Director of interviews at the Television Academy, Jenni Matz, on the Emmys, hard work and Mandy.com
Mandy News caught up with Jenni Matz of the Television Academy Foundation (Emmys and International Emmys) in New York about producing video interviews with some of the world’s most accomplished, award-winning actors, producers and directors in the entertainment industry along with her thoughts on the importance of the Television Academy Foundation, the Emmys and the key skills required to do her job.
So you just got out of a meeting?
We were just at the (William S.) Paley Center for Media. We have a lot of good connections with them. They obviously have a repository of television and radio so it’s a really nice compendium to our oral history selection. We were meeting with their research and education department to find out more about how they do outreach. This is what my colleague and I are interested in so it’s fun for us.
Tell us about what you do?
I’m a Director of the Television Academy Foundation’s Interviews and Oral History. For the last 22 years, we have been collecting oral history raw format interviews with pioneers and legends from television from all various professions. They are bit different from what people are used to seeing because they are life histories, so they are quite extensive and detailed. The really special part about this collection is how it’s organised and presented online. Everything is very meticulously and richly catalogued and cross indexed so it’s very easy to research a topic or a person or a television show that you are interested in.
What are your day-to-day duties?
The main thrust of what we focus on are the interviews themselves. They take sometimes several months or several years to put together. It means scheduling them, conducting the extensive research and we try to not repeat things that someone’s talked about in other interviews, for example. Then it's booking and conducting interviews and the bulk of what we do is posting them through the cataloguing, which takes a bit of time and, presenting them on the website.
We also curate the collection and compile mini collections focusing on specific topics. For example, for Father’s Day we had a nice collection about TV dads. We have a partnership with Google and video exhibits on the Google Arts and Culture Institute that focus on topics such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy or something broad like diversity in the medium. We try to utilise the resources that we have in many ways.
You’ve been there how long?
I’ve been there for 10 years as of March 2018.
Did you have any idea that you would someday end up doing this?
No! My background is in documentary film and TV production. I started in news and was a researcher for many years.
PBS, History Channel, mostly documentaries but a lot independent film too. It’s actually on my Mandy.com profile. I haven’t updated it in many years but it’s there.
Then I decided that I wanted to do something more academically minded with my career, so I left production and went back and got my Masters (degree) in Library Science with the hope of becoming an archivist. Long story short, this job I have now is a really nice melding of the documentary production experience that I had and the organisational skills that I learned as a library science major so this digital archive repository is just a neat place for me to kind of put it all together.
I didn’t know that kind of thing existed. It kind of didn’t exist. When I was getting my masters, there weren’t things like time-based metadata and digital archives happening but I was always looking for ways to utilise technology and make archives more visible. It all came together in sort of a fortunate way. It was the right place and right time.
What are some of the unexpected perks of the job?
For sure the people that I get to meet! Some of the personal interactions I’ve had with a lot of the interviewees and the friendships that I’ve formed because of them, have been really unexpected. Being able to showcase this collection within the archival community and really showing a lot of our colleagues that it’s possible to put something like this together and make it really visible and publicly accessible, that’s been sort of an unexpected perk.
I get to travel. I get to come back to my hometown of New York, a couple of times a year, which is nice and conduct interviews everywhere. Of course we get to go to the Emmys. That’s always a fun perk. It’s a great experience all around. It seems that everywhere we go, we tell people what we do and everyone is really excited to learn from these masters.
My friends are often very envious of where I am on a given day and who I get to interview. It’s very cool.
Just how important is the Television Academy Foundation to the world?
So the Television Academy recognises excellence in the television arts and, of course, television is so much more of a broader term. Now it encompasses Hulu, Netflix and all content created digitally, so it’s still the pre-imminent award. The Emmy award is given to those who work in television and honours excellence across the board. So it’s a very enviable award to receive. It’s on par with the Oscar for film and doesn’t hurt when we call people to tell them who we’re calling from, that we’re calling from the Television Academy because it’s recognised internationally.
There’s the International Emmy Awards, there’s a Daytime Emmy award and the Television Academy Foundation where I am based — is out of the primetime Television Academy, which is in Los Angeles.
For the international audience, who are some of the more interesting interviews you’ve done?
We’ve interviewed directors like Sidney Lumet, Gareth Neame and Julian Fellowes for the British audience. Huge film stars like Ernest Borgnine, Betty White, Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas from Univision for the Spanish speaking audience. We are American television-based but we definitely have an international reach, and a lot of people would be familiar through syndication.
We’ve interviewed Norman Lear and almost everyone involved with his shows throughout the decades so he is probably someone that people would recognise.
You are also a documentary filmmaker as well as an archivist for the Television Academy. How do those positions compliment each other?
Yeah, it’s a bit different. With documentary filmmaking there’s a narrative structure you are trying to achieve, so when I’ve interviewed people for those sort of projects, there’s a pre-existing structure you’re trying to follow, whereas for oral history, it’s very different.
With an oral history, the interviewer remains very neutral. We are just meant to guide the conversation. So I need to be even better researched for an oral history like this because it needs to be focused on one topic or one show or one issue. It follows someone’s entire career from birth to what they’re doing currently and in the future. So you don’t want to inflex any of the narrator into the interview for an oral history.
You want to let someone tell their story without interfering too much, but for sure, the ear I have is for "Did I get it?" "Did they cover this and is it something I need to go back and ask in a different way?" "Did the audience understand what they were talking about?" That part of the editor’s ear is helpful when you do an interview like this.
How do you set aside time for your documentary endeavours?
Well, I don’t want to pretend that this is a good idea for anyone else out there but I guess you could call me a weekend warrior. All of the documentaries I've done, I did in conjunction with a full-time job. It’s something that you make the time for if it’s something that you are passionate about.
The last film that I did took 11 years because I was doing it in my spare time on weekends. It’s not an easy thing to balance and manage but you make it happen if it’s something you care about and want to do.
Aside from yourself, what kind of person is good for this job?
I think someone who wants to be passionate about wanting to hear stories and wanting to be curious about many different things and someone who’s able to multi-task and have a lot of tilted hands, like, being able to run a production shoot but also being really involved in and have a hand in the extensive research that’s necessary.
We interviewed Whoopi Goldberg the other day. If you sit down and interview someone who’s had such a long and extensive career like that you’d better be prepared. She drops a name and it’s a first name only, to know who she’s talking about. You need to really be on your game and balance a lot of things production-wise, research-wise and always with a mind on making sure that the interview is complete and that it's something unique and not available in other formats and mediums.
I think people can do this job if they are hard working, industrious, curious and don’t need a lot of sleep.
The Emmys are coming up. Who are you rooting for this year?
Oh my God, you can’t put me on the spot with that question! I don’t have time to watch a lot of television so there are probably not a lot of shows that are up for nomination that I’ve seen. A lot of what I watch is in preparation for interviews so I probably watch a lot shows from the '50s, '60s and '70s. I was just talking to someone at Paley about the American Masters Lorraine Hansberry (A Raisin in the the Sun) documentary that came out earlier this year, which was fantastic. Hopefully they’ll be nominated.
I love comedy. Anything that can make me laugh is good so I am rooting for all the comedies out there.
And I still have my resume on Mandy.com. You guys are great. I still get calls from people. I still get calls from that old account I made and it has actually put me in touch with a lot of cool people.
Sign up to Mandy.com for free to see crew jobs.Tags: