every filmmaker film person should read are called Directing Actors. Because it's actually, the book has so much wisdom, not just for directive, but also for screenwriting.
Um, Andrew Stanton has like been a bit big advocate for her. Billy Ray, a lot of, Ava DuVernay, I think was one of her students. And, uh, I, I am too. And, um, Judith Weston, she's a real, she's an oracle. She's just an absolute genius at what she does and she really talks about characters, relationships, spines, arcs.
And she really always would get to the core of like, you know, her big thing is she always is ask question. To actors. So, you know, if an actor says like, Well I don't really think I would say this, You might be like, Well, or why do you feel, you know, why do you think that? Right. Why? Why do you feel he wouldn't wear that shirt?
Well, what shirt would you like? You know? Cuz if you ask questions, you're kind of giving the actor permission. And I think that's the big key is like, I think the most important thing. I won't take credit for any performance in the movie cuz it's all these actors, you know? Um, [00:23:00] but like you look at Tom Pelfrey in this film and he's very unhinged and it's an unhinged character and so I can't take credit for that man's brilliance.
He just, he had. You know, it was very clear when I saw him in the first Zoom rehearsal, I was already like, Oh my God, this is good. And he would look at me and be like, Dude, this is like 80% of what I can do. Like just, you know, like I need to get on set. And it totally made sense. But you know, if I could take credit for anything at all, it would be giving him the space, the sandbox, that he can go and do that.
And that's what I think a director's job is. It's setting your actors up so that they can be vulner. and reveal themselves in front of a camera. Cause it's, you know, it is hard. You got a camera in your face, you got a crew, 50 people or a hundred people in our gets more than 50 watching you, you know, you've got a director wanting something outta you.
And, and it's, it's, it's a challenging thing. You know, There's a reason why when they're really good, they get paid what? Right. You know, um, and treated a certain way. And like, that's what I call movie stars because they can do a thing that very, very few people [00:24:00] can. Um, and it's very challenging. But you know, like I said, I think it was just about giving the actors that space so that they could do that and really being there to guide them.
There's a great Krzysztof KieÅ›lowski quote about directing great director, um, who said that the director's job is to help everyone . It's not how you necessarily like think of directing a lot of time when you think of certain. Filmmakers reputations, you know, that they may not seem like they do that, but you know, it's, it's really allowing them all to do their best and making sure each cast member has a chance to, to shine.
But yeah, you know, it's always, it's very amenable and, you know, I, I try to rest on my intuition with it. Like I don't overthink it with actors, cuz then I don't, The last thing you want is an actor thinking . Right? You know, too much about what they're doing or getting in their. And that was something I had to learn.
Sometimes I would like, cause I had so much research on it, there was, Chantel is an actor who wants to know everything about everything. She wants to know like what shirts, you know, the person wore, [00:25:00] what, like, you know, where they got it, like where they go shopping, you know? Whereas Tom is very much more like, I just wanna do it.
And so, you know, adjusting to that, you know, making sure like, okay, so Chantel, I can go, I can really wax about the history and tell her everything and she'll wanna know it. And with Tom, I'd be like, All right. Stop at, you know, Cool. Just do your thing. Go on . You know, So it's always adjusting to different ways of working, you know?
Um, Yeah, and they're all, they are all different, even though some of 'em seem similar, you know, they all require something.
Adam: Interesting. So as both the writer, you know, writing the spec script all the way to the point of being the director, from the first draft of the script to the final cut going out to the world, what's your favorite part of the movie making process?
Matthew Gentile: Hmm. Great question. I don't wanna be lame and say all of it, but there, there are pleasures and disadvantages to all of it, right? Vince Gilligan famously [00:26:00] once said, I think he said writing is more satisfying or gratifying, but directing is more fun. And, you know, I don't know. I mean, when you write and direct a movie, you're really tied to it.
um, and when you choose to direct a movie, but you know, sometimes, like they say that the director will always get all the credit and all the blame. Sometimes, like someone could write a script and they'd be like, Oh, well this director clearly screwed it up. Um, but when you write in direct, there's no way around it.
So, you know, whether your listeners love or ate my movie, it's, this is, you can blame me. Um, but, you know, I think there are pleasures to all. I'll say a little bit about everyone writing is, you know, probably with the hardest for me, takes me the longest. . Um, and I think with writing it's always about forcing myself to just do it because I think you just gotta, you know, it's, it's ha it is honestly, 90% of it's just having the courage to just face that blank page, write that first bad draft, get through it, and then start [00:27:00] revising for however long it takes to get it to be.
Adam: Do you have a particular, do you have a particular writing process, like a time of day or anything that you do in particular?
Matthew Gentile: I've tried out many over the years since I graduated film school, and I'll share the one that has worked. Um, and that is 6:00 AM when I wake up and not saying everyone has to wake up at 6:00 AM a lot of people don't, but 6:00 AM without, I literally, Now this is, I've done, since I finished the film, I do not do anything else.
I just sit down the chair and I write for an hour and a half, and I try to do three to five pages, even if they're bad. Just write. Get 'em down because, you know, the day picks up always with, especially these days with like, you know, doing interviews and promoting a movie or taking meetings or whatnot. So I always try to do it early in the morning before like emails come in, phone calls come in, you know, my mom texts me a picture of the dog back home in New York, anything, you know, so that I just sit down and get it done because I think it's very easy to convince yourself not.
Um, I can always think of [00:28:00] 27,000 excuses, like, I should go to the gym now. , you know, I, I, I had to do that err end at the post office and then I just won't write. I won't write, But I think getting used to writing every single day is something that I've. Think is very important for screenwriters and including myself.
Um, cause it's very easy to not write and get paralyzed in analysis. So I do just try to turn out pages, fresh pa I call it fresh pages. It's like a baker , you know, every morning. Um, without exception. That's kind including weekends. Um, that's been my new. Thing. And I find that that really works for me cuz doing that, I've generated many more scripts.
Um, now, you know, before that I was very much a precious guy who like always focused on one project at a time, and I'm learning now. That's been my new learning curve after getting this movie made, is that I, you know, to keep up in the, with what's going on here, you kind of have to be juggling multiple projects at once.
And that's a hard lesson to learn. You know, it was cuz forgetting American Mermaid. It was all about that. And now it's like, okay, you have one but you won't do another and you know, you have to have the next one [00:29:00] ready. And so it's a constant juggling back. But you know, I think just accepting that it's always, you know, likely.
your script will always fall somewhat short of what you hoped it would be in any draft. Even if it's the 10th draft, you probably like, unless you're someone who's just really satisfied with your work, which I'm just not, uh, ever. So, you know, your, your script will always fall short. So understanding, embracing that, it's just, it's, it's only gonna get better if you keep working on it.
Um, and just having the fortitude just be like, you know, like, Yep, I'm gonna go with it. Uh, that's the thing that becomes the hardest for me. So that's what I'd say about my writing routine. Awesome. Yeah. Um, but writing, I love, you know, I would say there were kind of four phases distinct writing prep, which was quite long shooting, was the only fast thing about American murder.
film, film production was best, and that was a ton of fun and also extremely hard , you know, 27 locations, 22 shooting days, you know, really, you know, a lot of action elements, like things that a first time director normally probably doesn't do more. If I was more [00:30:00] intelligent, I probably wouldn't have. But, you know, I think, uh, you know, so, so shooting was kind of like a sprint and writing and editing, which I think may be my favorite part.
Were a marathon because editing is hard and challenging. It takes a long time and, you know, it becomes some, you, you really, but you're really finding the movie and shaping it. Um, and it is the final rewrite. It's really your final chance to get everything right. And there is, there is a magic. Putting shots together and seeing how the story forms and figuring things out and discovering new things or new transitions or new ideas.
Um, so, you know, I would, if I had to pick one, I think I'd probably pick editing. Um, and I think a lot of directors say that because, you know, Scorsese is a quote about editing where he says it's the only part of film that's unique to film. , Um, you know, it's the only part of filmmaking, like cuz writing kind of came from playwright, playwriting and like novelist write novels, writing, you know, directing kind of came from theater a little bit, or painting or photo, you know, cinematography came from photography.
But editing is [00:31:00] truly idiosyncratic and unique to just film. And so I kind of see what he means by that. See, I love it.
Adam: Yeah, with my personal transition with this podcast going into YouTube, I've actually started learning quite a bit about editing and it has caused me to go back and watch some movies that I've loved from more of like the, the editor's viewpoint.
Right. Um, yeah. Went back and watched, uh, Blade Runner 2049, and it was just like a whole new experience, like once you learn about the editing styles and what those, that editing really means. Yeah. Um, yeah, absolutely. Fascinating.
Matthew Gentile: It's a great movie too.
Adam: Yeah, and, and I was a huge fan of the first one. I mean, that was one of the first movies that I remember watching over and over as a kid.
Again, like you've way too young to have watched it, um, in the early eighties. But, uh, it was fascinating. So for those writers that either want to get into screenwriting or want to adapt their novels into screenplays, what advice could you offer them for either breaking [00:32:00] into the business or increasing the chances of their book getting made into?
Matthew Gentile: Hmm, that's a great question. Um, advice for screenwriters. Probably what I could do better than say someone has, wants to turn their book into a movie, Although, I mean, I think it's all the same. Um, You know, I think number one is writing every day, I think, or, or making sure you're churn out material is important.
Getting feedback on it, seeing what people are really saying about it. You know, people who are honest with you. Um, and we'll give you their honest thoughts on how you can improve. Um, cuz you don't want, Yes. People who are like, you know, Oh my God, this is amazing. Cause that doesn't, you know, my, you know, saying with my girlfriend and my mom liked it, doesn't, doesn't necessarily get you too far.
Um, but you know, you also don't want people who are overly, cuz there can be some people who will like, tear friends and that's not great either. So I think you gotta find the right, you know, finding a community. I, you know, something I just [00:33:00] recently heard, I'm gonna steal from a little bit, is. There's some people try to net, I, I hate the term networking.
I think it's like most stupidest terms, but you know, it is important to meet people and to know people in the industry. But I think a lot of people try to go up, they try to network to the top. They're like, I wanna meet the top person at, you know, this agency so I can get an agent or I want to go to the studio and meet the, the top person there.
And I think actually, you know, cuz the way I came in, . You know, I went to college in Connecticut and I moved, I, I, at first I worked at William Morrison Denver in the mail room. And I was with 10 other, you know, people my age who were also what they called floating assistants, where we worked in the mail room together.
And, you know, this was about a little over a decade ago, uh, 2012 when I graduated college. And that was what I did before I came to AFI film school. There.
Working in the mail room, I [00:34:00] made probably 20 to 30 friends, acquaintances, people you know, who all work in the industry now, or at least most of them do. Not all of them are talent agents, but a lot of them, some of them you know, are working at studios. Some of them are in TV development. Some of them are in film development.
Some of them are in film finance. So, you know, I. The moral of that story, you know, And then going to afi you mean a lot? I was able to meet a lot of filmmakers around my age who are a little older or a little younger and, you know, form this group that kind of came, you know, my cinematographer on my film was the class below me.
My editors work the class below two years below me. So, you know, and I've worked be more years above you. So, you know, you, I think the moral of the story is network horizontally, not vertically. I think it's a Duas brothers. Because a lot of people are like, Oh my God, I gotta get to the top of the tree and I gotta meet someone there.
And the odds are then, you know, might not always be the case, but the person at the top of the tree probably doesn't wanna talk to you, you know, until you're really like heating [00:35:00] up. They probably want to talk to some, you know, uh, someone who's already alist. So I think when you're starting out networking horizontally and tapping into that, so you know, if you're a writer, it's a little different because if you're a writer, really all you have to do is.
And make sure your material's really good and then find, and you know, if you're halfway competent at like talking to people, you'll be able to find people who can get your stuff passed around, right? Because when something is really good and really strong, it stands out because there's so much bad mediocre stuff out there.
Even at the top levels, you know, even at the top agencies, there's, there's Beth, you know, people would be surprised. So, you know, good material tends. Stand out pretty fast. And there's so many ways now that one could, uh, you know, you know, I, one of my side hustles that I did all through, pretty much all through the making of American Murderer was I was a script reader, um, on sites.
And I can't say which ones cause I. it was, it was secret, under secret terms. But you know, there's so many great [00:36:00] sites like, you know, in competitions like nickel, although be careful of competitions cuz some of them are really scammy. Um, I would, you know, if you're gonna submit to a competition, I would do like Nickel, maybe the Coppola one.
You know, there, there are good ones and there are, but there are ones that just are, you know, money sucks. And so I. Wary of some, but screenwriting competitions, like certainly the top ones can help if you know, So like, yeah, I, the good material does tend to stand out. It's not always the case. Sometimes things get buried, but you know, when a good, when a good or great script is around and it's commercially viable, people tend to, they tend to notice, you know?
Um, so I would say just keep, you know, doing the work is the most important thing cuz you can network all you want. , you can meet everybody in town, but if you don't have a good script, nobody's gonna. Um, or even sometimes, by the way, good also doesn't mean sellable. Unfortunately. There are a lot of, you know, not great scripts that are commercial and a lot of great scripts that aren't.
Um, but I think, you know, I'm a believer in right, what you're passionate about. Cause I think when you try to write to fit a market, you know that, [00:37:00] you know, some people do it and good on them, but I, I, I believe cuz if you're, if you write something that's a great sample maybe, and it's not say necessarily the most commercial.
Um, well if the writing's really good, some agent or manager might read that and then they might say, Oh, I wanna hire that guy to write, or a woman to write something for, you know, focus. You know. So I think writing stuff and trying to do great work, um, is always priority number one. And then I think meeting people, but meet people who are at your level and who are in your ecosystem so that you can kind of together rise up.
Cuz that's what's something that I will say has been really fun to see on my. And I'm, you know, I am absolutely an emerging filmmaker at, at most, but I have a, a group of people who are kind of coming up with me, you know, are around me and I'm seeing it, You know, that a lot of people at my age group are kind of sim, you know, interesting places or similar places.
And so I think that there's something nice about that. Um, for sure.
Adam: Yeah, definitely. And, and I think the key with the networking, as you mentioned with the horizontal thing, is really [00:38:00] looking at it from the long game, right? Yeah. Where, uh, where are you all going to be 10, 15 years from now? Um, rather than just that immediate gratification of who's gonna help me today?
Um, and then also just going into it, you know, rather than looking to receive something, but just kind of what can you offer and, and how can you help, I think makes a huge difference. Yeah. Awesome. Uh, thank you so much for being here, Matthew, and congratulations on the success of American Murderer. I know you've already won a few, uh, awards at film festivals for it.
Where and when can, uh, people check out the film?
Matthew Gentile: Uh, the film will be on October 21st in select theaters, and it'll be out the 28th, October 28th of digital on-demands. They can rent it on any transactional video on demand platform. On their TV smartphone. So please watch it on tv, but you can watch it on a smartphone too.
Um, And, uh, yeah, anywhere you, your tablets, anywhere you can rent at a iTune store. Amazon, all of 'em. [00:39:00]
Adam: Awesome. And where can people go to learn more about you?
Matthew Gentile: Uh, they could follow me on Instagram @MatthewLGentile, um, and also my website, uh, MatthewGentileDirector.com Where I update things fairly regularly, I gotta get better about it.
But , uh, it's also a way to contact me too. So if you wanna write me, that's the best way.
Adam: Perfect. Uh, and no unsolicited manuscripts for him.
Matthew Gentile: No, No. I can't take those. I have too many projects going on, but, um, I can answer questions. Uh, I just might be a little slow.
Adam: Awesome. All right, so check out American Murderer and help us bring Jason Derek Brown to justice.
Thanks so much for being here, Matthew.
Matthew Gentile: Adam, this was a pleasure and also we didn't talk at all about this on the podcast, but thank you so much for your contribution to American Murderer and uh, giving me such a, you know, you are such a great resource to screenwriters, especially screenwriters in the crime genre.
So thank you for all the great work that you do and for helping my movie.
Adam: Yeah, you're very welcome. Appreciate it.[00:40:00]