Matt Cook is a screenwriter, director, and producer of various studio and independent films and television. His work includes By Way of Helena, Triple Nine, and Patriot‘s Day (currently filming). Both By Way of Helena (2010) and Triple Nine (2012) made the top 10 of The Black List.
Cook broke into the industry in 2009 and has since written for Warner Bros, Fox, New Regency, DreamWorks, Sony, and CBS Films. He is currently developing/writing several projects, including Paul the Apostle (Hugh Jackman, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck producing) at Warner Bros, writing/executive producing Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War with director Peter Berg as a mini-series at HBO, and co-writing/executive producing a detective-themed drama with Ed Burns (co-creator of the Wire) for Studio 8.
Cook served two combat tours in Iraq with the prestigious 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry (Rakkasans) and has written several articles for Texas Monthly about his experiences. He also served as a correspondent in Afghanistan in 2012. Cook was raised in the tiny three stoplight town of Castroville, Texas, and attended the University of Texas at Austin.
How did you break in or get your start in screenwriting? I actually broke through from acting, which was always one of my biggest passions. I’d studied and worked on whatever I could while in college. I moved back to Austin after the military and was working back into it, when I had the good fortune of getting cast in a film directed by the larger than life Texas actor Barry Tubb. After the filming, Barry invited me out to Snyder, Texas where he holds an annual dove hunt. It was there I met Mike Simpson, the legendary agent at William Morris Endeavor. A couple of months after the hunt, I finished writing By Way of Helena and decided to take a shot and pass it along to Mike. He was gracious enough to read a script from a nobody writer and the rest is history. I’ll forever be grateful to Barry for casting me, and his friendship
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned as a writer? Or, what would be your advice to aspiring screenwriters? The biggest lessons I’ve learned as a writer are to focus on the things you can control, and don’t let what you can’t keep you up at night. Pick your battles carefully, and at some point, recognize you have to let go and put trust in your director. At the end of the day, at least in film, so many hands go into the finished product, but the director is captain of the ship.
The best advice I’d give to an aspiring screenwriter, is the same advice the great Bill Broyles gave me, which is never fall in love with your own writing.
What was a major turning point in your career? I think the major turning point in my career happened before it began. My experiences in the wars and the people I met in the military made me an infinitely better filmmaker and storyteller.
Do you have a favorite or memorable experience at Austin Film Festival? The most memorable experience for me was the By Way of Helena reading at the 2010 festival.