Meet Writer, Showrunner and #FromOurDarkSide Story Mentor Dennis Heaton

Dennis Heaton. Photo by Peter Mohan

Dennis Heaton. Photo by Peter Mohan

If you crave to discuss your genre film with a top-notch writer, now’s the chance. Showrunner and writer Dennis Heaton (Motive, Call Me Fitz, Fido) has confirmed he’ll join the #FromOurDarkSide mentor pool again in Season 2. Heaton mentored 2015 recipient Kate Lingley on the first draft of her screenplay In The Same Vein.

Heaton received 2015 Canadian Screen Award Nominations for Best Canadian Drama and Most Watched Canadian Drama for Motive. He also won two 2015 Leo Awards for Best Dramatic Series (Motive) and Best Writing for Animation (Nerds and Monsters). He has two prior CSA nominations in 2014 for Best Dramatic Series Motive) and Best Comedy Series (, Call Me Fitz), with Fitz winning the category.

MotiveHeaton also has four Gemini nominations, four Canadian Screenwriting Award nominations, winning for his Yvon of the Yukon script “The Trouble With Mammoths”, and nine Leo Award nominations, winning for his Being Ian script “The Greatest Story Never Told” and his Call Me Fitz script “Fucking Memories”.

Heaton’s web series My Pal Satan, won best web series and theme song at the New York Television Festival. His short film Head Shot premiered in competition at the Berlin International Film Festival, won best Canadian short film at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, and went on to play in film festivals and on television around the world.

Heaton lives in Vancouver with a dog that likes him all the time and a wife that likes him most of the time. He spoke with us about what genre means to him.

fido_xlgWhy is genre important?
Genre is the ultimate in escapism. It’s like a vacation from reality. Whether it’s a movie, a comic or book, stories that take us away on epic adventures or to the edge of sanity provide us with an opportunity to dream while awake.

How did you get started in genre?
My start in genre is probably watching King Kong as a child on TV and wanting to visit Skull Island. It also helped that my father loved genre films (something my mother wasn’t nearly as interested in) so I became his de facto movie companion. I can remember him signing me into restricted movies as a child and seeing films like The Howling and The Shining. After that it was the Friday night horror movies and then the Saturday afternoon science fiction classics. By the time I was in high school, Famous Monsters Of Filmland and Fangoria were fueling my interest in horror and science fiction until home video exploded, and I was able to see anything (or so it seemed). If you follow the adage “write what you know,” I knew horror and science fiction.

Why do you stay with genre?
I continue to write genre because it’s a blast. It’s at once restrictive and extremely freeing, as long as you obey the rules of the genre — and often those rules are ones you set out for yourself. After that, the sky’s the limit in terms of where the story can go.

One of my writing mentors once told me “obey the rules of your magic.” He meant that if you were going to do vampires, make sure you stayed consistent to your rules: if you want your vampires to be day-walkers, that’s fine, just don’t suddenly have them turn to dust for no apparent reason.

I also think that genre fits naturally with many of the recurring themes in my writing, making it a deep well for me to visit for inspiration.

As I got older, I began to realize that there is a greater connection between crime and horror then I’d originally thought. The monsters in crime are merely amoral humans. From there, writing crime fiction, especially stories about killers, became a natural extension.

Why are you involved with this contest?
Rachel Talalay, who is both a friend and a filmmaker I have a huge amount of admiration for, contacted me about the program and their need for story editors/advisors for the contestants. Having benefitted from several mentors in the early stages of my career, I know how important it is for the fresh talent to get access to and information from the more experienced members of our industry. The fact that the contest focuses on the genres that I naturally love ultimately made this a no-brainer for me.

FitzWho are some of the filmmakers or artists who inspire you?
Man, that’s a list that could go on for days: Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí, Francis Bacon, David Cronenberg, George A. Romero, Gail Anne Hurd, Melissa Mathison, Donald E. Westlake, James Ellroy, Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, JK Rowling, Lucio Fulci, Sergio Leone, Fritz Lang… they’re all part of the inspiration pool.

Thank you for the conversation!

Q&A by Katja De Bock

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