Oklahoma City writer returns home to teach his craft

A writer’s path can be circuitous and full of surprises. Perhaps few know this better than Matt Payne, who returned to Oklahoma after 15 years writing for television in Los Angeles.

Oklahoma Gazette recently spoke to Payne in advance of his upcoming writing workshops.

While film and writing interested Payne from a young age, he was not always sure of his future career.

“The idea of actually writing a screenplay kind of scared me,” he said, “so I kind of went back and forth with being interested in production and screenwriting.”

After graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in film and video studies, Payne worked on a short being filmed in Paris.

He also interned for Oklahoma City native Gray Frederickson, associate producer of The Godfather.

“I had a sort of unique skill set that at the time really was of value,” Payne said, “so I went to Los Angeles.”

Connections Payne had to Oklahomans in Los Angeles proved fruitful, and he ended up working as a production assistant on the show 24 before it was picked up or aired.

Payne said the hours on set were long, and he envied the writers. He started writing a satirical magazine “about everything that was happening, from the studio all the way down to the rat exterminator.”

The show’s executive producer eventually promoted Payne, and he began reading scripts for Endeavor (now William Morris Endeavor) talent agency.

“It was there that I started to learn to read scripts analytically,” said Payne, “learning to discern good from bad.”

Exposure to so many scripts gave him the tools he needed to become a better writer.

“I think that you can read five pages of a script … and you can see mistakes in dialogue, in action, in structure,” he said.

Payne said such faults in a script can obscure or mask potential talent.

“It doesn’t mean the idea isn’t good,” he said. “But what it means is that as a writer, you have a long way to go, and you are going to end up on the bottom of the pile.”

He also began to work on procedural drama Without a Trace. However, the Writers Guild of America strike came as he was about to write his first episode.

His sister convinced him to try travel writing for Washington Times Communities.

Over time, his writing career split into “two very separate directions.”

He recalled leaving the writers’ room on Thursday afternoons, traveling to places like Haiti, and then returning to Los Angeles and driving to the CBS lot. He began to find his voice as a travel writer.

Coming home

Eventually, Los Angeles’ high cost of living and Payne’s bifurcated career caused him to re-evaluate his priorities. He knew he wanted to continue writing and working with like-minded people.

“I’ve always loved working with other people. I love inspiring writers,” Payne said. “I had no idea how I was going to do it in Los Angeles.”

He found a compromise in Oklahoma City, his hometown.

“In Oklahoma, there is this amazing, emerging creative community, from the food scene … to the arts scene. The magazines are great. There’s so much happening here,” Payne said.

He decided he wanted to create a supportive writing community in Oklahoma in which writers could seek out guidance and feedback.

“I want to help people have the experience that I had,” he said. “And I want them to figure it out in a year, not in fifteen. And I don’t want them to have to leave Oklahoma to do it.”

Payne recently held The Point Writers Workshop at Individual Artists of Oklahoma.

He also offers consulting sessions for breaking and developing ideas, which are priced on a sliding scale.

He hosts two workshops this fall: one for creative writing, and one for screenplay writing.

“I want it to be fun. Nobody’s getting grades,” he said of the workshops. “I want people to believe that they can write. I want people to really be able to tap into the stories that they want to tell.”

His four-week creative writing class begins Aug. 16 and costs $250. His eight-week screenplay course begins Sept. 14 and costs $350.

Visit mattpaynewriter.com for more information.

Print headline: Writing home, After writing in Los Angeles and beyond, Oklahoma native Matt Payne comes home to a city teeming with possibility.

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