Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

THE NEXT DAY Interview Series: Part 2, with Paul Peterson (Co-Writer)

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The Next Day Team

This continues an ongoing series of weekly interviews with the creative team behind the newly released graphic novella and forthcoming interactive animated documentary, The Next Day. Last week we spoke with Producer and Publisher, Alex Jansen, and this week we've interviewed the book's Co-Writer, Paul Peterson. Next we'll be speaking with Co-Writer and Interactive Director Jason Gilmore, and then we'll hear from illustrator and indie-comics pioneer John Porcellino ("Porcellino creates some of the most thoughtful, intelligent and beautiful comix in America" - Time Magazine).

The Next Day is both a groundbreaking print graphic novella and interactive animated documentary online, each constructed from intimate interviews with survivors of near-fatal suicide attempts. In this poetic and profound philosophical exploration, four seemingly ordinary people each offer haunting personal insight into life, the decision to end it and what comes after....

The graphic novella is produced and published by Pop Sandbox, the award-winning company behind KENK: A Graphic Portrait. It is available in May. The interactive experience is a co-production with the National Film Board of Canada in association with TVO as part of the NFB-TVO Calling Card Program. It will launch online at nfb.ca/thenextday and tvo.org/thenextday nearer early June. For more information visit www.thenextday.ca

OBT:

What sparked the initial idea to do a project built from interviews with people who'd attempted suicide and survived?

PP:

I've long worked with youth in crisis and survivors of abuse, so have seen the carnage suicide causes for everyone it touches. One day I was driving into a small town near my home and saw a truck abandoned against a railway line. It had been driven across a snowy field. I discovered later that it belonged to a neighbour of mine. He was driving impaired and the police gave chase. He was eventually caught and charged with impaired driving, driving without a licence and driving while suspended. It wasn’t his first offence so he was going to be going to jail. After he was processed at the police station he went home. By all reports he was still drunk. His wife had terminal cancer. He took a fatal overdose of her morphine, essentially orphaning his two young sons. I just couldn’t help but think what if he had waited one more day. What if he had sobered up? Would he still make the same decision? Eventually it struck me that there must be a lot of people who had waited that extra day, people who had made a different decision, or people who somehow got an extra day, and I wanted to share their stories with others who were essentially lost in that storm of despair.

OBT:

Both the book and interactive experience is built from actual documentary interviews with people who have attempted suicide and survived, correct?

PP:

That’s correct. Everyone had at least one near fatal attempt. For the safety of the participants we asked that their attempts be at least two years behind them.

OBT:

How did you go about finding the participants?

PP:

Our mental health adviser, Michelle DeIrish, distributed our call for participants with CMHA, CAMH and several other mental health agencies. We also had a small team that helped outreach to the general community, through libraries, community centers, message boards and the like. Two of our participants came from that stream. An article appeared in some local Kingston-area newspapers as well [where Paul Peterson resides], and two of our participants came as a result of those stories. Budget dictated that we had to restrict our shooting area to a four-hour radius from Toronto.

OBT:

It must have been incredibly difficult subject matter to broach. Tell me a little about how you approached the interviews and how things went.

PP:

We started with a general call for questions among the creative team; "What would you like to ask someone who has been through this?" I wanted to find what the commonalities of the experience were, so it was important to ask everyone the same thing. We came up with 20 questions that formed the basis of the initial interviews. I did a pre-interview with everyone just to get the overview of their stories and then we let them tell their stories. The focus was always to let it be their words, to not try and steer it or frame the shot.

The interviews were powerful and compelling. We did follow up interviews 7 months into the writing process. We chose to do these interviews with audio recording only, which allowed the participants to be far more relaxed without a camera, and updated where everyone was. I was constantly moved by how open these people were and how willing they were to delve into the darkest parts of their life with such openness and courage. They talked about their passion to share their stories and to reach others who were going through what they had experienced. It was humbling.

OBT:

What was the breakdown of roles between yourself and Jason Gilmore, your Co-Writer on the book?

PP:

I think our relationship developed organically as the project went on. Jason and I were the only ones present for the filming, to ensure it was a comfortable as possible for the participants, and it was helpful for me to get feedback from him at the end of the interviews because I would be lost in the material. He had a different objectivity from being behind the camera. We both felt the material was stand-alone great and that our job was to get out of the way of the participants telling their stories. I think Jason summed it up best; we were really editors. Their words were what mattered. So we summarized the material, which was difficult because this was their lives and it all brought them to that day. Once the map of their stories was done, and the structure of the book was in place, Jason drafted the script for John to illustrate, and the result is something that we’re all very proud of. I had such trust for Jason and his sensitivity to the material that it was a seamless transition.

This series of interviews will continue next week with The Next Day's Co-Writer and Interactive Director Jason Gilmore.

Images courtesy of Pop Sandbox. Please click on a thumbnail to start the image gallery.

For more information about The Next Day please visit the Pop Sandbox website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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