2.52 Scribes Digest

This is a transcript of an interview I did for the December issue of Scribes Digest. The online magazine is "for lovers of the written word" and includes interviews with film industry professionals and literary writers, as well as offering writing contests. They explore writing through a variety of individuals, from emerging artists to seasoned professionals. You can subscribe to Scribes through the website scribesdigest.com. ***

INTERVIEW by Catherine Astolfo

Jeffrey Paul Dore’s background is in film, television and journalism, and he recently expanded his sights to include fiction writing, specifically of the novel variety. He believes it is important for an author to develop a persona and voice, one that is true to the essence of the writer, but one that can be accessible to readers. Like everyone else on the planet, he writes a blog that includes stories both real and imagined – and sometimes a bit of both. Paul is working towards publishing his first novel.

Q – Tell us how you got started in the industry.

Similar to many people in creative industries, I was exposed to movies and books from a young age. My mother brought me to see movies such as Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, which on retrospect, were probably a bit intense for such a young five year old mind. After all, at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the bad guy’s faces melt. I definitely felt the magic of movies and delved deep during my formative years, watching everything and anything I could get my little hands on. Originally, I wanted to be an actor, but thankfully, I started to learn about what happens behind the camera and decided to work behind the curtain. In the meantime, I read long Tom Clancy and Stephen King novels, and as a teenager, adapted them into screenplays. No, they were not produced.

I discovered that you could study filmmaking at school and ended up at York University. My parents were wonderfully supportive of a career in the arts. I learned a great deal, but mostly from hands on experience – taking out equipment and shooting my own films with actors I met from the theatre department. We did a lot of crazy things in the service of getting ‘The Shot’: hanging out of moving cars, hanging out of tall buildings, getting chased by security guards, interrogated by police. We did not understand the concept of permits yet.

In my last year of university, I met one of the senior editors at CTV, George Saturnino. He really took me under his wing and taught me not just how to edit, but how to tell a story through images. I believe this is a very big difference that gets lost in the excitement of the latest technological tools: an aspiring filmmaker can learn how to use an editing program, just as someone can pick up a digital camera and start shooting. But how do two images cut together provoke an emotional reaction? What does the composition of a shot say about a character in a movie? Mr. Saturnino taught me how those individual images come together to connect to the viewer. I started working for him once he went out on his own and edited everything from documentaries to television shows to commercials. One other important aspect to working at a small production house was that I could use the high-end equipment whenever we had downtime. This might have meant I was often editing my own films at 3:00 in the morning, but with every edit, I learned something new.

From here, besides making films and writing scripts for professional productions, I turned my attention to my true aspiration: writing. I always envisioned myself as more of an author than a filmmaker and it was time to listen to this calling. I worked through a novel that was awful and will sit gathering dust in a desk drawer, but it was an experience that taught me a great deal – about myself and my abilities. I almost instantly started working on another one, which was completed this past summer.

Q – Of all the work you’ve done up until today, what are you most proud of?

Last year, I attended the Humber School for Writers Summer Workshop. I viewed this week long workshop as a challenge. After working on my writing for a while, I wanted to finally share it with people and expose myself to the vulnerability of others. Would the work be accepted or would someone politely tell me to get into another field, preferably one that does not involve any writing? I mentored under the Giller nominated author Wayson Choy and it was an experience that changed my writing life. He is an encouraging and gifted teacher who somehow engages you in your own work and helps you find the emotional core of what you’re trying to express.

The proudest moment for me came during the student readings at the workshop. One evening, everyone gathers in the main lecture hall and each student has three minutes to stand at the podium and read an excerpt of their work. I am not great at speaking in front of people, hence my short-lived pursuit of acting. Part of the challenge was to take those three minutes and engage the audience which included authors like: Wayson, David Bezmozgis, Alistair MacLeod, Miriam Toews and M. G. Vassanji. Not to mention the other hundred or so people.

One of the ways I believe being an author has changed is your aptitude at being a good reader. I have admired authors like David Sedaris who bring a performance aspect when communicating to an audience. I wanted to do the same thing. I was very nervous and wrote in big letters on the second page of my excerpt: SLOW DOWN. Also, for some reason, I chose a segment that included some German. I don’t speak German, but my character was learning the language. While I read, the audience laughed in the right places and were quiet in the appropriate places. The German even came out right. For the remaining days of the workshop, strangers were coming up to me, complimenting my reading and asking about the book. They wanted to know more about the story and the characters, I think this was a good sign.

Q – What have you found, if any, to be the most difficult hurdle about being a Canadian writer?

There is still a stigma around being a Canadian writer. It’s strange to say because many great writers, filmmakers, actors and musicians have found success domestically and abroad. Before we can demand to be taken more seriously on the international stage, we have to not only take ourselves more seriously, but take the audience more seriously. I am speaking from the artistic perspective as well as the gatekeepers that distribute the work.

When I started making films and writing seriously, I had no thought of the audience. Making art for art’s sake makes very boring art. I believe there is a gap between the complete extremes of pandering and pretension where a piece of work can be challenging and risky but also find a wide audience. A major hurdle as a Canadian writer is to have people recognize you are committed to taking some risks, while at the same time keeping that audience in mind. We all want our work to be seen, we all want to find our audience. Perhaps more importantly, we want our audience to find us.

In a broader sense, I think being labeled a ‘Canadian Writer’ doesn’t really mean that much. As work continues to get distributed through the internet more and more, artistic borders are eroding. Instead of focusing marketing strategies domestically, there is the potential for writers to access a wider international audience. People from all over the world have visited my blog and interacted with me: India, Jordan, Russia, China, Germany, Brazil, the United States and Japan. These individuals do not regard me as a Canadian writer, just a writer trying to connect.

Distribution often decides what reaches the public. We have debates over Canadian identity and how creative work reflects who we are as a nation. Through this opportunity of connecting to individuals internationally, a dialogue starts and an emotional connection could potentially create a space for us to speak and share who we are as people. A theme might appear without us knowing, we might discover separately that we do have a similar Canadianness that we haven’t previously noted, a collective perspective we all can share, instead of accepting a politely manufactured identity.

The short version: my main hurdle as a Canadian writer is to get over myself.

Q – Do you have any aspirations to move into the American Film market?

I do have aspirations to move into the American market. I believe this depends on the kind of writing career you want to build for yourself. There is a lot of interesting work happening in the United States, especially in television, curiously enough. Canadians celebrate actors and filmmakers who make it in the United States, but also, this is sometimes referred to as ‘selling out’. But what does selling out really mean anymore? Besides the distribution aspect, I think the most important aspiration, regardless of where you place your work, is to create something of quality. Quality transcends borders and has the potential to find the audience that appreciates the effort put forth to be challenging and thought-provoking.

If there’s an opportunity to break into a larger market, such as the United States, you establish the potential for your work to be more widely seen. The only way to become a better writer is to write, work hard and develop your own projects. At the same time, understand the business aspect of filmmaking or publishing. Making a living as a writer is difficult, but by widening your abilities, skills, determination and being multi-faceted, it is possible.

For my novel, I have been contacting agencies and publishing companies in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. I have gotten responses from representatives in the United States and the United Kingdom with no concern with coming from Canada. Entering into the United States can be intimidating, but from my experience, many places seem to be looking for the same thing: quality. Obviously, this is not always the case, but as exposed media becomes more cluttered, the search for quality becomes more important.

I have visited both New York and Los Angeles, and although these are the places to be in order to make it big, I’m actually quite comfortable in Canada. Comfortable isn’t risky, but many people operate careers in the United States while living in Canada. As I stated above, distribution is becoming more international, and I think we live in an exciting time where we can access a variety of markets that were not previously reachable.

Q – What is it you are working on right now?

Right now, I am working at getting my novel published. A problem of mine is reaching the finish line. I have no problem motivating myself to work hard for years on a project, but once I get to the point of putting it in front of people, my confidence shakens. I think, “People couldn’t possibly want to read this or see this!” I need to get out of my own way. This novel, The Walking Man, is the first project I’ve completed that was all mine, so in some ways, I am even more fearful of the response. There are so many people involved when making a film, it is truly a collaborative process. Although there are editors, publishers and marketers involved, the core of a novel comes from the individual. I believe in this book and think it has the ability to connect to readers, to find that audience.

In addition, I am listening to my own advice and diversifying my approach. The novel works as the hub and I am developing a number of properties that shoot off into different directions, including: a television series, film script and interactive online content. With all this technology at our fingertips, there are numerous opportunities to explore new depths in a piece of work. To find quality on a variety of levels.

And of course, I’m at work on a new novel. I am always collecting ideas, cutting out interesting newspaper stories, making notes. Usually what happens is a theme emerges from these collections, characters start popping up and ideas form. Before I know it, I realize I’ve been researching something for a while and my curiosity carries me into a new direction. My new work explores technology and how information bombardment causes people to collapse in the streets for no reason. It is about an epidemic of information. With explosions.