Matthew Weiner, the creator of AMC television’s cultural phenomenon, “Mad Men,” is headed to Austin to receive the Austin Film Festival’s 2014 Outstanding Television Writer Award on Saturday at the Austin Club. He joins the likes of Chris Carter (“The X-Files”), Vince Gilligan (“Breaking Bad”) and his old boss and mentor David Chase (“The Sopranos”) as a recipient of the coveted honor.
I got to chat with him on the phone recently, just days after he had completed “Mad Men’s” final episode.
Austin American-Statesman: So, your old boss David Chase doesn’t get to lord his AFF award over you anymore.
You’d be insane to compete with David Chase on any level. But it’s an honor, yes. I’m thrilled to have it.
The TV portion of these festivals seems to be eclipsing the film portions.
Having spent the last 14 years of my life writing about historical situations, I know that it’s cyclical, but I’m glad to be a part of the upswing.
What else will you be doing at the festival?
It’s fun to talk about “Mad Men,” and I love to engage with the audience, but the thing that really looks like fun is that I’m going to be showing a couple of “Twilight Zone” episodes. I’m showing “It’s a Good Life,” the one with Billy Mumy as the little boy who has control over people’s minds, and “A Stop at Willoughby.” It’s incredible how old they are and how they hold up. They are not quaint. It will be fun to see them with an audience, which I’ve never done, especially if it’s an audience that is probably deeply, deeply drunk.
The ending of “Willoughby” is great.
You know, they have these great twist endings, but even though they are science fiction, fantasy, sometimes horror, they’re told on such a human scale. People have jobs and people have interactions that seem kind of inconsequential. You recognize — even if it’s like “Willoughby,” which has a period element to it — the behavior as being human and beyond any time. For the most part there’s a subtlety to it, and it stays with you.
It sounds like the show had a big influence on you.
It made me want to write about something more important, I wouldn’t say in the most pretentious way, but just realizing that you could at least try to write about something that was important to you.
It’s interesting that TV is coming back around to anthologies.
I love them. They’ve been discouraged because they’re really expensive. Part of the TV model for making anywhere from 6, 13 or 22 episodes a year is that you have to be able to amortize the money that’s spent. Even for us, making a drastic change in the middle of the show to have (“Mad Men’s” characters) be in a new office or adding a staircase when 15 to 20 percent of your show is being shot in that set, that’s a commitment. So just imagine bringing that every week.
Maybe the season-long anthologies such as “True Detective” are kind of a compromise?
“True Detective” is a miniseries to me. So, that form coming back is definitely welcome.
Where are you in the production of “Mad Men’s” final season?
It’s over. I did the final sound mix on the finale on Sunday. We stopped shooting around July 4th, so, the actors went home and it took a couple of weeks for the crew and sets to disappear. Then one editor leaves and another editor leaves and finally it’s down to me and my assistant and the post producer who is delivering the episode, and you work your way down to just being alone with your computer again. Considering I wrote the pilot 14 years ago, it’s pretty, um — I don’t think I’ve absorbed it yet.
Are you satisfied with how things wrapped up?
I feel very lucky that I was allowed to decide when it ended and to write to that. Creatively, it’s very satisfying just to be able to do it on your own terms and not just get a phone call saying, “hey — don’t make anymore starting tomorrow.” So, if I’m not satisfied, it’s kind of my own fault.
Was your writing process for the final season any different than for the others?
There were a lot of similarities. I have, on many occasions, not known if the show was coming back and I have treated other seasons as if they were the last season of the show, so that process was all the same. The biggest difference with this last season is that it was split in two, so I needed two premieres and two finales. But that didn’t bother me. I mean, 92 episodes in, having anything that’s different is not bad, creatively. It really made us focus on the main characters, which I probably would have done anyway. You’re writing stories and scenes where you’re like, “This is where I am leaving this character forever.” I didn’t want to spend a lot of our time left looking back with a half-smile saying, “Hey, remember that time they did that thing?” I wanted to keep within the story and say where their lives were going. That’s Don Draper’s philosophy: Move forward.
What’s next for you? No spin-offs, right?
We were joking about doing “Better Call Paul,” with Michael Gladis’ character, Paul Kinsey. No, I am not doing anything. Like I said, it’s been a 14-year journey, and I think that I need to take a little break. I’m reacquainting myself with my life and getting up all in my family’s business, which is irritating to them. I’m the dad in the bathrobe who follows you around when you’re getting ready in the morning; I wasn’t that guy for a long time. I was always here, and I definitely have been part of my family, but not like this. My oldest son just went off to college, and there’s a lot of life to be lived that I would like to do, and hopefully find out what’s on my mind.
“The Humbling”: Al Pacino stars in this feature about an over-the-hill stage actor who finds inspiration in a young woman (Greta Gerwig). Barry Levinson directs from a script based on the Philip Roth novel, and Kyra Sedgwick, Charles Grodin and the always-wonderful Dianne Wiest co-star. 6:45 p.m., Paramount.
“Hardy”: University of Texas graduate Natasha Verma directs a documentary about professional female boxer Heather Hardy. The story follows her life as a single mother and amateur boxer in Brooklyn to become a professional boxer who has signed with promoter Lou DiBella. 7:10 p.m., Rollins Theatre, Long Center.
Shorts Program 12: Documentary Shorts, 7:10 p.m., Hideout Theatre.
“All Relative”: A young man meets the parents of his girlfriend, but a shared secret leads to all sorts of problems. Written and directed by JC Khoury, starring Jonathan Sadowski, Sara Paxton and Al Thompson, all of whom will attend the screening. 7:30 p.m., Alamo Village
“The Sideways Light”: A young woman (Lindsay Burdge) returns home to care for her ailing mother (Annalee Jefferies), but strange things start happening in the home. Directed by Jennifer Harlow. 7:30 p.m., IMAX Theatre at Bob Bullock Museum.
“In the Name of the Father”: “Hotel Rwanda” writer/director Terry George presents the highly acclaimed film that was nominated for seven Oscars. George co-wrote it with writer/director Jim Sheridan. 8 p.m., Stateside.
“The Kings Surrender”: Germany’s Philipp Leinemann directs this drama about a police operation gone wrong. 9:30 p.m., Rollins Theatre.
Shorts Program 2: Back and Forth: 9:40 p.m., Hideout
“The Last Five Years”: Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan star in writer/director Richard LaGravenese’s film about an actress and novelist who look back at their relationship. 9:45 p.m., Paramount.
“Terrible Love”: A feature about a couple whose lives are threatened by post-traumatic stress disorder. 9:45 p.m., IMAX Theatre.
“The Suicide Theory”: Writer Michael J. Kospiah and director Dru Brown will attend the screening of this feature about a man who continually fails at suicide. 10 p.m., Alamo Village
A Conversation with Cary Fukunaga: The director of the television hit “True Detective” talks about his work with festival co-founder Barbara Morgan. 1 p.m., Stephen F. Austin Hotel, Ballroom.
A Conversation with Richard LaGravenese: The Oscar-nominated screenwriter of “The Fisher King” talks about the key elements of storytelling with Alvaro Rodriguez, writer of “Machete” and “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series.” 2:45 p.m., St. David’s Episcopal Church, Bethell Hall.
Check out our preview of the Austin Film Festival in Friday’s Austin360 section and online at austin360.com. Also check out daily updates from the festival at austin360.com/movies.