Like many creatives, Emmy-winning director Hiro Murai discovered a business partner on his own payroll. Officially teaming up with longtime manager Nate Matteson, the two co-founded production company Super Frog in 2019. Despite schedules being blocked by the pandemic, the duo and their team of three working out of an office in Los Feliz have quickly put two series on the air. But if these initial projects (quirky FX conversation format The Choe Show and dystopian escape from HBO Max station eleven) do not seem to have anything in common, it is not by chance. Matteson, a Gotham Group and Grandview alum, and Murai, who directed music videos before teaming up with Donald Glover to executive produce Atlanta, buck the trend of most boutique production outfits by ignoring any suggestion to pick a path. “We don’t want a checklist of things that every project ticks off,” Matteson said during a February Threesome Zoom. “We just want to do things you’ve never seen before, things that are worth doing.”
station eleven kind of destroyed me. Is this common feedback?
NATE MATSON It seems like a thing. Naturally, I think that’s the era we’re in – and it’s a show that wears its heart on its sleeve.
HIRO MURAI It was a nice surprise of the thing. Not everything we do is as serious as this show, but it had to be for what it was and when it came out.
You filmed the pilot before the pandemic. Have any choices been reconsidered due to the timeliness of the material?
MATTESON We thought a lot about that scene in the pilot where [characters played by] Himesh [Patel] and Matilda [Lawler] are in the empty grocery store. We were trying to resume production when everyone was literally lining up, wearing masks, to get into Whole Foods. The grocery store has become this weird part of life impacted by COVID, so we knew the public was going to have a different way of interacting with it.
WALL Even from the start, our mission statement was to make it a subversion of the post-apocalyptic genre – a kinder, more human version of that story.
You two worked together for a while before starting the business. How did you meet?
MATTESON I was a recently promoted manager, looking to work with exciting and very visual filmmakers. I stumbled across Hiro’s work from a few music videos — primarily Shins’ music video for “It’s Only Life” — and reached out cold with, having since re-read it, a grumpy email.
What were your first jobs in the show?
WALL I got into production in college, doing a lot of gigs. It was just a lot of freelance work.
MATTESON I grew up in Wisconsin and went to school there and got my first PA job, as a student, on this movie – Zach Braff’s follow-up to garden condition called the last kiss. Tony Goldwyn directed. My job was to drive Tony Goldwyn to Madison airport in my shitty Volkswagen Golf.
Tell me about the company name, Super Frog.
WALL I bought a green tree frog to film a music video 12 years ago. At the time, I didn’t know that frogs lived 30 years, so I still currently own a frog.
MATTESON It sounds like a metaphor for what we do. We just decided, “Hey, let’s do this thing that’s actually a huge responsibility!”
What is the name of the frog?
WALL Today Roosevelt. To be fair, it’s not a toad – so it’s not an exact name. All the toad experts are going to be really angry.
When you go out to pitch a project, what are the assumptions about what the two of you are bringing?
MATTESON A level of weirdness, a level of surrealism, a challenge to the genre… I would say those are our assumptions. We get a lot of projects that come in where whoever’s the party just thinks, “OK, well, that’s weird. You guys get it!
Also is there an assumption that Hiro will direct anything?
WALL It’s not false humility, but I don’t think I’m the best person for every job. Every project is a matter of perspective and life experience – and some projects benefit from voices that are not mine.
What do you find your partners don’t want to spend money on these days?
WALL Studios are paying so much more money just because of the COVID aspect of things. All this takes a lot more resources than before. Things just cost more, and we have to look back and see what story-wise value each choice is.
MATTESON It’s not that making independent feature films has ever been a real breeze, but I think marketing does fit in a really interesting place. There’s such a huge supply from every major streamer fighting for space in the cultural conversation. Fighting for attention when launching a new show is really tricky.
Hiro, how was going back to Atlanta after such a long break?
WALL Curiously, the third season takes place in Europe. So, having not been together in the same room for about four years, we all met in London. Then we were in production for 10 months, filming the last two seasons in a row and seeing each other every day for almost a year.
What’s the last thing you watched that really knocked your socks off?
MATTESON I got a little obsessed with Bo Burnham Inside. I think it’s a sneakily well done project. It’s as if you were witnessing a magic trick in progress. It was a bit dangerous.
WALL drive my car. It is so good. It’s just the quietest, weirdest, most moving movie I’ve seen in a long time.
What’s the crazy history of music video making?
WALL I try to think of those who don’t disparage the humans I know…I’ve blocked most of them for my own sanity. I will just say that there were many, many times when our cameramen were stoned at the end of the shoot due to contact smoke.
Can you tell me who was dressed up as Teddy Perkins, the scary Atlanta character, at the 2019 Emmys?
WALL I can not. I have my own guesses. It was never revealed to me.
It was a paid event. Some people must know.
WALL I am very serious. I saw very stressed people that night, trying to coordinate. I don’t think it was easy. Donald knows that, that’s for sure. I’m pretty sure I know who it is, but, yeah, it’s one of my fondest design memories. Atlanta.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the March 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.