Exclusive interview with David Stein – Producer & Screenwriter
David Stein is a writer and producer based in Cape Town, South Africa. He has an Honours degree (achieved with distinction) in English and Film Studies, and qualifications in scriptwriting, digital filmmaking and stop-frame animation. He recently completed his Masters degree in Screenwriting, achieved with distinction. His thesis screenplay dealt with representation of trauma, and received an award at the London Film Awards as well as an endorsement from the United Nations for its contribution to tolerance education. He has worked for over 20 years as a writer and producer/project manager for film, television, social media and digital marketing. He has written, produced and directed short films for SAB Miller, the Royal Commonwealth Society and the Durban International Film Festival. He recently served as Executive Producer for Red Bull Media House South Africa, and his stage plays have won awards at local and international festivals. He is currently serving as Head of Film School at the AFDA higher educational institution in Cape Town, South Africa.
NY Glam: What projects are you currently working on?
I recently completed my MA in Screenwriting, and am currently working to get my thesis screenplay into development for production. The screenplay received an endorsement from the United Nations due to its potential for tolerance education, because it tells the story of a Jewish inmate and a Nazi guard who work together to keep a concentration camp zoo’s last remaining animal alive.
I’ve also written the first draft of a novel about a Jewish forty-something heavily tattooed writer who’s struggling to publish a novel that tells his story.
My most recent work is a short film script about a white South African man trying to escape his own sense of entitlement and privilege as the heir to his father’s wine farm. The story plays out as a classic horror story, as the man grapples with the “ghosts” that linger as his country’s dark past asserts itself into the present.
NY Glam: What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?
I’ve always believed that a film begins with story. No large budget or special effects can compensate for a story that lacks structure, credibility and emotional resonance. The most powerful films for me are the ones that don’t try to appeal to everyone on a general, mass audience level. I find far more power in a film that tells a specific, nuanced and detailed story about a particular time and a particular place. The interesting paradox for me is that, the more specific the film, the more it appeals to universal audiences due to its authenticity and relatability.
NY Glam: As a screenwriter, what is the most important aspect of building a character?
Building characters is challenging because on one hand I want to infuse something of myself to make them real, but on the other hand I don’t simply want to produce clones of myself. I don’t believe there’s a definitive formula to creating character (though many have been presented by many screenwriting teachers). I always begin by exploring the things that give a “real” person character, such as inner contradictions and the way we justify our actions to ourselves. Then, I try to capture those aspects of “real” human nature in a way that is compelling and true to my story. Having said all that, I find it a very difficult process and I don’t have a guaranteed approach that I utilise every time.
NY Glam: Top 3 favorite projects that you have been involved in?
- A number of years ago I was a writer and production manager on a project to create educational video episodes for broadcast in Ethiopian schools. The project demanded quick turnaround, high-volume quantity in order to cover the entire school curriculum. It was a privilege to be involved in such an impactful project that used media technology for an educational purpose.
- Another memorable project was my time spent as a writer and later the producer of a daily live youth television show. The energy of live television was exhilarating, as was the opportunity to guide young South African viewers through real-world issues and the making of positive life choices.
- During my time teaching English in China, I used the school vacation time to travel to Nepal where I worked as a volunteer journalist. It was a turbulent time in the country’s history, and I valued the opportunity to learn from the local journalists working in a volatile and stimulating field.
NY Glam: Do you express yourself creatively in any other ways?
I am currently the Head of Film at one of South Africa’s preeminent tertiary education institutions. In this capacity I have the opportunity to watch students develop their own creative work, guiding them creatively where I can and helping to prepare them for a demanding industry.
I studied photography at school and continue whenever I can (which never goes further than Instagram!) I also play classical guitar and recently achieved a Third Dan black belt in karate.
NY Glam: What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career in filmmaking?
I always tell our students that many people talk about starting at the bottom, but what they don’t tell you is that you might need to start at the bottom more than once! I entered the industry as an assistant working for free, and numerous times in my career I’ve found myself having to start again due to relocation to a new city or other circumstances. So I always say there’s no such thing as having “made it”. For me it’s been an ongoing and often convoluted journey. My career in the industry hasn’t been a straight arrow, but rather a rollercoaster-style trajectory of ups and downs. What’s important is tenacity and passion, because it’s a long and often challenging road. What’s also helped me is to remember that even the “downs” are valuable. In fact, I’ve learned more from the tough jobs than I have from the easy ones.
NY Glam: What can we expect from you in this actual year?
In addition to another exciting film school year, I’m planning to take my short horror script into production. I’m also planning to redraft (and redraft and redraft) my novel. And as much as I believe in making plans, I’m always open to the possibility that an idea will emerge from nowhere, take hold, and demand to be written.
NY Glam: Where can everyone keep up with you to learn more? …social media…website
davidstein78 on Instagram