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CoastLine: Matt Sullivan on making The Hudsucker Proxy, One Tree Hill, and film jobs that can only be called weird

NC Filmmakers Series

Matt Sullivan's film production responsibilities have ranged from puppeteering baby bats to icing a female actor's nipples to brushing out the nap on carpet to hide tracks. While he's moved up through the ranks from a nonunion jack-of-all-trades employee to a union department head as Set Decorator, he still sees the precision, discipline, clarity, and intelligence of a Coen Brothers' film as the most rewarding of his career.

The Hudsucker Proxy was the first big-budget feature film for the Coen Brothers. And it was a massive Hollywood flop. According to The Atlantic, the movie was the largest flop of the Coens’ career, making less than $3 million in domestic box office against a reported budget of around $40 million.

Despite its mixed critical reviews, the 1994 film, shot on Wilmington sound stages, has earned a cult following.

The Hudsucker Proxy was also an important filmmaking experience for Set Decorator Matt Sullivan. Several years after film school at Penn State, he landed a job on the production as an on-set dresser. Although he’s gone on to build an impressive TV and film resume, he insists that 30 years later, that movie is still the best filmmaking experience of his career.

Matt Sullivan worked as Set Decorator on the TV series Sleepy Hollow.
Matt Sullivan worked as Set Decorator on the TV series Sleepy Hollow.

Matt Sullivan’s credits include the TV series Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill, Sleepy Hollow, Mr. Mercedes and Hightown. He was the Set Decorator for feature films such as Flight of the Phoenix, The First Purge, and Halloween Kills, starring Jamie Lee Curtis.

There is a free screening of The Hudsucker Proxy on Sunday, Jul 17, 2022 at 4 PM at The Pointe in Wilmington, NC, courtesy of the North Carolina Filmmakers Series.  Matt Sullivan will answer questions from the audience after the film.  

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.