On Story


Mad Men: A Conversation with Matthew Weiner

MAD MEN creator, Matthew Weiner, dissects the culture, identity, and status quo of the show, and the psychology behind its beloved antihero, Don Draper. Followed by Faraday Okoro’s short film, FULL WINDSOR, about a young boy’s quest to preserve a meaningful piece of his past.

AIRED: April 16, 2015 | 0:26:46

[projector & typewriter]


- NARRATOR: On Story is brought to you in part by the

Alice Kleberg Reynolds Foundation,

a Texas family providing innovative funding since 1979.


[wind blowing]

[witch laughing]

[sirens wailing]

[shots fired]

[water dripping]


[suspense music]

[telegraph beeping]

[piano strum]

- NARRATOR: On Story, presented by Austin Film Festival.

A look inside the creative process from today's

leading writers and directors.


- NARRATOR: This week's On Story, a conversation

with Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men.

- There are a lot of Ad Men in the '50s and '60s

as characters, because like architecture is now,

it was perceived as the ultimate American job,

because it had a creative element and you made

a ton of money.

The issues of business and art and conflict is a great source

of entertainment to the American public, and one of the tropes of

Hollywood where they just tell you that all that matters

is life matters, so you sell out a little bit.

You've got a beautiful family.

[paper crinkles]


- NARRATOR: In this episode, Matthew Weiner dissects the

culture, identity, and status quo of the show,

and the psychology behind its beloved anti-hero, Don Draper.

[typewriter dings]

- §

- MATTHEW: I love Little Big Man, and I love the way

the story is told, and I wanted to do a flashback

at the millennium of this man in his mid-sixties

who is telling the story of his life in the 20th century,

and everything he is saying is a lie,

because it had been my impression that the people who

ran the 20th century were all from rural poverty,

somewhat extremely inauspicious backgrounds, which they

lied about because they were ashamed and they never

really survived it.

So I started thinking about this advertising thing,

I do the entire thing, I write the script,

I give it to my agents, they don't read it, whatever.

Anyway, cut to 5 years later.

Okay, so now it's 1992 when I started writing this thing,

I crap out on it in 1997, 1998, I write Mad Men in 1999,

it gets me my job on The Sopranos in 2002,

I go to The Sopranos, and I'm there for 4 and a half years,

and right near the end of it, AMC expresses an interest

in this script.

It's 7 years old, and they're like, "Okay, we love the pilot.

" What else are you going to do?

We need to know what the story is."

So I went into AMC after doing a lot of work on it, and I said,

"The story of the first season is going to be the fact that

"nobody knows that this man has this identity,

"and he looks perfect and that we're going to find out that he

"has this haunted past, that he has this other man's identity,

because that's what, the pilot was always about identity."

- DON: You're born alone and you die alone, and this world just

drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget

those facts, but I never forget.

I'm living like there's no tomorrow,

because there isn't one.

- I don't think I realized until this moment,

but it must be hard being a man, too.

- Excuse me.

- Mr. Draper?

- Don.

- Mr. Draper, I don't know what it is that you really

believe in, but I do know what it feels like

to be out of place,

to be disconnected,

to see the whole world laid out in front of you

the way other people live it.

There's something about you that tells me you know it, too.

[typewriter dings]

- This is a great thing about the show, over 92 episodes,

is that at a certain point, you're not selling

the show anymore.

It's its own world, and it's something that I loved about

The Simpsons and it's something I loved about The Sopranos,

and Seinfeld, to some degree, for sure.

You were expected to know what was going on in that world,

you were supposed to laugh when you hear someone say, "Newman!"

and you're not looking at that guy, and that's your job,

and you can make a joke about somebody off-screen,

you can get a laugh because when Don Draper says,

"Everyone, God, Sal wouldn't stop talking

about Joan Crawford," the audience laughs because

they know that Sal is gay, even if Sal doesn't know he's gay.

So there's little things in there where that's the world,

and you get to a certain point where Don, 1968, that season,

season six, was really about the kind of repetition that comes

with mid-life, and Don is, his id is out of control,

he is back where he was, cheating on his wife.

- I think it's time to go home.

- Not yet.

- I think this is over.

- It's over when I say it's over.

- MATTHEW: His childhood is unstoppable in his life,

as it happens to men at a certain point,

you think you're avoiding that, and then the more settled

you become, all of a sudden it's constant, and I,

it does dissipate a little bit,

especially when you get to write about it.

That's not my childhood,

and I wanted that to be a metaphor for the year,

and there is a critical opinion that I can't seem to shake

and I don't have any control over it.

The audience owns their opinion of the show,

and it's kind of something that, not only have I grown

to understand, but appreciate.

I think it's kind of amazing, but you do want to be understood

also, and I think this constant trope, that the story is about

Don being out of touch is confusing to me,

because Don's not out of touch.

Don is eternal, Don is not a faddist, Don is not

connected to the world.

Don's always been out of touch if he's been out of touch.

This is not about young people or aging or anything.

This is about a man who has way bigger problems.

He does not care about The Beatles because he

knows he's about to die.


That is the world Don's living in,

but that's the distraction of it.

So taking 1968 and saying, "The world has had enough

of the way things are, a change has to happen,

people are going to go to the streets with weapons,"

and even in the United States, civil unrest, rioting,

I tried to show, has been going on for years.

The riots have been going on for 3 or 4 years by 1968,

and we're talking about hundreds of people being killed,

hundreds of armed conflicts, federal troops being called in.

There is something going on.

The populist is not respecting the authority that exists,

and that is a big deal.

- Because you're for the war.

You know, there's 200 body bags every week.

Figure out how to get into that business yet?

- I refuse to be distracted by events in which I have

no actual stake or participation.

- How could you say that?

- Because he doesn't have any sons.

- I served in the Air Force.

Did you?

- You're disgusting, you know that?

This whole thing works because people like you

look the other way.

- My politics are private, but that presentation isn't.

Now, are you going to hide your dawdling behind your outrage?

- You'll have your work, and you know it.

You can go in there and take credit for it

like you always do.

Be friendly and charming after you've stuck your

fascist boot on my neck!

- So I'm a fascist because I gave you a deadline?

- No, you're a fascist because you love business

and you hate everything else!

Freedom, Blacks, Jews!

- This is my stop.

- And then it ends with Richard Nixon being elected,

and the Soviets roll into Czechoslovakia,

and they massacre everybody in Mexico City,

and the Paris students go back to school,

and it's not like there was no change enacted at all

and people were different from it, but people like

Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy,

by the time he's running, and the war clouds everything,

but the war is a symbol, and the war is good

for simple people, too, because it's clearly wrong,

but the complexity of standing up to the government

and participating in something like that is a new,

for that generation, it's shocking, and my thought was

always like, part of the origins of the show is,

"Are you going to shock someone who grew up in the

Great Depression with anything?"

I had a line in there, and I just threw it on the side,

where Don says, "I once saw someone throw a loaf of bread

"off a truck during the Depression, and a bunch of men

"were fighting over it.

That's what this meeting looked like,"

and what I wanted to say was,

"I once saw someone throw a loaf of bread off a truck

and a bunch of men fighting for it,"

and I don't know how you can be that impressed with something,

I mean, it's shocking to us because we depend on

order and civility in this country and freedom of speech,

and to see something like the Chicago Riots

and to hear people chanting, "The whole world is watching,"

like, this is America, this isn't supposed to happen,

but if you had heard tale of the Bonus March when you were

growing up or had lived through any of the union struggles

or had lived through the deprivation of the

Great Depression and seen people with no work,

we're kind of experiencing the 'no work' part right now,

it's not good for anybody.

You're not going to think it's kind of a, "Here we go again."

I thought it was worth discussing who we were,

and Don Draper, being from rural poverty and not having,

just take the economic divisions,

but he is not a WASP, and that was interesting to me

to make that person, that outsider, of course,

the best Ad Man in the world, also, because he's just

watching everything.

[typewriter dings]

- The idea of doing the entire length of the show is,

so now you're like, "Can this man change?"

And after he cannot control his impulses

and forces the company to merge and eventually gets caught

by his daughter...

that is irreversible.

That is the worst thing that ever happened to that man.

- Sally...

Sally, open the door.

I need to talk to you.

I know you think you saw something.

I was comforting Mrs. Rosen.

She was very... upset.

It's very...


- MATTHEW: He has his secret.

His wife knows, his ex-wife knows, his co-workers know,

but he never wanted his children to know who he was.

Forget about them seeing him sleep with the neighbor,

cheating on their stepmother...

and I think that that, by the end of that season,

that moment, which is done in looks, in cinema,

of he and Sally, of him telling the truth to Sally

about who he is, admitting the shame,

was a chance for him to be on some path of change.

- This is where I grew up.


§ Rows and flows of angel hair §

§ And ice cream castles in the air §

§ And feather canyons everywhere §

§ I've looked at clouds that way §

- MATTHEW: When we come back, it's the shortest distance we've

ever done between seasons, 'cause I realized that him

being fired from the office was not something I wanted

to skip ahead and figure out.

I think I wanted people to live with the problem.

It was only eight weeks, and Don is still fired,

and the ambiguity, this is one of the great things about

using reality in your show.

So you get put on a leave of absence, that's to save face.

"You're on a leave of absence," means, "Go get another job,"

and Don was like, "Well, they never fired me,"

and if you have the humil-, if you can eat enough [bleep]

to go back and work under, I mean,

people don't go back from leave.

They really don't.

They're supposed to move on, so I loved the idea

that Don didn't know what to do.

The big lie that he's telling is that he hasn't told his wife

he's lost his job, and people do this, by the way.

This is not new.

I've experienced this, I've not personally ever done it,

my wife is here, she knows I lost my job,

[laughter] but people do this for obvious reasons,

and I'm sure women do it to men also, to their husbands.

Nothing good has ever come for this guy from telling the truth.

Maybe he's not telling it at the right time,

but he has no behavior modification that could

possibly happen from telling the truth.

When he does finally tell Megan that he lost his job,

it's just like, he doesn't trust anybody.

[typewriter dings]

- I think he's like, "I'm going to be faithful,

"I messed that up, it led me down a terrible path,

I'm going to try and make this work."

He's got the cute stewardess on the plane later,

a couple of episodes later, who's like, clearly,

he would've been having sex with in another episode,

and I think his desire to, and he feels guilty,

the guy's always had a conscience.

That's how Jon Hamm got that part,

Jon Hamm exudes conscience.

He exudes confidence and a lot of other things,

but he was the only person when I was auditioning people

for the show who I felt could wordlessly express a conscience,

and yeah, he's like, she's, there's a couple of things

going on in that scene.

The other one is about his alcoholism, and I know it

ruins the show to point out the guy drinks too much.

- She says he drowned to death.

- Yeah, her husband died from drinking.

- How old was he?

- He would've been 50.

So much older.

He worked fast, too.

- What happened to him?

- He was thirsty, and he died of thirst.

His company sent him to a hospital.

I wouldn't let them...

I was part of the... cure, somehow.

- And so, the idea is 'can Don reform,'

'can Don work his way back.'

The whole tension of those first seven episodes,

I don't know who's seen them or hasn't,

but I'll just tell you this much.

It's like, "What is Don going to do?"

The tension is, how's he going to, what's his secret move,

how's he going to triumph?

He couldn't possibly just be going into work

and doing his job.

It's the first time he's done it in the history of the series,


and I felt that he knew...

Billy Bragg has that song,

"Virtue Never Tested Isn't Virtue At All."

That's what that scene with Neve Campbell's about.

- If I was your wife, I wouldn't like this.

- She knows I'm a terrible husband.

- How long have you been married?

- Not long enough.

I really thought I could do it this time.

- Did she kick you out?

- She doesn't know that much, but she knows.

- Well, if she doesn't know, you should just keep it that way.

That's what people do.

- I keep wondering...

"Have I broken the vessel?"

- If you did, what can you do about it?

It's done.

- He could've told Megan that he screwed up the way he did.

He told her they were moving to California,

and then he stayed.

He should've just given up and moved on,

but there's something about him that wants

to right this thing at work, and there's something about him

that doesn't want to go to California, and there's

something about him that doesn't feel as close to her,

but he doesn't know that yet, and so what we wanted to do

was say, give a chance for Don to say, the whole episode was

built around, this sounds really pretentious out of context.

Maybe it did in the context of the show, too, but,

"Have I broken the vessel?

"Has my behavior just extended to the point where there

"is no repair?

"Have I destroyed everything to the point where I can never

make it right again?"

So much of the show, Don's whole life is about a fresh start.

It's something that when you have children and you start

realizing the value of it, forget about your life.

I mean, every time something bad happens, you need a fresh start.

[typewriter dings]

- NARRATOR: You've been watching a conversation

with Mad Men creator, Matthew Weiner, on On Story.


Next up, filmmaker Faraday Okoro,

and his short film &nbspFull Windsor.

- My name is Faraday Okoro, I have a short film,  Full Windsor  ,

that's in the Austin Film Festival.

My story comes from a friend of mine who told me of his

experience with his mother.

His mother drove him to school one day and told him about the

death of his father.

When he finally gets there, he asks his mother,

"Well, should I go to school or not?"

And she's like, "You can do whatever you want."

And he decides to go to school because he's young

and he's thinking about perfect attendance,

and throughout school, all he does is think about his father.

So when I had that idea, I figured, "Oh, I would like

"to tell the story of two people, a mother and a son,

and the morning of an event."

I'm proud to have my film play at the Austin Film Festival,

and I hope that you guys get to watch it.

Thank you.

[rustling and music]

[rustling and music]

[rustling and music]

[rustling and music]



- Come on, Chris, let's go.

[door opens]

Go get your book bag.

Turn around.

Turn around!

Where did you get that?

- I want to wear it to school.

- Throw it in the trash.

- I want to wear it.

- I don't want you wearing his things.

- I want to wear it to scho-

- Throw it in the trash.

Take it off!

- I'm going to wear it to school.

[door shuts]

[door opens]

- MOTHER: Do you have your keys?

Do you have your keys?!

[door slams]

[door unlocks]

[door opens]

[cars pass by]

[door shuts]

- MOTHER: Let go of the door.

Let go of the door.

What are you doing?

Come on!

Let go of the door!

Chris, let go of the door.

What are you doing?

Let go of the door!

I'm going to slap you!

Let go of the door!

Let go of the door!

[keys jingling]

[frustrated heavy breathing]

- Chris...

why are you doing this, man?

Come on!

Let me in!





- NARRATOR: For more On Story, check out our free podcast at

onstory.tv, or search the iTunes store, and get the book today,

On Story: Screenwriters and Their Craft , on Amazon.

- §



[projector & typewriter]


[piano trill]

- NARRATOR: In this week's On Story, Mad Men creator

Matthew Weiner dissects the culture, identity,

and status quo of the show, and the psychology behind

its beloved anti-hero, Don Draper,

followed by the short film, Full Windsor, by Faraday Okoro.


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