It was not so long ago that alum Chris Van Dusen (01C) sat in award-winning Loren Ghiglione’s journalism class at Emory University. But 20 years later, he currently stands as a well-known name in the world of television after creating, show running and being the executive producer of the infamous Netflix series “Bridgerton.”
The television show is set in the Regency period (the early 19th century) in London. The show follows main character Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and her family as she enters the marriage market. It first premiered on Dec. 25, 2020 and Van Dusen said his aim was to create a sense of escapism for streamers in an extra challenging time. This certainly rang true for 82 million viewers and positive reviews by The New York Times, NPR and other well-known publications.
His journey to the film world, however, first began at Emory. During his time as an undergraduate, Van Dusen majored in economics and journalism where he first discovered his love for writing.
“Emory was an amazing place,” Van Dusen said. “The teachers, the professors and just [the] sense of community there I think they really fostered this amazing creativity.”
Even before coming to Emory, Van Dusen expressed an interest in television and other art mediums throughout his childhood, he said. Connecting his passion for writing with his interest in film ultimately led him to his current career.
“I was always a writer in some form or another. The journalism program there was amazing. And I was always writing… I thought I was going to go down that road,” Van Dusen said. “I found that it wasn’t really scratching that creative writing side, that creative writing edge for me. And so that’s why I transitioned into writing for television.”
After graduating in 2001, Van Dusen attended the Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern California. After earning his Master of Fine Arts degree there, Van Dusen started his job search in the film industry and stumbled upon an assistant job for the screenwriter of a new medical drama show. That series happened to be “Grey’s Anatomy,” and Van Dusen would go on to assist Emmy-award winning writer Shonda Rhimes at her television production company Shondaland.
“I stayed in Shondaland, and I worked my way up,” Van Dusen said. “I wrote whenever I got the chance. I was looking for any and every opportunity to show other people that I could write and that this is what I wanted to do. Eventually, I ended up writing for ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ working on a number of other Shondaland shows [like] ‘Scandal.’”
While Van Dusen worked in Shondaland as a writer for around 15 years, he knew he wanted to lead a project himself which is when Rhimes introduced him to the British book series “Bridgerton.” After devouring every book in the series, Van Dusen recognized the great potential of its adaptation to television.
“For me, [it] was really about escapism,” Van Dusen said. “Considering how everything was going at the time and how everything is happening in the world right now, escapism was what I was looking for, and I think it’s what a lot of people are responding to.”
The creation of “Bridgerton”, however, was no easy task; Van Dusen’s job differed day-to-day. In the initial stages of production, Van Dusen collaborated with a team of writers to create a storyline along with characters for the first season. He was often rewriting the script, interacting with the production designer or working with others involved in the show.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, though, Van Dusen and his team were forced to begin the editing process virtually. While they had already finished filming the first season before the onset of the pandemic, there was still more work to be done. Van Dusen’s team began using virtual tools such as Zoom and Google Hangouts to host meetings.
“In post-production, after we wrapped, almost all the editing of the show was done virtually,” Van Dusen said. “Now that we’re in pre-production [for season 2], there’s a whole slew of new challenges to consider in order to make sure we’re handling the most important thing and that’s really everyone’s safety.”
As Van Dusen continues his work on the “Bridgerton” television series, he has not forgotten the experiences that brought him to this point.
“[With] ‘Bridgerton,’ I wanted to escape to this lush, beautiful, cinematic world, and I wanted viewers to come along with me,” Van Dusen said. “But I also wanted to explore real issues and real topics like gender, class, race and sexuality — topics that are really relevant and important today.”