Dave Drabik is the Executive Producer/ Director for GPB's STEM career project Fast Forward. In the interview below, Dave shares about his experiences working on the Fast Forward project as well as how he got involved in his STEM career field.
If you have more questions for Dave or the rest of the crew, post them in the comments and we'll follow up!
1. How long have you been in TV production and how did you get there?
I’ve been in the entertainment business for more than 20 years. I started doing stand up comedy, then quickly transitioned into writing for other people. It turned out that helping others be funny was much easier than figuring out how to make myself funny. I sold handfuls of jokes to various comedians on various TV shows before landing my first staff writer job on The Late Show with David Letterman. As it turns out, that’s the typical road people take to Executive Producing web series like Fast Forward.
2. How did you get involved with Fast Forward?
I produced a live event for GPB last year called The Inventure Prize. It’s a wonderful TV show where Georgia Tech students compete to create the best invention. The Georgia Tech folks refer to it lovingly as American Idol for Nerds. It was a lot of fun and I worked with great people, both from GPB and Georgia Tech. At about the same time, I was creating my second live-action series for Adult Swim, called The Restless Bell. Due to the success of The Inventure Prize, and my ability to connect with younger audiences on Adult Swim, the folks at GPB asked if I’d like to Executive Produce this project, and I jumped at the opportunity.
3. What is the main goal of Fast Forward?
We want to show teenagers that there are some cool jobs in Georgia--jobs where it really does help to have a strong foundation in the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and math. A lot of students…and I was one of these…sit in math class and think, “I’m never going to use this stuff.” Well the truth is that you do use this stuff. Georgia actually has more highly skilled jobs available than can currently be filled by people entering the market. For teenagers, this part of their lives isn’t very far away. And they’re surrounded right now by the tools they need to make themselves qualified for those jobs. So this is the time to get ready. If they take advantage of this opportunity, they can spend their career doing something they actually want to do, instead of something they have to do.
4. What do you hope students like about the videos?
I hope students find them entertaining. If they do, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll learn something. In a perfect world, someone watching these videos will be exposed to a career they might not have otherwise even considered, and be able to succeed in areas they never thought they could.
5. Which was your favorite episode to shoot?
That’s a really tough question, because I enjoyed making different episodes for different reasons. I liked the Career Fair episode because it was the first time we hit the road and we didn’t know what we would get. But we met some great people at the fair, including students, and the folks at Shaw Industries who gave us a glimpse into their world. And of course the Georgia Sea Turtle Center was amazing. I mean who wouldn’t want to work at a place like that? Gulfstream Aerospace, Turner, White Oak Pastures, Southwire…every place we visited had wonderful people and was fascinating in a ton of different ways. And of course zip lining at North Georgia Canopy Tours was not only good from a science perspective, but it was a blast. My team still teases me that the only reason we went there was because I thought it would be fun. (And it was.)
6. What did you learn that surprised you while you were out on location?
Hmmm…I guess I was a little surprised that it all worked so well. What I mean is that this project was made easier by the fact that we were simply telling the truth, albeit in the most entertaining way we could. These jobs exist. They’re out there. In Georgia. And they are great jobs. And Georgia students have all the tools they need in front of them right now to start preparing for a job they’ll actually love. All we did was execute a plan for making students aware of that.
7. If you weren’t in TV production, what would you want to do for a career? Something you saw while filming around Georgia?
Probably something creative. Creative challenges have always driven me. And not to tie everything back to Fast Forward, but…regarding that last question, I was also surprised to learn that being an engineer can be extremely creative work. Yes, there’s a lot of math and physics involved too. But those are simply the tools engineers use to creatively solve problems.
8. How many hours did you spend on the roadways of Georgia while filming this series?
Not enough! I mean, yes, we spent a fair amount of time in the van. So Atlanta signs were always a welcome sight. But it was great to see this state in a way I’d never seen before. Just a few days apart, we shot from the top of the highest mountain in Georgia and Jekyll Island. And we found some wonderful people in the less-traveled southwest corner. Georgia is a beautiful state. But what I mean is that with only 16 episodes under our belts, there’s still a lot to see.
9. What fun, funny, and/ or dramatic behind-the-scenes stories can you share with us?
I don’t know about the drama. I mean, going behind the scenes at Gulfstream Aerospace or the CDC was pretty cool stuff. And we heard some touching stories at various stops along the way.
But there’s no doubt our crew had a few good laughs on the road. We had a wonderful team. Of course there were some long days, with lots of equipment to carry, mental cartwheels, and the like. So by the time we grabbed a meal in the evening, we were all a bit punchy. And of course that meant laughs.
For me, this experience was at its best when we’d get something we didn’t expect. For example, at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, I was busy shooting an absolutely ridiculous puppet sketch with our educational advisor--which probably relates back to our exhaustion and punchiness. So I wasn’t able to help our PA, who was trying to get underwater shots of some of the turtles with our GoPro camera. And he came back with this incredible shot of a sea turtle swimming right up to the camera and trying to chomp a bite out of the lens. Just fantastic! It really felt great to know that everyone was on the same page, and anyone on the team might come up with the next great camera shot, or funny line, or any kind of idea. And someone always did.