Ep164: How to ‘Get In the Room’ and Work with Producers Who Will Value & Respect You | with Matt Nix

» Click to read the full transcript

“Do your work every day, and stay focused on what you care about. Work-life balance doesn’t just happen, you have to schedule it.”

– Matt Nix

There’s no question that the start of any successful career requires a certain amount of hard work, grit, and even a bit of hustle. If you want to excel further than those around you, there will be times when you have to make sacrifices or trade-offs to reach your goals. But your career shouldn’t come at the expense of your relationships, your health, or your sanity. That’s why it is so important to be clear on what you want and what your values are so you can build relationships with the right people who will respect you.

My guest today is writer/director/executive producer Matt Nix who has created and/or run shows like Burn NoticeThe GiftedThe Good Guys (an underrated favorite of mine!), and Turner & Hooch. Matt is not only an expert in networking and negotiating, but he has also learned to manage his time effectively so that he and his crews can work reasonable hours while also having a life outside of work. In short, he never asks anything of his crew he wouldn’t be willing to do himself.

Regardless of what your career goals are or what industry you work in, building relationships and adding value to the lives of others is an ongoing skill that you must develop and hone if you want to climb to the top. Matt gives us a rare perspective on how to both network and succeed while also setting healthy(ish) boundaries around his time and his creativity. He also shares the secret to “getting in the room” with people at his level. And equally as illuminating is his perspective on how he creates a fair and balanced work environment where people are respected and allowed to have lives outside of the work. See…it can be done!!!!!

Trust me, this is a conversation you don’t want to miss.

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Here’s What You’ll Learn:

  • Matt’s side of my “Burn Notice origin story.”
  • KEY TAKEAWAY: Be relentless and an opportunity will surface.
  • Matt coaches young writers about their outreach emails to him.
  • KEY TAKEAWAY: Being familiar with the work of a potential mentor or job interviewer is essential to making a good impression.
  • The advice Matt gives to film students and the $20 challenge he gives them.
  • The best and worst times to reach out to a show runner to make a connection.
  • KEY MINDSET: Play chess not checkers.
  • What not to say when a producer gives you notes and what is the better attitude to take.
  • KEY TAKEAWAY: Be the person the show runner can count on.
  • Matt’s philosophy on work and being a boss.
  • KEY TAKEAWAY: A good boss will never ask you to something they aren’t willing to do themselves.
  • The difference between a patriot and a mercenary and which Matt prefers to work with.
  • Lessons he’s learned from his early days of show running and how his process has evolved.
  • How to get through the pressures of Hollywood.
  • Matt recommends reading the War of Art to all aspiring creators.
  • The origin story of Matt’s career.
  • How five ‘sure things’ turn out to be only one actual job.
  • Matt’s first pitch on Burn Notice got passed up.
  • The art of negotiation.
  • Why you should only have 2 rates: Full rate and free.
  • KEY TAKEAWAY: Don’t allow anyone else to set your value.
  • The story of Matt’s failed script.
  • His advice to his younger self and the story behind it.

Useful Resources Mentioned:

IATSE Stories (@ia_stories) • Instagram photos and videos

The War of Art | Steven Pressfield

William Faulkner Quote

Craig Siebels – Contact Info, Agent, Manager | IMDbPro

Watch Burn Notice Season 5 | Prime Video

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Episode Transcript

Matt Nix 0:00

Do your work, put it out there, keep smiling. And if it doesn't work now trust that it will work at some point in the future.

Zack Arnold 0:09

My name is Zack Arnold, I'm a Hollywood film and television editor, a documentary director, father of two, an American Ninja Warrior in training and the creator of Optimize Yourself. For over 10 years now I have obsessively searched for every possible way to optimize my own creative and athletic performance. And now I'm here to shorten your learning curve. Whether you're a creative professional who edits, writes or directs, you're an entrepreneur, or even if you're a weekend warrior, I strongly believe you can be successful without sacrificing your health, or your sanity in the process. You ready? Let's design the optimized version of you.

Hello, and welcome to the Optimize Yourself podcast. If you're a brand new optimizer, I welcome you and I sincerely hope that you enjoy today's conversation. If you're inspired to take action after listening today, why not tell a friend about the show and help spread the love? And if you're a longtime listener and optimizer O.G. welcome back. Whether you're brand new, or you're seasoned vets, if you have just 10 seconds today, it would mean the world to me if you clicked the subscribe button in your podcast app of choice, because the more people that subscribe, the more that iTunes and the other platforms can recognize this show. And thus the more people that you and I can inspire, to step outside their comfort zones to reach their greatest potential. And now on to today's show.

Now there's no question that the start of any successful career is going to require a certain amount of hard work, grit, and yes, even a bit of hustle. If you want to excel even further than those around you. There are going to be times when you have to make sacrifices or trade offs if you want to reach your goals. But your career should not come at the expense of your relationships, your health or your sanity. And that is why it is so important to be clear on what you want, and what your values are. So you can build relationships with the right people who will respect you. And that is why I'm so excited to introduce today's guest who is writer, director and executive producer Matt Nix, who has created and or run shows like Burn Notice, The Gifted, The Good Guys, which by the way, is a very underrated favorite of mine, and Turner and Hooch just to name a few. Matt is not only an expert in both networking and negotiating, but he's also learned to manage his time effectively so that he and his crews can work reasonable hours while also get this crazy concept having a life outside of work. In short, he never asks anything of his crew that he wouldn't be willing to do himself. Regardless of what your career goals are, or what industry you even work in. Building relationships and adding value to the lives of others is an ongoing skill that you must develop and hone if you want to climb to the top. Matt gives us a rare perspective and how to both network but also succeed while also setting healthy ish, healthy ish boundaries around his time and his creativity. He also shares the secret to getting in the room with people at his level. And equally as illuminating is his perspective and how he creates a fair and balanced work environment where people are respected and allowed to have lives outside of work. See, it can be done, I promise. Trust me. In short, this is a conversation you simply don't want to miss before jumping right into today's interview. However, I am excited to share with you a new addition to the podcasts. Well actually, I'm kind of resurrecting it from years of slumber which is the q&a episode. It has been a long time since I did an informal question and answer show and I plan to do them on a monthly basis going forwards. But here's the thing, I can't do answers without the questions. And that is where I need your help. If you enjoy this podcast and you have specific questions that you would like me to address on the show, it is super simple. All you have to do is visit optimizeyourself.me/podcast and then select the apple podcasts app subscribe, then write a quick and by the way, an honest review in the apple podcast app. At the end of your review. Leave your question and I will do my best to not only answer your question in depth, but I'm also going to give you credit on the show. How cool is that? And the more reviews that we can amass the better placement we get from Apple and the more creative professionals that you and I can inspire to do what they love for a living without having to sacrifice their health, their relationships or their sanity in the process. Alright, without further ado, my conversation with writer, producer, director and showrunner Matt Nix made possible today by our amazing sponsor Ergodriven who is going to be featured just a bit later in today's interview to access the show notes for this and all previous episodes as well as to subscribe so you don't miss the next inspirational interview, please visit optimizeyourself.me/podcast

Matt Nix 4:58

the gospel that I preach to young writers and young creatives is basically do your work every day, stay focused on what you are doing and care about. And that work life balance doesn't come from. Like, it doesn't just happen, you have to decide that it's happening, you have to schedule it. So you know, I've been on this kick where I was like, I'm going to work out every day of my 49th year. So I went through my 49th year and I think I'm on 392 days in a row working out that again, that doesn't happen by accident. And like, if you're gonna run a show and work out every single day, when you're running a show, even when you're in production, even when you're on set, even, you know, like, and that kind of spills over so it's it's sort of related to the kind of things that you talk about. And and it's something that's very important to me, and it's the biggest thing that I see for for like, young creatives is they kind of want a lottery ticket, they want to, you know, they want a they want it to be about one thing they want it you know, and it's just like, the takeaway is this. If you want to break in if you want to succeed, nothing works. But if you were utterly relentless, and totally disciplined, something works

Zack Arnold 6:11

Oh my god, do you have no idea how much fun we're gonna have? Okay, guys, that's exactly the kind of stuff that we that I talk about all the time. And I knew there was a reason I wanted to have you on the show. And you've been on my Trello board for like two years. I'm like, gotta get back. What am I gonna get mad? Maybe not now, maybe not. Now. I'm like, No, now's the time. Nailed it. So on that note, that is the perfect segue as we call in the business to formally introducing you. So for those that don't already know, I'm here today with Matt Nix, who is a writer, director, executive producer, you've worked on shows like Burn Notice, which I may know a thing or two about, and we might be talking about a little bit that gifted for Fox, Turner and hooch you're now developing and working on the pilot for True Lies. You've worked on a lot of stuff. And we're going to dive deep into how we can approach this if we're creative professionals who want to work with you, or people like you. And more importantly, if we want to create the kind of work environments and become the showrunner creator that you are. But before we get into that, I just want to say, Thank you The fact you've taken the time to talk to me and my audience means the world to me, You're very welcome. Excited to do it. So where we're going to begin is kind of the origin story of how you and I met. The story of how I got the job on Burn Notice was just kind of a thing that I thought I needed to do, talking about being relentless and being disciplined and never giving up. But according to a lot of my readers and followers, and my students, it's now become kind of a legend. And I've told the story several times from my perspective, I had Steve Lange on he told his side of the story to understand how do I build relationships and get in front of the right people. But I've never actually heard your specific side of the story. And I want people to understand your side of the story because there are so many people listening that are stuck between a rock and a hard place where they know they have the skills to do it, but they don't have the credits or the experience and somebody needs to give them a shot. So walk me through to the best of your recollection how you were first introduced to me

Matt Nix 8:04

Well, the Bannen way that you had edited showed up kind of in our offices. And as I recall, Steve Lang had our editor on burnout as kind of a lead editor on Burn Notice. He had taken a look at it and was like, Oh, hey, you should check this out. And then I forget if it went from Alfredo barrios who was an executive producer on the show to Steve or from Steve to Alfredo but it kind of came up a few times and it was sort of I just remember it sitting on someone's desk and then we were talking about bringing on another editor and basically between Steve and Alfredo It was like Oh, you got to look at this this guy totally gets it it's exactly what we need. And I was like, okay, you know, it's kind of rare to see something come in with that much polish and that much and that was sort of that specifically it was specifically in the zone for what we needed. Yeah, so I took a look at it and I can't I did not watch the whole thing. I think I watched like five minutes and I was like, Oh yeah, okay, there we go. Okay, perfect. Right. I think for us part of it was just that um, as you well know, on Burn Notice, we were doing a lot of big action. But we were not It wasn't like you had every shot you could ever imagine. And you were able to cut every possible thing in you know, like, if you really there was a degree of you know, you had to dive into the the outtakes and the dumpster diving and you had to reverse the shot and you had to like, figure out a weird you know, like a stock shot you could cut to to get out of the thing. You know, we're all of these there was a lot of innovation. And the the big thing that I used to say to writers and stuff on that show is like we are here to fight force this to work. Like you. There's no, the answer can never be. Yeah, we just didn't get it, right, we got something, right, we are making something we are going to force this, we're going to torture this footage until it turns into what we needed to turn into. And sometimes that required rewriting, sometimes that required, but it always required a lot of attention from the editors. And so that was definitely Steve's kind of approach and attitude. And it just happened that I was like, Okay, yeah, this is this is highly polished, was clearly not made with an enormous budget. This is a guy who knows how to torture footage until it turns into something, you know, cool. Yeah. And but I'd also say just with along with that, that was a very unusual circumstance, right? And in the sense that, like, we happen to be looking for an editor, we happen to have the attitude, hey, we'd rather sort of raise an editor from, you know, a baby editor. We'd rather we'd rather someone with enthusiasm and that kind of thing. Because a lot of places wouldn't do that. Right. So I guess I'd say to any of your viewers, it's not that that in particular, is a good way to break in because it's not like, really, I have other shows, like when I was on the gifted, no one was ever going to break in on the gifted in that kind of way, just because it was for Fox Network, there were a lot of producers involved. Ultimately, any editor that we were going to hire on that show was going to have to have a ton of experience. Because there's so much vetting burned out as though it wasn't like that. And I guess I just say, in general, the the lesson I think to draw from your experience is if you're really making stuff that you're super proud of, and super excited about and your true heart about it. And you keep plugging at it. At some point, something's going to break your way, there's going to be some weird experience like you had on Burn Notice that's going to break your way. But it's not going to be exactly the same time.

Zack Arnold 12:03

Yeah, and I would say that some of it was just this weird experience. But some of it goes back to where you started at the very beginning about just absolutely being relentless. And instead of like, Oh, I got lucky I was in the right place at the right time, I created the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time, because I did extensive research, knowing that the band and wait was my calling card. Where does this belong? When I actually worked on it? I hadn't even heard of Burn Notice. Which is so weirdly coincidental when you look at the styles, and how many they're like, this looks just like Burn Notice, like are you ripping up or notice and I was like, what's Burn Notice which by the way, great to SNL sketch, we can put it like in the show notes, but I'm like, what's the Burn Notice? Is it about firefighters or something? I'm sure you've never heard that before. And then when I watched it, I'm like, Are you kidding me? Like this is my ticket. This is how I get into scripted TV, because I had spent years wanting to do big features. And this was right around the time when all of the really great indie features like the search lights and the Focus Features and all those were starting to slowly die. And all the really great character driven stuff was TV and like, I want to make the transition to TV. You can't make the transition to television. You're just an indie feature editor. Oh, really? So I did the research Sauber notice I remember during one summer vacation, my wife and I watched the first two seasons over like a week and like, Oh, I'm so working on this show. Like I can do this in my sleep. And I think that one of the clincher is having talked to Alfredo about this, as you said, the executive producer, he was the one that I ended up interviewing with, because you know, you're you're Matt next, and you got other things to do than edit, you know, meet with young editors. But my goal was to go into that interview and convinced him that nobody knows your show better than I do. I watched the first three seasons, because I started season four, I watched the first three seasons twice. That's a lot of television. But I went in there and I'm like, Listen, I remember in Episode 311, where this happened at the end of Act Two, you have the you know, flash to white, and it goes into the sunglasses and you add grain and then you cut the black like, you could have gotten people from the biggest network shows on TV, they wouldn't give it about those details. And you've probably been in that position where you get the bigger names and you're like, they don't get the show. They don't understand what we need, which I believe is ultimately what got me over the hump of I don't have the credits because I know it wasn't easy for you and or Alfredo to go to Fox in USA and be like, Hey, here's this guy that's never done anything. And he worked on our show. Like I would imagine that wasn't an easy conversation.

Matt Nix 14:22

I will say, though, that. I'll tell you the conversation for me was I watched it. I was like, okay, check him out. See if he's crazy. Like I mean, it seems like seems great. Yeah. And now that now that you're talking about that I remember Alfredo walking into my office being like, Oh, yeah, he's the guy. We're hiring him. Right. One thing though, that that I find interesting is how rare it is for people to really know a show backwards and forwards. I've actually talked to like young writers who have reached out to me at various points. I try to be This is gonna sound Well, this will sound how it sounds, but like, sometimes I'll like actually coach people in the in, like, in the moment when they're reaching out to me like someone will reach out to me and I'll say like, Hey, nice to hear from you, blah, blah, blah. Let me tell you about the letter that you just wrote to me, and why you need to write a different kind of letter

Zack Arnold 15:19

I got I do the same thing. By the way, I knew you and I are so much alike. So yeah, keep going. But I know exactly what you're talking about.

Matt Nix 15:25

Yeah, so I'll just be like, okay, so you need to start a little bit more casual. It isn't blah, blah, blah, like, this is how it works. And you know, and I'll say, like, you should find something to say about my work in this thing, right? Blah, blah, blah, like, and I'll just say like, okay, so take this, and go off, and try again, send me another email. And we'll see how that goes. Right. I've also though, you know, talk to people that came in and been like, you know, and said, basically, hey, it's okay, that you haven't seen any of my stuff, I just want to tell you, you know, young writer who's been referred by a friend of mine, and wants advice, or whatever, like, these opportunities are fairly rare, you don't want to be in a position where like, you haven't actually seen any of my stuff. Because you know, that's not good for you, you're kind of wasting your time. Because ultimately, what that says to me is, you're not interested in doing anything specific in my world, you're not into what I'm doing. There's not a collaboration to be done here. You just are someone who wants a job. And if you're someone who wants a job, like line up, there's so many people, right. And so in a way, it's sort of like, the thing to do is simultaneously like, value this meeting more, don't be casual about the opportunity have worked to talk to me, right? Which sounds like I'm putting myself on a pedestal. But at the same time, I'm saying, don't approach me as if I'm like, this is a job interview, and you're coming to me hand in hand, like you're a creative person, the reason I would want to work with you is that you have something you're bringing something to the table like that you're there's a creative collaboration to be done here. This is more like dating, it's more like a marriage than it is like a job interview. And so you come along, and it's like, oh, this guy knows the show backwards and forwards. This guy knows exactly what he wants to do. Yeah, he doesn't have a ton of experience. But he has a lot of big ideas. He clearly has the skills, he knows what he wants to do creatively with this show he's coming in, he understands that it would be a big deal for him to get this job. And at the same time, he can look me squarely in the eye. And I know you could have said this at the time, you could look me squarely in the eye and say, You are not going to go wrong hiring me, I there is no way I will let you down. And that is so important for anybody. I had a conversation with a young actor. And he was asking me for advice. And I was like, you need to think about parts and things, you know, things you want to do in the following way, you should be able to go into an audition and look me in the eye and say, there is nobody else in Hollywood, who's going to do better at this than I am. I promise. If I am, you're not doing me a favor by giving me this role. I'd be super excited to get this role. And if you give it to me, you're going to be so glad you did. And if you can honestly say that, then you've got a real shot. But if you're coming in and that sort of like oh, I want to be in Hollywood, like I want to succeed, please give me the job. You're so powerful. I don't need that. Like I can get that anywhere, right? What I need is people with real creative ideas, who really know my stuff who really understand what I'm doing, and can present themselves as real collaborators.

Zack Arnold 19:03

Yeah, essentially what you just did is you compress 12 weeks of a class that I teach into a masterclass of networking in about seven minutes. I mean, all of those are gems. I talked about this extensively every single day all day about how if you're going to reach out to anybody, you have to lead with value first. Don't even bother connecting with somebody if you don't know about them personally, and you can't write about their work and how it's specifically impacted you. If it's Hey, Matt, big fan. You know, attach my resume for your reference I heard you might be looking for blahdy blahdy blah, let me know. Oh, and by the way, if you're not looking, could you pass me forward to somebody that is delete. Done, right? Like No thanks. But somebody that takes the time to learn about me or learn about my work or I know that what I do all day every day for a living had a positive impact on somebody else. I'll talk to you Hell yeah, why wouldn't I because you put in the time, I'm gonna put in the time, right? It's this idea of reciprocity. And yeah, there gonna be some people that don't want to do that. You don't want to connect with them. Anyways. But like you're mad next, like you're this big, huge showrunner and you have all this money and all these credit, you would never want to help me. But you're a guy, right? You've got kids, your dad like you want to help people out, but they have to be doing it the right way.

My sincerest apologies for this brief interruption. But if you are a creative professional who spends long hours at your desk, and you are searching for a simple and affordable solution to optimize both your energy and your focus, not only is the following promo, not an interruption, but listening has the potential to change your life. Here's a brief excerpt from a recent interview that I did with Ergodriven co founder and CEO Kit Perkins, the creator of the Topomat, who's here today to talk about his newest product, New Standard Whole Protein.

Kit Perkins 20:45

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Zack Arnold 21:05

When people think of protein powders they think, well, I don't want to get big and bulky. And that's not what this is about. To me this is about repair.

Kit Perkins 21:12

So big part of what we're talking about here is you are what you eat. Your body is constantly repairing and rebuilding and the only stuff it can use to repair and rebuild is what you've been eating. Unfortunately, as the years have gone by everyday getting out of bed, it's like you know, two or three creeks and pops in the first couple steps and that I thought you just sort of live with now. But yeah, when starting the collagen daily or near daily, it's just gone. So for us job 1A here was make sure it's high quality, and that's grass fed 100% pasture raised cows. And then the second thing if you're actually going to do it every day, it needs to be simple, it needs to taste good.

Zack Arnold 21:45

Well my goal is that for anybody that is a creative professional like myself that's stuck in front of a computer. Number one, they're doing it standing on a Topomat. Number two, they've got a glass of New Standard Protein next to them so they can just fuel their body fuel their brain. So you and I, my friend, one edit station at a time are going to change the world

Kit Perkins 22:03

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Zack Arnold 22:17

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Matt Nix 22:41

The other thing I'd say I mean I actually when I talked to film schools and stuff, well I do two things that I think you'll like one is when I'm talking to people, and I'll talk to classes of directors, right aspiring directors and I'll say okay, hands up. Who wants to direct television, right? All the hands go up great. And I take $20 out of my wallet and I say here's $20 this $20 goes to the first person in this class, all of you in film school, who want to direct television, this $20 goes to the first person in this class who can name a single television director who they do not know personally through family, or who isn't the like you can't name me because I directed an episode and I'm the show runner, whatever. You can name a famous actor, you just need to name like a regular television director, a single one who directed your favorite episode of your favorite show. 20 bucks. I have never given away the $20 Wow, that's amazing. I do the same thing to writers. I'm like, oh, who wants to write for television? Great. Who wrote your favorite episode of your favorite show? Right? That was not written by the showrunner or was not written by a celebrity or somebody whose name you know, for another reason. 20 bucks. Name one. never given away the 20 bucks. And so the point there is I'm like, Okay, great. So you guys are gonna you guys are trying to like network, you're trying to meet people, you're trying to understand the business blah, blah, okay. You don't know the person who wrote or directed your favorite episode of television. Okay. And beyond that, do you know how much fan mail the executive story editor of Burn Notice gets for that great episode that they wrote? The answer is zero emails ever. Not one. Ever your favorite director. You know how much they hear about that great episode that they directed? Never, ever, ever. And I'm like, okay, so who do people reach out to? They reach out to me when they know I am hiring? And I'm like, I don't mind. I get it. That's the hustle. I completely understand. Right? And I would never criticize anyone for reaching out to me when I'm hiring because of course you would but I'm Like that is the worst time to get me to respond to you because I have 1000 friends when I'm hiring, right, I've got my email inbox is always full. So you know, when you could really have gotten a hold of me, anyone, anyone, the day, my second show was canceled. On that day, if you had reached out to me, and you were like, Hey, I'm a film student in Cleveland at a university with a mediocre film program. But I just wanted to let you know that the good guys was my favorite show. And I my my favorite episode was Episode 11. Right, and blah, blah. And I just wanted to say, I'm so sorry that I would have talked to you like I was bombed, right? That was when that's the time, right? And so I just find also like, but I guess the thing about that is reaching out to those people reaching out at those times, that is authentically reaching out to people whose work you actually like. Yeah, it may be that you're building those connections over the course of a couple of years that you know, this, like, if you're really trying to break in, in Hollywood, you shouldn't be thinking in terms of six months, or three months, or whatever, you should be thinking in terms of two, three years, right? And so what are the seeds you're planting now? Like, who were the contacts you're making? What how Who are you reaching out to? Like, if you had reached out to me on the day, my third show complications was cancelled. Right? Well, you would have been meeting me eight months before my next show went on the air. If you'd if you'd reached out when the gifted got cancelled, Turner and hooch was ramping up nine months later, right? But no one ever, ever, ever does. And, you know, it's like, again, I don't mind. It's that thinking long term. And also understanding that, you know, show runners, people with jobs to get their people to, you know that they have the same. They want to know you like their stuff they want you to they want to hear that you actually looked at it all of those things.

Zack Arnold 27:09

I know I can't afford you and you're busy. But can you just please come teach my networking class with me? Because I, I think we have a lot of things we agree on. And any of my students would be like, Oh my god, this is all the crap that Zack teaches us. Maybe he's onto something. I don't know. Yeah. But yeah, I'm in total agreement on all of that. And then some that it's just all about, how do I build an authentic relationship, and you got to play a game of chess, everybody's playing a game of checkers, I just got to make the next move. Oh, no, you got to you got to focus on moving the pawn knowing the checkmate is three years down the road, five years, 10 years down the road, right. And most people just want that next gig, and they don't realize how much more valuable the relationships are, if you work on them over time. So it's just all about that next gig and there's a whole bunch of other things I would love to unpack in there that probably not going to be able to unpack, there is one very quick aside maybe a little bit of an anecdote that I wanted to share with you personally. Because I've always wanted to tell you this story, and I don't think you know it. But you talked about somebody being able to torture the footage, I built an entire teaching seminar about how I edited the opening of season five premiere of Burn Notice. Do you remember the montage? Do you remember we had to put together a montage for the opening of here's kind of a recap of the last six months, because that's where the show kind of made the transition. And people ask me about how you have to reinvent and you have to really, you know, as an editor, it's not just here's the material I'm given, but what can I make out of it? The story I always tell people, is that we had shot a huge shot of the season five premiere bird notice, and anybody can find it on Netflix, if they want to watch it. And everybody felt like you know what, this is kind of the the reboot, we're kind of going into now. Oh, it's on Hulu. Okay, so I didn't know that. But the point being just about anybody can watch it. But kind of the consensus was, we want to open the show bigger than this. We really want to get a sense of like, how was Michael's life change in what is he done over the course of the last six months? I'm like, that sounds great. I love it. When you guys going to shoot it. You're like, well, we're not shooting anything. We're wondering if you could edit something like, Okay. And then I've actually showed people this, you sent me an email. And the entire direction was, here's the paragraph of voiceover. And I looked at it and it was like, 90 seconds worth. I'm like, huh? So what am I looking at during this 90 seconds of voiceover. And then like you said it was just pillaging and plundering all the old footage and outtakes from four seasons. And at that time, it was literally digging through boxes of dv cam tapes to digitize the pieces. But the point being that as an editor, it's not just Well, it's paint by numbers, and I got my scripts and I put it together, you have to know the show, and you have to be willing to innovate. But I just wanted you to know that I actually take your email, and I teach, this is what I was given. And here's how you can turn it into something because that was one of the most daunting things I've ever taken on in my career.

Matt Nix 29:54

Yeah, but I mean I it's it's funny because I remember sending Don't remember sending the email. But I remember that that thing where I was like, you just get this kind of cold fear and you're just like, how are we going to do this? But I would do that kind of thing all the time and just be like, okay, there's, I know there's something we can find, right? I know there's some way to do this. And I got a sense over time, because Steve Lang was great about that as well. If we didn't have an out to a scene, he could usually get like he could usually manufacturer and out to a scene with our lead actors sort of looking annoyed at someone at some point, right before right after they'd called kata, right before that call to action. And it would look like he was sort of thinking and there was like a moment, you could push in on that. And that could be the out to a scene. But like, No, it wasn't, like, officially, we didn't shoot it. We just we found it.

Zack Arnold 30:49

Yeah, so all of that having been said, I wanted to make sure you knew that I literally, that's a teaching moment that I use.

Matt Nix 30:55

I love that. I think that's so great. It's a that's really important about that is when people are coming up that feeling of that I think I don't think I'm overstepping my bounds. When I say this, like, you definitely came in with a, an attitude of I'm your guy, right? Like, there, there was no question in my mind. When I sent you notes or whatever. You were not going to tell me that it was unfair. Because you didn't we didn't shoot this stuff. You were not going to be like, it's not my job to do this that like, you were excited by the challenge. And you were going you were up for it. And when I think about people that kind of come into my life and you know are kind of around. There's a guy there's this guy named Kurt who my assistant knows he is a an actor and a producer and stuff like that. And whenever I'm doing something that needs actors or people to do stuff like Whatever, man, that guy Kurt, he's always there, right? And he's always got a smile on his face. And he's always great. And I didn't notice Kurt for like, two three times, right? But by the seventh time I was like, man, we got to do something for this curve guy. Like he is he is a baller man, like he is always there for whatever, right? And I know that I can count on this dude, that attitude. I tell young writers, the story of when I hired Ben Watkins on to was a showrunner now. But when I hired him on the Burn Notice, he was a baby staff writer, he'd never worked on a show before, you know, he'd written a script that I liked. I had sort of been kind of sold a bill of goods about staff writers, like staff writers, you know, they usually don't write and they're just there to learn and blah, blah, blah, you know, like, a philosophy that I completely don't believe in anymore. But it was my first show. I didn't know. And I just remember in that first period of time, whenever I said the words, is there somebody who could, his hand would go up, he would write my emails, he would write the letter to the network, he would write the notes. He would like that dude was in there all the time. And, and by the way, like anything he did, he came back instantly. It was like, Oh, I need that thing. Wow. Okay, cool. So if you can just have that tomorrow, blah, blah. No, it was done by the end of lunch, right? It was there. And I was like, man, I can count. Like, there's no question, right? And then the seasons going along, and I'm jammed. He and then episode comes in. And like I realized that there's this episode isn't working. But there's this one scene. That's good. And I'm like, this seems good. And it turns out, he wrote that scene. And I didn't know I was gonna write the next episode. And I was like, Ben, can you write the next episode with me? He's like, done, right. And it was a great experience. But that was that feeling of just like can do always they're always enthusiastic, wants to learn, want, but like, just wants to help like those people. Whenever I meet a new one, I'm like, Oh, yeah. Like, you're you're gonna make it there's no question.

Zack Arnold 34:16

Given the story that we just told about how I was digging through boxes of tapes, and doing all this craziness for this montage and having this picture of Ben just throwing his hands up to get anything done possible. It would be very easy to assume that working with you is just like working with anybody else in Hollywood. I have to sell my soul. And I have to tell my family, I'll see you in six months because I need to make it in TV. And for a lot of people, that's the way that it works. I don't know if you've been following recently. The explosion of this is a stories Instagram page, and you just hear these horrible, gut wrenching stories of what people go through just to barely make a living, not to live the glitz and glamour of Hollywood but just to barely pay their bills. They're literally selling their souls. So thinking about what I went through on Burn Notice, which is one of the toughest jobs that I had, but a lot of that was of my own doing, because I wanted to show up and make sure that I proved myself. And then you think of Ben or anybody else, you think, Oh, it's just another one of those shows where Yeah, you move up, but your talents and your time is exploited. It's exactly the opposite with you. And what's so interesting to me going back to where we started with this idea of making a decision, you were a brand new showrunner, you had never done it before you came up as a feature writer. And all of a sudden, you're thrust into the world of, you know, big time cable TV show that ends up being the number one cable TV show, it would have been very easy for you with your lack of experience or your age at that time, to just listen to the way that everybody else did it. So I'm curious At what point whether it was day one, season four, wherever you decided, this is the kind of set and the kind of show I'm going to run and work life balance is going to be important, not just for me, but for everybody. Because this is the change that needs to happen in our industry.

Matt Nix 35:55

You know, I can't say that I approached it from the standpoint of wanting to change the industry, because to be honest, I did not know what the how the industry was, right? I mean, I literally didn't. I mean, here's here's a good example of that in the first season. It's actually a good example of all of those things, all of it put together basically, in the first season, there was an episode that came in good writer was not on the same page as the show. Script didn't really work. And when I it clearly didn't work, right. It was clearly it had gone in a direction that was not going to fly. And all of the writers agreed on it. But it was real. It had also been turned in very, very, very late. It was turned in like two weeks late, right? So I basically got the script, the day before the first day of prep. I was looking at it in a scouting van. And I was like, Okay, this is this, we've got a real problem here. I need to rewrite this from scratch. It's like a page one thing with regard to that, I was talking to my my assistant at the time, and she was like, Matt, you need to understand like, it is not fair to directors to give them scripts late, right? Because they have to prep. And the Directors Guild is going to find us if you turn the script in late, right? And so we need to figure something out, because this is due before prep on the first day of prep, because that is how it has to be right. And I was like, Okay, I guess we got to figure this out. And so I sat down and I started writing. And I just wrote for I'll never forget it was 52 pages in 16 hours right now. I just banged it out overnight, and I finished it at 9am. The next morning, prep started at 10. But in order to get it prepped and in order to get the script in order and everything and all ready to go, I think we ended up turning it in at like 11. I called the director and I was like, Hey, man. I'm just calling to say, I have no excuse. I'm very sorry. But you know, this is what happened. And I there's no excuse for it and you need to do what you need to do with the DGA. I completely get it. And the director was like, What are you talking about? And I was like, the script is in the scriptures late and he's like somebody. So this isn't the script. I was like, No, no, this is the script. And he's like, how was it late? And I was like, well, it was due at 10am. And it came in at 11am. And, and I know that that's, you know, under their guild rules excuse like, she was like, Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, dude, the last the last show that I worked on. They turned in this script to me five days late. And I was like, why? How did you do it? Right? And he's like, Yeah, no, that this is great. No, I love the script. And we're in great shape. And I was like, okay, right. So, I guess like, all of that is just illustrative of my, I came into it with the following attitude, right? Basically, I'm not going to ask anybody else to do any push ups, I'm not willing to do so if I'm going to ask you to do push ups, especially if it's if it's my show, I'm responsible for the show. Generally speaking, if you're going to do push ups, I'll do the push ups with you. Like I need people to know that I'm not asking you to do anything that I won't do. And I'm not as I'm not gonna waste your time. Like we're doing this for the show right. Now. The The other thing is, I started the show I had, like my youngest son was born during the pilot during the shooting of the pilot have burned out us, right. So I had three little kids at home. So was I willing to stay up all night and do a script if I really needed to? Yeah, absolutely. But you know, there were other young families on the show and stuff like And I was basically like, Well, I'm not going to not see my children. And if this is if if not seeing children is a push up that I'm not willing to do, I'm not asking anybody else to do it. That was also my attitude about for Saturday's or things like that on set it was like, yeah, occasionally like a really, really late night for Burn Notice was one or two in the morning on a Friday, we tried to not go past 12. You know, we would go sometimes into you know, but we, I want to say we did the classic dawn on Saturday thing maybe once in I mean, that was like a hurricane hit. You know what I mean? And, and I guess like my attitude about all of that is my family is a priority to me. And I'm not going to ask you to do anything that I'm not willing to do. And I would say a corollary to that is to put my cards on the table, it is also important to me to know that someone is willing to bang it out when it's really necessary, you know, because like, I will never ask you to do it if it's not really necessary, right? Here's the best way to put it. And I talked to the showrunner training program about that about this idea.

In Hollywood, you are either a patriot, or you are a mercenary. I only like to work with patriots. I like working with people who weren't there because they believe in the thing that we are doing. Now, Patriots are that there are great mercenaries out there who do great work for pay, right. And that's fine. Like I have no and I've worked with great mercenaries before. And I don't have a problem with a great mercenary. But fundamentally, like I want to be in a show with a group of people that really believes in the show that are doing it where everybody's doing it because they believe in the show. And those people are the people that you want with you when the chips are down when you're in the foxhole, etc. You can't. And you can ask them to go further than the mercenaries. Right? Like they will, they will battle to the last man, when it really matters. They will do the job when it really matters. But you don't get to ask them. You don't you don't you don't get to change the terms. Basically, if you're doing it for love, if I'm calling you, my brother, I better treat you like my brother. Does that make sense? Like I don't get to, I don't get to be like, you're my brother. Oh, actually, now I'm paying you and you're doing this for money. Okay, now you're my brother again. Like you don't get to do that, right? And so my feeling in general is you get to do one or the other. Either you say to people, yeah, this is one of those shows where you're selling your soul and blah, blah, blah, and, and you're gonna do whatever I say I'm gonna pay you a lot of money and blah, blah, blah. And if that's the case, people should know that upfront. Like, I don't like those jobs. I don't like working that way. But you know, if you know that upfront, I guess I don't know. Like, that's their business. I don't like running my business that way.

Zack Arnold 43:02

So you're not going to be able to answer this question, but I'm gonna ask it anyway. Why the hell can't all the other shows be like that?

Matt Nix 43:08

Well, I mean, a show generally, like Reflects the Circumstances of its creator, you know what I mean? Like, what happens a lot is just your psychology gets kind of put out there in a big way, right? And it's suffuses the room and, you know, so I mean, actually, one thing I will say is, in my mid 30s, when I was doing Burn Notice and stuff. One thing that I did, then that was very much part of my psyche that I wouldn't do now, right, that I'm a little self conscious about, right is I had a sort of flattish mindset, right? There was like a, I was more likely, you know, and so like, for better and for worse, burnout is definitely like the writer's room, the working conditions on that, like, you know, it led to doing things that I wouldn't do now, challenging the writers assistants to, let's see, you can run around the block fast enough, and then what you know, the fastest and blah, blah, blah, like, and then we would do that with the writers and stuff like that, you know, and like, I like that kind of thing. But not everybody likes that kind of thing. But that was definitely part of my psyche at the time. And that manifested itself in, like, Let's all go out for drinks or you know, things like that, right, which maybe, maybe you wouldn't do now. I think one of the things is a lot of show runners, they're kind of mercenary themselves. Do you know what I mean? They're kind of like, they don't necessarily like what they're writing or they, they didn't come to it because there was something that they really wanted to do or whatever. So that that kind of resentment or that weariness or that anger or whatever it is that comes through, you know, and then the other thing is, I think, you know, I when I talk to people about actors, I'm like, Being an actor is an incredibly hard job, you have to put up with all of this, like rejection and uncertainty. And what will get you through? Well, one thing that will get you through is being really committed to your craft, and showing up for all your auditions. And being like, this is another opportunity to act. And I'm grateful for any opportunity to act and this audition is just what it is. And I'm just going to do this, I'm going to be here now. And I'm just going to, I'm going to enjoy wherever I am at any time, that will get you through. Another thing that will get you through as an actor, is having a screaming howling demon chasing you all of the time threatening to eat your soul, if you ever slow down, right, that will also keep you going. And the second one is pretty common in Hollywood, there's a lot of actors being chased by howling demons, right? Or also a lot of writers and showrunners who are being chased by howling. That's what gets you through writing what? Like, what, what helps you with the blank page, what makes you able to write when there's nothing there, right? Well, one thing that can do it is, you know, if you're like me, it's like, well, I've got to do my homework, and everyone's expecting this. And also, it would be really cool if I did this. And, you know, like, I've got all of this. I've got that psyche, but there are a lot of people who are like, I have to write to prove everyone wrong. And that'll get you through you know, that'll that'll you'll write a show. And maybe you'll become a showrunner but that that thing inside of you, if you came from that place, it's gonna manifest itself in the show.

Zack Arnold 46:37

Have you ever heard the William Faulkner quote that I only writes when creative inspiration strikes and it happens to strike at 9am every morning? Yes, I have you strike me is that type?

Matt Nix 46:48

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. That's that quote is that's quoted in the War of Art, Steven Pressfield book, which I highly recommend for for all aspiring creatives.

Zack Arnold 46:58

So speaking of aspiring, creative, let's talk about aspiring writers. showrunners producers show creators that want to you know, have the kind of resume that you do Sunday, going back to the beginning where we talked about my unlikely story, somebody looks at my IMDB page, and they did this many times after I'd gotten the job on Burn Notice I've been asked to speak on a couple of panels. The most frequent question I got was I saw your your resume of your credits. I don't understand how you got the job on Burn Notice, because it's a total scattershot mess, where it's just tiny indie film trailer tiny indie film, boom, number one show on cable makes no sense. I gotta be honest, when I go through, and I do the anatomy of your path and process, kind of the same thing on IMDB, like so little tiny, short, little tiny, short, and then all of a sudden showrunner, creator, burned notice. And I know that not everything is reflected on IMDB. But let's talk about how you were able to break in for those that really want to become the next Matt next, or they want to be their own version of a showrunner creator, what does that look like?

Matt Nix 47:57

It is interesting, actually, a lot of people I mean, over the years, people definitely like the idea that my story is a story of someone who literally done my IMDb story, which is like he had done essentially nothing. And then he went to burn notice right away. Basically, the reality is that starting when I was 24, basically I started writing full time. And I was writing features. And for some years I was writing like, kind of indie features for non union production companies. I'd written one thing that got some attention. And that got me into the world of like studio rewrites and pitches and things like that. And so I've been doing that from I want to say for one burnout started I've been doing that consistently for about six years. And the thing about it was like I had a young family, right? And my thing was, I never, ever, ever stopped looking for work. I would pitch on everything, right? I was writing constantly. There were times when I would get a job. And the day after I got a job. I'd be pitching on another job because I was always trying to line up a bunch of things and my batting average is not that high like I would you know basically my what I used to say to my wife is if I have five sure things, I will get one of them because three of them will turn out to be not a real thing. It'll go away somehow. One of them I will definitely be getting the job and then the job will go to someone else. And then the last one I will get and so I think I one time I looked at my hard drive and I want to say like in those years, I think I and I would work out every movie soup to nuts kind of like what you're talking about with like watching all the episodes of burnout is if I went in and I was doing a little It'll pitch on a movie, I would, I would have broken the entire movie, I would know everything that was going to happen in the movie. And then I would go in and reduce it and pretend that I didn't know everything. And just be like, Yeah, something like this, and blah, blah. You know, that's the whole thing. I also read books on sales. You know what I mean? Like, I was like, I was all in. I mean, I remember the meeting I when I talked to you about, like the being able to look at someone and be like, you can hire me for this or not, but I promise you, I will not let you down. I know what I'm doing. I'm doing you a favor. If you buy this thing from me. I can remember that day that incident. I got that right. I was in a pitch. And that's when it turned a corner. But he was like, years in, right. I was like, I've been pitching. I've done all of these things. And I think Yeah, I want to say I worked out like 70 movies. So I was constantly working. I was constantly selling things. And nothing was getting made. But I was making a decent living, right? Just doing things because I would be the guy that you'd hire for your like permanent development project. You needed someone cheap. And I would come along and I'd be like, okay, yeah, I've got it. And they'd be like, well, no one's thought about this more than this, dude. Okay, sure, you can rewrite this thing that we've rewritten seven times, it's sitting on the backburner at Sony. Got it. And then the other thing is the name of the game. And that is just hanging on to the movie as long as you can write, staying, so I would do the extra rewrite, I would do that. Now. There's a whole exploitability thing there. You know what I mean? Like, a lot of writers get exploited for free work. And I did too. But at the same time, my attitude was like, there's no one who's going to work harder than I am, right? Like, knock yourself out, find whoever. But I'm going to be faster. I'm going to be I'm going to turn around quicker. I'm going to take the punch in the mouth where you say like, well, we were, I have to say we were a little disappointed by this, this draft, right? And then, you know, I'd be dying inside. But I'd be like, it's the the quote from Ed Wood. Well, my next one will be much better, right? Like, just I would back in all the time. So by the time I came to television, I had this work ethic. And I was fast. I also kind of had this other thing that I was doing. So I was like, Okay, sure. You know, you want a, how long is this thing? Like 60 pages? Sure. No problem, right. And so I came in, and I did that. And then I a big part of how I got burned out. It was like, I went in and I pitched it, they wanted to pass, right? In fact, they passed. As I left, the president of the network was like, Yeah, I don't think that's for us too dark, right? But there's a young executive who's now a very senior executive who was like, No, no, I think we should do this one. I think we can figure it out. And he was like, Alright, Skippy, you get one, right? And so that became the thing. And so I wrote it. They thought it was too dark. I rewrote it. They thought it was better, but still too dark. I rewrote it. They ended up hiring me for an extra rewrite. Because every time they asked me to do notes, I would hand them a brand new script, I wouldn't just go through and tweak it at the margins, I'd be like, they didn't like it. I'll do a whole new thing. You didn't like the story. You've got some notes on the story, I got a better idea. How about a totally new a story with totally different characters. And so at a certain point, they were like, man, if we give this guy notes, he's just gonna run with it, he's just gonna do a totally new thing. And that led them to hire me for one extra draft, which is never never happens in television. They did that. They liked that draft. And that's what they greenlit. Now off of. The other thing is, for all of those years that I've been writing features, I was typically making one or two short films a year just for myself, just to put it out there in the world just because I liked directing. And I liked producing and I wanted to make stuff. And like, I'm also just that guy, like, thanksgiving with my kids. Like I made an episode of the action boys series every year for seven years, right, we've got seven. And these are like, major production, right? It takes all of Thanksgiving. So when I stopped working, when I stopped writing, and directing professionally, to take a vacation, I write indirect on an amateur basis with my children and their cousins making superhero movies about children. That was that and it turned out when I got into when they they picked up or notice for pilot and I got into it. I had a lot of reps under my belt. I'm just producing my own stuff. So all of the things that a showrunner needs to do like write for budget, nothing teaches you to write for budget, like paying your own money for something you're like, I don't know that we need this location, because I would prefer to to have $3,000 then spend it on this right. And so I had I had a lot of reps under my belt with that. I understood production pretty well and I was able to do that. Then the other thing was I had run a writer's group for, and like, seven years or something. And where it was like working with writers giving notes on scripts, stuff like that, which I just again, I just did for fun and to have a community of writers around me and stuff like that. And that turned out to be great practice for the writers room because the first day of the writers room, I never been in a writers room. I was like, I don't know who who writes on the board. So that's usually a writer's assistants job. I was like, oh, I'll do it. Right. So I I wrote on the board. Like, I didn't know that writer. I didn't for years. Actually, I didn't know that showrunners left the room and let people break story when they weren't there. So I was like, Oh, no, I got to be there the whole time. Right. So, you know, I just kind of made it up as I went along. But I had a lot of experience coming in that just happened to be relevant to being showrunner. And but a lot of it was just like, I was enthusiastic. I was there. And the other thing is like, to this day, man, like no joke. I want to write everything. You think I'm joking. I want to write 100% of the projects in Hollywood, maybe except for the slasher films. But even there, even as I say it, I'm like, I don't know, man. Maybe I could do a slasher film. That sounds interesting. And so I'm just hungry for it. I love to do it, right. I mean, it's a pain in the ass sometimes. But like, I love to do it. Yeah, I mean, I wrote an episode. You can see it on my IMDB page, I wrote an episode of Ben 10, the cartoon show because my kids were watching it. And I happen to know the Creator. And I was at a party once and I was like, Can I read an episode of Ben 10? I really want to write an episode of Ben 10. And he was like, sure. And so I wrote an episode of Ben den, great experience. But I was like, just as nerd like this was after I've been a showrunner for 10 years. Like I was, like, just as nervous when I turned it in. Think I made like $3,000. I was like, but I was like, Yes, I created the father of Dr. animo in Benton, the cartoon series. I'm still proud of that, right. And so that, that was the other thing, just like in general, I felt really lucky to have the opportunity, I wanted it really bad. And I was excited to do it.

Zack Arnold 57:14

There's a whole lot that I could unpack from that. And I know that we were getting very close to being to time, and I know that you have other obligations that we've discussed off the record that you might need to take care of. But there's one thing I've actually I think, I think my wife took the chicken out of the oven. Okay, good. And I'm gonna make sure we keep that in there. I'm not editing that part out. But the one thing I want to point out that I think is so important about the story that you told, as it relates to everything that's going on politically in our industry, and all the things that I've talked about for years, the word exploitation. And I want to rephrase one of those things. And I want to give you my perspective, and you can tell me that I'm totally wrong, or I'm totally right. I don't believe that people get exploited, I believe that people allow themselves to be exploited. And I think in your case, somebody could look from the outside and say, well, you are writing for free and doing extra dress, like you just got taken advantage of, but you clearly didn't, because you saw the value in the work that you were doing. And you knew willingly, they might not be paying me for this, but it's allowing me to get better at my craft, it's putting myself out there and it was those extra drass the went from, yeah, that doesn't sound like it's a good fit to screw it, let's shoot it, let's just shoot the pile and see what we got. Right? So I don't believe that you were ever exploited, you are allowing yourself to be exploited, knowing that there was enough value that it was a reciprocal transaction. But I think that there are so many people that just accept that I need, I need to be exploited. Because that's part of the industry, I have to pay my dues. So I have to go through hell for 10 years or more and sacrifice family and sanity and everything else. Because that's just the way that it is in Hollywood. And what I'm trying to help people do is learn to use the word know, if you're not getting it reciprocal value, and value is not money. Sometimes it is. But I'm sure you've heard this before, as a writer, and I hear all the time on the editing side of things. You should never take free work. And I'm like, yeah, you should. You should take free work all the time, as long as you're respected, and you're getting value out of it. But there's always this binary note, you got to make sure you're getting paid your full rate. If that's the way that you look at it, you're never going to end up doing what you want to do. Because you have to make those sacrifices but you can never allow yourself to be exploited unless the value is there.

Matt Nix 59:21

I would say yeah, I would The only caveat I'd say is I don't think it's exploitation. I have a you know, Craig stables chairman. Yeah, so Craig worked on Burn Notice and stuff and he has a philosophy that I think you'll like which is he has two rights. He has full rate and free. There is no rate in between full rate and free, right. And his philosophy is I am being paid either in money, in which case I expect my full rate or because that is what I am worth or I am being paid in relationship. I am building a relationship and an ongoing something with a collaborator. And so he's like, if somebody is like, well, I can give you $400. He's like I do not the only thing he will accept is expenses, right? basically like, if, yeah, it's like the gas money, or whatever. But that's all. Because his thing is, he doesn't want you thinking that because you know, his card rate for the day is $1,000 or $2,000. Or, I mean, now he's a producing director. So it's a totally different thing. But like, back when he was a production designer, if his day rate was $1,000, he didn't want you giving him $300. And thinking that like, you're good now. Right? Like, you know, basically, that is exploitation, right? exploitation is giving someone who makes $1,000 a day, $300 a day, and being like, calculator, but there's 300 bucks, you got it, the thing that he looks at when he takes a project is, and by the way, sometimes it's not going to work out, right? But if he takes a project, and he works for free, he's like, okay, is this someone I believe in? Is this someone with whom I actually want an ongoing relationship so much that I'm willing to do my best work for this person? And if that is the case, he's like, yeah, I'll do it. Right, like, and he still does free work to this day, right? And we got together. Like, he was the production designer on all my short films, he would show up to do kid's films with me, and just be like, Hey, we're doing this thing for charity, I'm making this film or whatever. And he'd be like, Oh, yeah, I'm there, right. And he never took a dime. Now, on the other side of it, he knew that I understood the nature of this relationship, he knew that he could trust me, is essentially the fact right. And so I think that for people who are in that position, you've got to look at it, and go, Hey, do like Trust your instincts and be like, okay, is this someone who I actually trust? Is this someone who I actually believe, has my back, will, will, you know, that we really do have an ongoing relationship, etc, etc. And sometimes you'll be wrong, but that's just the price of doing business, right, you don't need to be right 100% of the time, you need to be right, like 60% of the time, and those gigs are worth doing. But if you do a free job for someone who you know, in your heart of hearts, doesn't really know your name, or care who you are, or you know, whatever, then, like vassa, then you are allowing yourself to be exploited. Now, I would also say on the other side of it, or, you know, like within that there are times when I'm like, okay, you're going to work on this thing. And what I'm paying you in is titles, you're someone who would normally be like a costume assistant. And here's the thing, where I'm going to give you the title, costume designer, and I'm going to give you a real opportunity to do a great job as a costume designer. And it's, you're going to be able to show it off, and it'll be good for you. And I try to be upfront, I don't say in so many words, I'm not hiring you as the costume designer on my next series, but I'm going to look at people and go like, No, I'm not bringing this person on, because I wouldn't be just exploiting them. But this young person is like young and hungry, and blah, blah, blah, and like, this is a big opportunity for them. And I will sing their praises. And I will promote their cause. And I can't hire them as the costume designer on my next series. But maybe there's an opportunity for them in the costume department on my next raise. And that would be a big thing for them. And so I just think that's, that's kind of the way you, you need to look at it. And you need to just take a hard look and go, I'm being paid in something. And sometimes that something is a great experience, sometimes that something is, you know, I know people were I was like, there was an actor that I worked with was on Burn Notice. And he was on the good guys. He's done other things. But like, I was like, I'm doing a charity thing. It's for this school, I need an actor, I need five full days of your time. I will pay you in wine. And it will be a blast, I promise. And he was like, totally in. He was awesome. He was great with the kids. As it turned out. Not long thereafter. I was like say, I need an actor for this television program I'm doing would you be available to come to Texas and be in this show is like Why yes. And it worked out very nicely.

Zack Arnold 1:04:33

Which again, goes back to that whole conversation about chess versus checkers, right? And I love love this philosophy of I'm either full rate or free so much so I'm going to very briefly share my own version of that just to show once again how in alignment we are. I will fight tooth and nail so anybody at any of the studios when it comes to negotiation time man am I difficult, because I refuse to let somebody else set my value. I set my value. I've worked very hard to do what I do. And I am like you said, I'm firmly confident you hire me. Not only does the job get done, not only do I do your notes, I do your notes book better. And you're somebody that can attest to that. I don't say, Well, I did everything you said, and like, half your notes were stupid, and I made it better in spite of the notes, right? And I can proudly say that and confidently say, I believe this is better, I gave everything that I had, that has tremendous value to the people that have money. Then at the same time when other people come to me like the perfect example, through the journey of becoming an American Ninja Warrior. Over the last four years, I've developed a lot of relationships with athletes that known nothing about filmmaking and editing. So I've kind of become like, oh, that ninja guy that works on the Cobra Kai show. So one of the stars of the show, her name is Jessie Graff. She's like the the female face of the sport. She just sends me an email one day, Hey, I heard you are you know, in editing stuff, I have this Youtube series, you want to take a look at it. It inspired me it was like about this eight year old kid and building our backyard obstacle courses. She wants to be a ninja, like, I'd be happy to help you with this, whatever you need. Great. I don't have a whole lot of money. I'm like, Oh, no, no, no, no, you're not paying me for it. Like, if you want to invite me over to do some rock climbing or something, that'd be great. But I'm not going to allow you to pay me. Because I knew the value was number one, I could have a positive impact in the world with this piece. Number two great relationship to build that I can use to enhance my skills. Right? But it wasn't about the money. I wasn't going to let somebody that was struggling to put this together pay me money, right? She's like, well, you must be really expensive. And like, yeah, yeah, I've got a pretty high rate. But there's no reason that I see charging you money for it, because you're never gonna even come close to what the rate is. So how will we make it zero. Instead, she just kind of looked at me, she's like, Okay. And then just last week, had a conversation with my ninja trainer, Tony Horton, the guy who created the p90x series, been training with him every Sunday for years. And he does these events where he brings people to his home. And like, it's a personal development experience. And they do all kinds of obstacle stuff, like people that really aren't in shape to be doing it. It's kind of their first introduction to all these crazy fears of climbing ropes and stuff like that. And I volunteered for him in the past. And he started paying me for like, just very little minimal amounts. And I said, Listen, instead of you paying me the money that you're going to pay me for the next one, can I just have a backpack instead? Because it would really mean a lot to me to have a branded backpack from your event? And he's like, yeah, I'll pay you I'm like, you know, like, I would much rather have the backpack, I don't need the money, but the backpack means the world to me. And again, he's like, Alright, dude, you can have a backpack, it's fine. Right? But to me, it's I set my value, I don't allow somebody else to set my value. And I think that's one of the reasons this has become such an exploitative culture. Number one, people want to exploit other people because they're selfish. And they don't, they have a complete disregard for work life balance, or anything else. But I think the bigger problem, frankly, is so many people just say yes,

Matt Nix 1:07:49

no, it's true. And I think it's like it can happen to all of us. Ultimately, if you're not willing to draw the line, then, you know, nobody else is going to draw it for you. And you know, you can't, and the other thing is like, there are definitely times like, I feel like I have a pretty good attitude about it with people. But I'm also like, I got a lot of folks around, I got a lot of things that are going on, right? I'm not necessarily going to know, if someone, like I might ask someone to do something, having no idea how long it's going to take, right? And they might end up feeling exploited because like I asked them to do something impossible. You know, in I mean, this is take a ridiculous example, like I asked somebody make these costumes, I have no idea how long that takes. I have no idea. Right? So they might end up feeling exploited. Because they never said, No, this is blah, blah, blah, we can't do this or whatever. Right? But I would say also, the other thing is what you're saying goes hand in hand. And it's super important for people to understand this in the entertainment industry. You can't do what you're talking about, without, like, an equal amount of passion and commitment. Because if you if you're coming at it like a mercenary where you're basically like, yeah, okay, you know, I'm not that into your project, but you know, I need the job and blah, blah, blah, and I'll do this thing. Yeah, sure. Someone offers them that the regular day rate and they're like, No, I know my worth, it's this, you know, like, Okay, get ready to never get a job, right? That's never happening. Because you can do what you're talking about. If you've done all of the things that we've talked about over the course of this discussion, if it's like, okay, the guy that knows my show backwards and forwards, that is looking me in the eye and saying, I'm gonna work my butt off for your show. I'm going to kick all kinds of assets going to be great, you're going to be super happy. And to make my life work, I need this. There's something for me to consider there. Right? I'm like Okay, like I can either pay this, or I can't pay this or whatever. But like, I understand the value proposition. And I do see people. It happens a lot with actors, where they're just like, I actually just went through this with some actors where it's like, you know, you're negotiating, right? And they just want more money, right? But you don't have any sense for like, whether they even give it about your project, right? And so at a certain point, it's like, Okay, so we're just your ATM, and you're just gonna walk away if, while what like, and what is this even based on? It's just like, yeah, right? So we got a big network show, and you're just like, okay, you see an opportunity for a payday and blah, blah, and like, this is not the relationship that I want with an actor, right? Because at the end of the day, if you're just doing this for an enormous amount of money, and that's the only thing you care about, and you can't even be bothered to communicate in any way about why you care about this. When it comes down to it, I'm like, Yeah, no, let him walk. I don't care. Right? Like I don't, I don't want this. So you get my point. It's like, you got to do both at the same

Zack Arnold 1:11:07

Yeah, ultimately, it's if you're gonna want to ask for more money, or more time, or whatever it is, I always tell people don't bring a new problem to somebody bring a solution. If I if I want X number of dollars more, here's why you're going to make a double that in return, because when you pay me X number of dollars, I'm going to bring X, Y and Z to the table, here's why that's going to make a difference for you make your life easier and make you more money, then people listen, because there's the value proposition versus No, I want more. Like, you can't, you can't argue with it. You can't negotiate with that, right? But as long as there's value associated with it, and you're confident, like you said, I know I can get the job done. This is what it's going to cost. But here's why that's a bargain. Right? Ultimately, what I tell people is that you, you're basically creating the value proposition that you're saying to them, it's gonna cost you more money, not to give me this than it is to give me this, then they're like, Oh, all right. Now now that makes sense. Now we can talk.

Matt Nix 1:12:00

I'd also say people should remember that, even when, when people are talking to me about stuff like that when you know, because like, they're sort of like, Oh, yeah, he's the one that gives the job. They have to remember, I'm not writing the checks. So I have to turn around, pitch this to someone else, I have to make a case. So if someone comes to me, and says, just, I want more money, right? What I'm going to turn around in the best case, I'm going to turn around and say some version of this to the studio, this person really wants more money, I know that it's legit, I know that it's lame, and I have no idea why they like there's there seems to be no basis for them wanting this money other than they would just like more money like all of us would. However, it is that the value proposition that I put to them in the best case is, I do not have time to deal with this, please give them this money, so that I do not have to deal finding someone else right now. Because it is too difficult for me to do that right now. And I will be honest with you, that conversation usually ends with, we will handle this at the end of the season. Thank you very much. This person, yeah, this person has put the screws to me, and they have done it successfully. Congratulations, you just changed the basis of this relationship. You just converted yourself from immersing from a patriot into a mercenary, I now know what you care about, right? And now that's the basis that we're going to be moving forward on. And so okay, but like it, like, I hate those conversations. But if someone comes to me, and basically says, here's the situation, here's why I need this, here's why it's good for you, here's how it's going to work for you. I may have to say to them, like, Okay, I get that, I got to tweak your conversation in the following two ways. Or, here's why that number is not quite gonna work, but this month number might, and then then we can have a conversation, then I can turn around to the studio and say, Hey, given this money for the following reasons, it's going to work for me, and it's going to work for them. And it's going to work for you.

Zack Arnold 1:14:12

So when I start my negotiating class, you're also going to be teaching that. So make sure to open up your calendar for both the networking class and the negotiating class. None of this is a surprise, the amount of knowledge bombs you're dropping. But I'm very, very excited about it. And I'm going to be very, very excited to share this with everybody. But I have one more question that I can let you go. Great. What I want you to do, and this is a fairly new experiment that I've been doing on the show that's yielded some some pretty awesome stories, you can do it in 30 seconds, 10 minutes, whatever is going to make the most sense for you. We're going to jump in a time machine. And I want you to to imagine the moment and I don't know exactly where it is in the trajectory of your career. But it's probably early on when you're doing some of these, you know, rewrites of rewrites of films you knew that never going to get made whatever it might have been kind of the lowest point where you're wondering, is this ever, ever going to happen or am I just Gonna be stuck in a rewrite hell on movies that never end, nobody's ever gonna see whatever moment that kind of is for you, in your mind. Time travel back to that person, knowing what you know now, what do you tell him? What's your advice?

Matt Nix 1:15:13

It's easier to answer that with a story. It was about the script that so I can say the advice, but the advice will be clear in the story. Basically, years ago, like when, early early in my career, I was approached to write a script, an adaptation of a British literary novel. And I was doing it for free, but like the value proposition was actually good for me at the time, I was like, okay, so it's this producer that I want a relationship with. And it's this director who, you know, is like, you know, he's a, I later realized he was less of a big deal than I thought he was. But at the time, I was like, Okay, he's a pretty big deal. So I did this adaptation, and I finished it. And I was so excited. Like, it turned out so well, it was like, everything I wanted it to be. I remember just like finishing it at two in the morning, and just being like, Oh, my God, this is it. This is like, this is exactly what I want. Oh, this is fantastic. So excited. I turned it in. And I showed it to some people, they were like, this is great, right? Oh, my God, this is fantastic. Right? The director basically was like, Yeah, it's a lot of work. It's like, I don't Yeah, I don't I don't know. Like, just I don't really like it. You know what I mean? Like, I think I might need to take a pass at this myself. Well, like, it's just, you know, and the producer was like, basically, yeah, the director doesn't like it, I you know, kind of, he wants to kind of go his own way with it. You know, we really need to get this made, and blah, blah, you know, so. And I was like, wow, okay. It felt like some of the best work I'd ever done. I was super excited about it. And basically, like, it just landed with a thud. The director didn't like it. The producer, you know, it was like, kind of all right. A year later, I was doing a charity thing, right? With the producer. We went out to lunch after. And he said to me at the lunch like, hey, do you still have a copy that script, the, you know, the one that wrote blah, blah, blah? And I was like, well, you're the producer, you don't have a copy? And it was like, I know, I misplaced it or whatever. And I was like, Well, sure, you know, like, dead. I went home and found it. And I emailed it over to him. He called me a few days later. And he said, Man, I don't know what you did in your rewrite to this. But this script is amazing. Can I get you an agent? Because I think I can get you an agent off this like, do you want because he was he had started being a manager at the time. And I was like, Sure, I had not touched it in a year. And he sent it to an agent. And I basically had an agent Two days later, who was like, I love this script, we can do all kinds of, you know, basically, so I went in with the script that everybody hated, right? Except like my family anatomy, like people that I knew personally, right? And then they, you know, signed with this agent who was like, great, she started sending me out for meetings. And I went into a meeting at Warner Brothers, right? Where they were like, We love this script. But we read another script that is very similar. It's that bubble. I was like, oh, who's it by? Well, it turned out, you know, that director that didn't like the script, he had done a light pass on it, taken my name off the script, and gotten a three picture deal at Warner Brothers off of my script.

Now, none of those pictures ever actually happened. Unfortunately, he hadn't sent it around much because the deal went, you know, so quickly that the deal came up so quickly, at Warner Brothers. And so that was that launched my career that that was the script that got me my first jobs, the whole thing. So if I were to hop in that time machine, and go back in time, I would just say, you know what your best work is, you know, when you've nailed it, basically, the world is not necessarily going to agree with you. When that happens, it is not necessarily going to happen. I'm sure you sent the ban and way to other people before me, who were like, Yeah, no, it's cool. It's just you know, kind of not really, you know, whatever. But if you are true of heart, right, and you do the things that you want to do when you put your all into them, and you keep putting it out there because the other thing is like that producer when he asked me, hey, do you have the the script I could have been like, EFF that guy. You know what I mean? Like, he didn't like it a year ago. I was like, No, that's cool. Whatever. You know what I mean? The upshot and I actually even a fast forward two years later, ran into that director again, who actually was very nice to me and tried to help arrange an opportunity for me. Now, did he feel guilty? Maybe? Did he remember the story differently also possible, I have no idea. But at that moment, I could also have been like eff that guy. But I was just like, whatever. You know what I mean? Like, not going to trust him with a script, but it doesn't, you know, like ultimately I don't need enemies. And so basically the upshot of the story is I would go back in time and be like, just do your work. Put it out there, keep smiling and if it doesn't work now trust that it will work at some point in the future.

Zack Arnold 1:20:44

Thank you for listening to this episode of The Optimize Yourself podcast to access the shownotes for this and all previous episodes, as well as to subscribe so you don't miss future interviews just like this one, please visit optimizeyourself.me/podcast. And as a quick reminder, if you'd like me to answer your burning questions on an upcoming q&a episode, all you have to do is visit optimizeyourself.me/podcast, subscribe via Apple, and then leave us an honest review. At the end of your review, leave your question and we will answer an in depth on an upcoming q&a episode and we're even going to give you credit for it. And once again, a special thank you to our sponsor Ergodriven for making today's interview possible. To learn more about Ergodriven and my favorite product for standing workstations the Topomat, visit optimizeyourself.me/topo, that's t o p o and to learn more about Ergodriven and their brand new product that I'm super excited about New Standard Whole Protein, visit optimizeyourself.me/newstandard. Thank you for listening, stay safe, healthy and sane and be well.

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Guest Bio:


Matt Nix

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Matt Nix graduated from UCLA with a degree in Political Science. He started off writing and directing several award-winning short films, which led to a career writing feature film scripts. As a screenwriter, he worked at most of the major studios writing movies before turning his attention to television. He is best known as the creator, writer, and executive producer of the USA Network hit series Burn Notice which ran from 2007 to 2014, spending several of those years as the highest rated show on basic cable. He created and ran The Good Guys for Fox and Complications for USA, co-created and co-ran The Comedians for FX, and developed and co-ran APB for Fox. Most recently he completed two seasons of the Marvel/X-men show The Gifted which he created and ran for Fox, and is currently creating and running the Turner & Hooch series for Disney+ and is about to produce the pilot for TRUE LIES.

Show Credits:

This episode was edited by Curtis Fritsch, and the show notes were prepared by Debby Germino and published by Glen McNiel.

The original music in the opening and closing of the show is courtesy of Joe Trapanese (who is quite possibly one of the most talented composers on the face of the planet).

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Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor & producer (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, an American Ninja Warrior, and the creator of Optimize Yourself. He believes we all deserve to love what we do for a living...but not at the expense of our health, our relationships, or our sanity. He provides the education, motivation, and inspiration to help ambitious creative professionals DO better and BE better. “Doing” better means learning how to more effectively manage your time and creative energy so you can produce higher quality work in less time. “Being” better means doing all of the above while still prioritizing the most important people and passions in your life…all without burning out in the process. Click to download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”