When news spread that Maria and André Jacquemetton were set to visit Vancouver Film School’s Writing for Film and Television department, the excitement was palpable. This dream team – married and professional writing partners – have carved an enviable path in the industry, most notably as executive producers and writers for six seasons on the award-winning series Mad Men. In 2013, they left the show before its seventh and final season to sign an overall deal with Warner Bros Television where they have been developing cable series full time.
Last week, our students had the benefit of attending an exclusive Q&A session with Maria and André at our main theatre, which included a breakdown of a selected scene from Mad Men. Additionally, Maria and André visited students in the classroom, answering more questions and even led a writing workshop. It was undoubtedly a highlight for the Writing for Film and Television students who learned that the road wasn’t always easy for Maria and André. The established pair offered up a simple recipe for success: hard work, being relentless, and maintaining positive relationships with your peers.
In advance of Maria and André’s visit, we asked Writing student Anna Forsyth to interview them for a guest blog post. If you’d like to learn more about this incredible duo, read on!
Guest post by: Anna Forsyth
Hi Maria and André, thanks for making the time to talk with VFS writers. Let’s start with Mad Men. How and when did you get involved with Matthew Weiner and the series?
We had a relationship with Matthew Weiner that dates back quite a few years, when we were all struggling writers working day jobs to pay the bills and writing at night and on weekends. A group of us would meet at a coffee shop to pitch ideas and exchange pages. It was our writers’ workshop. Later, when Matthew was writing on BECKER and we were on STAR TREK ENTERPRISE at Paramount, Matt slipped us his spec pilot script for MAD MEN, and we loved it. We told him that if he ever got it going we would love to work on the show, and sure enough, several years later when he finally got his green light, he called.
What were some of the challenges of the first season?
Oddly enough, the first season was the least challenging. The writing staff had a lot of synergy, and the studio gave us a great deal of creative freedom, as it was their first foray into scripted series. When the show first aired, we had so few eyeballs that we didn’t think we’d be picked up for a second season, but the show became a darling of the press, and we got picked up. It was a charmed season and we remember it fondly.
The writing staff was nominated for a WGA award for Best Drama Series in their very first season. What was the room like at the show? What made it work so well?
The entire crew was at the top of their game. We had immensely talented writers and storytellers, with very different life experience. Some had a background in advertising, sit com, drama, we had an Academy Award winning writer/director, and playwrights. An important rule in the writers room was “cone of silence” which made it a very trusting space. Story often comes from the real-life experiences of the writing staff, so writers need to feel comfortable to share their intimate memories. We also expected everyone to do his or her research. Attention to detail was part of what made the show special.
You were Emmy nominated for three of your episodes in the second, fourth and fifth seasons? What do you think it was about those episodes that stood out to the Academy?
We just try to tell the best stories we possibly can. We feel incredibly fortunate to have been nominated, and humbled to have been recognized by the Academy.
Working on a drama set in an era of such great social change as the 1960s, as we are in now, was it easy to remain relevant to what’s going on today?
We were very cognizant of the fact that the times we live in now had similarities to the social changes of the 1960’s. We are still dealing with some of the same issues now— war, racism, sexism, economic divide, political upheaval. So, on some level our storytelling naturally mirrored the present. We think it was easy for our audience to sympathize with the issues the characters were grappling with.
While we’re looking back, let’s talk a bit about Baywatch where you were both staff writers on latter seasons. What was it like joining an established and much-loved show?
It was our first staff job. We got to live in Hawaii. Enough said.
You also worked on Star Trek Enterprise, what were the difficulties with working within such an expansive universe? Were you constantly looking at the other shows and the storylines they had already explored or could you do your own thing?
That was the biggest challenge of the show: the fact that hundreds of episodes had gone before us and it was difficult to inject freshness and originality into the storylines. We spent a great deal of time pitching and being rejected. Some days were very frustrating, and you wondered if you could ever come up with anything that hadn’t been already done in the Trek universe.
Maybe you can speak a bit to the roles of writer and producer on a major network show? What are your responsibilities? Maybe talk about how your role changed over the years?
The role of Showrunner is to be the first one in and the last one out, and to be the major decision maker when it comes to anything from story, to script, to props, design, hair and make-up—through final cut of the episodes. On MAD MEN, and on many shows now, writers produce the episode they’ve written, thus creating a system whereby producers are groomed. We started on the series at Producer level, and over the seasons moved up the ranks as we took on more responsibility. By Season 4, we were running the writers’ room when Matthew was not available, as well as carrying out our other producing duties in prep and on the set. It's a twenty-four seven job.
Can you talk about your upcoming projects? What do you look for in a new series you’re asked to be involved in?
We’re currently developing a limited series based on the film FATAL ATTRACTION. We have several other projects in various stages of development. We keep ourselves busy. Work begets work.
We'll be releasing a video interview with Maria and André soon, so be sure to check out our social media channels for its release!