Interview With Writer/Producer Phoef Sutton

By Ruth on February 7, 2018 in Interview, movie, television
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Right before the premiere of Hallmark Movie & Mysteries’ most recent Emma Fielding installment, I noticed a twitter account that I had not previously. It was that of Phoef Sutton, and he stated that he wrote the script for the upcoming film. Immediately, I went into research mode and contacted him for an interview once I realized he had been in the business for years (and somehow I’d never noticed!). He agreed quickly to answer a few questions, and while this is but a brief snapshot of a seasoned veteran in the world of entertainment, I am happy to share it today.

RH: First of all, according to IMDB, your first name is Robert. What is the origin of “Phoef”?

PS: I wish I had a better story, but it’s just a nickname my brothers gave me before I could talk. By the time I was in high school, everybody I knew called me “Phoef.” Even my parents.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in film/television? What kind of training have you had for this profession?

Most of my training in theater. I went to James Madison University in Communication Arts/Theater. I wrote and acted in many plays.

Phoef’s First Cheers Episode

What was your first professional job in the business?

My first professional job in show business was a free-lance episode of CHEERS. I’d written my plays – had them done in regional theaters around the country. My college friend Barbara Hall (who now produces and created MADAME SECRETARY) was on the writing staff of NEWHART and helped me write a “spec script” (and audition script) for that show. It was that sample that Heide Perlman at CHEERS read and they called me in to “pitch.” The next year I was hired on staff at CHEERS and stayed on the show for eight years, working my way up to Executive Producer.

Behind-the-scenes Cheers

You’ve worked on several well-known shows (non-Hallmark) throughout the years. Any special shows stand out? 

I’ve been in the business for thirty-two years and I’ve been lucky enough to work on some outstanding shows. CHEERS, of course. Also BOSTON LEGAL. Two of my favorite shows only lasted one season. THANKS, a sit-com about the Pilgrims. And TERRIERS, a private-eye show set in San Diego.

Behind the Scenes
Darrow & Darrow

I believe your first script for Hallmark was Darrow & Darrow. Where did the inspiration for that script come from? How long did it take for the script to get greenlit and then made into a movie? Were you able to go to set at all for the filming?

I pitched DARROW & DARROW to Hallmark with Jonathan Axlerod and Alan Ett. The inspiration for the show came from Jonathan, who wanted to do a movie about “modern-day Clarence Darrow.” It took about two years from the pitch to the making of the film. I was able to go Vancouver for the filming. I got to be close friends with Kim Williams and Wendy Malick and Tom Cavanaugh. They’re a great bunch. We filmed another DARROW in December. It’ll be on the air in May, I think.

I believe you wrote/adapted the script for the most recent Emma Fielding Mystery film. How did that job come about? Had you adapted a book to a script before? What are the challenges/benefits of doing that? Were you able to visit the set while they were filming?

I did adapt PAST MALICE for Hallmark. I didn’t do the first one, but I’ve known Joel Rice (the producer) for a time and Courtney Thorne-Smith is a good friend of Kim Williams the DARROW star. I think that had something to do with my getting the job. I’ve adapted a few books into movies before. Peter Abrahams THE FAN, starring Robert De Niro. And Cornell Woolrich’s I MARRIED A DEAD MAN, which was filmed as MRS. WINTERBOURNE. It’s a challenge to adapt someone else’s work. Especially when the template has already been set by the first Hallmark adaptation of a Dana Cameron/Emma Fielding book. I wasn’t able to go to the set for that one, unfortunately.

What other upcoming works can you mention?

I’m doing another Emma Fielding adaptation right now, MORE BITTER THAN DEATH. And I’m doing a Garage Sale Mystery, called SING A SONG OF MURDER. And Hallmark has recently greenlit another DARROW film.

What do you enjoy about working for Hallmark? Why do you think this network is experiencing unprecedented growth?

I think Hallmark appeals the great mass of people in this country who are being ignored by all the other networks and streaming services. The people that want to watch with their families. The people that like clean entertainment.

You have also done some producing and some other roles in the business. What do you enjoy about producing? 

Producing is fun because you get to be involved in all aspects of the creation of a work. Casting. Direction. Editing. Set Design. Art Direction. It’s a blast.

Is there a certain genre you prefer to write, or are you one who prefers writing in all genres?

I like writing in all genres. I started in comedy. Now I’m doing mysteries with a taste of comedy. For the moment, I enjoy that most of all.

How have you seen the TV industry change over the years? How do you think it has changed for the better? What do you think makes it more challenging in this day and age?

There have been many changes, both good and bad. Obviously, there are many more venues for shows. When I started there were basically three networks. Now there are hundreds. So that’s good. However, there much, much more network and studio interference than there used to be. That can be a little annoying.

{Upon further investigation, I realize I didn’t ask Phoef about being an author, but I will save that for the next time I interview him as I’m sure there will be more to talk about in the near and distant future!}

Behind the scenes at Darrow & Darrow

I absolutely adore interviewing writers! Oftentimes, the writers of these movies and shows get overlooked, but we all concede that writers are the foundation upon which any movie or show is built. While having a skilled cast and crew is essential to ultimate success, undoubtedly, a script can make or break a production. However, because the writer is unseen in these productions, the viewers often shift the blame inadvertently to other members of the cast and/or crew. Thankfully, Phoef is one of those skilled writers that consistently writes exceptional scripts that will assuredly be a solid foundation for any movie or show.

In spite of the brevity of this article, I believe I learned so much! Phoef has immeasurable and invaluable experience in a wide variety of genres and aspects of the business, and I am persuaded that Hallmark is incredibly lucky to have an expert writer like him working for their network. He unreservedly enjoys his work, and for him to maintain the number of friends and connections in the business that he has cultivated over the years demonstrates the tremendous caliber of his expertise and the dedication of his work ethic. He has invested the time over the years to get where he is, and I greatly anticipate every work he mentioned as future Hallmark endeavors. I would invite everyone to check out all his links and consider following him where applicable. I have a feeling that although his partnership with Hallmark is relatively new, he is establishing himself within the framework of this beloved network while continuing to produce quality scripts that will entertain us for years to come.

FOLLOW PHOEF

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher

1 Comment

  1. denise February 10, 2018 Reply

    he has a great body of work behind him

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