Commentary

Q&A With TV Writer-Producer Stephen David

Stephen David of the eponymous production company that he founded in 2010 is an Emmy-nominated executive producer who was named to Realscreen’s Global 100 list earlier this year.  He says, “I started working as a screenwriter for several studios out in Los Angeles, and then was hired onto the creative team of NBC’s ‘The Apprentice.’ So I ended up combining my background in dramatic writing and non-fiction producing, and that’s where this hybrid world came from – mixing these two genres together.”

Stephen’s hybrid abilities are put to good use in his newest series of projects for several different TV networks  – each show tackling big topics throughout history. He says, “My next project coming out is a fully scripted event series for History called ‘Sons of Liberty,’ which tells the story of how the Revolutionary War started."

I sat down with Stephen and asked him the following questions:

CW: Stephen, tell us about the making of “Sons of Liberty.”

SD: With “Sons of Liberty” we wanted to portray the story behind the Revolutionary War – which tends to get skimmed over….I know that I was surprised when I learned the real history.  It is being filmed in Romania and stars Ben Barnes (“The Chronicles of Narnia”) as Sam Adams, Michael Raymond-James (“Jack Reacher,” ”True Blood”) as Paul Revere, Rafe Spall (“Prometheus,” “Life of Pi") as John Hancock, Henry Thomas (“E.T.,” “Legends of the Fall”) as John Adams and Dean Norris (“Breaking Bad,” “Under the Dome,”) as diplomat Benjamin Franklin. I think audiences are going be truly surprised to see how the actors have interpreted these iconic figures.

CW: What draws you to history?

SD: It’s not so much that I’m drawn to history. It’s more that I’m fascinated by what people really did. The true stories, the character motivations…  some of the things these people did – if you made it up, it wouldn’t be believable.

CW: Are your non-fiction series editorialized in any way? How do you avoid slanting history?

SD: With our shows, we’re always trying to find a new way of looking at history – a new thesis, a new lens… But we try to avoid passing judgment on whether what these historical figures did was right or wrong. We let the audiences decide for themselves. For example, with "Sons of Liberty,” we wanted to portray the story behind the Revolutionary War – which tends to get skimmed over. But in many ways, it’s a far more interesting, exciting story to tell.

CW: How do your screenwriting skills play into your producing skills? Are there ever any inner creative conflicts you have to navigate – writer vs. producer?

SD: The hardest thing is trying to figure out what you put into these shows given the amount of time, episodes and budget you have to tell your story. As a writer, you fall in love with certain stories – but as a producer you realize that sometimes you won’t be able to tell those stories.

CW: Is content king?

SD: I don’t know that I understand distribution models well enough to completely answer that – but I can tell you that content is king for me. Storytelling is what we love doing most.

CW: What is your definition of television?

SD: The definition has changed for me over the past ten years. The fact that I can watch a show or a movie or any form of entertainment on my phone while I’m riding on the subway is amazing. So for me, any screen I happen to be watching is a television, in a sense.

CW: 2014 has been a big year for you, with multiple Emmy nominations, and “Sons of Liberty.” What else do you have in the works?

SD: Luckily, we’re getting to work on a lot of really interesting projects for a variety of networks, some of which are in the hybrid format, like “The World Wars,” and others are fully scripted such as “Sons of Liberty.” Our next hybrid series is called “American Genius”, which we’re doing with National Geographic. It’s about the greatest inventor rivalries that fueled some of the most innovative developments in history. We have several other projects that have not yet been announced, but we’re extremely excited to be working on them and can’t wait to share more…

CW: How has the programming pipeline changed since you started in the business?

SD: There are significantly more television channels now then there were when I first started in the business. And all these channels have a strong desire to do interesting things. So there’s a lot of genre-bending going on in television that makes it a very exciting time to be a content creator.

CW: Looking ahead, how do you see the media landscape evolving over the next three to fiveyears?

SD: I think as we see more and more screens available through various mediums, we’re going to see a proliferation of innovative content as networks push to grab eyeballs.  Ten years ago, you could have said the word “docudrama” or “factual television” and it probably wouldn’t have meant much to anyone. Media is constantly evolving – it’s very exciting to be a part of that larger process, however the landscape may change.

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