The screenwriters panel at the 2016 deadCENTER Film Festival in Oklahoma City featured several people who had various levels of experience at the craft. But one of the panelists stood out by his blunt, but highly informative answers to questions.
He was clearly someone wanting to engage the audience right there in Bricktown, not just make an appearance and then quickly slip away afterward.
It was Matt Payne.
He grew up in the metro area, then moved away to Los Angeles. He had just spent 15 years there working on film and screen production, writing for hit TV shows like “24.”
That panel appearance in June was his first act toward building a screenwriting community here.
Since then his investment in Oklahoma City writers has grown to include teaching at Oklahoma City University and running his own seminars at night made up of highly-motivated adults who want to learn.
But why come back? Isn’t screenwriting in Los Angeles for film and TV the ultimate achievement for an ambitious writer?
He answered that question and several others for Free Press this week in a phone call.
We wondered if that was just creating more competition in an already competitive, overcrowded environment.
That’s not the way he sees it.
Yes, it is very crowded and competitive in Los Angeles for screenwriters, but not Oklahoma City. Rather than being overcrowded, he thinks Oklahoma City doesn’t have nearly enough people working at the craft.
“I don’t really think of it as competition,” said Payne. “I think of it as building a community. I saw an opportunity in Oklahoma. I saw that there was a lot of interest in film here.”
He realized “in Oklahoma, people are making movies.” But he said he wants the movies made here to improve with a stronger screenwriting community.
Payne sees value in the university setting and the independent workshop settings that he offers to highly-motivated adults. He does both because he loves the dynamic of sparking creativity in others.
If I can inspire people to write better content it ultimately makes me a better writer. Selfishly, nothing has made me a better writer than teaching. It’s the greatest tool that I have given myself.
So, he continues to develop his own seminars designed to engage with adults who want to do more with their creativity.
In just five months, he has held multisession seminars in creative writing, screenwriting and travel writing.
Just recently he held a one-night coaching session on how to survive a move to Los Angeles to get a writing or production job.
Teaching is not just “Plan B” for Payne. “I love teaching,” he said. “I draw very, very much creatively from working with people who are also passionate.”
There is an aspect to his conversation that reveals a desire to keep others from having to struggle quite as much as he did when he started. He has been writing for 15 years now.
The question he starts with is this: “What can I share so that it’s easier for people to be successful at the level I am right now in less than 15 years.”
Free Press talked by phone with three participants of the seminars. They all commented on how eager Payne was to help them outside of class. They said the seminars have a homework component. And no matter what kind of help they needed with their homework, Payne was willing.
“To me, he’s a godsend,” said Kourtney Hawkins a participant in several of Payne’s seminars. “People who have been in Hollywood that come home to train people to live their dream. I love it.”
She graduated from Millwood High School in Oklahoma City and then the University of Central Oklahoma. After that she went to Los Angeles and spent five years there in TV news production before coming back. She now works in the oil business, but wants to develop her screenwriting skills as a creative outlet.
Hawkins said that she is ready for the next seminar because she believes Payne is a good teacher who wants her to improve and find success in her writing. She said that participating wasn’t just a matter of receiving information, it was a relationship.
She is excited that Payne wants to develop screenwriting here and “put Oklahoma on the map.”
Tiffany Patterson and Susan Clark were more interested in the creative writing class, but then found their way into Payne’s screenwriting and travel writing classes. Each believed they had a good experience in the seminars.
“I do a lot of journaling and that kind of writing,” said Patterson. “Creative Writing class just opened up a whole new avenue of learning the skills of taking these different elements and to come up with a story.”
Susan Clark likes how Payne “helps draw stories out of you.” She found that the seminars helped her to bring her own stories to the surface in her writing.
Payne continues to write as he teaches. But the teaching is not a distraction, it seems to be a part of his creative process.
He said that he sees the passion in his students and is reminded of his own passion for writing.
“It gives me access to a creative flow that gets buried in the chaos of working in Hollywood,” he said.
And so, he is planning more seminars in the future and looks forward to modeling what it means to collaborate and network in an industry “built almost entirely on networking.’
If you are curious about the process, contact Payne by visiting his website.