Watching someone grow and seeing their success is always something incredible to watch. Over the last few years, we can say that about Matt Cohen. Through our interviews over the years, we’ve watched Cohen be candid about acting, leaving General Hospital, leading his own Hallmark film, becoming a regular host on Entertainment Tonight, and making his first short film, Mama Bear, which he collected various awards for.
Matt’s aspirations have always been something to admire. He’s determined, and always willing to put in the hard work to achieve his goals, and it’s something we as a staff admire. Over the years watching Cohen’s continued success has been nothing short of incredible; he’s inspired all of us to be the best we can be, and to never give up.
After the success of Mama Bear, we were excited to see what was next for Cohen. To our excitement, Supernatural was the answer to that, but not in the way people would think Cohen would be involved. This time instead of in front of the camera, he’d be behind it, directing a pivotal episode in the last season of the show.
With Cohen’s episode airing tonight, October 15, we talked to him about how it came about, his experience, shadowing fellow actor, director and friend Richard Speight, Jr., and what he wants to do with directing in the future.
Nerds and Beyond: Congrats on directing your first episode of television – and a Supernatural episode at that. How did everything come about?
Matt Cohen: Well, to be honest, it started with Mr. Richard Speight, Jr. I had followed in similar footsteps as the ones laid out before me by Richard. My intent from the beginning was to direct a short film starring my wife that would be good enough to get me into the Warner Bros. school of directing. So I ended up creating and directing a short film with my writer and creative partner Lee Ehlers called Mama Bear. To make a long story short, that little film came out really cool and was viewed by Bob Singer and Phil Sgriccia and the kind folks at WB and The CW. They all liked it enough to sign off on my abilities as a director.
Where Richard’s advice really comes in is this; we both found out that there was a directing spot opening up for the final season of Supernatural, and Richard told me that I should call Bob and ask if I could direct. I thought Richard was a crazy person and that Bob and everybody at Supernatural would laugh me off, that being too casual of a request. Despite what I thought I pushed forward and asked Richard if he really thought this was a good idea. He said, “You’ll never know if you don’t ask!” And so I asked via email. Then a few weeks later Bob asked for the password and the link to my short film Mama Bear so Andrew Dabb could watch it. About another month or so went by, and I was certain I burnt my SPN bridge when Bob hit me back with an email that said something like… we like your film and welcome to the DGA. Crazy!
Nerds and Beyond: You’ve been a part of the world of Supernatural for such a long time now. Did you feel at ease going into directing your episode or intimidated?
Cohen: I certainly didn’t feel intimidated by the cast, the crew or the executives at Supernatural. What I did feel was an amazing amount of pressure put on myself by myself. I wanted to go up there and leave my mark on that cast and crew in a way that would leave them feeling proud of what they accomplished. The show means a great deal to me and the fact that I was able to direct an episode in the final season was absolutely something that carried weight for me. I went up there during pre-production and didn’t come home any of the three weekends that I had off. I stayed in Vancouver locked in a room as a shot listed and re-shot listed and thought and then re-thought every characters actions and dialogue. I was away from my family for 22 days and that’s the longest I’ve ever been away from my five-year-old son. My wife knew how important it was to me to be able to deliver for the team up in Vancouver and she understood my time away was being spent working my ass off! I knew deep down in my heart that the team at Supernatural would never let me fall or fail, but I didn’t want to leave it up to them to have to scrape me up off the floor! I did not go there to fail or let anybody down.
Nerds and Beyond: We know you shadowed Richard Speight, Jr. a bit as he directed Supernatural – what lessons or things from Rich did you learn that you carried into your own episode?
Cohen: Richard will definitely end up being one of the most valuable directing teachers in the film business in the years to come. I was with him every step of the way during the shadow process and I followed everything he did. He pushed me and made me work while I was with him. He had me breakdown scenes and shot list scenes and then we would go over them after the scenes wrapped up. He told me when he messed up and got in trouble and he told me tricks that helped him get out of crazy situations. He made sure that I knew every single thing I could possibly know by the time my time shadowing him was finished. Richard essentially gave me four years of film school in about two weeks and I am forever grateful to him! Not to mention when I went up to shoot my episode he was checking in on me with various eyes he had spying on me to make sure I didn’t drop the ball. That’s what friends do for each other, that’s what family does for each other.
Nerds and Beyond: Did you go back and watch any previous episodes for inspiration to get prepared for yours?
Cohen: I set out to watch the entire run of the show but I got through about 7 1/2 seasons before I started picking and choosing episodes I wanted to see specifically. It was really cool to sit down and watch the boys from the pilot episode grow and evolve and bring it week after week! Jared and Jensen delivered from episode one and they will carry that out till the end.
Nerds and Beyond: Your short film, Mama Bear, was incredible. What, if any, lessons or techniques did you take from Mama Bear and apply to this experience?
Cohen: What I learned from making Mama Bear was pretty simple and also very complicated at the same time. There is always a solution to every problem. If you’re creative enough and you understand how to tell a story, you can fix anything on a film set. Mama Bear was a different short film on the page then the film I ended up directing and putting on the screen. I had to make a lot of things work with a little bit of the things we actually needed. I had to be clever and keep a crew wanting to work for me that had no reason to believe in me. I came up with single shots and camera moves that would cover a whole scene or moment to save time and money. I tried to dabble in that same world while shooting Supernatural and also taking care of my crew and cast to get them home and out of the rain, sleet, hail, snow, and all the other weather systems I had to deal with in Vancouver.
Nerds and Beyond: Is there a scene or shot that you can tease that you’re particularly proud of?
Cohen: My episode involves some really beautiful acting and some very heavy moments. I tried to use my background as an actor to access the internal workings of the friends and actors that I had to direct. I think there are some award-winning dramatic performances by Jack and Cas as well as Dean and Amara.
Nerds and Beyond: Did you feel any additional pressure because this was the final season?
Cohen: No more pressure than what you feel trying not to let a couple hundred people down! The last season matters a great deal to me and I wanted everybody at Supernatural to understand that.
Nerds and Beyond: What was your favorite aspect of the directing process when you worked on your episode?
Cohen: there’s no part of this process that I’m not absolutely in love with. I love the creative side of prep week when you get to work with all the different departments and come up with this landscape to tell your wonderful story. I love working with my actors on set and driving and nudging them to give the performance that I want. I will say the most uncomfortable part of the whole process for me, even though I found a way to love it, was CASTING my guest stars. I just wanted to give everybody 10 opportunities to do their best work in the room. I wanted the actors to know that I was there for them and I wanted to learn myself to whatever they needed to give me their best performance. It was quite difficult. I think I was more nervous than them.
Nerds and Beyond: After doing this, are you interested in continuing to direct more episodes of television?
Cohen: 100% this is just the beginning for me being an actor/director. I hope to act and direct in many projects and pull double duty. I am no doubt made for this! I’m a creative guy and I’m an inspirational leader that refuses to lose or let down those around him. If you hop on this train with me, I promise you, you’ll be happy with where it ends up.
Nerds and Beyond: Lastly, overall, what was your opinion on directing the episode – was it everything you hoped it would be? More difficult? Excited for everyone to see it?
Cohen: Directing the episode was everything I hoped for and a whole lot more. I went to work for people I greatly respect and they greatly respected my efforts! I’m forever grateful to every single cast and crew member an executive that ever served Supernatural. Also I should give a huge thank you to the most incredible fanbase that has provided me with love, acceptance, and wildly incredible achievements! You guys did this as much as I did.
Make sure to catch Matt’s episode of Supernatural, “Gimme Shelter”, tonight on The CW. If you miss it, it will be on The CW app the next day!