Dawson’s Creek Writer Jeffrey Stepakoff Reflects, Discusses New Novel

28 03 2010

As you may recall, I adored Jeffrey Stepakoff’s book, Billion-Dollar Kiss: The Kiss That Saved Dawson’s Creek and Other Adventures in TV Writing. The title alone sold me but I relished learning not just about the inner-workings of one of my favorite TV shows but also about the industry in general.

Stepakoff and I have been in touch on and off the past few years, and I was thrilled when he contacted me a few months ago to let me know about his upcoming novel, Fireworks Over Toccoa, which will be released Tuesday.

In our recent chat, Stepakoff discussed his book and shared the lessons he learned from his days writing and producing Dawson’s Creek.

TeenDramaWhore: For those that don’t know, what was your title on Dawson’s Creek and how long were you there for?

Jeffrey Stepakoff: I was on Dawson’s for three years, seasons 3, 4 and 5. My last title there was co-executive producer.

TDW: What were you responsible for?

Stepakoff: Like most writer-producers, I was responsible for writing, of course, sometimes supervising writing, story development and I had producorial responsibilities, which meant going to the set and participating in making the production.

TDW: When did it occur to you write a book about your experience in television and have one of the focal points be specifically about your time on Dawson’s Creek?

Stepakoff: Well, the book, of course, is not just about Dawson’s Creek. It’s really about my experience as a television writer during what was arguably the most tumultuous period and one of the most thrilling periods in television history. There was a book that I very much loved that came out in the late-80s by Michael Lewis called Liar’s Poker. Liar’s Poker was Michael Lewis talking about what went on during the bond trading era of the 80s , and while I was working in television during this remarkable period of time, I thought, “You know what? Someone should track what’s going on here. Someone should track the rise of television, the rise of creative content, this explosion of new networks, this explosion for new venues for television programming.” As we got closer to the reality television era, it became clear to me that this was a really remarkable untold story in the history of television and much of it centered around the television writer. So, to answer your question, it was something I had thought about for quite a while, actually, and it wasn’t until that I kind of had one foot out of the story room that I was able to really focus on it. So it’s not really just a story about Dawson’s Creek. It’s a story about television and, moreover, the history of the television writer during this remarkable period of time in television history.

TDW: This is your first novel. Can you give a little synopsis?

Stepakoff: Fireworks Over Toccoa is a love story set in Toccoa, Georgia–which is a small town about two hours north of Atlanta–in 1945. It follows the life of a young girl, Lily, who at 17-years-old marries a young man, who two weeks after ships off to war in 1942. Three-and-a-half years later, in the last week of June 1945, right before the Fourth of July, she’s preparing for her husband to return home and the entire small town of Toccoa has a fireworks display they’re preparing for. For the display, they’ve hired this young pyrotechnician, an Italian boy or a boy of Italian heritage, from Pennsylvania to come down and put on the show. Nobody has seen fireworks in the area in almost a decade because of the war. During the war, anyone who made pyrotechnics, any of the small family-run factories, were actually making munitions during World War II. So this is a big deal for the town in many ways. And while this young Italian man comes to town, Lily meets him, sees his fireworks and discovers that her feelings about what she wants in the world are not what they were three-and-a-half years ago when she committed to her husband. She falls in love with this young Italian man and has to make some very hard, challenging and, ultimately, dramatic decisions about what she wants to do with the rest of her life. So it’s a love story and a story about what’s going on in the world in this period of time.

TDW: Why have a character at 17, versus someone older than that, with a husband in the war?

Stepakoff: During the 1940s people married earlier. Right before World War II, young women were marrying, as were young men, because the boys were shipping off to war. It was an incredible time in American history and world history, where people were making all kinds of life-changing decisions because no on really knew what tomorrow would bring. At 17, people were thinking about today. They weren’t thinking about three-and-a-half years later. I also think 17 is a very dramatic period of time for people. It’s a great time in the life of  a character to tell a story.

TDW: Is there anything you learned from working on Dawson’s Creek or one of the other shows you worked on that you were able to apply to working on this novel?

Stepakoff: It’s funny that you ask because I’m actually sitting here working on my second book. I’m taking my understanding of classic story structure, Aristotelian story structure, which is what we use in television and motion pictures, to craft my novels as well. These are stories that are meant to touch, move and entertain in a very traditional form. So did I learn anything from working on Dawson’s or other shows? Yeah, I learned story structure. I learned how to craft a story first on the fly and then later with a degree of richness that I think comes from sitting in a story room and working on television and also motion pictures. I spent several years, a couple of years, in Disney feature animation doing a very similar thing, which was designing this kind of story structure. My work in Hollywood has very much informed the current work that I’m doing in fiction writing. The difference is that when you write television or a motion picture, you’re really laying out the outline or the blueprint for a story. You’re writing dialogue, you’re writing very direct action. But when you write a novel, you’re the writer, the director, the characters, the set designer, the lighting designer–you lay all of it out. You lay out the arc of the story, the subtext, what the characters are thinking, you describe what everything looks like. Obviously it’s a much longer process but in many ways it’s a greatly satisfying process because you get everything just the way you want it, ideally. But it’s very much like the television and motion picture writing and production experience.

TDW: I’m particularly interested in some of your earlier background because I, too, have an interest in television writing and novel writing but I recently finished journalism school and I know you were a journalism major for undergrad.

Stepakoff: That’s right. You were at Northwestern, right?

TDW: Yes, I was.

Stepakoff: Excellent. It’s a great school.

TDW: I really enjoyed it but I do have questions about transitioning to other things. I’m wondering what from your journalism education you’ve been able to apply to this.

Stepakoff: It’s a very good question, Shari. I like rich and authentic worlds. I like to put myself into a world that’s real. I like to learn about worlds. In journalism, of course, we learn to really delve into a story, to look for facts, to look for the story. The difference, I suppose, is that in journalism, you’re looking for the real facts to tell whereas in fiction or dramatic writing, you want to make a story satisfying and you can fictionalize things. But journalism is great to dig in and find out information that really took place. A lot of what I wrote in Fireworks Over Toccoa is about the war and what people were doing, everything from how women wore their hair to what was going on with the Coca Cola company to race relations to how men and women were dealing with each other–all of that is research is that I did, journalistic research, that helped me render a world. So the journalism background was very helpful.

TDW: Is your second novel a sequel or something independent?

Stepakoff: It’s a new story. The same kind of structure and, I suppose, the same sort of storytelling voice but it’s a new story.

TDW: I can’t let you go without asking the age-old Dawson’s Creek question: Dawson and Joey or Pacey and Joey?

Stepakoff: I like whatever is best for the story. Typically, what’s best for the story is to keep things dynamic. That’s the best way I can answer you.

TDW: What is dynamic to you?

Stepakoff: Fluid. It means that people, just like we do in real life, can change their minds and change their hearts based on how a story unfolds.

TDW: So, to you, there isn’t necessarily an endgame.

Stepakoff: I think that’s a good way to put it, yes.

TDW: I think quite a few people will be happy to hear that!

To learn more about Fireworks of Toccoa, including how you can win a related sweepstakes, visit FireworksOverToccoa.com.

Come back next Sunday for another exclusive interview!

TDW Interview Index





Six Degrees of Teen Dramas

27 03 2010

New to Six Degrees of Teen Dramas? Here’s how to play!

Last Week: Keke Palmer

This Week:

Hugh Jackman

Have fun!





News Roundup: One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl and 90210

26 03 2010
  • I may not be able to live-blog this week’s episodes due to Passover. If that ends up being the case, I will have reaction posts later in the week.
  • The L.A. Times has an interesting post on The CW’s decision to add more commercials during online viewings of their shows.
  • One Tree Hill returns with new episodes one month from today. (A repeat will air on 4/19.)
  • The listing for this house says it was used on One Tree Hill but I can’t figure out whose it is. Brooke? Peyton? Rachel? None of the above? Anyway…the house is up for auction to benefit the Methodist Home For Children.
  • The Soup Dish spoofed Gossip Girl’s sex-with-food-in-the-kitchen scene from last week’s episode.
  • Sebastian Stan (Carter, Gossip Girl) is in Hot Tub Time Machine, which was released in theaters today.
  • E! Online and TV Fanatic have spoiler-filled interviews with Trevor Donovan (Teddy, 90210). Have you read my two interviews with him?




Warner Bros.’ Peter Roth on Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage

26 03 2010

“Josh and Stephanie are an outstanding creative team, responsible for two of the most iconic television series in recent history in ‘Gossip Girl’ and ‘The OC.'”





News Roundup: One Tree Hill, The O.C. and Dawson’s Creek

25 03 2010




Spoiler: Ask Ausiello

25 03 2010

RELEVANT QUESTIONS–DON’T READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW!!!

Question: There are pictures floating around from the Gossip Girl finale of Chuck at the top of the Empire State building. Any hints as to what this is about? I’m so curious. —Jaime
Ausiello:
If you were smart, you would’ve asked me what happens immediately after that scene.

Question: I need Gossip Girl gossip. Please? —Alyssa
Ausiello:
Jenny’s descent into madness will become darker and much more twisted. Some seriously effed up shiz is going to go down before the season is over.

Credit: EW.com





Weekly Poll

24 03 2010

In the last Weekly Poll, a decent-sized majority–62 percent–don’t want to see Alex become a singer on One Tree Hill, though 27 percent say it depends on the music and how it would be used and 11 percent think it would really add to her character. Forty-nine percent think Gossip Girl’s Rufus would never cheat while 30 percent weren’t sure and 21 percent said it seemed very likely that he did cheat. In the third poll, 42 percent of voters noticed Navid was MIA in last week’s 90210 and missed him, though 29 percent didn’t notice and thought it was terrible. Still, another 17 percent noticed and weren’t bothered but 12 didn’t notice and thought it was a good thing.





News Roundup: 90210, Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill and The O.C.

24 03 2010
  • Last night’s 90210 (1.5 million viewers) dropped quite a bit in the ratings compared to last week, hitting a new season- and series-low. If you recall, two weeks ago was a season/series-low of 1.7 and now the show has sunk even lower.
  • Love TVGuideMagazine.com’s recap/pop quiz about last night’s 90210. It’s quite funny and quite accurate, IMO.
  • About.com has an interview with Tristan Wilds (Dixon, 90210).
  • The Wild Girl, starring Brian Austin Green (David, Beverly Hills 90210) will premiere on the Hallmark Channel April 24. They also reiterate that Shannen Doherty (Brenda, Beverly Hills 90210) will be in one of their movies later this year.
  • At work today, Gossip Cop and I busted a story about Doherty supposedly feuding with her Dancing With The Stars co-star Kate Gosselin.
  • Douglas Emerson (Scott, Beverly Hills 90210) is included in TVGuide.com’s photogallery of ’90s Stars We Want Back on TV.
  • Trevor Donovan (Teddy, 90210) and Jessica Szohr (Vanessa, Gossip Girl) are part of the new Op campaign. They previously featured AnnaLynne McCord (Naomi, 90210) and Sophia Bush (Brooke, One Tree Hill).
  • The Austin Post-Bulletin has a surprisingly well-written piece by a male teenager explaining his love of Gossip Girl.
  • The Jewish Journal has an interesting feature on Bryan Greenberg (Jake, One Tree Hill).
  • Melinda Clarke (Julie, The O.C.) makes her first appearance on The Vampire Diaries tomorrow night.




Spoiler: Mega Buzz

24 03 2010

RELEVANT QUESTIONS–DON’T READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW!!!

Will Annie finally get revenge on Naomi on 90210? — Kate
MICKEY: Well, I wouldn’t call it revenge (yet). But while Naomi is off making a grievous error of judgment involving the new faculty advisor of The Blaze, Annie and Liam will have a moment. We won’t see the results of Naomi and Liam’s actions for a few weeks, but rest assured, they’ll be disastrous.

Credit: TVGuide.com

****

The advisor will be played by Hal Ozsan (Todd, Dawson’s Creek).





News Roundup: Gossip Girl, The O.C., One Tree Hill and More

23 03 2010
  • Be sure to check out The CW’s site for all the new video content this week.
  • Last night’s Gossip Girl (1.9 million viewers rounded up) rose a bit in the ratings compared to last week.
  • Josh Schwartz (creator, Gossip Girl; The O.C.) and Stephanie Savage (creator, Gossip Girl; executive producer, The O.C.) have signed a deal to form their own production company, Fake Empire, under Warner Bros. TV.
  • The Wrap has an interview with Schwartz and Savage about their partnership. Among the highlights: an interesting question about the Gossip Girl spin-off and a reference to Aaron Spelling (executive producer, Beverly Hills 90210) and E. Duke Vincent (executive producer, Beverly Hills 90210).
  • Chace Crawford (Nate, Gossip Girl), Sebastian Stan (Carter, Gossip Girl), Michael Cassidy (Zach, The O.C.) and whoever else was in the running for Captain America have not gotten the part. Chris Evans was offered and has accepted the role. Some six degrees: Evans is the brother of Scott Evans, who has been playing the love interest of Brett Claywell (Tim, One Tree Hill) on One Life to Live.
  • Queer Sighted has an interview with Claywell about his storyline with Evans on OLTL and their firing.
  • Zap2it has a recap and video of Shannen Doherty (Brenda, Beverly Hills 90210) on Dancing With The Stars last night.
  • Zander Eckhouse, son of James Eckhouse (Jim, Beverly Hills 90210), will star in Huge, an ABCFamily series.
  • Star News has an interview with Mary Beth Peil (Grams, Dawson’s Creek). Have you read my interview with her?







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