Interviewee Name: Alison Duke
Company Name: Goldelox Productions
Avil Beckford: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Alison Duke: I was born in Canada after my parents moved from Guyana. I was the only girl in the family of four boys. I am a proud Canadian who makes films about social justice.
Avil Beckford: How do you integrate your personal and professional life?
Alison Duke: I tend to keep those two things separately, although I tend to work with people who I enjoy being around. I feel like I have to be a businessperson so I tend to set boundaries and separate things. I had to work a lot around boundaries in my life so I try to keep business and the personal life separate.
Avil Beckford: When you have some down time, how do you spend it?
Alison Duke: I like to spend my down time outdoors. That includes being outside in my yard. We just renovated our backyard so I’ll be spending more time out there. I also love traveling to different places. I think being outside and traveling really reconnects my spirit and my soul with the universe, with the world. So I love to spend as much time as I can outdoors. Most of my work is indoors so getting outside is very important to me.
Avil Beckford: What are five life lessons that you have learned so far?
- Try and enjoy the moment, whatever it is, whether it’s a challenge, or a success because sometimes you miss out on an important life lesson because you’re moving too quickly when something happens. You move too quickly trying to get to the next phase, when something good happens, or you try to fix something when there is a challenge or a disappointment. I think you really need most of the time to stop and listen to what life is saying to you.
- Take as many risks as you can, especially when you are learning something new. By taking the risk you’ll discover what you really like to do and why. Some people in the film industry wait a long time before making a film and I often tell people, “As soon as you learn a skill test it out, try to make a film, and see what you like about it.” You might start out thinking that you want to be a director or producer, but then you realize that you’d like to be a camera person, you’d like to be the art director or you’d like to do everything. It’s only through risk-taking that you’ll learn that.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. I think this is really true about a lot of things. You really have to pick your battles because if you are always flying off complaining about somebody, people won’t take you seriously after a while. That kind of anxiety leads to illness, and it’s just not good, so pick your battles.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Working too hard or burning the candle at both ends will cause your work to suffer. You have to not be afraid to ask for help when you need it. And that could be asking around for a mentor, it could be saying, “You know I don’t know this aspect of my job.” Do some information interviews with people who are doing that job. It could be taking courses online, or it could be reading books that will help you learn what you need to learn. If you do not know how to do something, maybe a friend or a colleague knows how to do it, learn when and how to collaborate because collaboration is also good for creativity, and for getting things done.
- Try to be as organized as possible when it comes to business. I find that when I’m organized I can get a lot of my business done before 11 am and that leaves the rest of my day to be creative, and I can be a little bit more loose with my schedule because that helps me with my creativity. So I tend to be as organized as possible, do all my emails and phone calls before 11 am.
Avil Beckford: What process do you use to generate great ideas?
Alison Duke: I do many things. I read a lot of newspapers. I read a lot of journals and I read anything about current events. I also go through historical documents. I peruse the web, but nothing beats watching people and eavesdropping on conversations, not to be nosy but to get a sense of how people talk, what are they talking about, what’s important to people? I love watching people – it could be on the subway, standing on my friend’s porch. Sometimes it’s a look people have, or the way they do what they are doing. A lot of those situations when I’m watching people inspire a shot or a dialogue or how I construct a narration or something. It’s always funny to me when I might listen to something on the streetcar, and then all of sudden I realize that’s the way people are saying this kind of thing and I’d incorporate it into my work.
Avil Beckford: What’s your favourite quotation and why?
Alison Duke: It’s a Nelson Mandela quotation, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Avil Beckford: How do you define success? And in your opinion what’s the formula for success?
Alison Duke: The way I define success is being able to call your own shots in life, not being a slave to anyone or any system, being free to set your own schedule. The formula for success is taking risks, investing in yourself, and when I say investing I don’t mean going out and spending a lot of money on different things but it could be through taking the time to invest in your education, about whatever you want to do. It could be about being an entrepreneur that’s selling baked goods. You need to learn everything you need to know about running a business and baking.
In terms of taking risks, don’t play it safe, take the time to try things that may fail because it’s through the failing that you learn the most. Through failing I’ve had a steep learning curve. I remember when I didn’t know how to use a camera and I had to film something and none of my cameramen were available. I went and shot it myself, and was it the best it could be? No! It wasn’t technically sound, but when I was editing that piece it became a very powerful part of the film. And even when I was showing it to people who are experienced, like cinematographers, and I said my lighting wasn’t good, they said, “You know what, that was a very powerful part, leave it in the film.” And I’ve learned so much about how to film better through that process. And now I film more of my content as well.
Avil Beckford: What are the steps you took to succeed in your field?
Alison Duke: The steps I took were investing in myself, taking the courses because I didn’t go to film school, so I had to backtrack and take courses. So when I was starting off, every year, I would go to all the film industry events, the film festivals and buy an industry pass and go to all the workshops. I would take workshops outside of that, for every single part of my profession and learn all about it, even if it came down to learn how to write production grants. I took so many of them and I would retake them to the point where I’d say to myself, “Stop taking that, start doing it.” And then I’d start doing it. But even to this day, I take two to three workshops a year.
Avil Beckford: What advice do you have for someone just starting out in your field?
Alison Duke: Take risks. As soon as you learn something, take the risk of applying that practically. So if you’re going to learn directing, go out and direct something. If you are going to learn to be a cameraperson go out and try to film something. Take that risk and learn from it. But on top of that, as you are learning, invest in yourself and go and take those workshops so you can become better at it. Learn different skills and learn how to hone your skills better. There is a lot to learn all the time, so you can’t just sit on your hands and think that you are always going to get work, and believe you’re always going to be a part of the industry. You have to grow with the industry and stay relevant.
Avil Beckford: If trusted friends could introduce you to five people that you’ve always wanted to meet, who would you choose? And what would you say to them?
- Martin Luther King: I would love to hear him speak, but I would have to ask him the question, “Why did you write your speech I Have a Dream?” And I’d also want to know if he was satisfied with the results today, and what he thinks about today’s society.
- Steven Spielberg & Martin Scorcese: I would love to meet and ask them how they became A-List directors, what film made them an A-List director and why?
- Barack Obama: I would love to ask him how he takes so much pressure, how he deals with all the pressure around him. I think he is under an enormous amount of pressure and I don’t know how he deals with that on a daily basis. That’s extraordinary.
- Harriet Tubman: Harriet Tubman was an extraordinary person. I want to know what would possess her to be a freedom fighter and an abolitionist, what gave her the courage to do it, and how did she do that – lead the slaves to freedom, and the smarts to evade the authority at the time.
Avil Beckford: Which one book had a profound impact on your life? What was it about this book that impacted you so deeply?
Alison Duke: I think it was a A Course in Miracles: Combined Volume by Dr. Helen Schucman. It’s a book that answers those lifelong questions about your existence and where I as a human being fit into this huge universe. For me it’s about the connection to your soul. One of the saying in the book is “Nothing can be threatened”, “Nothing unreal exists.” In those two phrases that’s where I find peace. With all the chaos in the world, that’s where I find peace and my god – what I think god is.
Avil Beckford: You are one of the 10 finalists on the reality show, So, How Would You Spend Your Time? Each finalist is placed on separate deserted islands for two years. You have a basic hut on the island and all the tools for survival; you just have to be imaginative and inventive when using them. You are allowed to take five books, one movie and one music CD, and whatever else you take has to fit in one suitcase and a travel on case. What would you take with you and how would you spend the two years? T he prize is worth your while and at this stage in the game there really aren’t any losers among the 10 finalists, since each are guaranteed at least $2 million?
Note from Avil: I did this interview before I changed the question!
- A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles” by Marianne Williamson. It’s a reflection on the principles of the Course in Miracles.
- A Course in Miracles: Combined Volume because you can’t just read it front to the end, you have to take your time. Sometimes you read a chapter and have to step away from it for a week and then read another chapter. Or you read a page every day.
- Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert: I love that book, it’s such a great book. On a deserted island, that woman in the book is a character, and she was sort of on a deserted island so the metaphor for that book and being on a deserted island I think would bode well with me thinking about the possibilities in life, that maybe some day I would be rescued. I think in her journey in life she was looking for someone or something to rescue her.
- I would also love to have a book about my ancestors, maybe that’s a book that I would start working on, trying to retrace my family.
- I don’t know if I would particularly have The Bible or the Koran but I’d like to have some kind of book that talks about spirituality. I think it would be a combination of all the spiritual books from the Koran to the Bible to the Tipitaka (Buddhist holy book) so that I can compare and contrast what they are saying.
My music CD that I would take is Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall and I remember as a young person dancing to that from the first to the last song, over and over again without tiring, and I think the title of the album says it all. You have to live life off the wall, you have to be outrageous. Make your life the best it could be and I really felt that when I used to listen to that album. The movie would be The Wizard of Oz (Two-Disc 70th Anniversary Edition). I love that movie because there are so many life lessons about your fears, and the scarecrow, just the life lessons that are played by the characters is amazing and I love to watch that movie over and over again.
Avil Beckford: What excites you about life?
Alison Duke: You can make choices in life and through those choices you are in charge of your destiny.
Avil Beckford: How do you nurture your soul?
Alison Duke: I nurture my soul through my spiritual practice. I think everyone has to believe in something that is beyond them.
Avil Beckford: If you had a personal genie and she gave you one wish, what would you wish for?
Alison Duke: I wish there was peace on earth. I wish that people would be respected and that there would be human rights for all. And I think if there was human rights for all there would be peace on earth.
Avil Beckford: Complete the following, I am happy when…..
Alison Duke: I’m happy when I can make people smile and laugh.
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