RICHARD CHRISTIAN MATHESON is a bestselling short story writer, novelist, screenwriter/producer and drummer. How many people can say that? (And he studied, one on one, with the legendary drummer Ginger Baker!) RC is also the president of Matheson Entertainment, a production company he formed with his father, which is involved with multiple film and television projects.
He began his career in the late 1970s as an advertising copywriter and writer for stand-up comedians. At twenty, he became the youngest writer ever signed to an overall deal with Universal. After leaving Universal, he and his then writing partner worked as head writer and producer for comedy and dramatic series at every studio in Hollywood.
Matheson moved quickly into feature film writing, working with Steven Spielberg on Harry and the Hendersons and the cult classic Three O’Clock High. He is the author of the bestseller DYSTOPIA. He is also the son of legendary novelist and screenwriter, RICHARD MATHESON.
1. What was your first paying writing job?
My first professional writing job was at age 17 as a junior copywriter for the JC PENNEY in-house ad agency in L.A. They hired me right out of high school, gave me a cubicle where I wrote occasionally clever headlines and copy for their print advertising campaigns; every product imaginable from ovens to dresses. I was making 90 bucks a week and thought I was getting away with murder.
2. What was your first job in television?
Writing a freelance episode of the CBS sitcom “ANOTHER DAY” for creator/producer Jimmy Komack. It starred David Groh, Hope Summers and Joan Hackett — all wonderful and sadly gone. I was writing with another Penney’s junior copywriter, Thomas Szollosi, and the surreal flurry of taking the pitch meeting with real comedy writer/producers, having our idea chosen, being told we nailed the script, and watching it taped before a live audience was life-changing. I was nineteen and that year we got signed by Universal to a seven year deal writing series television.
3. What was your first job in movies?
Tom and I wrote some spec movie scripts that didn’t sell but got us hired to write a romantic western feature script and also a female Hercules, spears and cleavage flick. To no one’s shock, nether was made. After we’d been writing, story editing and producing series television for awhile, we wrote “THREE O’CLOCK HIGH” on spec, sold it to Spielberg and finally felt like real movie writers.
4. Do you have a writing routine? What is it?
I write on a computer, listen to rock or jazz music, drink coffee, have CNN on in the background; a hum of updates. I also run on a tread mill and play drums which align my thought. I edit by hand and usually do at least 25 drafts of every script, treatment, short story or novel. Away from my office, in a pinch, I write on valet tickets, placemats, magazine subscription forms–my anxiety is not having a pen or piece of scratch paper handy when ideas strike.
5. How did your father’s work influence your work? Was it an inspiration? A burden?
My father was my greatest inspiration and closest friend. He took my writing seriously, gave me fair, honest feedback and was always on my side. He taught me a strict work ethic, story structure, intolerance for clichés, mockery of tripe, pace, trapdoor twists, irony, ruthless editing, poetic compression.
6. What is your favorite production of your work?
I love “THREE O’CLOCK HIGH” and also “BATTLEGROUND” from an eight-hour Stephen King mini-series TNT produced, “NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES.” It’s a one-hour, starring William Hurt, directed by Brian Henson and has zero dialogue. Hurt brilliantly plays a hit man forced to combat toy soldiers and the episode won two Emmys.
7. What are you working on now?
With my prose, I’m working on two new novels; one is suspense, the other detective noir. I’m readying a third story collection, ZOOPRAXIS which will have twenty new stories and be out later this year. My second collection, DYSTOPIA, recently became a #1 Best Seller and has sixty magic realism stories. With scripts, I just began a one-hour, drama pilot about a manned journey into space, also a big-budget feature film for MGM, and recently adapted H.G. Wells “THE TIME MACHINE” as a 4 hour miniseries I’ll Co-EP. Day to day, I run “MATHESON ENTERTAINMENT” the production company my father and I started. We have television, film and stage projects in development, so it gets busy.
8. What were your major influences as a young writer?
I’m a style guy and love Bradbury, Capote, Nabokov, Fitzgerald, Martin Amis, Don Delillo, Thomas Berger, V.S. Naipaul, Laurie Colwin, Nathaniel West, Cheever, Updike, Margaret Atwood … to mention a very few. I also love sly, scathing humorists. Mark Twain, S.J. Perelman, Woody Allen, James Wolcott, Peter Ustinov, Voltaire, Douglas Adams, Robert Klein, Jonathan Winters, The Pythons, Richard Brautigan, Gerald Sussman, Norton Juster, Mel Brooks, George Carlin, Robert Sheckley, Neil Simon…the list is long. Growing up, I mostly wanted to be a comedy writer and much of my career has been that. Writing dark, edgy stuff with stories and novels has been a great challenge but writing a comedy project with Mel Brooks, by comparison, was a dream come true. I’ve also been a drummer my whole life and am deeply influenced by those cadences and techniques….all applicable to writing. I love hearing Steve Gadd, Vinnie Colaiuta, Bonham, Ginger Baker, Jeff Porcaro, Dave Garibaldi or other great drummers play as much as I do reading a great writer. It’s about creating a trance.
9. What are the differences between writing for film and television and writing prose?
I’m a minimalist and approach them in a similar way: burying wires, focused on how little I need to say.
10. How does your belief in parapsychology influence your work?
Investigating haunted houses and the paranormal, as we did at the UCLA Parapsychology Lab, is to be reminded, up close, there is no death, only transformation of energy. Creativity is the same; ideas are real things. Writing is alchemy.