Interview by Nicholas Yanes
Sven Davison is an NYU graduate who worked his way up the Hollywood latter of success by taking jobs as a Production Assistant, Grip, Production Coordinator, Assistant Director, Production Manager and as a trailer copy writer for films such as Escape from LA, The Relic, The Ghost and the Darkness, and Beavis and Butthead Do America. After paying his dues for years, Davison became a Vice-President at Fox. In addition to all of these accomplishments is that Davison is also the author of the recently released scifi novel State of Mind. This novel brilliantly reinvents the classic murder-mystery/thriller by setting it in a world in which people are now being implanted with P-Chips – devices which are sold to people with the promise of enhancing their life, but may be part of a global conspiracy. According to State of Mind’s homepage, “film options are currently being shopped and a graphic novel version of State of Mind is being readied for July Comicon in San Diego.”
Nicholas Yanes: Before we get to discussing your book, I was hoping you could talk a little about your career so far. It seems as though you’ve worked non-stop for years to get to where you are now. What advice do you have for people who want to get into the entertainment industry, but just can’t get off of facebook? Is there anything you’ve learned that you wish someone would have told you about years ago?
Sven Davison: It would have been nice for someone to tell me at the ripe young age of 17 that film school was not the only path to Hollywood. They would have had to follow this with several examples. I probably would have attended NYU anyway as it was a great place to network and those connections have given me many surprise opportunities over the years.
My advice to anyone who wants to make it in Hollywood is to remember there is no clear path to success. I can think of dozens of folks who have made it in their own way. However, those who have hit the A list in their field as directors have all had charisma. Every person I met in film school who “made it” could walk into a room and own it within minutes (even then). If you don’t have natural charisma (I would include myself here) drawing the limelight will be a greater challenge. Confidence is attractive and will make it easier for people to invest in you. Put another way, there are many talented people out there. In order to compete you need to be persistent, skilled in your craft, skilled as a salesperson, carry two balls of steel, and get a boost of luck.
Yanes: In 2009 you were quoted in a Wall Street Journal story – the article is here – about how Blu-Ray/DVDS were going to become more interactive by incorporating elements of social media into the viewing experience. Do you think this is still the future of the home media experience? Beyond this, what technological advancements do you think consumers should expect to see available for purchase in the next few years?
Davison: If you’re specifically talking about BD-Live as a way to save packaged media, I don’t think so. Packaged media has a five to ten year lifespan. After that, it will become a niche market for diehard fans who like collectables. Basically, it will become the laser disc industry from the early 90s.
4K Flash is in the very near future, however, streaming video will replace packaged media. The barrier to streaming has been HD media but CE companies are working to get around this. Look at Apple’s Thunderbolt. The more high-speed connections are installed via cable or satellite, the less anyone will have a need to own something tangible. HD movies downloaded from the cloud are not that far off.
In the longer term I see long form entertainment such as movies declining even more than they have already (In State of Mind they’re on the brink of extinction). People won’t have the attention span to sit passively through a narrative. I know execs today that watch films in ten-minute increments spread out over days, or fast-forward through them with the subtitles on. Games that you can play against a computer or networked with friends are arguably the preferred method of entertainment for many. 3D is here and the next logical step would be the holographic environment. In State Of Mind the characters can plug right into the cloud, or a game, and actually live in the environment. The lines between virtual and reality do not exist. If you believe Moore’s Law is still alive this future might not be so farfetched.
Yanes: Now that we are on the subject of future technology, what was the inspiration behind State of Mind? In particular, what caused you to imagine the P-Chips?
Davison: I read an article in Popular Science back in 2000. It talked about chipping pets with identification tags. I thought about a world where we could all interface with computers through chips in our minds. I read Arthur C. Clarke’s Lion of Comarre when I was ten and the plot of people living out their lives plugged into a virtual world stuck with me. I also thought of The Matrix, which was the best contemporary example I had at the time. Then I thought of a world where we could be emotionally and physically enhanced by chip implants. Part of my job at Fox was helping to enforce anti-piracy on digital media. But we all know if a person invents something another person can hack it. Then I thought about what it would be like to hack into someone’s mind, take them off line (basically put them in a coma) and force them to do anything. That’s when I started writing.
Yanes: After people finish reading State of Mind, what do you hope that they get of it?
Davison: I hope it makes them ponder about where we are going and what life will be like in 2030. It’s not that far off. The best scenario would be challenging some of the emerging trends and current conventions of today and tomorrow.
Yanes: Besides finding the time to simply write State of Mind, what were some of the challenges you encountered when writing this novel?
Davison: Main characters must be sympathetic or someone we want to spend the duration of the adventure with. My main character is someone who is hacked and you’re never sure if you’re experiencing the real Jake or a false Jake. I had several drafts where there was too much hacking and false information and Jake was simply someone you didn’t care about. There had to be enough real Jake to hook an audience. It took me a long time to find the right balance.
Yanes: It seems that in the world of publishing, a book is often the start of a multimedia franchise. Do you have any plans to expand the State of Mind universe into any other forms of media? Personally, I’d love to see this world as a videogame.
Davison: This book started as a screenplay but the more I wrote the more I needed to expand past the confines of three acts and 108 pages. A graphic novel version has been written and sample panels have been inked. If there’s a large appetite for the book, the graphic novel will head into production. I love the idea of a video game. I have made some notes on levels and how to expand the universe for gamers. There are two sequels in outline form as well.
Yanes: Is there anything that you are currently working on now that fans of State of Mind should look out for?
Davison: The graphic novel and sequels are in the works. I have also been working on a science fiction series since I was 15. I have a thousand pages of notes which have been constantly revised over the years. It would be a four novel series. The universe is so detailed that tackling it now would take monumental effort. I need a few more novels under my belt before I dive in. I’m a big fan of epic and saga science fiction. This would be my entry into that genre.
Yanes: Finally, if you wanted your fans to add false information to one Wikipedia entry, what entry would you want edited and how would you want it changed?
Davison: I would like to see The Gettysburg Address listed as Lincoln’s place of residence during the Civil War, so some confuse it with a short speech he once gave. Then I’d like to argue the point with my son when he gets older. I can hear it now, “But dad, Wikipedia says…”