In the Spotlight: Jeff L. Burke
Jeff has tasted life. Both the sweetness and the sour of it. He isn’t afraid to reach out for his dream. Having done so, he’s learned that sometimes you need to pull back into a chrysalis and reform yourself and your craft into something greater. It takes someone evolved to admit when it is time to take their lives, their work, and their passions to the next level. Jeff has done that in spades which has led him to success. This is why I am so honored to introduce you to this brilliant screenwriter.
This is Jeff L. Burke…
I was raised on Cape Breton island, which is on the east coast of Canada. My writing began with a minor university newspaper, but my priorities shifted to joining the military full time at the age of 23 to support my family. After discovering the movie High Fidelity, Kevin Smith and Bruce Campbell in 2001, I wanted more. I discovered Monday Night Club in Edmonton where directors, actors and writers converged to create a short film, edited in camera and viewed at each meeting. I was hooked and went on to direct over 200 of these shorts.
My writing continued and I directed my first feature film “Fitz”, which was nominated for Best Alberta Feature Film in 2008. I continued with my G & G short film series, which was accepted into various festivals. Some personal matters held me back at the start of the decade, but I revived my writing in 2015 and have recently graduated from the UCLA Professional Program for Screenwriting. I’ve written over a dozen features, numerous shorts and looking at getting back behind the camera to do more producing and directing.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
My best friend told me about Kevin Smith after watching Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and discovering his View Askew universe. I also discovered Robert Rodriguez’s book Rebel Without a Crew, which was my first tutorial of what a script looked like.
Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
I think it was a break from who I was, of always following orders, being in the bind of paying the bills, living day to day, not experiencing life aside from responsibilities. I was 28 before I started writing and I wanted to do something different that wasn’t expected of me or even thought that I could do. It was different from what others around me, family or friends, were interested in.
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Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
There was no one who believed in me, nor did I seek for anyone’s support. It was meeting the people at Monday Night Club, who came from different backgrounds, choices, beliefs, that showed me a different lifestyle and I bonded with them in a way that I couldn’t with my military brothers and sisters or my own family.
Q: When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
To be honest, I did not truly commit, even after quitting jobs and having no plan to pay bills. I believe that when I received funding from Telefilm Canada in 2008 for my feature mockumentary that I decided to see if I could make it. I’m still striving for it and if I apply myself, then I believe I have the capability to achieve my goal of being represented and doing it for a living.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
Success is looking at a product I’ve created and knowing that I’ve done a good job with it. Some people will like it or leave it, but if I’m happy with it, then that’s good enough for me.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life.
I have a day job as an international purchaser for an oil & gas company. I try to squeeze in 1-2 pages during lunch in my office and depending on how busy my evening is, another couple pages. I watch a lot of films, see what is out there but also obscure films. Lots of coffee every day, listen to cinematic music, such as Hans Zimmer, for that extra mental push.
I’m a very nonchalant person on the outside and take everything easy. No rituals, no weird routines, just straight forward daily life. I can get up early and head to Starbucks and write before my days starts.
I believe heavily in outlining. I’ve come across those writers who write with no true plan and I believe it’s a terrible way to create a story. An outline is a path for the writer to follow and even if you deviate from it, you still know your endings, your character’s arcs/plans and most of all, if it’s a good story or just another generic film that no-one will buy.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
I’ve discovered several points along the way that have helped refine my writing. Ensuring conflict. The structure. Arcs and plans. But the biggest thing is originality. If my story is an original idea, that makes me want to write it. I don’t care if I sell it or if others like it. If I think it’s different from others, then I pursue that story and create it to stand out.
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
My own laziness and true ambition. I have a job that pays well and meets my needs. My drive to write is strong as well, however having pursued a solo writing career twice, I know how much it can hurt you financially and be hard on a relationship. Now, I’m at the point where I work the day job, keep writing, and wait until I have a script which is about to make it big and I am hired on full time as a writer.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?
On my wall are two certificates. One is my Certificate of Service from my twelve years in the military. Right below it is my UCLA Certificate for Screenwriting. Not many people in the world have these two things and I’m proud to be a veteran and a writer. Knowing that I’ve supported less fortunate people and that I can also write great stories is good enough for me.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
I love the different stories, hearing those ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of. Someone’s unique take on a situation and how they bring it to life is what I find interesting. If I can provide advice, even if its harsh but true, then that’s what I want to share.