Dawn Wilkinson: Today’s Notable Young Professional

Today’s Notable Young Professional is filmmaker and television director Dawn Wilkinson, who has directed series such as Murdoch Mysteries, Degrassi and How To Be Indie. What advice does she have for other young professionals? Find out in today’s profile…

Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
I’m a filmmaker and television director. I direct scripted series like Murdoch Mysteries, Degrassi and How To Be Indie. I started Afterlife Films in 2002 to produce my own projects. I’m also a writer. I wrote and directed my first feature film Devotion in 2005. I directed TV for the first time in 2010.  

Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
I was the apprentice to Norman Jewison on his movie The Hurricane with Denzel Washington. Mr. Jewison encouraged me to go to the Canadian Film Centre’s Director’s Lab, a great program for learning the craft and networking. 

Growing up, I didn’t feel like my “mixed-race” cultural experience was represented in film and television. Now what drives me is how dramatic storytelling can explore the grey area of complicated human and social dilemmas – and be entertaining and engaging at the same time. I love to feel like I’m going on a journey with a character and into a world that is different than my own, but somehow reveals some aspect of life as I know it. 

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis?  The most challenging part?
The best part of directing is collaborating with other creative people: actors, writers, producers, cinematographers, production designers, sound recordists, editors…the list goes on and on. And of course calling “Action!” You get to make something from beginning to end, and then, wow, the audience responds!

With film projects it takes a lot of time, patience and tenacity because it can take years sometimes to get the script in order, the funding in place, the distributor lined up. You have to keep your eye on the big picture. 

It’s been said before but TV directing is like being a guest at the producer’s dinner party. You can’t really walk in and start re-arranging the furniture, but you have to add something to the conversation if you want to be invited back. 

Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years I will have directed a crime thriller about a homicide detective that is the first in a trilogy set in Toronto but for an international audience. Yes, the script is written, but that’s all I can say about it right now. I also see myself creating my own TV series.

What does success look like to you?
When I started out, I tried to do everything. Now success looks like having a team of people to work with, who can do all the things I can’t. It’s also about knowing that I’m making the right creative choices with a project as I move through the production process.  And for any filmmaker, success means having several projects financed and ready to go! 

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
Directing Murdoch Mysteries, my first hour-long drama.  

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Know that the work you’re doing and the experience that you are gaining will eventually pay off. Sometimes we have an arbitrary schedule in our minds of milestones we expect to reach by a certain age, and it can be very frustrating with that doesn’t happen. But while you are doing your thing, a great opportunity can just come out of the blue. Make your plan, but don’t be afraid to change it. And smile a lot! 

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
Regent Park Focus Youth Media Arts Centre in Toronto is an organization that I support. I have also taught workshops for them in the past. They are currently raising funds for a neighbourhood owned and operated community television station where residents create the content and young people play a leadership role. They are currently running a fundraising campaign.

What is notable to you?
Magic hour, synchronicity, and friendships that last decades. 

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