Marissa Bell Toffoli

Interview With Writer & Filmmaker Matthew Gustafson

In directors, editors, film, writing on July 30, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Matthew Gustafson self-portrait (2008)

An introduction to writer and filmmaker Matthew Gustafson, who recently wrote, directed, and edited the short film Pull.

Quick Facts on Matthew Gustafson

  • Home: Brooklyn, New York
  • Comfort food: pizza, mom’s brownies, whiskey
  • Top authors: Joan Didion, Sinclair Lewis, Carson McCullers, Philip Roth, Andre Dubus
  • Current reads: The Forever War by Dexter Filkins, Broken Vessels by Andre Dubus

What are you working on at the moment?

Right now, I’m finishing up my film Pull, which is documentary/narrative hybrid about a tractor pull in my hometown. I’m writing a comedy script about the three years I spent living in a retirement community outside of Palm Springs. And, I’m collaborating with different folks on scripts, short films, and music videos.

Who do you picture as the ideal audience for your work?

I try my best not to think about my audience at any point. I write for myself and I hope that an audience will find it.

Where and when do you prefer to write?

Alone—in a room—at night—after everyone’s gone to bed.

It’s been said writers can work from any place, where would you most want to live and write?

Anyplace, really…so long as the climate is consistent. Preferably someplace where you’re forced to stay indoors: the Pacific Northwest or the California desert. Someplace where it’s quiet.

Do you listen to anything when you work?

I live in New York. It can be noisy. So, I usually have to listen to something to block things out. It changes all the time. Lately, I’ve been listening to Arvo Part, Mihaly Vig, Yo La Tengo’s longer songs. One day I listened to Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel No. 2 on repeat all day. Sometimes it’s drone music, stuff that has a feeling but that I can forget.

Do you have a philosophy for how and why you write?

Just to keep writing, even when you’re not feeling it. Get up and do it.

Are there any writers who have strongly influenced your work?

There are people I like, but I don’t think they influence as much as inform my work. I like John Cassavetes, Robert Altman, and Frederick Wiseman for their honesty.

Is there a quote about writing that motivates you?

I don’t really have any beautiful and inspiring quotes that I look to when I’m writing. Sometimes, though, I’ll write on a 3 x 5 card the words: “Keep It Simple” and/or “Kill Your Babies.” I often over-think, am too precious about the work. I need to be reminded to keep writing and let things go.

A friend pointed this quote out to me recently: “Shyness has a strange element of narcissism, a belief that how we look, how we perform, is truly important to other people.”-Andre Dubus

I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be about writing, but I think it should be.

What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?

Be yourself. Follow whatever it is you need to follow. I think there’s an audience for everything and that the good stuff will rise to the top. Maybe that’s you, and maybe it’s not, but you would be remiss to not do whatever is in your heart.  There’s no one way to do anything—find your own way of doing things and your own process. Understand your process and understand yourself.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a writer and filmmaker?

Keep it simple. Write what you know.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

Eat pizza, drink whiskey, and eat my mom’s brownies. Go to the gym, watch movies, hang out with friends, talk to people, travel, sleep.

About Matthew Gustafson

Matthew Gustafson graduated with an MFA from Columbia University. He is a writer and filmmaker. He lives and works in New York City. He wrote the screenplay for This is a Story About Ted and Alice, which was in competition at the 2008 Cannes International Film Festival.

[Toffoli, Marissa B. “Interview With Writer & Filmmaker Matthew Gustafson.” Words With Writers (July 30, 2010),

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