Vassar Stories

Matthew Elisofon ’13: On Being Charlie

During his stay at a rehabilitation facility five years ago, Matthew Elisofon ’13 stepped up to the microphone during a talent show and performed a standup routine. Shortly afterwards, he was approached by a fellow addict-in-recovery, Nick Reiner. The son of Rob Reiner, Nick told Elisofon he was a surprisingly funny guy—for someone who seemed rather dull in real life.

And so began a friendship … and a collaboration.

“The thing rehab, sobriety, and AA all have in common is that you have to tell your story. You’re surrounded by stories. You talk about your life and how you got where you are,” Elisofon says. “There were narratives falling from the sky.”

While still in treatment, the two began hammering out a pilot for a television comedy centered on recovery. The script they wrote was shared with Nick’s father in the hopes he would provide them with feedback, Elisofon says.

“We just wanted notes. We didn’t expect anything of it,” he says, adding that while Reiner was pleased to see them writing, he wasn’t all that impressed with the script. “He didn’t really give it the time of day,” he remembers.

Fast forward to almost two years later. After Elisofon graduated from Vassar and moved to New York City, he met up with Nick, who was visiting the city. One of the things they talked about was their long-shelved idea for a sitcom about rehab.

“I realized that [the script] wasn’t very good and that we could make it better. We decided that instead of doing a half-hour comedy, we would do an hour-long drama. It was more real and more honest, and it was more of a rigorous delve into that world and the feelings that come with it. I don’t think we were particularly ready earlier to do that sort of digging,” Elisofon says.

The new script was again passed to Reiner with the hopes of getting a critique. At the time, Elisofon says, they thought the best-case scenario was that Reiner would give the script to his agent, which might, in turn, get them an agent. More than likely, Reiner would make a few comments and that would be all, he says.

Reiner did provide advice on changes and they made several rounds of edits to the script, Elisofon says. The process seemed unending until Reiner suggested that the two write a feature-length film instead.

“We were ready to throw in the towel at that point, but he says, ‘I think this could be a good movie,’” Elisofon recalls.

With that impetus, they continued honing the script, which Reiner then took to his agent in the hopes of finding funding to make it a feature film. They got a producer and the finances set and then came another surprise: Reiner signed on to direct the film.

“I got a call from Nick and Rob and they said, ‘Quit your job and pack your [stuff],’” Elisofon says.

In January 2015, Elisofon moved to Los Angeles. Along with the excitement of the film’s release on May 6 have come interviews and press coverage—to which he doesn’t pay much attention.

“I hope it gets a good response. The percentage of people who like it, whom it speaks to or touches, that’s more important to me,” Elisofon says.

More recently, he’s concentrating on new work, writing to establish a portfolio—film ideas, television pilots, late-night television concepts—that will help him land other projects.

“It’s weird when the first thing you’ve written gets this kind of attention. Most people who make it have a bunch of things that they’ve tried and they have a whole body of work. In my case, I didn’t have a body of work. I have to now go back and build that body of work,” Elisofon says.

—Debbie Swartz

Posted Wednesday, May 11, 2016