We had the good fortune of connecting with David Wappel and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi David, do you have any habits that you feel contribute to your effectiveness?
Honestly, the most useful habit is simple: reading. And it isn’t necessarily about any knowledge I’m gaining from what I’m reading, but I find that when I’m following good reading habits, my brain is sharper. I read a lot for my job, so sometimes it’s tough to add more on top of it, but there’s nothing better than thoughtful fiction to keep me charged and excited about my own stories, and the stories of those I work with.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m a screenwriter, and my stories tend to center around moments of private courage, sibling relationships and childhood nostalgia. I like smart, mature relationship set against the backdrop of big genres. I like to say I have the soul of playwright in an art house theatre, but the heart of a 10 year old at the movie megaplex.
Of the screenplays I’ve written, the ones that have gotten me the most “heat” so to speak have been gritty genre stories that have childlike wonder in them, and it’s really helped me understand that in order to stand out, you have to continue to lean into yourself. The ones that have popped for me have been the ones where I’m less concerned with the audience or market, and more concerned with what I’m really thinking and feeling and want to put out into the world. I used to think that an artist or writer should be unselfish, it’s about the audience. But the more I write, the more I think about how useful it is to be selfish. To think long and deep about what I want to put out into the world. Zeroing in on that thing that I want to explore more than anyone else is what makes me uniquely suited to do that exploration myself, and the fruits of that exploration will hopefully resonate with others.
My side-hustle is working with other writers on their craft, and this idea is where I spend most my time with them. There are plenty of books out there teaching craft and structure, but the clients I work with have the biggest leaps in their own work when they’re really willing to dig in with me to uncover what makes them and their particularly story unlike any other. If the answer isn’t vulnerable, it’s probably not deep enough, and the work is finding that place together. There are so many screenwriting “gurus” and I don’t like to think of myself as one. First and foremost, I’m a writer, and because I am I really understand how exposed you can feel when you’re in that vulnerable space, and it’s what sets me apart from other full-time script consultants.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I enjoy the outdoors, so if someone was coming to the city, I’d definitely take them hiking, probably in Fryman Canyon, casual biking along the LA River (shoutout to Spoke Bicycle Cafe), and then go sailing out of Marina del Rey. For food, I’d make sure to go to Tacos Tu Madre and HomeState, and if I’m trying to impress them I’d take them to The Inn of the Seventh Ray out in Topanga. Drinks at The Wellesbourne or The Red Door. For coffee, I’d either go to Coffee Roaster, Fix, or Groundwork in NoHo. (I actually don’t have too strong an opinion about coffee itself, but I have a sentimental attachment to all three of those places as it’s where I’ve written most of my scripts.) And if they’re up for staying up late, a Secret Movie Club midnight screening at The Vista. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are too many people that have helped me to include everyone, but I’d like first thank my girlfriend Sarah, as she’s been the most significant factor in any success I’ve had. Whether it’s helping me think through a new story idea, or just making sure I don’t forget to have my morning smoothie, she’s always there for me. I also have two close friends Ahsan and Michelle, that I met through doing narrative improv, and they have been instrumental in pushing me outside my comfort zone and just generally being there. If it wasn’t for them, those promo photos for Star Trek and Tennessee Williams improv wouldn’t exist.
I’ve also received a lot of support from the WGA, even though I’m only an Associate Member through their Independent Writers Caucus, as well. The resources they make available, even to someone that’s not a full-fledged member have been big in helping navigate these early years of my career.
Sarah Zuk, Dale Harper