“I’m always looking for a hook.” Meet: Award-winning Deaf filmmaker, Samuel Dore

Posted on January 28, 2015

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Samuel Dore is a big name in Deaf cinema. He’s produced pieces of film that have won awards, he’s worked with the BBC, Channel 4, and Maverick Television to mention but a few. He’s also not only a film-maker, but a graphic designer, a photographer and illustrator. Having long been intrigued by somebody who has the ability to write and direct films such as ‘Tricks’, ‘Chasing Cotton Clouds’, and ‘Supersonic’, I was extremely excited to talk to the man himself to find out more about his work.

Having watched a lot of your work, it seems that you have incredibly uninhibited and thought-provoking storylines that really stick with the viewer; how do you begin these ideas? How much are they based on the Deaf experience?

I’m always looking for stories that have that hook or concept that gets people interested before anything else, those high concepts that provide me with lots of storytelling opportunities.

Whether it’s Chasing Cotton Clouds (about a boy who creates a fantasy world to escape from reality) or criminals using interpreters to find out where a Deaf crook has hidden their money in A Million Pounds Don’t Come For Free.

If I was doing ordinary stories I would give them a twist like in All The Small Things which was boy meets girl but done in the style of a cinema trailer.

Sam Dore

Samuel Dore. Photo by James Delaney

With Tricks I just came up with the thought of whether there were Deaf prostitutes and how they would deal with clients, this became a subtle metaphor for attitudes towards Deaf people, that their invisible disabilities should not be an issue especially when it comes to sex, they all look the same naked.

Some of my stories have been from the Deaf perspective as we see the world differently from everyone else, it’s because of our culture and our language, this is new to many people and we can give normal stories a Deaf twist, I simply changed the main characters in Supersonic to Deaf when I first read Cihan Narin’s early draft, suddenly this film about urban superheroes became more interesting now they were Deaf and BSL-users.

Film-wise, what are you working on currently?

I constantly have projects on the go whether they’re being developed, are just ideas, or have been rejected.

I’ve got stacks of ideas that I keep going back to when I’m looking for ideas for my next film. They can be single scenes, high concepts or just basic storylines, it’s all about the timing, and sometimes you meet people or find opportunities that are perfect for your ideas.

I’m developing a feature length film with a small and independent production company in London, I’m developing the treatment after it got turned down as a short film and I’ve started to find it would work so much better as a feature length.

I don’t want to say too much about it but as research I watched Field of Dreams and Son of Rambow but that doesn’t really reveal much about my idea!

Ideally I’d like to progress into making feature length films as I’ve been making short films for over ten years but feature films are different from short films, they’re tougher to write, tougher to raise funds for, to make as well as selling to audiences so I’m not dismissing making short films, they’re great fun to do every now and then but making feature films is the next milestone for me as a film maker really.

As a Deaf film maker, how do you think this enhances your abilities? Do you think your success might be attributed to this, or is it irrelevant?

Being Deaf, I rely on my eyes much more which goes pretty well with film making after all it is a visual medium, it is a cliché we Deaf people have heightened visual senses but we live in a visual world, we process information visually and we communicate visually but it’s not just that.

It’s how you want to tell your stories in any frame in the film; whether it’s the performances, the choice of camera and lenses, the blocking of characters, the choice of colour for costumes, how much we include and take out during editing so you find yourself constantly communicating with various heads of crew departments and the actors, making sure everything comes together to one single story.

That’s the challenging aspect of being a film maker – you have to maintain that single vision whilst dealing with so many things at the same time, there’s no other job like this and I’m very lucky to be able to do it.

Are the films you produce a result of you own life experience?

It’s important you have parts of your personality stamped on your films so I do find parts of myself in any character I write or direct. Or put in the things I like, it can be props or thoughts or dialogue from my own mouth, it doesn’t matter if characters are black, white, boy or girl, there’s always a bit of myself in them.

I think the character of Michael in Chasing Cotton Clouds was a manifestation of myself, granted I didn’t experience the hardship he did when I was a kid, but I gave him depth by having him as someone who drew pictures and made models just like I did right down to having a collection of books like Where The Wild Things Are which I loved.

How did you find the process of writing and filming a deaf sex scene? You’re the first to do it…

When I first wrote Outcall I wanted to see certain things happen, I did not want to see Chardonnay and Norman talking all over again, I wanted to create a storyline, I wanted to take things with the two characters further and them to have sex, it felt like a natural progression for their characters.

We, to my recollection, hadn’t seen a sex scene in a Deaf film then and I thought this would be a great opportunity to break some new ground, show the sexual side of Deaf people, although technically it was a Deaf woman and a hearing man having sex, but still to have a profoundly Deaf BSL-user having on-screen sex without fading to black before anything happened.

hen I made Tricks I wanted to show Deaf people being open minded about sex, but we had Channel 4 pre-watershed guidelines to follow and Outcall was an entirely independent short film we were able to not worry about guidelines so it was a joy being able to have swearing and get the actors to perform sexual acts!

The sex scene was difficult for everyone involved, I had to physically show the two brave actors what positions I wanted them to do, Diana and Giles had to just go for it, it was not glamorous at all, it was awkward and unsexy but that was what I wanted to achieve after all it simply was a business transaction between Norman and Chardonnay but through sex.

Have you come up against many major challenges/lack of understanding in your career?

I have to say I’ve very rarely come across ignorant attitudes towards me as a film maker, I’ve always made sure my work speaks for itself so people can see the work before they see a Deaf person, it’s about my skills as a film maker not my Deafness.

A lot of my work was found through word-of-mouth so I’ve been very fortunate to be often asked by new clients to make films for them without having to put together proposals much but it took a while to get to where I am and it was about doing lots of work for little to no money until I built up my skills, confidence and spreading the word about myself.

Have you done any film work not that is not predominantly based in Deaf film?

I’ve done a number of dramas with entirely hearing crew and casts such as All the Small Things and films for ALRA such as Left Luggage and The Yoko Effect, it was very liberating not having to worry about showing BSL dialogue clearly without cutting until someone has finished signing.

With hearing characters I had the freedom to play with the camera knowing whatever I did, we would still be able to hear what the characters were saying. However it would be a bit more challenging for me directing hearing actors, particularly when it comes to delivering lines that I can’t hear – so that’s where my sign language interpreters came in, they would tell me if actors didn’t deliver lines as I wanted or fluffed lines but all the same it never really mattered after all it was the stories that I wanted to tell to audiences.

What are your major influences in terms of genre of film?

I grew up on a diet of 80’s blockbusters such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones and so forth.

Steven Spielberg is one of my biggest influences and I wanted to encapsulate him as much as I could in Supersonic with the awe and wonder set in the suburbs. I’m influenced by contemporary film makers particularly Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher and Steven Soderbergh.

I often find myself thinking about which director to use as a template in each film I make, Chasing Cotton Clouds was based on the works of Michel Gondry so it helped me to create a particular style throughout that contributed to the story without being a direct influence.

I don’t have my own style, I adapt for each film I make depending on the story, I like to think of my work as mish-mash of cinematic influences after all I’m known for being a huge film buff for films from popcorn movies to art house, from guilty pleasures to cult films so I guess any film I make is a love letter to cinema regardless.

Interview by Kirsten Brown.

You can find Samuel on his website at http://bursteardrum.4ormat.com/, or on Twitter: @Bursteardrum.

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