'Mad Men' creator Matthew Weiner: 'I feel a sense of accomplishment'
Matthew Weiner has always been more comfortable talking about the past of “Mad Men” rather than letting anyone know anything about the future — even when that future is only seven episodes long, starting Sunday, April 5 at 10 p.m. Having spent enough time over the years asking Weiner questions that he responded to with a very guarded, “Well, you’ve got to watch,” I knew enough to focus as much on the past as possible when we recently sat down for an hour-long interview to discuss the end of his Emmy-winning baby. We talked about the last days of production, looked back all the way to the show’s origins when Weiner was a staff writer on “Becker” looking for a different kind of career in television, the show’s long acting Emmy drought, and more.
And I made it almost to the end without a single “You’ve got to watch.” I’d like to think that response was simply because he wanted to leave open the possibility that what I was asking about could maybe, theoretically, potentially happen in these last seven. But maybe I accidentally spoiled the end of the whole damn thing. To find out, well… you’ve got to watch.
(Also, I asked several fairly open-ended questions that received very thorough answers. I’m presenting most of them in their entirety, but trying my best to break them up into separate paragraphs for separate thoughts so it’s readable.)
When exactly did you wrap production?
Matthew Weiner: July 3. That’s when the actors were done. That’s when the camera stopped rolling. Then there’s like a month and a half of getting rid of everything, and I edited and mixed the sound until October. So then I moved out of my office in December which was really the –after going from like 600 people down to me and Heather, my assistant — that was the emotional part of it.
So let’s talk about that day first. Then we can talk about production.
Matthew Weiner: We can go in order. I had been warned about this: there’s a lot of goodbyes. So like first the art department is almost wrapped and then the writers. The scripts have to be done and the writers are the first ones completely done. And they came and visited the set and everything like that. And there was somebody helping me produce the last two episodes. Once I was directing, everything had to be done in advance. So the writer’s office shutting down was the first thing. But I knew they’d be around. Then you go through the actors, and everybody who was part of the circus goes. And that was really hard and very emotional. You have a last production meeting. You have a last table read. You have a last scout. You have a last tech scout. You have a last casting session. And people just start peeling away as you’re getting done with it.
People hung out, and one of the great things is by the time we were on the last day of shooting, everybody — whether they wrapped or not — was there. And we got into this impromptu ceremony of telling everybody when somebody’s last scene was going to be, if it was on location or something like that. And no matter where we were, people would just show up. The cast would show up. The actors would show up in street clothes and they would sort of crowd behind the monitor for the last take. And there would be some emotion and the actor would give a speech, nd then I would give a speech of some kind, usually something about the journey or about their audition. It was a lot of really cool stuff said. Kiernan (Shipka)’s was incredible. Just standing behind her and seeing her parents there and standing behind this woman. And she’s so eloquent.
Jon was last fittingly and by the time Jon’s last shot went, I’d say there were close to 300 people on the stage. It was a lot of hugging and kissing. He gave a good speech, but I tried to hold it together because I was directing and we had to keep moving and had to pay attention to make sure that every scene wasn’t played like it was the last scene on the show. Because a lot of them weren’t, you know, they just happened to be the last thing on the schedule. You just try and be in the moment. I was reminding people the whole time, “Let’s savor this.”
I didn’t go around a lot when they were taking the rigging down and the lights and the stages were being returned to their original state and things were being boxed up. I wasn’t around. I just went to editing and focused on finishing the show. You have your last mix and your last color timing and your last editing session. Saying goodbye to the editors one at a time because they go on rotation. And then finally, you turn everything in and you’re like, “Time to get out of the office.” And L.A. Center Studios, where we shot for all that time – they offered that I could stay there indefinitely. And I don’t mean with a lease. I mean, they were like, “Stay in the building. You might have another show.” Because we occupied a huge amount of it. We were one of the longest term tenants I think they ever had there. It’s not that old a studio. And I was just like, “I think I should go. I can’t live in the ‘Mad Men’ museum. I’m going to pack everything up and take it home and put stuff in storage and throw stuff away and start over somewhere.”
No one told me, but that was really emotionally difficult. Part of it’s like you save all this stuff. It’s like Miss Havisham. You save all this stuff because you think you’re going to look at it one day, and that’s the day that you’re going to look at it. Because you’re not just gonna pick it up and move it, you’re gonna throw half of it out. And as we’re putting DVDs and stuff into storage, I’m thinking, “Should I put a player in with these, because I don’t think this format will be working when I open this thing again.” You start thinking about your whole life. I’m an itinerant writer. I’ve had, like, one banker’s box that my entire office has been in for the last five jobs before this. And that stuff was there.
When “Sopranos” was ending, I was talking to Terry Winter about who was taking home which props. And he said there was a big fight over who was going to get Bacala’s train set. What did you take home from this?
Matthew Weiner: You know, I have nothing from “The Sopranos.” I have like two or three props from my key episode. When you’re a writer/producer on an episode, you might get doubles of something or whatever. I have a couple of things that I loved. On this show, I could take whatever I wanted, as long as I paid for it. Everything’s an asset of the show. You can’t just go down and steal stuff. And people were really good about it. I’d heard about “Seinfeld,” that the place was stripped before they shot the final episode. Like taking the brush out of the kitchen and the cereal boxes and stuff. But I took Roger’s bar. I took too much stuff. I’m not gonna lie to you. I took a lot of stuff that nobody else would notice. I have Peggy’s tape dispenser. I have something from Joan’s bar. I’d taken stuff all along the way, and a lot of it was mine. I brought a lot of stuff to the set so those things are all in my office at home. But Roger’s bar and the ice bucket that was on it – those were my big trophies. I probably would have taken Don’s bar, but it had another destination in mind so I’m very happy about that. That’s going to the Smithsonian. That’s better than my house. But I just thought Roger’s bar was the happiest, most fun bar. And I actually already had Roger’s old bar from the Sterling Cooper office in my office. People may not realize this, but on the old set, Bert Cooper’s office and Roger Sterling’s office were the same space. They would just reconfigure the doorway and everything and change the furniture. So for a while Roger’s bar, whenever they weren’t putting it on set, they would just put it in my office anyway. And then when we changed to the new office, they just gave it to me. So I have that.