The School of Dramatic Arts briefly caught up with alum Matthew Moul (BFA ’95) for our Q&A series highlighting the accomplishments of the alumni of the USC School of Dramatic Arts.
About the alum
Matthew Moul worked in musical theatre and Shakespeare after graduating with his BFA, eventually joining Actors Equity. Now, he says his background in theatre and degree from the School have supported him as a documentary producer and editor, where he has edited film and television for HBO, Showtime, Netflix, Amazon, PBS, AMC, and many other networks. He recently worked on a documentary series for Netflix, Diagnosis, and a documentary for PBS, Surviving Home, that just had its premiere.
SDA: What was your best USC experience?
Moul: As someone who grew up in Iowa and came to USC sight unseen, the thing I have always appreciated the most about the university is its diversity. From the international student body and faculty to the campus location in the urban heart of one of the most diverse cities in the world, USC gave me the opportunity to learn from people of literally every culture, creed, and background on the planet. I was also fortunate to perform in numerous mainstage productions at the Bing Theatre, while learning the craft from some of the kindest, most intelligent artists I’ve ever met.
SDA: SDA: Was there a class or professor that was particularly meaningful or influential during your time at the School?
Moul: It would be impossible to single out any of my professors or classes from the School of Dramatic Arts because they were all excellent and influenced me in a wide variety of ways. I do, however, remember a moment of synergy when my BFA Acting class was taught an African call-and-response song by our SDA voice professor, Rod Menzies, while at the same time I was taking a class called Musical Cultures of the World.
SDA: SDA: What productions did you work on at USC?
Moul: As a freshman at USC, I played Lucentio in The Taming of the Shrew at the Bing Theatre, directed by Allan Hendrick. I also played Matamore in Tony Kushner’s adaptation of Pierre Cornielle’s The Illusion, The Narrator in Side by Side by Sondheim (directed by Dennis Cornell), Andrew in The Balcony, Lieutenant Schrank in West Side Story, Lawyer 1 in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, George Jones in Street Scene, Governor Lucas in Holy Toledo, and probably a few more that I’m forgetting.
SDA: SDA: Tell us about your current professional projects.
Moul: This is an extremely exciting time, because the documentary feature film I directed, produced, and edited along with my wife Jillian, Surviving Home, had its national television and streaming premiere on Nov. 5 on the PBS World Channel. The film documents the lives of military veterans from multiple generations as they adapt to life after military service, and we were so excited to create a National Watch Event for the premiere so that veterans and civilians across the country could watch our film simultaneously. There was also a live-streamed discussion afterward. Our objective with this National Watch Event was to counter some of the isolation that many veterans experience and to foster a nationwide sense of community and connection that will lead to conversation and action, both locally and nationally.
While Surviving Home is my debut as a director, I generally split my time between editing and producing, and I work mostly in the unscripted space. I was Co-Executive Producer of the new Netflix documentary series, Diagnosis, which recently started streaming, and I’ve edited film and television for HBO, Showtime, Netflix, Amazon, PBS, AMC, and many other networks over the course of sixteen years. I won a Primetime Emmy Award in 2009 for editing Project Runway. I also produce and edit in Spanish from time to time, and was Co-Executive Producer of the Netflix series Made in Mexico and editor of the Peabody Award-winning series A Place of Our Own/Los Niños en su Casa for PBS.
SDA: SDA: What lessons have you been able to apply from your SDA training to your professional life?
Moul: My background in theatre and my degree from the USC School of Dramatic Arts has supported me exceptionally well as a producer and editor in the documentary storytelling space. I often joke that drama and theatre are the original forms of storytelling, and everything else is just derivative.
If I had to focus in on how my degree has prepared me as a storyteller, I’d say it comes down to one word: empathy. In the theatre, we are trained to walk in the shoes of “the other.” When studying a character, we ask ourselves, “what is this person’s objective from moment to moment, and what experiences from his or her background are driving that?” As actors, we are constantly considering Stanislavski’s “Magic If,” asking ourselves, “what would it be like ‘if’ I literally were this character, with the same DNA and the same past experiences?” So, when I tell someone’s story in a documentary, I apply that same analysis and perspective. When I edit a scene, I naturally look at the human beings in the scene and try to figure out their objectives. Documentary storytelling is not just about information or beautiful cinematography. The thing that makes a documentary the most transformative is humanity.
SDA: SDA: What is your advice for current SDA students?
Moul: When you graduate with your degree from the USC School of Dramatic Arts, you will be uniquely equipped to make a difference in the lives of others using the powerful set of skills you’ve acquired. It doesn’t matter whether you use those skills in films or television, on stage, on the internet, or in the way you participate in the world on a day to day basis.
You are quite familiar with the actor’s question, “what is my objective?” in the context of script and character analysis. As you live your life in the real world, I encourage you to repeatedly ask yourself, “what is my objective in this world?” Choose something truthful and active, just like you do when you’re marking up your script. Then, act on it! A good objective is an active objective, and as Mr. Shakespeare wrote, “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women just players.” There is no one better prepared than an actor to take stock of the story unfolding around you, and take action that will make a difference in the world.