Posts Tagged ‘Jon Hamm’

“When I write a script, I am telling a story that comes from my heart.”
Matthew Weiner, 9-time Emmy winning writer/producer (The Sopranos, Mad Men)

“He had a home,
The love of a girl,
But men get lost sometimes,
As years unfurl”
New York Minute
Lyrics by Don Henley, Danny Korthchmar, Jai L. Winding

I’m on a steady Mad Men diet. No, I didn’t see the season premiere of the Emmy-winning AMC TV program earlier this week. Not being a regular TV watcher it takes me a little time to commit to watching a show. But once I’m in, I’m all in. This week alone I’ve watched 9 episodes. (All which aired originally in 2007.)

It’s really more of a workout—literally. At the gym I set either a stationary bike or an elliptical machine for 47 minutes. (The length of an episode.) And I’ve even switched machines and watched shows back to back. So if you had a sedate winter give that Mad Men diet and workout a try. (Results vary.)

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”— but it sure can make for good drama. It worked for Arthur Miller in Death of a Salesman and it works for Matthew Weiner and his writing team for Mad Men. In fact, the subtitle of Man Men could borrow words from Thoreau; “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Mad Men is everything that television usually isn’t; intelligent, philosophical, contemplative, and even spiritual. (Along with a good deal of smoking, drinking, and philandering.) And its use of subtext and visual storytelling* exceeds what you’ll find in the typical Hollywood feature film.

So I thought I’d find a little inspiration today for you from the Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner.

“Writers were idolized in my home. My parents had a big poster picture of Ernest Hemingway on a wall in a hallway in our house. I thought I was going to be a poet and that I would find some other profession, teaching or something, to support me. After I graduated from film school at the University of Southern California, it was about 10 years before I got a paying job in the industry, but I never gave myself a time limit. I wrote the pilot episode for Mad Men in 1999 at night while I already had a job, and finally got it produced in 2006.”
Matthew Weiner
A Conversation with Matthew Weiner by Bob Fisher 

Don’t gloss over that 10 year deal. It was 10 years after Weiner earned his MFA from USC that he got “a paying job in the industry.” He also did his undergraduate work at Wesleyan University where he was in “a Great Books program with philosophy, literature and history mixed together.” Smart cookie, with educated and affluent parents, but it still took him 10 years to get a paying job in the industry. Say he’s 24 when he gets his Master’s degree, that puts him at 34 before his career started to take off.

I don’t know what he did in that ten-year period, but I bet he was cranking out pages. (He did have some scripts optioned for free.)

“I’ve learned that tenacity is a common part of the personalities of successful writers whom I have met. Now, maybe because I have had some success, I can say that the struggling  for the 10 years or so before I got a paying  job, made me a better writer.”
Matthew Weiner

Looking for a word today to put on a 3X5 card to place on the wall behind your computer? Try tenacity. Meaning persistent, relentless—like a dog on a bone.

P.S. From the quirky connection category. Weiner is four years younger than me an attended the all-boys prep school Harvard in Los Angeles (Now the co-ed Harvard-Westlake School). When I was in film school I worked for Yary Photography taking pictures of sports groups throughout Southern California. I did several shoots at the Harvard School when I was 21/22-years-old. Weiner would have been a 17/18-year-old student meaning if he played sports our paths could have crossed for a fleeting moment.

And for what it’s worth, writer-director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) is also an alumni of the Harvard-Westlake School where the tuition for this school year is $30,000.

P.P.S. Care for a Midwest angle on Mad Men? Jon Hamm, who plays creative director Don Draper was born in St. Louis, Missouri and graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Missouri. Same school Brad Pitt attended. Ironically, neither of the future stars and Sexist Men Alive were theater majors at the Columbia, MO college. And January Jones (who plays Don’s wife Betty) was born and raised in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (about 10 miles from the Iowa border).

* Visual storytelling Mad Men example: In the episode Long Weekend, the number #2 man at the advertising agency Sterling-Cooper calls a secretary into his office (who is having an affair with) and just before she closes the door to his office she decides to leave it ajar about a foot. Nothing said, but so much implied. As the scene plays on it turns out she has seen Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960), and  sympathizes with the Shirley MacLaine character and wonders if she herself is just being used.

Related posts:

Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
“Unstoppable” Wesleyan University
Screenwriting Quote #32 (Mad Men)
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) John Logan’s (Hugo, Rango) 10 year struggle as a writer.

Scott W. Smith

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Though I do appreciate great TV programs like The Twlight Zone, Northern Exposure, Sienfeld, and LOST I’ve never been a big TV watcher. And since I don’t get HBO, CNN, or AMC unless I’m at a hotel, I’m sure I miss some good stuff. But there are only so many hours in a day. 

But just like in the fifties when writers like Paddy Chayefsky, Horton Foote, and Rod Serling helped made for a TV a golden era, but many believe this is a new golden era for television as its attracting some of the best dramatic writers with David E. Kelley, Alan Ball and Aaron Sorkin leading the way. (Certainly if you are looking for a large audience TV is the way to go.)

I had been hearing so many good things about the show Mad Men that I rented the first season DVD last week and watched the pilot.  I guess the fact that it’s won three Golden Globes and six Emmys, including an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series finally got my attention. But I’m kind of jaded on TV from watching too many hours of characters sit around and spill out exposition. Most of the time I’d rather watch a classic movie one more time.

All that to say I was blown away by Mad Men. At least that first script by Matthew Weiner is brilliant. The lighting and sets were beautiful and the talented crew of actors were believable–which is not easy since the first program takes place at a New York City ad agency in 1960. There are layers of depth and subtext in the writing that is hard to find anywhere today.

“Advertising is based on one thing…happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing…it’s okay.  You are okay.”

                                     Mad Men
                                     Season 1/ Program 1
                                     Don Draper ( Jon Hamm) pitching a cigarette company

So I wanted to find out a little about Weiner and discovered that he worked on The Spranos. He wrote the script for Mad Men seven years before it was finally produced and even with his cnnection to HBO could not get them to commit.  Weiner has said to many reporters that part of his inspiration for the series was based on the movies The Apartment and  and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. And there is also where key piece to Weiner’s mindset. 

“There’s no one working in television or theater today who’s not influenced by… the fountainhead of this whole thing, which is Death of a Salesman. That’s it. And you never have to see it, just read the play and you’re like ‘This is it. This is everything. This is the truth about human behavior.’ And it’s earlier than the show but it’s everything that I am interested in. And anybody who I know that I admire, and all the people I admire were influenced by it. Paddy Cheyefsky and Rod Serling – they’re all part of that.”
                                                   Matt Weiner
                                                   Mad Men Q&A Kathy Lyford

The show is a look back to how we got where we are as a culture, while at the same time probing who we are as human beings today.  That’s hard to capture on the page in the first place , much less find a studio that will produce it and convince an audience to watch. Weiner is a great example of someone with vision, talent and persistence who shows you how an 18 year journey can lead to overnight success.

Scott W. Smith

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