Something exciting is happening tomorrow – actor and director Matt Cohen (General Hospital, Supernatural, South of Nowhere) begins production on his short film “Mama Bear,” and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with! I’m especially excited because Matt’s passion for this project is contagious, and I was happy to catch it when I chatted with him yesterday. To see a filmmaker so on fire to make a film, and a bunch of incredibly talented actors on fire to make it with him, reminds me of why we all love movies and television shows and books and all the ways we tell stories. Reminds me that those stories make a difference and help shape our views of the world and each other. They also entertain us, and I think ‘Mama Bear’ is definitely going to do that!
I mean, you can’t really go wrong when this is the premise: “A gritty, high-octane punch of absolute awesomeness, Mama Bear follows a regular, everyday soccer mom with a hidden, violent past who has 24 hours to save her dying son in need of a transplant — but it means hunting down her powerful crime lord ex-husband and taking his liver.”
Mama Bear stars Cohen’s real-life wife Mandy Musgrave as a mother who will do whatever it takes to save her child. In real life, Musgrave is mom to the couple’s four-year-old son Macklin, and I have a feeling she’s just as fierce as the character she plays when it comes to her son (hopefully without any liver theft involved).
I’ve known Matt for a decade as one of the pivotal Supernatural characters (the young version of dad John Winchester) and as a regular member of the traveling troupe of actors who bring Supernatural conventions all over the world. He wrote a chapter for ‘Family Don’t End With Blood: Cast and Fans on How Supernatural Has Changed Lives’ that was intensely personal, chronicling his own struggle to figure out who he was and become that man and how the Supernatural fandom and cast helped him do that (You can get your own copy right here). As an editor, I worked closely with all the actors who wrote chapters, and Matt and I have had many chats over the years, so it’s been a privilege to see Cohen find himself and now to bring his own creative vision to fruition. I chatted with him yesterday, after he got out of a meeting with Mama Bear writer Lee Ehlers, so he was pumped, and so was I!
Lynn: Hey, how’s it going?
Matt: Lynn! I’m doing great. Considering that I’m maybe taking on like 100% more than I should…
Matt: I truly don’t feel nervous or scared. Everything is going pretty damn well, and creative and awesome, and I’m pretty damn excited.
Lynn: That is awesome! I am SO excited about this and so glad we found a few minutes to talk, so yay!
Matt: I’m thrilled too. It’s literally been my cell phone battery can’t stay charged fast enough for me to stay on the phone and answer all the calls, so it’s been a wild experience.
Lynn: That’s a good problem to have – everyone is genuinely excited about this and for you.
Matt: And I agree. I feel really good about it and so lucky. My gratitude level is through the roof. I’ve only raised a bit of money so far but I’ve got some real interesting raffle ideas coming up with some cool donations, so I’m not worried about the money. Everybody who I’ve asked creatively to be involved has said yes, and I literally wake up – I’ve been waking up at 4 AM and going to work at GH, and I just finished my last scene there for two weeks – I wake up and I throw my feet on the ground and I go “Stop, thank you. Just thank you, everybody and all things in between”. The gratitude is serving me so well and it also feels so fulfilling to be thankful, if that makes any sense.
Lynn: It does, totally. I’m not sure there are many better feelings than taking the time to pause and be truly grateful for the good things we’re lucky enough to have in life. So I have a couple of questions.
Lynn: First, you’ve said that in making Mama Bear, you really want to do something that’s 100% original – I think you said revolutionary. Why is that so important to you and how did that idea come to you?
Matt: I don’t know. (pause) I like movies and things I’ve seen before and seen again and seen remade, but my artistic side of my vision for the film is very stylized. It always has been. I’ve always been drawn to certain directors and directors of photography, but I felt that I have to incorporate the ideas that I’ve seen and make them my own. So therefore, the only way I could make anything is if it’s my own completely and I’m not catering to ideas like oh, these are the traditional shots that hold together a scene or the traditional actions that need to happen or you can only have movement on action, or whatever. All these things that I’ve studied in directing don’t really lend themselves to what I see in my mind when I fall asleep and when I wake up. So it’s just become that I have to make my own thing completely, and if it reflects other things out there, great. People who are fans of that other work might then be fans of my work too and maybe I’ll fit into that genre of their favorite artist or director. But it just has to feel like mine. It has to feel like Matt Cohen is all over it. I want to create my own stamp here in this town because there are a ton of great directors — and a ton of bad directors who just do what other directors do. If I’m gonna do it and I’m gonna spend every penny I have, it’s got to be mine and I have to be true to myself.
Lynn: That makes sense, if you’re gonna do it, you need to do it your way and make it yours.
Matt: My writer friend, Lee Ehlers, he had a concept and we just ran with it. He just got into town and we had a meeting today. We hadn’t really talked creatively and visually about how I’m gonna shoot the movie until today.
Lynn: So this is the first time you’ve laid out your vision.
Matt: And he was thrilled, like he was really happy!
Lynn: That’s awesome
Matt: Yeah, that’s a big deal because you want to satisfy the writer, but you also don’t want to sacrifice your vision. In the back of your mind you’re like, I don’t give a shit what anybody thinks, I want to do it this way. But the writer, he’s said to me so many times that I’ve added to his vision of these scenes. That’s what I want to do. I know his vision, I know this guy very well. Ex Detroit cop, I know the beer that he drinks, I know the jokes that he tells. I know how he writes movies and the movies he watches. So I have a good feel for it and I felt like I could make something that he’d like, but when he told me that I added more than he expected to each moment and sequence and scene, I just felt like this is just another green light for me to go, pardon the metaphor, but balls to the wall!
Matt: Let all my creative things that are boiling inside me come out here, so that’s what’s gonna happen. Whether it’s a film or a highlight reel or a damn montage, whatever it feels like, that’s how I meant it to feel. It’s real and it’s here and I’ve come too far and lost too many hours of sleep with the same dream in my mind to not show up on set Saturday morning and shoot something else because I have a crew of fifty around me saying, is this guy for real? I’m committed to my vision and it’s my own.
Lynn: And you know, you are for real. One of the reasons I’m so excited about this film is that I feel like this is part of your evolution, as a person and as a man and a husband, a dad. And in a small way, I feel like I was a tiny part of that, that when you wrote your chapter in Family Don’t End With Blood, that was for you the beginning of coming to terms with who you are and how you’d been changed by Supernatural and the fandom and the other cast and that whole experience. And this is like the next step – like you discovered yourself and out of knowing yourself, now you’re confident enough and you can make your vision come to fruition. So I feel like I have a tiny part in this.
Matt: You do, you do. (Matt gets emotional; Lynn gets emotional) Man, I’ve been crying nonstop – every time I have a conversation with somebody I’m falling into emotions so quickly, so excuse me.
Lynn: That’s okay, I feel emotional too actually. This is a big thing!
Matt: The thing to me is that yeah, you’re a part of it. It’s weird, and you said it right, it’s the evolution of this guy – me. It’s been a crazy ten years. I don’t wanna sound like a kiss-ass because you’re inside that Supernatural family, but if I told you anything else I’d be lying. It started with an episode of Supernatural, and that led me to another episode and that led me to meeting a fan base that inevitably changed me forever. And it nudged me into a direction that I wanted to go in but was scared, and that direction was self-awareness. Just being me. That led to you, and you and me had many talks, and that led to me putting together a chapter of a couple thousand words about who I am and why I’m writing this, and all things being self-reflection and self-examination. And that’s something I don’t think I did for 25 years. I just got by with small talk; my life existed in conversation and small talk until I began to develop as a man.
Lynn: You wrote such a powerful chapter and it has inspired so many people.
Matt: I hope to all the other men and women out there that they find it much younger than I did, because it’s truly – it’s like I’m experiencing life for the first time. I believe in myself and I trust myself and I’m able to step up in ways I was never able to step up. It used to be, I was consumed with one thing and that would take away from my marriage or my fatherhood – but now, I’m here for everything now and I’m as present as I have ever been. I’m sleeping a little less but I’m so excited to be awake – I get up, get a couple of work things done, spend time with my family, get more work things done and then go to GH and shoot some scenes and then work on Mama Bear and then hop on the phone with Lynn and have a conversation!
Matt: I feel so lucky, Lynn. There’s so much gratitude in my body that literally right now my eyes are watering. The continuing good feelings are so astonishing that I don’t know how to react to it, so a lot of my talks are ending glossed over with tears in my eyes. This is the first time at 36 that I feel completely full – my heart, my soul, my mind, my physical form. And no matter how it goes, I’m willing to risk it all.
Lynn: You really are.
Matt: If you don’t, you’re half assing it. And no matter what I get, it’s a reward, and it’s beautiful. I’m doing it. I’ve been talking about it for five years. The problem is so often for me – I can’t speak for others – so often we just risk a little bit. We take risks but not enough to grab onto the triumph that you’re trying to grab onto. Unless you give all your guts and all your work and all your passion – and the key word really is passion…
Lynn: Yeah and that comes through.
Matt: Because I’m not chasing a penny or a paycheck, I’m chasing a passion. To be completely honest, this is breaking my bank account – but there’s nothing that’s felt more right in my 36 years on this earth.
Lynn: And honestly you say you wish you had found yourself and figured yourself out sooner, but the reality is that some people never get to that point. I’ve worked with people much older who are finally figuring out who they are and going after the things they want. So feel good about that.
Matt: I do.
Lynn: I also really like the premise of Mama Bear because it celebrates a woman and a mom who does whatever she has to do to save her family. As someone who didn’t have the best experience with their own mother, that resonates with me. Does that really resonate with you too? You may not have had the best experience, but now you see Mandy, and how fiercely protective she is with your son. It’s almost like, that’s the sort of fiercely protective mom everyone wishes for, a mom who would do anything for her child.
Matt: Absolutely. The idea of making Mandy the lead character did a couple different things. I was desperate to work with my wife, and she was so comfortable being a mother. She has taken on the role of being a mom and home school teacher and everything else and she loves it and my child is thriving because of her ability to strive for greatness as a role model and teacher and mom and best friend for him. What I’ve noticed from the day of her 80 hour labor that brought him in – my son was born at 43 weeks and 4 days which is essentially illegal in the state of California – and it was a profound journey she went on to get him here naturally, letting the little guy fight his way into the world. I told her the day he was born, you’re my superhero – you’ll never understand, but what you achieved over the last two or three days is far greater than any accomplishment that I could ever be successful at for the rest of my life. You’ll never understand how I look at you now. As a man, I studied classes with her to learn about being a doula and the birthing process and what it should mean to a man. You know, the men that stand outside and don’t think about how their mother gave her blood, sweat and tears and guts to bring them into the world…
Lynn: Yeah, they miss that, that understanding.
Matt: I wanted to know what that meant. I don’t personally know my real mother and was raised by a father who played both roles and did a hell of a job. But experiencing my wife do what she did was breathtaking and awe inspiring. When Mama Bear fell into my lap and I called my buddy Lee Ehlers, I said I’m tired of the fans in my meet and greets hearing me talk about doing a film and saying ‘just do it’.
Lynn: (laughing) The fandom is your cheering section!
Matt: They pushed me over the edge. I’ve talked about directing for so long. I was so inspired by Rich (Richard Speight Jr) and how he’s taken his career, and I’d just be idiotic not to follow in the footsteps of one of my best friends. He laid down the blueprint right in front of me, so why would I not do it if I’ve always wanted to do it? And we talked about it so passionately at meet and greets and finally a couple fans looked me in the eye and said “when, Matt?” and I said “right now. You just made me realize now is the time. I’m not a liar so I’ll figure out a way to do it.”
Lynn: So they really did inspire you to do it!
Matt: When I called Lee I said, I need a female hero. I want an action movie because that’s what I want to watch so that’s what I want to make. I need something gritty because I love the rawness and stylized weirdness of gritty film. He pitched a concept and I said that’s the perfect idea for me. He gave me a short version of the feature a week later and worked it into fifteen pages of wondrous chaos. I read it and I thought, this is a superhero story. Without any super powers. This woman’s super power is her love for her child.
Lynn: Hell yeah.
Matt: And her undeniable devotion to her child, that’s a super power in itself. I was so moved by it. Mandy and I haven’t talked that much about what I want to do with this character. I told her this morning, don’t think I’m neglecting directing or coaching or nudging you into a direction here. You don’t have to do anything but be your fierce badass self as a mom. I’m gonna dress you and color you and light you and style your hair, you just hold in your heart your love for your child.
Lynn: And that will come through, I have no doubt. I almost feel like in some ways this is your “Mama’s Jam” [A song written by Matt’s friend and fellow Supernatural actor Rob Benedict of Louden Swain, which celebrates his own mother’s independence and fierceness in taking care of her family on her own]. Rob wrote that to come to terms with his own painful history and how he became who he is, and this is you celebrating a mom being that fierce Mama Bear too. For anyone who didn’t have those kind of moms, it’s a powerful story – and for everyone really.
Matt: I agree. And the root of it is very grounded in reality — we’re working in a hyper-realistic environment with fighting and shooting and chaos – but the heart of this story is the mother’s love for her child, period. It is that love and that undeniable drive that a mother has, that passion. If somebody can’t be motivated by that, they’re not motivated by anything!
Lynn: That’s probably true.
Matt: Many mothers fall short — I don’t know where my mother is and I don’t know your experience, but there are some good ones out there and it’s a profound thing that they do in literally creating a human inside their body.
Lynn: My own experience being a mother feels profound for sure, and I think I can relate to that fierceness and that love, of doing whatever it takes to protect your children.
Matt: The story is grounded in that love and then everything around it is animated and escalated into almost a comic book-esque tale. Maybe this film is almost the world through her eyes, how she sees herself outside of herself. There’s not a lot of explaining I can do, but we’re living in her world and her circumstances.
Lynn: That sounds really intriguing, I can’t wait to see what that translates to on film.
Matt: When I put some stuff on tape and we have some visuals, hopefully it delivers on that. And I hope people can grab onto that as well, that it’s not just watching a movie that’s different and exciting, but seeing that there are layers here. We’ll see if that crosses over.
Lynn: I have a feeling it will, because you’re so passionate about making that happen. So, last question , because you sort of touched on the complexity of the project. How do you as a director combine emotion and action and humor in a film?
Matt: Well, it’s hard when you don’t come from a school of comedy. But let me tell you, ten years onstage with Rich and Rob? I’ve been to the school of comedy!
Lynn: (laughing) That’s so true! Your onstage panels with Rich and Rob are so hilarious I often am crying I’m laughing so hard.
Matt: And I’m a sponge up there. I didn’t study comedy. I studied, you know, with the Harvey Lembeck improv class and that was fun, but there’s nothing like real world action to prepare you for this. Being on the stage across from Rich for a couple years, and then adding Rob to that equation? Come on, those guys are professionals!
Lynn: They are.
Matt: They’re sharp, they’re witty. And then being directed by Rich and Rob in Kings of Con, I paid attention. I watched these guys and Rob is such an intellectual and smart comedic writer and Rich has got a tremendous eye for what’s funny and what’s not. He’s got a tremendous eye for it and he’ll tell you this is funny and this isn’t.
Lynn: I’m quite sure he will!
Matt: It’s important to have people like that in your life. They have been a part of me becoming me as much as anyone else. Then you need a script that’s combined those things. When the writer is as good as Lee – I mean, he loves Disney movies and action movies equally.
Lynn: Ahhh well that makes sense then, he really could combine all these things.
Matt: And that allows him to tap into the touching emotions, the comedy and the action. He wrote this in such a way that if you miss the comedy as a director, you’re not paying attention, so give it another read. The comedy beats are right in front of your face, so it’s like, how are you going to get them on film? I don’t feel like I’m a comedy guy from the get go, but I’m leaning more that way these days. But he was a little nervous, I could tell, and hesitant about how I’d handle the comedic beats in this. When I told him, he was like, that’s hilarious and he was smiling and laughing out loud so I felt successful in the moment, which was so nice.
Lynn: I have zero hesitation about how you’ll handle the comedic beats. I’ve watched you go from being nervous onstage with Rich doing improv when you first started doing conventions to now being so proficient at quipping one liners on the spot and keeping up with Rich and Rob. It’s like you were in comedy boot camp with those guys for years! And the promotional trailer for Mama Bear was absolutely hysterical. Gabe Tigerman being blackmailed into doing the film, Jim Beaver with his kidnapped mom OMG…
Check out the video below from fellow Supernatural actors Gabe Tigerman, Kim Rhodes, Briana Buckmaster, Rob Benedict, Richard Speight Jr, Jim Beaver, Adam Fergus, Jason Manns and of course Mandy Musgrave. And then head over to Indiegogo and get on board with Mama Bear.
Matt: And that was all on their own, I will take no directing credit for that. I simply reached out to all my friends who I thought I could squeeze into this little movie and make them look larger than life within a short film. And everybody said yes! I said look, I have to raise a bunch of money to do this film, nobody wants me to do this film, they’re all saying do something simpler, but I’m not going to because I want to make this. And they were all like sure, give me ten minutes, I’ll send you a video!
Lynn: (laughing) You’ve got incredible people and incredible actors in it and I think a lot of support from fans too. Supernatural fans, General Hospital fans…
Matt: Yeah, GH fans may not be as vocal as my home fanbase of Supernatural but I just think Supernatural tends to be more active on the socials and online, but the GH fans are also out there helping me and it’s been great. I’m scared I’m gonna have like post partum depression after it’s over!
Lynn: You probably will in a way – it really is like, after you’ve birthed this thing, this is labor right now!
Matt: I’ve truly been so high on life. Every day I wake up — and I wish I could show you my notes – at the end of every day I have a note pad of things I have to do and people to call and thank and beg for discounts to try to make a $100,000 fifteen page movie. It’s a huge thing, this movie should cost $200,000 and I should have 3 weeks to shoot it. When you deal with action, that’s how it is. Begging and pleading to get the location for an extra day, and can I get the actors together so we can all rehearse at my house while I babysit my son. And at the end of every day, I feel so successful because I’ve been able to conquer the things of that day that lead me forward on the journey of creating this film.
Lynn: That’s a good feeling, working so hard on something and watching it come together.
Matt: Tomorrow is crunch time, we have a production meeting and a tech scout in the morning. And these are things that should have been done earlier but they couldn’t be – but everyone is there and showing up and enthusiastic and everyone loves the writing and my vision. So I’m not on somebody else’s timeline. This is what we have and we’re gonna make it happen.
Lynn: Damn right. And I absolutely can’t wait. In fact, I’ve already contributed to the Indiegogo and signed up for my perk!
Matt: That’s awesome, thank you so much.
Lynn: I’m so excited to be a part of this project.
Matt: Lynn, I appreciate you every time we talk, I always feel better and I always appreciate your words and your support. Thank you again, and thanks for perking with us too – I feel so much gratitude to you.
Lynn: I’m so happy for you.
Matt: I can feel your good vibes, there’s lots of them flowing through me right now.
It’s always like that when you talk to Matt Cohen – he brings the good vibes and makes you feel excited about life, which is a wonderful thing and much needed right now. There are some amazing perks that will let you follow along as Matt and company begin filming TOMORROW! So go check out the Indiegogo and all the great perks, and come on board to get Mama Bear made!
I can’t wait to see Mama Bear come to life!