By Tyler Carr
In 2010, Matthew Ryan introduced UC Santa Barbara to the Script to Screen series, an event held at the campus’ Pollock Theater that features classic or current films followed by a question and answer session with its screenwriters. That same year he started the Pollock Internship, enlisting students interested in film, screenwriting, and production, to put on Pollock Theater events.
Now, after nearly a decade as director of Pollock Theater, Ryan can claim both programs as resounding successes. The Script to Screen Series has allowed local residents and movie enthusiasts the opportunity to see year-round screenings followed by a discussion with its filmmakers, while the Pollock Internships gives film students real-life work experience in their chosen field. In over a span of nine years and with more than 40 episodes, the series has become a valued tradition to students as well as to the surrounding UC Santa Barbara community.
The man who holds the Director title started as a Long Island boy with a passion for film and writing. From his first job as a movie theater usher to working in the Lifetime Television tape library, to running NYU’s Cantor Film Center, he’s a veteran in the field. A Loyola Marymount University graduate, he received his Masters in Fine Arts in screenwriting in 2008 and joined UCSB in 2010.
Ryan sat down to talk with Humanities and Fine Arts just hours before a Script to Screen event featuring the Academy Award-nominated film I, Tonya.
Q. What first introduced you to the world of film and screenwriting?
A. My mom was into writing and literature so that’s where the writing came from. I was about three years old when I started going to a couple of movies a week. My dad loved movies so I would go all the time. He would do horror, comedy, romantic, period pieces--he liked all genres and never discriminated. He took us to everything. I grew up in a movie theater.
Q. After already having done work with Lifetime Television and running the NYU film center, what made you decide to go back to school and get your Masters degree in screenwriting?
A. I always had the dream of going back to graduate school for screenwriting. I was in my mid-thirties when I came down with an illness—cancer—which wound up being minor. I thought, ‘You know what? I’m just going to do it.’ So I applied to different schools. Then I quit the job at NYU and spent three years in a MFA program at LMU, just writing all the time, writing at the beach, learning the craft of screenwriting. It was wonderful.
Q. Soon after you completed your masters you became the Director of Pollock Theater. Can you describe the transition?
A. I graduated in 2008 and then the economy collapsed, so there weren’t a lot of jobs available. I basically wrote for a year and tried to find a job. I was offered this job running Pollock Theater, and teaching online screenwriting in Florida. I would have taken the Florida job if it were actually in-class screenwriting.
Q. You started the Script to Screen series soon after taking over as director. Had it always been an idea in your mind?
A. It started about a year after. We didn’t have a big staff at the time and we also needed some kind of consistent programming. Then two things happened: Scott Frank, who has been a donor and a friend to the department, made a donation. Then we did a special class where we broke down a script together from more perspectives for that class. And then we said, “Oh, script to screen!"
I’m friends with one of the Legally Blonde writers and I was like ‘I can get her, she’s a pal.’ So she agreed to come up. The interns wrote the Q and A, and planned the event. And at that time we didn’t do that many events, so it was just like ‘Wow, this is really cool.’ That just opened the door for us. I think we’re up to 45 Script to Screens that we’ve done here.
Q. Do you ever have dreams of being on the other side of that chair?
A. Yes. That’s actually an interesting thing. I always freak out because I like my side [on stage]. But, yes, I’m always writing. And I’m learning from the masters, so hopefully, sure. But I actually love what I do. I like breaking down scripts and writing, I do it all the time.
Q. Where do you see the screen series in five to ten years?
A. Pretty consistent. But Patrice Petro, the director of the Carsey-Wolf Center, and I would like to do a screenwriting program a couple years down—a lab during the summer where we bring these writers in, because we have a lot of great writers. For example, David Mendel who wrote and directed for Veep came up. He loved talking to students so he’s come back already for a special screenwriting seminar. I’d like to do more of that, where we actually bring these awesome screenwriters to come back and talk to students in a classroom, workshop setting. We’ve already started doing that, but I would love to expand.
Q. What was your thought process in developing in the Pollock Internship? What do you hope students gain from it?
A. We wanted to create an internship where they’re not going to get coffee and do all of that stuff. I want them to actually learn something, because they want to learn. They’re shooting tonight’s event, for example. The show goes on UCTV and they get production credit. They help me write the Q and A’s. I wanted them involved from day one. I wanted them involved in planning the event so that they feel it. It’s not just happening outside of them.
Q. Do you have any future plans for the internship program and the interns here?
A. I’d like to make more of a Hollywood connection, where we can take them and their experience and sell that to a higher-level internship down in LA. They’re always looking for good interns in LA, but they’re getting millions of applications. However, we have really stellar students and I’d like to set up that. We are going to do that.
Q. I’d like to end this interview with the same question you end each Script to Screen: Can you tell me about a childhood movie theater experience or a special film that inspired you?
A. I would say it was Jaws. I was seven when I saw it in the theater, and I thought there were sharks in my backyard afterwards. But just the fact of what it can do, what a movie could do, how much I felt during that movie. That one probably stood out. And when we did Jaws here with the screenwriter, it was a great experience because he and I were just watching the audience, because we knew the scary scenes. It was so much fun because a lot of people hadn’t seen the movie. It was such a blast, basically watching them experience what I went through as a kid.
Tyler Carr is a fourth-year student at UC Santa Barbara, majoring in Communication. She conducted this interview as part of her Writing course: Journalism for the Web and Social Media.