Mathieu is a public writer in a poor neighbourhood of Montreal. For the few past years, he’s discovered that his job is more about people than literature. He wrote a novel inspired by his experiences. The critics love it, but the book bothers his employer who immediately fires him.

Did he steal the stories of others to build himself a career as an author or is he using the power of words to educate others about the voiceless?

Public Writer – Season 3 (CAN) co-writer, director and co-producer Eric Piccoli spoke to Melbourne Webfest, sharing with us how the project was a life-changing experience. After spending years working on Public Writer, season 3 reaches the story’s culmination – Piccoli reflects on his time with the web series and the people who he met along the way.

Overall, how long have you been working on your series? 

I’ve been working on Public writer for several years now. Our production started in 2015 when we started working on the screen adaptation of Michel Duchesne’s novel. The first season was directed by Hervé Baillargeon who did a great job setting the tone and the atmosphere. Hervé left and I got in as a director and co-writer in 2016 for the second season. I put all in to make these two seasons. It happened during a moment of my life where this series actually “saved” me. This has been one of the most important projects of my life so far. It defined the kind of stories I’ve always wanted to tell.

Why did you decide on the web series format for Public Writer?

There are a bunch of good reasons: It’s faster to get greenlit for production, we have more creative freedom (on the approach and on the content), we have a great personal relationship with our financial backers and broadcasters and we have amazing team chemistry, just like some feature films often do. In fact, doing a web series is much more like doing an arthouse film.

How would you describe Mathieu’s journey in the story so far?

Mathieu went from someone looking for a job to survive to someone who finds a purpose to his own life and some sort of redemption. In this final season, we meet Mathieu almost 2 years from the last season. He takes better care of those he loves, he’s a better father too. He’s publishing a novel based on his experience and the critics are amazed by it. Is Mathieu an author or a social worker? Mathieu finds himself torn between these two realities. Does he have to choose? Can he be both? Which one actually fits with his beliefs?

Public Writer – Season 3 Trailer

Has the end product strayed far from your initial vision?

Not really. We went all-in for this last and final season (as we also did for the past seasons). This series is really important for us (at Babel films and the team) and we tried everything to make the best series we could! I can’t thank enough our team at Babel films, our financial backers and our amazing team for putting the time and the energy to make Public Writer what it is.

What emotions did you feel when you completed season 3?

The last scene shot was the one where an Elvis impersonator is singing to Mathieu, our public writer, in order to get some funds to help him. The “Elvis” is actually my dad and the extras are also real people from a community centre that came to see a “show”. This moment was just magic. This blending between fiction and documentary is incredible and that made this series what it is.

When Benoit Marquette, our 1st AD said CUT, I just started crying. I knew this was the last time I was directing this series, that I was working with these characters and with this amazing team (shoutout to my cinematographer Philippe St-Gelais). I mean, this is why I do that, why I direct and write stories, it’s for these unique moments where everything fits right into place. When we’re together we create incredible stuff.

Public Writer explores relationships and their dynamics, what other themes or messages would you hope audiences take away from the series?

Just some social awareness. We live in societies believing that together we’re stronger, safer and better. That instead of being on our own in forests, it’s easier to survive as a group. We take part in something and we’re contributing to this group project. But we also need to be aware of the cracks, of the problems that this group creates. I believe you can define a society by how it takes care of its elders, its more vulnerable and its animals. There’s no point in having the best entrepreneurs and architects if you suck at making sure that those at the bottom of the “system” can’t live a decent life.

Public Writer shines a light on a range of individuals who face differing societal issues, were there any challenges creating these characters and their backgrounds?

Sometimes it was hard. Not to reach them, but by knowing what was their everyday life. I’ve spent time with them and Michel Duchesne, who wrote the book and the series with me, spending months and years with them.  It’s hard to get back to your little world when you know how life is hard for others. How alone some are. How bad shit happens to others that we don’t know.

What is really important in telling their stories is not to be judgmental and to not have pity. You can be their voice. You can shine a light on their life. Just like in a documentary, the subject leads the story and you’re trying to be as real as possible. It’s an invitation to be in their shoes for a moment. To see the world from a new perspective and to ask yourself: are you okay with how this society is working? If yes, well, congratulations to you. If no, you’re part of it, you’re part of the solution. Participate in the change we all need.