Dust flew behind Prairie Elementary school, as two boys clawed and slugged at each other. The year was 1981, and Stephen Bergman’s white boot-cut jeans turned a scarlet red. David Story looked down at his hand, and saw blood – real blood – gushing from his gash onto Bergman’s pants. But he never stopped fighting.
This fight scene was the climax of a dystopian fantasy movie, one of many short films shot on Super 8 millimeter film by high school friends David Story, Mike Allen, Stephen Bergman, and Robert Dorrell. But none of them ever had quite the commitment that Story did.
“Dave took it very seriously which is why, today, he’s in some god-forsaken jungle in Ecuador encountering unknown-to-humans fungi and borderline malaria while [filming] nekkid people slowly starving to death,” Allen said. “And why I’m enjoying warm cider by the fire here in crisp Connecticut.”
Class of ‘81 alumnus David Story has turned a passion for film formed at East into a successful career as an executive producer at Renegade 83, a production company based out of Los Angeles.
He is currently living his dream, shooting his third season as executive producer of the award-winning docu-reality show “Naked and Afraid XL,” but he has not forgotten the lessons he learned during his time at East.
After playing for his 2-7 Lancer football team, Story spent his Friday nights going to double features like “Apocalypse Now” and “Raging Bull” at the run-down Fairway movie house, bringing movie reviews with him to read. While this helped foster his passion for cinema, Story attributes his biggest lessons learned at East to the fact that he was able to take this passion inside the classroom as well.
No matter what the subject, Story would find ways to use movies and film in his classes, and was constantly encouraged to do so by his teachers.
“He had a passion for learning, was never afraid to speak his mind and wanted to know everything I knew,” said former East mass media teacher Max Brown. “He was one of those students who after my 42 years in teaching, that stand out in my memory and whom I thought at the time would find his way to success somewhere.”
Whether it was Brown teaching him how to craft cinema, English teacher Everett Rees challenging him to incorporate stronger writing into his films or journalism teacher Robert Dillon pushing him to solve all his problems creatively, Story feels that this encouragement from East teachers is what got him to where he is today.
“If I’d been a lawyer, I probably would’ve had a lot more money and been a lot more ‘comfortable’ in my life right now,” Story said. “But at East, they made you think outside the box, which is why I ended up where I did.”
After graduating from East, Story enrolled at Dartmouth College, graduating with a dual degree in Film studies and a bachelor’s degree in English. He then attended University of Southern California where he got his master’s in Cinema-Television.
At USC, Story learned to not only perfect his craft, but found what his craft really was – storytelling. He focused primarily on script writing, and hoped to get a job as a writer after graduating. But, like many success stories, his plans changed.
“I ended up getting a job with the guy who [produced] ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’,” Story said. “He was doing mostly documentaries at the time, and I just found more work in the non-fiction side of things, and from there I just worked my way up.”
He started as a researcher, gathering info for film and TV shows. Soon he moved up to writer, then producer, where his early work included bio-pics and documentary shows like “Behind the Music.” He thrived at building stories from old interviews, archived news clips and conducting his own new interviews.
But when the Discovery Channel came to Renegade 83 with a premise for an innovative new survival show, Story faced a new challenge – figuring out how to bring his passion for storytelling and writing to an unscripted reality show.
“I’ve learned that if you can figure out how to tell a story in those other genres, you can eventually figure out how to tell a story in the reality genre,” Story said. “And it’s been very gratifying that my brand of storytelling has seemed to strike a chord.”
“Naked and Afraid XL,” which follows 12 survivors dropped into the wilderness left to survive with no clothes or provisions for 40 days and 40 nights, has received unprecedented reaction for a reality TV program.
In its first season, it received the highest rating of all new cable television shows, averaging 3.7 million viewers. It was even parodied on “Saturday Night Live,” forty years after Story and his friends stayed up late watching the original episode.
Now, in production of its third season, the show has already notched three Realscreen Awards and two Emmy nominations. Story attributes much of this success to the compelling human nature of the show, especially compared to many other shows in genre.
“Some of those reality shows are, you know, ‘I hope they like my cupcake’,” Story said. “This one is ‘I hope they live.’”
Despite his “high-falutin” status and accolades, Story has not forgotten his Kansas City roots. Since moving to Los Angeles, he has produced two of his proudest films about back home – “Play On” and the ‘bro-tastic’ award winning flick “Into Thick Air”, which follows Story and six of his closest friends from East as they scale the “seven summits of the Midwest”.
Story may not be cutting Super 8 millimeter film with his “movie-ola” machine on his kitchen table anymore, but the lessons he learned about storytelling during his years at East still transfer to his work today.
“I still remember and use things I learned from Mr. Dillon in high school that most people didn’t learn until college,” Story said. “I would definitely credit East as an incubator for anybody that wanted to be creative and take a different approach to something.”