- Annette Dawm
Finding The Way with Daniel Dor
Daniel Dor (sometimes credited as Daniel D’Or) is the executive producer/director of Mr. Nelson on the North Side. It is a documentary about Prince and his community in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as well as the community of fans that he cultivated throughout his career. Daniel explored the questions, “Who inspired Prince?”, “Who did Prince inspire?” and “Why were people so deeply connected to him?”
The film itself is narrated by actor, Keith David, but it is also told through interviews with prominent figures from Prince’s childhood, including his music teacher and family friends. A number of fans were also asked about their interactions with Prince online and in his home at Paisley Park. Featured celebrities include, Macy Gray, (who also contributed to the film score) Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Chaka Khan and several others.
“Chaka knew Prince since he was a kid and they toured and performed together. So I knew I was going to get authenticity from her. There wasn’t an agenda….” Daniel explained. “She was very genuine, very down to earth, and said here’s the way it was.”
Although the production crew was unable to secure the rights to use Prince’s music, Dor stated, “The film has been vetted by the lawyers for errors and omissions. The film is legal and the estate has given us a letter to only avoid licensed music.” That being said, he acknowledged that there is still a risk involved with releasing it, "because anyone can come after you about anything” in terms of copyright issues. However, as a filmmaker, he stressed that he is very familiar with the legal system and what can and cannot be used in the production:
“I’m just one little guy. All I can do is say, ‘Here’s a story that hasn’t been told of a loving man and he shared his love with so many people. That’s it. That’s what I’m doing! So I’m happy with what I did because it changed me. I’m a completely different person now having done this project. It was the best and the worst time of my life living in Prince’s footsteps for the last three years.” Dor added that he struggled emotionally while trying to complete the movie.
Daniel attended Humber College in Toronto: “I went to Humber for Creative Cinematography and I ended up making dozens of movies and feature films and travelling around the world. I was going to beautiful places and it was really exciting. But there’s also—like anything—there’s a downside to it too. The film industry is quite notorious. There are a lot of not-so-nice people in it and I don’t have very thick skin. So I was an easy target for people to beat me up, but I still was able to put deals together and make movies…."
"My background, right out of school was making feature films and TV shows. I was actually working at CityTV. So I was involved in MTV and MuchMusic and all that stuff—but for the most part, when I started producing, I was making action pictures about blowing up buildings and car chases and gun fights…. That’s what [the] market wanted. Action pictures translated into other languages easily, as opposed to comedy. What may be funny to us is not funny in another language. So comedy doesn’t always translate. That’s why action has always been kind of a hot seller. That wasn’t my heart. That wasn’t what I wanted to do…. Now, I will only do things that I want to make. I’m not doing it for money or from somebody else’s hiring of me. I need to do it because of me.”
“What I really advise creative people to do is just to create. We all strive to hit the big time. At least in my day and age, we had to learn all of the equipment because it was all physically on film. We had a lot of physical restrictions to be able to put things into motion picture. Now motion picture is equally creative and it’s on my phone. Just go out and create. Create a story…. Often times, you get caught up in the shooting and the technicalities, but not always the story line or the content…. You have to affect the viewer’s heart. I mean that literally. I learned a long time ago that, as crazy as this sounds, it’s a visceral reaction to films. So why do people go see horror movies? Because they want that adrenaline and to be scared. Why do people watch romantic comedies? Because they want to feel good and romantic and in love…. The idea is, no matter what, raise that person’s heart rate so that they’re emotionally and physically affected by it.” Additionally, Dor encouraged new filmmakers to actually learn about the business side of the film and television industry and to apply for government grants.
“I did come down with cancer a short while ago,” he continued, “and I just decided that as a legacy, I should be at least doing something that gives back. So, every project that I do now has got to give back to an individual or a community, or it has to do something. Otherwise, I feel like I’m not accomplishing anything.” Earlier in his career, Dor worked on a show called Fraud Squad TV which created awareness about various scams that would often target the elderly population.
“Then I did one to help teens (Teens 101) with their issues—depression, anxiety, body image, addiction, etc. ….So I felt really, really good about that, especially having been through COVID and with so many teens living with that kind of depression. When the Prince film came along, I really tried to realize what the film was, and doing a biography on Prince was not necessarily something I would have normally done. I didn’t really do music docs, but as I started getting into the Prince story, I started to realize how incredible this person was…. He was very kind and generous and supported so many people without ever wanting it to be publicized.”
Initially, Daniel was approached by two first-time producers who wanted to make their own Prince documentary. “I asked them whether they had rights to the music and the rights to the estate, of course.” Daniel explained that he had been misled and ultimately, “….they couldn’t get access to music. So it was kind of futile. How do you make a movie about Picasso without showing his paintings? I just don’t know how you do that. So I kind of gave up, but when I started researching this and putting this together, I connected with fans. The fans were unlike anything I had seen before! There was this deep connection to Prince that I couldn’t understand."
Dor had an awareness of who Prince was, but he admitted, "I never really fell into his music the way that his fans have. I was really surprised. Like, why is there such a deep, deep connection? He had passed [away] so I thought maybe it was just because he was gone, and that wasn’t the case at all.... The more I got into it, I started becoming overwhelmed with this guy and what he had done because of what the fans were telling me.... If you get into a room with fans or start talking about Prince… you become family, you’re connected and support each other. That was so beautiful to me. I wanted to carry it further. ”
Perhaps due to Prince’s openness about his sexuality and his androgynous appearance, countless people related to the artist and his “come as you are” attitude. Once Daniel continued to interact with more of Prince's followers, he said that a majority of them told him, “Prince’s philosophies saved my life”.
Dor recalled how he connected with one fan in particular who happened to be gay. “He’s an older gentleman now, but at that time, being gay in the Mid-West was really frowned upon. His father was a truck driver and macho or whatever. He probably thought he’d be killed by his father and I think he was suicidal at the time….” But after hearing Prince “and that philosophy that it’s okay to be who you are, no matter what”, Dor expressed that it gave the fan strength to come out of the closet and be proud of it.
One of the projects that Prince was heavily involved in throughout his life was The Way, a community centre. Similar to programs like The YMCA, The Way provided Prince with access to musical instruments and education as a child. According to the film, The Way was established during The Civil Rights Movement as a safe place for African American children. The Way was short for “the way out” or “the way to a new day”. The community centre ran from 1966-1985. Apparently Prince had intentions of re-opening or re-building it before his death. Unfortunately that never took place. The director of The Way, Henry “Spike” Moss was interviewed for the film. Moss remembered that at the time of Prince’s passing, no one inquired about The Way or Prince’s upbringing in the music program. So for many people watching, this will likely be all new information.
As one might expect, there are tons of purple visuals in the film. The team used contributions from artists like Daniel Bruson of Brazil to create vivid animations. Many of them started out as water colour paintings. Dor described how the artwork looks relatively easy to make, “but it’s really not. It’s sort of like cell animation…. Each frame has to be a whole new painting…. So much of the artwork in the film was done by hand and I love that….”
Previously, fans had access to Mr. Nelson on the North Side during an online pre-screening event in April. Daniel Dor was “blown away” by the amount of supportive comments he received on social media. Some viewers even shared that it helped them grieve their favourite music icon. With regards to what’s next for Dor, he mentioned that he would like to continue connecting with Prince fans via Zoom and other platforms. Additionally, he intends to release over 70 hours of interview footage online. Lastly, he hopes for The Way to be re-built in the future.
Mr. Nelson on the North Side premieres on September 25, 2021 on the film’s website. Proceeds from ticket sales will support two charities in Minneapolis which will help give under-privileged children access to musical instruments and instructors—similar to what Prince experienced at The Way. For more information, you can also visit the film’s Instagram and Facebook pages.
Photo courtesy of Daniel Dor.