Forget about Twilight. And who cares about The Walking Dead? Professor Matt Deller has some things in the works that will make you forget that they even exist. Deller, one of our Screenwriting faculty members, has been making some waves recently, and we wanted to showcase his talent (despite his humbleness).
Deller started his career in screenwriting in one of the most unlikely of ways: Dungeons & Dragons.
“I used to play with the bass player of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and he got me into playing Neverwinter Nights, too. You could create your own modules and write your own episodes for it. You got to be the storyteller,” Deller said.
While he admitted that he always wanted to tell stories in some way, this was the vehicle that catapulted him into writing. He credits writing those modules as what helped teach him about how to set up a story.
“It teaches you about pacing, character, and story all at once. The entire campaign falls apart if you don’t have that, so it helped me learn structure,” he said.
While he was doing all this, Deller was also teaching AND coaching wrestling. That is, until he got an offer from Obsidian Entertainment to help write Neverwinter Nights 2. A big step in his career, this was his first official writing credit.
“Working in the environment at Obsidian helped to discipline me. It taught me the craft and how to grind it all out,” said Deller.
After the game came out, Deller went back to work as an assistant principal to support his new family, and left writing behind. He missed it, and even though he loved working at the school, he often thought about what the bridge between the two might be. And then he realized the answer was screenwriting.
He admits that the first thing he wrote wasn’t as good as he would have hoped.
“It was god awful, but I kept at it,” he laughed.
The second screenplay he wrote, Manhattan Undying, was high concept. It tells the story of a vampire who hires a painter to paint her, so she can see what she looks like, but at its core, it’s about what we leave behind in the world and why it is important. This script had much success, as it was produced and played at several film festivals. Paramount has since picked it up for UK and International Distribution.
“I learned a lot more about the process through Manhattan Undying, the whole development process and how to even get a film made. Just getting it done is a big deal and takes a lot of work,” said Deller.
Deller’s next feature, Mountain Man, based off of the book by Keith C. Blackmore, is about a man who lives in solitude during the zombie apocalypse. It is currently being produced by Rough House Pictures, and being directed by Radio Silence, and has Danny McBride and James Marsden attached. For Deller, it started as a low-budget feature, but has since turned into a film with big names attached. And he couldn’t be more excited.
Deller even managed to find the time to co-write a book, with one of his former wrestling students. It’s called The Knight Proper, and it’s available where ever books are sold.
Despite his fantastic success, Deller continues to remain grounded (and self-deprecating). He joined the Dodge College family a few years ago, heading up the Online Screenwriting program…which I took part of during its inaugural run. I can vouch for his skills and passion for the craft of screenwriting, because he definitely taught us a lot.
Deller loves being at Chapman, because he loves the students and the staff, and how much he gets along with them.
“I also routinely stalk Andy Lane in the hallways. Seriously, the dude wrote Valley Girl and was a producer on Night of the Comet. Seminal 80s movies, man!” joked Deller.
He’s the perfect fit for screenwriting, because he still gets to be a coach and a teacher, but also combine it with something else he loves doing. He’s still in the trenches as well, so he knows how the environment is out there in the industry, and can help our students connect in ways they didn’t think possible.
“There is no reason why my students can’t be writing scripts that move the needle forward in their careers right now,” he said. He knows what people are responding to and what their expectations are, so that helps in what he teaches them.
In fact, in his short time here, his students have had great success; one of them was a finalist at the Austin Film Festival, another was a finalist at Script Pipeline and a semi-finalist for Nichols, and one was optioned.
“It’s important to me that my students walk out of class with a viable product, whether as a calling card or something to help advance their career. I want to try to open as many doors as possible for them,” he said.
As for advice for screenwriters, he has a few words.
“Be in love with what you write about. Be passionate about it. Good results will come from it.”