David Alpert '97 (Executive Producer, THE WALKING DEAD)
By Dayna Wilkinson
"I knew there was this place called Hollywood where people made a living in film and television, but I had very little understanding of what that meant and how I could get there from Harvard,” muses David Alpert ’97, partner at prominent management-production company Circle of Confusion, and Executive Producer of the highly-anticipated AMC series THE WALKING DEAD.
Although he was captain of the Harvard swim team and won all-Eastern College Athletic Conference honors, he didn’t spend all of his time in the pool.
"In my junior year I was president of Harvard Radcliffe TV and was the showrunner for HRTV’s soap opera IVORY TOWER. I was into every aspect of it-- the writing, the directing, the production. We raised money, got companies to donate materials and built a studio in North House [now Pforzheimer]. It was a question of starting things yourself, rounding people up and getting them going. There were a lot of incredible, talented & motivated people there.”
Then came NYU Law School. "While I was in law school I started a Hollywood-related web company. That gave me a reason to be in L.A. talking to people in the industry. I also learned a lot from working with investors and running the day-to-day operations of a startup.”
After selling the internet business, David started a literary management company in New York. At first it was hard, but then he established his niche. "I’ve been a comic book fan my whole life and knew that world very well. At the time, very few people were focused on comic books as a source for film and television—it wasn’t the mainstream phenomenon it is now.”
"I started by contacting people I knew in the comic book space. The comics community is very small and close-knit – everybody knows everybody. Once I demonstrated that I could add value, word of mouth spread. Within a short period of time I was lucky enough to be working with some of the most innovative names in the comic book business. That soon led to the opportunity to represent screenwriters and directors as well.”
As a one-man shop it was hard to gain access to all the information and relationships he thought he should have. "My business started growing rapidly, and I realized I could benefit from having partners with experience and interests in the same arena,” says David. That led him to Circle of Confusion, founded by Lawrence Mattis. Now, nine years later, he continues to run the New York and L.A.-based management and production firm with partners Mattis and David Engel.
As a manager and producer, David says, it’s all about serving the long-term strategic agenda while "fighting fires so nothing burns so brightly it causes real problems. On THE WALKING DEAD my role changes from minute to minute. Sometimes I’m a negotiator, sometimes a cheerleader, sometimes a therapist. It’s about lining everything up and getting out of the way of the great creative.”
"Shows from BATTLESTAR GALACTICA to LOST to MAD MEN really expanded the realm of what’s possible to program. THE WALKING DEAD pushes those boundaries even further. I think our show will open doors for a lot of great properties that previously couldn’t get on TV.”
Don’t expect a mindless gorefest. "This is a show that surprises you,” David explains. "It’s all about compelling characters and relationships in a heightened world. It’s an examination of the human condition under trying circumstances, as much LORD OF THE FLIES as DAWN OF THE DEAD.”
"If you’re going to try one show that’s a little outside your comfort zone, this should be that show.”
David has come a long way since he started managing writers in New York. He acknowledges "finding a fair amount of success” but says "I still have plenty to learn as a producer. In some ways I’m still finding my sea legs.” When asked how he would advise aspiring writers and producers, he doesn’t hesitate.
"For writers, it’s that truism: writers are always writing--they can’t help but write. So if you’ve been out there pushing and pushing one screenplay or one novel, don’t worry so much about the pushing, worry about the writing. It’s a skill like anything else and the more of it you do, the better. Things don’t come out of people’s heads fully-formed--it’s all about multiple re-writes and polishing.”
As for would-be producers, he says "The best way to show somebody that you’re a good producer is by producing. Find a way to make something--theater, an internet short, a television show, an independent film. Don’t let things get in your way. People say ‘I have a great idea but I don’t have the money’ – well, no one has the money when they start. You have to find the money, or find a way to make it for free.”
Want to reach the next level as a writer, producer or swimmer? Take David’s advice: just get out there and do it.
THE WALKING DEAD premieres on October 31st on AMC at 10pm Eastern Time.