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From NYU to destroying worlds: 2021 Big Break Winner Matthew Manson

May 25, 2022
5 min read time

Photo courtesy of Matthew Manson

Gaby Guffner: Destroyer of Worlds writer Matthew Manson celebrated his Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Contest® win with his family — and a bottle of Trader Joe’s bubbly.

“It's sort of the first time that people are really getting their eyes on it, and I'm really excited to get feedback. It went out to a few production companies last year, and everyone seemed to like it a lot. But this is the first time that I feel like it's really going to get great exposure,” Manson says of his half-hour animated pilot.

“I really wanted to focus on the opportunities that seemed like the best or the competitions that seemed like they were the highest regarded and the best put together. I kept getting surprised that it was like, ‘oh Quarterfinals! Semifinals, then Top Five, Top Three. What? No way!’ Then I called Heather because I had a question about something else and she's like, 'I don't know how to tell you this, but you won.’ It was the middle of my workday, and I just said, ‘I'm done working today.’ [I] went to Trader Joe's, I got a bottle of champagne, picked my kids up from school, and just had a nice relaxing day.”

The key ingredient of a winning screenplay: Originality

What makes the win extra-special for Manson is that the format isn’t always the easiest one to ‘sell’.

“It’s my understanding that for every hour-long script, there's like four half-hour long scripts. Even when you know people, and people are sending it to people for you. It's just very hard to stand out in the marketplace. So I think what's amazing about Final Draft is that they do such a good job of promoting and recognizing scripts that you know, maybe like, slipped through the cracks or for people who don't have people that know the right people.”

He’s been working on the project for a long time, and turns out, for a ‘winning script,' it’s not everyone’s cup of tea — which makes it even more impressive and important to note that it can all come down to a solid story and really stylish, crisp writing.

“...I'm in a writers’ group with five or six tremendous writers, I think most of whom are women and they don't traditionally write in that space. And someone told me that, 'hey, this is a great script. This is not anything I would ever watch on television, but this is a terrific script.' I take that as an ultimate compliment,” says Manson, who got into writing as a kid.

The writing jobs that lead him to the top

"I was a sickly kid. So this was back in the days of the old VHS tapes. It was all of the Star Wars movies. All of the Marx Brothers movies, and my mom had Federico Fellini movies, and Monty Python. No matter how sick I felt, I could watch over and over and over again until they broke... they brought me this sense of joy and happiness. I think I started writing when I was 12, I wrote fan fiction for Doctor Who. It was in prose form and I showed it to my writing teacher and they were like, 'Hey, this is really good.' My mom was an Italian cinema minor at NYU, so she had all these books from the ‘60s, and every weekend I would plow through 15 VHSs or DVDs, and I just fell in love more and more with storytelling,” Manson reminisces.

“I was a New Yorker. I grew up watching Scorsese movies and various other New York filmmakers and all I wanted to do was go to NYU, so I went. It was a terrific experience. I actually wrote a very, extremely, extraordinarily wacky senior thesis film that again, the teachers were like, ‘Matt, this is very wacky. We're a serious film school. I think like we should sit and workshop this and if you work really hard, maybe it'll be something presentable.’ I couldn't get a callback from any of my teachers and then what happened? I got into Tribeca. All of a sudden, my teacher started calling me, ‘I’m just so proud of you. This is great.' And then I won Best Short at Tribeca.”

From there, Manson got into comedy writing and directing. “I was hired by the people who created MySpace for their production company and I directed like 1,000 comedy sketches for them. I directed a ton of stuff for UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade). And that's what led me into the world of branded content and I wrote and directed a ton of commercials, like a 12-episode web series starring Seth Green about someone stealing his Butterfinger.”

Around that time, Manson also became friendly with the CEO of Zappos. “A very eccentric guy who was absolutely brilliant and really nice, and he decided that he loved me for some reason and he took me all around the country. So I got to meet every tech CEO you've ever wanted or maybe don't want to meet; famous people, billionaires, multimillionaires, people who topped Forbes 10 lists or whatever. And I guess that was sort of the impetus behind Gaby.”

“Almost every CEO had the same version of the future, which is the economy will be dictated by the service industry. Meaning all the new jobs will be someone pressing a button and someone delivering food to you. Someone pressing a button and someone cutting your hair, someone pressing a button and you know, massaging your feet. That was their vision.”

Then the pandemic hit, and it appeared the whole world was having to press a button and have things delivered, and “I started to be like, is this the future they were talking about?"

Scriptwriting advice from Big Break's winner's circle

His advice to other writers: “Never stop creating. Especially when you’re young. Go out with your cell phone on the weekend and shoot a funny sketch with a friend. Go take an improv class and meet a bunch of people and try to see if they want to be in your comedy short. If you're in Los Angeles, take an extension class and have a creative screenwriting group with them,” Manson suggests.

“The people I know who have done the best in this industry are generally not people who spend two years writing one script. Just create, create, create every weekend. The second thing I would say is to listen to all criticism, but only change your script to listen to criticism or only make changes when the criticism feels right to you. Because I feel like people can spin out and start changing and re-editing and re-drafting. There's something called the sunk-cost fallacy, which is that you've put in enough time on something and you just have to keep going with it... The truth is, break up with that script. It'll be hard. It might be a bitter divorce, but you can break up with that script if it's not working for you. But on the flip side, every script gets better than the last. So if you say like, I'm gonna put that one on the shelf somewhere and work on something else. And, ultimately, the best thing you can do is just write what you love and hope that other people love it too.”



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