“How They Do It” with Matt Roller (Rick and Morty, Speechless, Community)

Matt Roller is a Producer on the TV series Speechless. He is known for being Story Editor and writer for Adult Swim hit series, Rick and Morty, along with writers like Tom Kauffman and Ryan Ridley. Roller was also a staff writer on Community.

Rick and Morty are the incredibly dangerous adventures of Rick Sanchez and his grandson, Morty Smith. Morty’s parents, Beth and Jerry, are high school sweethearts who’ve been fighting to stay together since the inception of their first child, Morty’s older sister, Summer. Rick is constantly dragging Morty along on his irresponsible quests through the universe, where Morty often helps save Rick from his own drunken, out of control un-doings. Though, there’s a whole lot more to this grandfather-grandson dynamic. Did I mention Rick has the smartest brain in the universe?

Where did you grow up? Where do you live now? 

All over the place! I was born in California, went to elementary school in Illinois and Virginia, high school in Connecticut, and college in Boston. But now I live in Los Angeles.

How did you get started writing for television?

I wrote a pilot–a legal comedy–that won a contest. The press release from the contest got the attention of a few management companies, and off of that I got managers and agents.

At what point of the show did you join Rick and Morty? How did you become involved?

I joined for season two, and the process was pretty informal. At the end of season five of Community, Dan Harmon was looking for people to jump over to Rick and Morty. I think there was only a week or so off between Community ending and Rick and Morty starting. 

Before you began writing episodes for the show, I’m sure you had to get to know the characters inside and out. How big were the character biographies for this show? And how did you truly learn the characters in order to write for them?

Honestly, because I was coming in for season two, the process for learning the characters was to watch the rough cuts of season one that existed at the time. That was enough of a baseline to know who the characters were. And part of the joy of writing a show is inventing new aspects of characters’ personalities, expanding on what we already know about a character to make them more multifaceted. It’s possible there were character bios of some sort in a pitch document, but I never saw those.

In Ep.1, Se.2 of Rick and Morty’s “A Rickle In Time” where did you come up with the idea of Summer and Morty splitting time, creating a feedback loop of uncertainty? How long did it take you to figure out a solution?

I literally have no idea when we came up with that particular solution, because it was just one of a dozen we circled before we ran out of time and just had to pick one. Aside from the daunting technical aspects of “Rickle In Time”, we struggled for a long time with the emotional core of the story. What causes time to split? Is it chaos? Uncertainty? Insecurity? Once split, can time come back together mid episode, or can it only be split further? We had several early drafts where the split screen went from one reality to two, to four, back to two, back to four, to one, etc. Ultimately, I’m not sure we ever universally agreed on one solution, but the end product still looks cool

In that same episode, Jerry hits a deer while eating rum raisin ice cream (lol) and doesn’t believe Beth has the capability to save the life of the animal because she’s just a horse surgeon – I think it’s a brilliant dive into Morty’s parents’ flakey marriage and really tests their waters, bringing them closer in the end. Did that dynamic come natural while writing?

It probably came too naturally, in the sense that we went back to that well a few times. But I’d say the biggest motivators for this storyline were the fact that we needed Beth and Jerry out of the house while the others dealt with the repercussions of freezing time, and also the fact that I really like Coldstone.

What’s it like in the writer’s room of RaM? What about Community? Any funny stories?

Both rooms were great. It’s just a group of friends hanging out, telling jokes, making that cash money, you know? Everyone is really nice, except for Alex Rubens. Mean Alex Rubens. Does this site come up in search engines if you do a Google “News” search for your name? Alex Rubens.

Even though there’s only been 3 seasons it’s pretty safe to say RaM will be remembered for decades to come. Just look at all the fan tattoos and tributes on Reddit and Facebook groups; these kids seriously don’t know what to do with themselves in between seasons. How many more seasons do you think will come to fruition, and can you shed light on the situation with season 4 being renewed?

 I cannot! And even if I could, I would not! But if I had to guess on the number of future seasons, I would say 82.

It takes a special kind of writer to create content for Rick and Morty. Who or what are your biggest creative inspirations?

Man, it sounds basic at this point, but The Simpsons all the way. It was on at 5:30 and 6 every weekday night when I was a kid, and I watched it literally every day from third grade through high school. So it’s my entire comedic baseline. My number two creative inspiration is Real Steel, the prophetic Hugh Jackman vehicle of a world much like our own, but with elegant dancing robots.

What aspects do you find most challenging about writing for TV shows?

Having worked a number of desk jobs before I got to write for TV, I’d say even the bad parts of writing for TV are pretty great. On an individual level, I sometimes find it challenging writing my own pilots, because there’s no one in the room to bounce ideas off of or yell at me to get back to work. But on TV show, there’s always other writers to lean on. If you want to twist my arm, I’d say it’s sometimes challenging to pitch seven versions of what could happen with two specific characters in a B-story. But that’s the job. You don’t pitch the one perfect thing, because that doesn’t exist. You pitch ten options, and maybe one of them is closer to good than the others.

What projects are you writing for now? 

      Speechless! Watch it! Get me those sweet sweet residuals.

Anything else you could shed light on regarding your experience in the television industry?

Read a lot of scripts. Write a lot of scripts. Listen to criticism and hear it. Don’t get too full of yourself off of praise. Sometimes people are just being nice. And don’t spend five years working on your one perfect pilot. Even if it is the one perfect pilot (it’s probably not), you won’t learn anything new or grow as a writer from constantly tweaking the second act. Write a completely different thing. Then another completely different thing. And just keep doing that until you get to write a Marvel movie.

Follow Matt: @rolldiggity

IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm6066062


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