Christians in Cinema: Dave Stotts
After attending Abilene Christian University in the Texas Panhandle, Dave Stotts hopped around a few more places before settling down in the Dallas Metroplex area. Married to Rebekah and the father of 2 sons (Seth and Luke), his time is divided between video post-production, theological studies and making history alive and entertaining.
When asked about his favorite restaurant, he immediately named "Mi Cocina," which specializes in Tex-Mex cuisine (a man after my own heart!). A fan of science fiction epics (X-men, Superman, Star Wars) married to someone who doesn't really care for them, Dave often watches his favorites with headphones. He's even been known to impersonate Darth Vader for his youngest son "Luke, I'm your father". I talked with Dave on a busy Thursday morning between video projects.
CC.com: Hi Dave! Can you start off by telling us how the Drive Thru History concept started?
Dave: My education and background is in video production. I work with Jim Fitzgerald of Coldwater media, and we've traveled extensively around the world doing different projects. If you've ever done that, you know it can get pretty intense.
We used to do what we could to lighten things up and have fun, because you have to enjoy yourself, or how can you keep doing it? So we'd always goof around and laugh a lot. One trip we got particularly crazy and Jim suggested putting me in front of the camera to see if we could recapture some of our moments in an actual show with real content.
Because we both love history, we decided to focus on New Testament history. We had a professor of Biblical history kick off the initial research for us and learned a lot on the field ourselves. Our initial trip lasted 3 weeks and we filmed in Rome, Greece and Turkey. We had to return to Greece to capture some things correctly.
We didn't want to do a disservice to the viewer and give short shrift to some important people and places. After we put together the first show people began catching our vision: present history with style, humor and fast pacing. People started getting excited about it.
CC.com: There are some detractors who might say that what you do is fluff compared to "real" history.
Dave: We're not trying to present a comprehensive and detailed study of history. It's history on a survey level; kind of a 30,000 foot view, which is really the best place to start. Our segments are packed with solid historical facts presented in a fun and engaging way.
I think you have to work really hard to make history boring, and oddly, people have succeeded at that. You don't respect your audience when you teach history in a dull way. History is exciting and it's filled with heroes and exciting stories of fascinating people. The Bible is the same.
When you read the Bible within the historical context of the scope of world history, it comes alive. It is telling us stories that really happened on a real piece of real estate with real people experiencing real emotions and struggles.
The Bible is so much more than an encyclopedia of theology or the source of a daily nugget of spiritual wisdom. The events and people of the Bible sparked change that affected the entire world.
A great example of this is the writings of the Apostle Paul. He was absolutely revolutionary when he wrote that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. His statement that we are all one in Christ was a dangerous message. The Roman Empire had a distinct class system and enslaved countless people.
There were outcasts who heard Paul's message of equity and equality and gathered around that. It had a profound and lasting effect on western civilization. Christianity has had an objectively good effect on history, and we want to show that.
Some people don't like it, but it's the truth. We're not cramming it down their throats and we don't take ourselves too seriously. We goof off and have fun and mix the historical content with travel and fun cars.
CC.com: When did you realize this was a concept that people could get excited about?
Dave: The series was picked up by TBN and started playing regularly. Then the History International channel (a spin-off of the History Channel) picked it up, and it's been great to work with them to bring it to a wider audience.
Obviously, TBN is going to attract predominantly Christian viewers, so it's been good to see a wider audience respond positively. We aimed the series at the junior high level, but have found it's enjoyed by the 8-80 (year) range who say they learn more in 30 minutes than they ever did in a high school history class.
CC.com: From a filmmaking perspective, if you did your first three series in a 3-week trip, you didn't have too much time for multiple takes, did you?
Dave: No. That was a huge challenge. There was this strange tension between nailing it on film (getting the right words and information) and keeping it laid-back and light-hearted. There were things that I did that I didn't think were particularly funny, but the producer liked, so we'd put that on screen.
We ended up with a lot of good stuff on the cutting room floor, so we put those things under the credit reel – kind of a "bloopers" section. We really don't take ourselves very seriously in terms of how I look on camera.
What we do take seriously is that we're correct in what we say, because there are always people who know more who'll catch our mistakes. So we did a lot of follow-up research afterward, especially when we were doing some of the voiceovers. We wanted to corroborate our findings, so we visited libraries and talked with people who have formal training in history.
CC.com: What's next in Drive-Thru History ? Is there more or are you ready to do something else?
Dave: There is a lot more that can be done with Drive Thru. We don't have a linear plan laid out. We intentionally chose to start with the establishment of the church, which meant we were starting with the New Testament era. That seems to be the time with the most impact in terms of overall world history – how Christ's teachings and His followers affected world thinking.
Now we're going to skip ahead and do something very close to our hearts; the history of our own country. Drive Thru History America: Foundations of Character is the beginning of that. It was written primarily by David Barton, who in my opinion is a national treasure. He has an incredible amount of information and quotes from our founding fathers and mothers.
He collaborated with Dr. Nita Thomason to write the scripts. It's a slightly different format in that it is designed to be a character-building program. Some of the people profiled are off the radar and don't have much mention in our history textbooks, but they exhibited character traits that are valuable for anybody.
Some of them weren't even Christians, but they were people we can all emulate. I consider this a side-dish to the main curriculum, but it's one that makes the whole meal really fabulous! It's something you can hang your hat on.
Our next series (they start filming again in about a month and a half) continues American History. The next 12 shows will be American History from "Columbus to the Constitution". We're going to travel up and down the Eastern Seaboard to historically significant locations, like Washington, Boston, Philadelphia and Virginia.
We have a new car and an adventure trailer. We'll do some camping; it will continue the adventure/travel show style. There's a tremendous amount of American history we can cover.
Beyond that, I'd like to see us do a Holy Land series. Maybe start in Egypt and end up in Israel (though my wife might object). Another period I'd love to do is World War II; it would be an amazing time to do.
It's a big world and there are lots of places out there to do. No matter what period of history we're doing, we want to respect students and help them find an appreciation for history. We'll always strive to tell it in a way that's colorful and visual, and that highlights the fingerprints of God in the history of the world. Giving us an appreciation of His activity in our space/time history is the ultimate goal.
CC.com: How long do you see yourself fronting the Drive Thru History series?
Dave: I can't really put a specific time to it, but I do know that I don't want to be recognized as the guy who's too old to be goofing off in front of the camera! If the Drive Thru History concept continues to have legs, I'm happy to pass the torch off to someone else.
It's lots of fun, and I'll continue to do it. Will it have the momentum to continue in 5 or 10 years? Who knows; we'll have to wait and see. I would be very content to work in film and video production for the rest of my life, producing documentaries of all sorts.
CC.com: In which part of the video production process do you feel you're most creative?
Dave: My gifts are really in post-production: editing, building promos for Coldwater Media. I'm doing them for upcoming documentaries. It's a way to give viewers in a short amount of time a bite-sized sample of what the larger documentary is.
It's very fast-paced editing with lots of animation. And I really work with the music to make it something that moves people as well. I enjoy that more than being the on-camera guy.
In post-production I'm allowing the elements to come together to communicate a message and move people. That's one of the best reasons that media exists. It's moving and people have an emotional reaction to what they see and hear together. It's very gratifying to elicit reactions from people.
CC.com: Is your music original to you or is it royalty-free?
Dave: It's a combination of both. We have some original music, which I love because we have the benefit of having it custom-built for what we've done.
We really tried to fill the Drive Thru History series with a lot of cool music. I like to take a song and make it sound like it was custom-made for us. For our next segment of Drive Thru America we already have some music being scored specifically for it and are really pleased with the results.
CC.com: There's something else you're doing besides video production. Tell us about your current studies and how you see them tying into your work as a video producer.
Dave: I'm taking one evening class right now. I'm almost through with my Masters of Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary.
Like a lot of Christian guys, I went through a phase where I wondered if God was calling me to ministry, maybe to be a pastor. It lasted longer than a phase, and I reached a point where I wanted to go to school formally and learn. I loved every class I took; it was a great experience.
I also strongly considered going into the ministry. Then Drive Thru History came along and it was very exciting to think that perhaps this is the track God has for me.
A couple of years ago my wife and I started having children. I had to stop and say "wait a minute; I've got mouths to feed now." This evening class is the first one I've taken in about a year and a half.
I do video production during the day. I'm working on editing, graphic design, animation, DVD authoring; all the things that go on after the filming is complete. We're (Coldwater Media) working on various documentaries (other than Drive Thru History) all over the map and with all kinds of subject matters.
The one thing they have in common is that in obvious or not-so-obvious, they are all tied in with promoting a solid truthful worldview. We're also planning for future projects. We never want to get on the field and find ourselves unprepared.
My seminary training helps me produce better work because I'm more educated as a believer. It was through my seminary studies that I began to really study the Bible as a historical document, as well as a source of theological wisdom.
I began to see so clearly that our history as believers is rooted in secular time-space history that God is in control of.
CC.com: When you have time, what are some of your favorite books and movies?
Dave: My favorite fiction is a book called "The Moviegoer" by Walker Percey. Non-fiction I really like the work of N.T. Wright. He's the current Bishop of Durham (a position in the Church of England), and is a brilliant New Testament scholar and historian.
I really connected with him when we started the Drive Thru History series. He's a scholar of the highest order, and is able to speak both "Christian" and "non-Christian". He's written a book that's an apologetic for the Christian faith that is very compelling; it's called "Simply Christian".
A book on the topic of media that really rattled my cage and has been very influential for me is "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Neil Postman. It may surprise you but I'm not really a comedy fan. I prefer movies that give me an emotional wallop. Movies that are redemptive and don't leave you feeling that the world is a cold dead place with no hope. I don't expect gospel messages in every one.
Frankly, if we're reaching out to people who aren't comfortable with overt gospel messages, we need movies with subtle messages that offer hope while recognizing the hardships of life. One of my favorite is "Return of the King". It's a tale of heroism, self-sacrifice, bravery and courage. It doesn't deny the reality that life is hard, but has a redemptive ending.
"Schindler's List" is another favorite. It's definitely not for children, and there are scenes that I can't endorse, but it has such a valuable message of honor and morality. It portrays the value of human life in a way that is unsurpassed by almost any other movie I've ever seen.
Bella is a film I saw at the Toronto Film Festival. It's not yet been released, and I hope it gets a lot of attention. I go to meet the filmmakers and hear them speak at a Q&A afterward. They're very solid guys who want to use film to create great stories and to do it artistically and in a way that honors the media of film. They don't want to just get the message out; they want it to be compelling and gripping. They succeeded.
CC.com: Dave, thank you so much for your time. I can't wait to see your next series!