I kicked off a brand new series of the Beyond Reality podcast by chatting with Executive Producer, David Forster. Dave’s first taste of the television industry was not what you’d expect, he shares stories about his unconventional introduction to reality TV, how he honed his skills on set as a writer and producer and the moments along the way that led him to his ultimate rise to the top job on Masterchef Australia and Australian Survivor.
To listen to the full interview, check out the Beyond Reality podcast here: Beyond Reality
– David Forster or find it under Beyond Reality in your favourite podcast app.
Hayley Ferguson: Thank you so much for joining me. I have wanted to talk to you for the podcast because I think you have a very unique story in terms of your relationship with reality TV. So, I’m really excited to get into that. And from my perspective, the first question I always ask is, did you always want to work in TV?
David Forster: And the answer is no. I started out as a singer, weirdly. When I was in high school, I knew I wanted to be in arts, I guess, but I just gravitated towards singing. And then people kept telling me I was quite good at it. So I kind of thought, well, maybe I can do this. And I grew up in Adelaide and there wasn’t a lot of TV opportunities there. It didn’t really wasn’t even considered career coming up. I grew up in the nineties in the early 2000, so if you wanted to be an artist, you kind of had to be in music or dance. So I started singing and then I graduated high school and I went to study classical music in the Conservatory of Adelaide as an opera singer. And I hated it. I hated every minute of it. I hated the people, I hated the music, I hated the seriousness of it. It just wasn’t for me. I was always into pop culture, pop music and that kind of thing more.
Looking back, I just wanted to get out of Adelaide. Adelaide is a beautiful place to grow old – beautiful place to grow up, beautiful place to raise a family, beautiful place to die. But if you want to do exciting things, there’s not a lot of opportunities. There certainly wasn’t back then.
And so this was in the dawn of reality TV and in 2003, this audition happened on Channel Ten for a show called The Resort. I thought, this is a good opportunity to get out. The ad was sort of like “Do you want to work on an international resort and be on TV?” And I was like, yeah, I do. So I went along to audition in Adelaide. Anyway, I got on the show and then we went to Fiji and it was such a nightmare!
Can you set up what the premise of the show actually was?
The Resort premise was for 15 strangers to go to an international resort, renovate it, and then run it for paying guests who also happened to be audience members of the show. So the idea was, and this is the flawed principle, was that the audience would watch these newbies who had no renovation experience, renovate a resor – badly and then pay for the privilege to fly to Fiji and go and stay on the resort… like never going to happen!
It was axed maybe five or six weeks on air – to the point where they sent us home early. They paid us out of their contracts. They split the prize money, which was 100K between the people that were left because after each week the guests were meant to vote off the cast members.
So when it got shut down, what was that feeling like?
I was actually disappointed and relieved. I was hating the job of being on the resort and I was disappointed that I didn’t win it. There was that element of, oh, maybe I could win this thing, maybe I could get 100k. And then the other side was, well, this is a huge failure, and what am I going to do next? So I there was a kind of disappointment that it was but we were all very relieved that it was over.
So you’ve had this crazy experience where you’ve been whisked off to Fiji on a reality show and then it hasn’t really worked out, what happened next for you?
So after the show finished, a week later I packed up my car and drove to Melbourne and then I just kind of went on a journey of discovery. I started working in hospitality. I started acting a lot in theater and found a foothold there, did a lot of shows like local shows, semi-professional shows, toured a couple of shows and just thought that maybe I was better actor than I was a singer.
Then I met my now husband, Frank, who is in television but on the production side and was at the time. But he had always had this dream to write a short film. He wanted to be a writer director and he’d ended up in production as many people do, and he had this burning, creative passion. So he wrote this short film called ‘I Can Speak Swedish’, and I read it and I thought, this isn’t making a lot of sense. One night over dinner, I said, what’s her motivation and why this? And that seems weird that that happens. And he just got quite frustrated, couldn’t answer. He said, “Why don’t you just write it?” So I did. So I rewrote it and I really loved it and I thought, wow, this is cool. Like I all of my years of acting and writing other stuff sort of kind of came to fruition in this little project we were doing. And then it became a whole big thing.
And then off the back of that film, I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker. I was now 26, I’m in Melbourne. I’ve been with Frank for a few years and he’s kind of like creative things are not for me, but you seem really good at it. I co-directed it and I co-produced it with Frank and I wrote it myself. So then I submitted that to VCA, the Victoria College of the Arts. I thought, if I’m going to do this seriously, I’m going to go back and study. So I got into the VCA writer director program and was there for the next three years.
How did you land your first job in TV?
Before I left VCA, my partner Frank, he was working on at the time Masterchef: The Professionals. He said to me, I know there’s a job going at Masterchef. It’s for a House AP role, you probably don’t want to do that but it might be a foot in the door. And I thought, okay, I could do that. So I got an interview and I went along and I explained my experience – I just got out of uni – studying – writing and directing. Margie Bashfield (executive producer) was like, “Oh, that’s weird. Why don’t you just wait there?” And they were like, How do you feel about being the writer? And I was like, Masterchef has a writer? And I said, “I don’t know what that is.” And they were like “Don’t worry, we’ll will teach you.”
So I got the job and I loved it. I just kind of threw myself into that. So that was my first literal foray into it!
Let’s talk about Survivor, you’re currently the Executive Producer – can you talk me through your experience with the show leading to that?
Survivor was the start of what was the rest of my career. [The Director of Content at Endemol Shine Australia] knew I was a huge Survivor fan and we’d talked about a lot. He told me that Channel Ten had just bought the rights to Survivor, and when he said, “Do you want to work on it?” I said, “I do want to work on it – and I don’t know what I want to do!” So we carved out this role – they’re hired Jonathan as the host and he’s an actor of course, he’d never done any reality TV. And I thought, okay, right. I’m a former director. I worked a lot with actors, I’m literally trained in how to communicate with actors. I thought, I can do that. I’ll produce Jonathan.
And it was a journey of discovery season one where he had to learn the ropes of reality TV…and I kind of was basically his coach. And so through that first season, we kind of created this bond of both doing something for the first time. And I was really proud of the way he grew in that season and how he got there. And for me, the role just grew.
This season of Australian Survivor, it’s been universally hailed as one of the greatest seasons, not just of Australian Survivor, but of all time. Why do you think this season was the perfect storm?
I think what was so good about it is it for me was a theme that was very universal. So we all watch movies, right? And the storytelling always has a hero and a villain like it always has an antagonist, the protagonist, and the protagonist is going on a journey and the antagonist gets in the way and the protagonist has to overcome that or succumb to it. And that’s why it’s either a comedy or a tragedy. I mean, like going back to basics with storytelling. Yeah. So that’s why Heroes versus Villains is such a universal theme. You know, we all watch movies where the hero fights to the end and defeats the villain, and that’s the end of the movie. And so because we can identify with that, it’s in our bones, we get it’s in our dialog, it’s in our culture.
We can then go, all right, how do we play with that? And my big thing with this cast was I wanted every hero to have a villain aside and every villain to have a heroic side which would come out later on to create a bit of character development.
Survivor has always been about creating a society or a microcosm of people, taking them out of everything they know, and being the truest version of themselves in the context of this game. And so that theme allowed that to happen really, really strongly. Plus, we had a lot of great talent and great characters/ So when you’ve got a cast full of interesting characters, I think that was great. Also it was going back to Samoa, back overseas again. It was the Heroes versus villains theme and there was just so much history going into that game. Plus, I think it had a really strong crew of all the people. Like it was really a who’s who of Survivor royalty, yourself included – people coming back to work on the show after a couple of years absence and really throwing themselves into making the best survivor possible. And, you know, we we had that sorted out on the production side. So therefore the creative side had the best chance of success. And my God, what a success!
To listen to the full interview, check out the Beyond Reality podcast here:
Beyond Reality – David Forster or find it under Beyond Reality in your favourite podcast app.
Want to hear more stories from the people behind the TV shows you love? Check out my interview with FRANK SINTON, Executive Producer of Floor is Lava.
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David Forster is a Melbourne-based executive producer. He is currently the executive producer for Masterchef Australia and Australian Survivor.
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