David Appelbaum is a writer, creator, and executive producer of LA BREA…airing September 29th on NBC after The Voice at 9 pm.
An epic adventure begins when a massive sinkhole opens in the middle of Los Angeles, pulling hundreds of people and buildings down with it. Those “down below” find themselves in a primeval world, struggling to survive. Those “up above” desperately seek to understand what happened. In a quest for answers, one family torn apart by this disaster will have to unlock the secrets of this inexplicable event to find a way back to each other.
Writer David Appelbaum executive produces with Avi Nir, Alon Shtruzman, Peter Traugott, Rachel Kaplan, Steven Lilien, Bryan Wynbrandt, and Ken Woodruff. Universal Television, a division of Universal Studio Group, is the studio, producing with Keshet Studios.
Beverly Hills Magazine: Tell me a little background about yourself. Where are you from? Where did you grow up?
David Appelbaum: I’m from Massachusetts, I grew up there, went to college in Washington DC. And I’ve been in Los Angeles for quite some time now
Beverly Hills Magazine: Gotta ove the City of Angels. What did you study in College? Nothing related to TV producing, I imagine.
David Appelbaum: Well, I was a Psychology major actually, but they had a film club and I went to the film club and they were just ten people in a room. The first assignment was to make a short film that had no edits in it, with one take. I made the short film and I got really excited about film making. From there, I determined what I really wanted to do.
Beverly Hills Magazine: For me, I was a thespian, I did college plays and you could put me in any outfit and I would be anyone you want me to be. It’s so much fun for me. Next question, why do you think film, especially television is essential to modern society?
David Appelbaum: That’s a great question. For a lot of reasons, I think, some shows like LA BREA the one I’m working on now, it’s an escape, it’s the way to take your mind off things that are going on in your life, in your world. But I think it can also have lots of other uses. It an make you reflect on your life and on the way things actually are.
I think there are lots of different uses for film and television, it can both be an escape, it’s also a way to understand the world and understand yourself . I think the best film and television can do both at the same time, you can get a deeper understanding of things but the same time you are being transported to a new world different from your normal experience in your every day life.
Beverly Hills Magazine: That’s so true. That’s why I believe producers have a pretty weighty responsibility because they do have the power to have such an impact on peoples’ minds and souls and perspectives, you know?
David Appelbaum: Yeah, you have no idea about how people are shaped by what they watch and what they consume. There’s a great responsibility for what you put out in the world, seen by millions of people. So I think it’s something that we as TV writers, TV producers have to take seriously; the messages and the ideas we are putting out there.
Beverly Hills Magazine: So who are your Hollywood inspirations?
David Appelbaum: It’s a great question. A lot really. I think early on, one of the things that got me interested in filmmaking was being introduced to classic movies like The Godfather. Early on, I was really all about filmmaking, I didn’t think I was going to go into television. There was good TV but there wasn’t like it is now.
Beverly Hills Magazine: What do you think of Hollywood? Like the stigma of Hollywood, is it a positive or negative for you? What’s your lens on that?
David Appelbaum: I don’t really think about it that much, honestly. It’s just where I live and where I work. I think when I leave Hollywood or Los Angeles with family and friends to other places, there’s this stigma and associations with it that I don’t think about that much when I’m here because it’s my day-to-day life. So it’s not something that I really think about.
Beverly Hills Magazine: So what is your favorite part about working in the business or in Hollywood?
David Appelbaum: Tricky question, I think it’s just being able to be creative. Spend hours in basement editing, it’s just being able to edit, write, and talk to directors and actors. You know, a lot of what I do is making things up, telling stories, and being creative. For me, there’s great satisfaction in creating things. Having to spend so much of my time doing those sorts of things. I’m just so lucky to have my work be about creativity.
Beverly Hills Magazine: What’s the worst part about the business?
David Appelbaum: Probably, it’s the unknowns. I think a lot of professions where you know you work for a company and you are going to work for that company for the next twenty-five years and the stability in that. But you know, we are freelancers, we move from project to project.
You don’t know what your work is going to hold in the next five years, so there are lots of unknowns in this business and you take a lot of risks by doing that. That’s probably the most challenging part of this and you can also look at it another way as one of the most exciting parts. It can change so quickly, and you don’t know what’s going to happen and there’s so much fun in being able to be surprised.
Beverly Hills Magazine: Yeah, absolutely. It’s very entrepreneurial in a way, you are your own agent and there’s a limitless possibility because we don’t know. And there is an exciting element to that. What are some of the challenges that you have faced as a producer? Touch more on the technical challenges.
David Appelbaum: On LA BREA, it’s a technical project. I’ve been working on it for the past two years. And so much goes into the creation of these things. First, it’s the conception of the idea, then putting it from your brain to script form. And then you bring a production team on, and it’s really just about diagnosing each scene and figuring out what’s technically necessary to accomplish it. And this is a show that has a lot of visual effects in it because there’s a sinkhole in it, and obviously we are not creating that in the real world.
So the show begins with a massive sinkhole opening in Los Angeles and that is something that was shot in several different locations over the course of six different shooting days and there are dozens of visual effects shot within it and each frame has so much work that goes into it. For me, my job is coming up with the idea and letting the people know who are doing the technical side of it, what the tone is, what the vision is, what the emotional response we are looking for within it is, and the people who are the cast people, people with the technical knowledge translate that into the visuals itself and I will look at them with my colleagues and will tell them is that what we are going for?
But for me, my job is to give them the creative vision and they go out and create it and come back to me and say, “Is this what you were looking for?” So that is what is behind the technical aspect of it.
Beverly Hills Magazine: Teamwork makes the dream work! That’s a lot of pressure on your shoulder to hold that position, to carry the vision through. I’m sure you work closely with the director but how do you manage that position of authority? How do you carry the weight of your responsibility?
David Appelbaum: There are definitely times where you would feel the pressure, but for me, I feel lucky and grateful to be in this position and the fact that I’ve gotten far as I have with this project. So I think the worst thing that could happen is I’ve already gotten so far, even if there’s really not a bad outcome, maybe people don’t watch the show I like or who knows. But at the end of the day, the show is in a great position and I feel really lucky to be here so I often try to keep things in that perspective, understanding how grateful I am and how lucky I am to be here and that alleviates a lot of the pressure.
If you think about what’s going on, the lot of money that is going into it, that could cause a meltdown but I try not to think in those terms, just try to focus on the work, focus on keeping things in perspective.
Beverly Hills Magazine: You were involved in the God Befriended Me show, is that correct?
David Appelbaum: No, God friended Me was created by Brian Wynbrandt and Steven Lilien. Those are my co-showrunners on the show.
Beverly Hills Magazine: Oh, I see. So you weren’t involved in that project, becuase I loved that concept! Such a cool idea that in today’s day and age God’s way to reach us would be through our social media interest.
David Appelbaum: Yeah, they are great guys, collaborators. I created LA BREA and wrote the pilot. And Brian and Steven came on board as we were set to develop the show and we’ve been running it together since then.
Beverly Hills Magazine: The dream team. So what inspired you to write the show?
David Appelbaum: It really started with an image of a sinkhole in the middle of Los Angeles. And it was just something that I hadn’t seen before, and an image that I just couldn’t shake and I thought that would be an interesting way to open a TV show. I didn’t really have a story associated with it, I just knew that I wanted to pursue the image and then it brought me in this direction and I just started asking many questions about this image.
Why did the sinkhole open? Who falls in? Why did it bring them? What happens when they are down there? Who are the people that are left behind and so many questions that you have and once you start to ask those questions and answer them, over time you start to create a world, the characters and a world of a situation, a world of locations and you start writing a TV show over time? But it’s a lot of questions being asked and a lot of work answering them. And that’s where the concept came from. But really, it started with just an image.
Beverly Hills Magazine: So you’ve worked on a lot of projects in the past, but is this your first time writing your own show? Or you’ve been a writer on other projects.
David Appelbaum: I’ve written a lot of stuff of my own that haven’t been produced but this is the first project that I’ve written that was my original idea and is actually being produced.
Beverly Hills Magazine: Are you directing it?
David Appelbaum: I didn’t direct it. No.
Beverly Hills Magazine: Why not? Just curious.
David Appelbaum: The pilot was directed by a really fantastic director who has had a lot of visual effect experience. It’s not the area that I’ve been working in. I’m working as a writer and professional producer and that’s where my experience is.
Beverly Hills Magazine: So I’ve written a pilot, I’ve actually written a whole season of a TV show based on my life as Editor-in-chief, so I love the writing aspect, I fell in love with it. I never dreamed I would write but that’s so cool that you have that gift too. So do you have a life motto that you live by?
David Appelbaum: No, I don’t think I have a motto per se.
Beverly Hills Magazine: So for me, mine is the scripture. Matthew 19:26. “With God all things are possible.” As I’m starting to move into the creative industry and writing and producing, it keeps me in a limitless mindset, and I think we have to stay in that space creatively especially with so much technology, everything is possible, in terms of film or television. So that’s mine.
David Appelbaum: I think that’s great and I respect that. But I will have to keep looking for mine.
Beverly Hills Magazine: Let me know when you find it cause I’m genuinely curious.
David Appelbaum: Okay. Laughs.
Beverly Hills Magazine: So what advice would you give to other producers, aspiring producers?
David Appelbaum: I would say, finding projects you wanna produce, finding projects you wanna write, making sure there are things you would want to see or write yourself. I think oftentimes, people would want to create things they think other people want as opposed to what they wanna do, and that is why I think oftentimes, you might hit roadblocks because the only way you really going to create something that’s meaningful to you is if you have passion for it. And it can’t come from what you think other people want but what you really feel passionate about. So I think following your own instincts, your gut about what you like and what you don’t wanna create.
Beverly Hills Magazine: Excellent advice, it’s so true. Have you found purpose and fulfillment in what you do?
David Appelbaum: I do feel creatively fulfilled in my work, in my family. So I feel yeah, this is what I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Being in this position of having my own show, so there are lots of moments that I could pinch myself that I’m here and I’m doing this. But I’m still always looking forward to what’s next, what else I could do, and other things I wanna explore. So I don’t feel like I’ve reached the only thing that I wanna do but I do feel satisfied and humbled to be doing what I’m doing now
Beverly Hills Magazine: Nice. I wish you lots of success with your current project and future endeavors. It’s been an honor to spend some time with you and thank you so much for sharing.