Jennica Harper

JH PicInterviewed by Shaelyn Johnston

Jennica Harper hails from Brampton, Ontario, but now resides in Vancouver, BC, where she currently writes for the acclaimed CTV series, Motive. She has worked as a writer on such TV series as, Some Assembly Required (YTV), Shattered (Global), and Mr. Young (YTV/Disney XD), for which she won a 2013 Leo Award and was nominated for a 2014 Canadian Screen Award. Jennica also adapted a comic book, The Clockwork Girl, into an animated feature that was released in 2014.

In addition to writing for film and television, Jennica is also an accomplished poet whose books include, The Octopus and Other Poems, What It Feels Like For A Girl, and Wood. In 2014, Wood was nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, and her poem, “Linear Notes”, received the Silver National Magazine Award for poetry. Her poems have also appeared in literary journals across North America, as well as on buses and skytrains as part of Translink’s Poetry in Transit project.

As someone interested in writing for television, I reached out to Jennica via email with a few questions about the business and her career path. She provided great insight about what it’s like to write for Canadian television, and had some excellent advice for writers such as myself looking to break in to the industry.

You completed an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. Did you find it beneficial to your career?

I did. One of the best things about studying writing is you get used to receiving feedback from others, and figuring out what’s worth implementing, and how. While I don’t think any specific degree is necessary to becoming a screenwriter, I do think workshopping helps you learn to hit deadlines, develop perspective on your own material, and learn to rewrite.

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Carlos Algara

Photo by: Alejandro Seyffert.

Photo by: Alejandro Seyffert.

Interviewed by Tomas Nepomuceno.

Born in Mexico City, Carlos Algara is a rising filmmaker and screenwriter. During his undergraduate program he wrote, produced and directed his first short The Intruder, which screened in film festivals around the world. When he met fellow filmmaker Alejandro Martinez-Beltran, who became his friend and business associate, they started a production company called The Visualistas and produced El Firulete, based on a script that Algara wrote. This short made its way to major festivals including Warsaw and Raindance, and defined Algara as a passionate writer.

In 2012 he graduated from the Vancouver Film School with a degree in screenwriting and shortly after co-wrote a thriller screenplay entitled Veronica, which was optioned and is now being made into a feature film. That was Algara’s big debut into the feature world.

Currently writing for Sony Pictures Television, he is in the process of developing a TV series, which is scheduled to begin production in mid-2016.

Screenplays: how did that start? Do you remember the first time you thought, “I want to write a script”?

I wouldn’t say that I remember the exact moment, no. I always enjoyed writing and telling stories, ever since I was a little boy. Then, of course, came puberty, and with it, the strangeness of discovering who I was. And yes, I wrote cheesy, colorful poetry back then. And yes, my peers gave me a hard time for it. But it was back then that I discovered I actually had a passion and a calling for writing. And I mean writing in general. I also always loved films, so the screenplays came almost instinctively afterwards, starting with short films, and later on, with feature length screenplays.

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Anthony McCarten

TTOE_D05_ 02461Interviewed by David Geary

Anthony McCarten was nominated for two Academy Awards in 2015: one for best picture producer and one as writer of the adapted screenplay for The Theory of Everything. The film is based on Jane Hawkings’ book, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, about her first marriage to world-renowned physicist Professor Stephen Hawking. McCarten describes the story as about the love of physics and physics of love. The film was up for five Oscars in total (star Eddie Redmayne won for Best Actor), and this interview took place before the results were known.

McCarten is an all-rounder; an accomplished playwright, producer, screenwriter and novelist. His novels have been translated into 14 languages and have been finalists and award winners in both his homeland of New Zealand and internationally.

When asked for an interview about his career – from the wilds of New Zealand to the red carpet – he sent this link.

Your writing career started as a journalist?

No, at 17, I wanted to be a rock star. I had a Springsteen/Dylan/Neil Young/Tom Waits phase  (which is still on-going), and I cut a record. I wrote all the songs for the  album, did vocals and lead guitar. Oh, the folly of youth. I was wise enough to know that I sucked.  For a couple of years after that I was a journalist, the only one serving a small rural part of New Zealand. This served as my apprenticeship in writing on time for money to serve an audience. I got a free house, a car, and a cat. I was miserable. At some point I thought – Is that all there is? 

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Rob Ulin

Rob Ulin headshotInterviewed by Chloe Rose

Rob Ulin graduated from Harvard College in 1984, where he was an editor of the Harvard Lampoon.  He got his first job in show business writing for TV producer Norman Lear.  He went on to write for the Jim Henson-produced TV show Dinosaurs. and was later  head writer and executive producer for the hit comedy Roseanne.  He has also been a co-executive producer on Malcolm in the Middle and The Middle.

When I was five, I travelled to Los Angeles with my family to visit Rob Ulin—my Uncle Rob, who at that time was working on Malcolm in the Middle. Too young to understand the complicated machine that was a full-scale production, my most distinctive memory of that visit is of the famous “candy cupboard”: a room brimming with every candy bar in the known universe and reserved for the writing team on Malcolm. I was immediately convinced that writing was a worthy career.

Only years later would my passion for screenwriting grow beyond my love for skittles, and the questions I want to ask my Uncle Rob are no longer limited to “how many of these Starbursts can I take home with me?”

Based on your years of experience, what top five (or two or ten) pieces of advice would you have for someone looking to make a go of it as a screenwriter?

Look for valid, constructive criticism of your writing, and then don’t take it personally or be hurt by it.  Don’t give your screenplay to someone hoping they will just tell you how wonderful it is.  Give it with the hope that they will see something wrong that you didn’t notice that will open up your mind to new possibilities. 

Always be nice to people.

Learn everyone’s name.

Read your favourite screenplays or TV scripts and try to figure out why you like them so much.  It’s not just that they have the best jokes.  Map out the structure of your favourite scripts or shows.  Write scene-by-scene outlines of them.  You will be surprised at the ingenuity of the structure when it is laid out in front of you.

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Tetsuro Shigematsu

KamilaInterviewed by Kamila Sediego

Tetsuro Shigematsu has done almost everything. He is or once was: a playwright, a TV writer for CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and host of CBC Radio’s The Roundup. He has also worked as a stand up comedian, filmmaker, actor (once with George Takei), Huffington Post columnist, samurai descendent and in-house expert for the MTV/SpikeTV show, Deadliest Warrior, TedTalk presenter, and MC/host/presenter for numerous organizations, festivals, and events across Canada. He wrote his play, Rising Son, an autobiographical one-person show about his relationship with his father, when he was 23 and performed it in cities around the world. The sequel to that play, Empire of the Son will have its world premiere at The Cultch in October of 2015. He is a Vanier scholar and current PhD student at UBC, examining the intersection of race and social media.

Shigematsu also acts as the Artist-in-Residence for Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre, and was a member of the selection committee for 2015’s MSG Theatre Lab. It was through this opportunity that I got to meet Shigematsu. We talked over the phone about advice, some of the worries emerging writers face, and being an Asian-Canadian writer.

How did you begin this cross-genre career of yours?

I went to art school in college and did my undergrad in fine arts, but the feedback I continuously got from my profs was that the explanations I gave for my artwork were actually more successful than the art pieces themselves. In other words: my artwork wasn’t that good but I should keep talking. At my profs’ encouragement, in lieu of bringing in finished artwork, I would just talk about what happened with my family over the weekend.

Some of these stories were painful to share but I found it therapeutic. What was surprising was that my classmates were laughing a lot. Doing self-reportage and monologues about my personal life was the beginning of my particular practice. I didn’t have any intention of taking it further until I met the couple renting my sister’s place in Montreal. The man was Paul Dervis, who at the time was the artistic director of 21st Century Theatre. After hearing my artsy monologues he said to me, “I’ll tell you what. You’re Japanese. Let’s do a show about that.” That became Rising Son.

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Jason Rothenberg

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 9.20.57 AMInterviewed by Hannah van Dijk

Jason Rothenberg is a screenwriter and television producer, best known for developing the hit CW series “The Hundred,” the story of one hundred teenagers who are sent back to earth after a nuclear apocalypse drives the human race into space. Jason serves as both show runner and executive producer, splitting his time between the writing room and set.

Though he’s based in LA, I managed to catch Jason on set in Vancouver, during the filming of the show’s second season finale, only a few days after being renewed for a third season.

When we first meet, Jason is standing in the middle of video village, a collection of monitors and coveted canvas chairs, each bearing the show’s logo and a name. On one side of us is a simple bedroom filled with replica paintings – art preserved during the apocalypse – around which a handful of actors in full combat gear are rehearsing for their upcoming scene. Behind us the dining room, complete with plates of half eaten food, waits patiently for the final sequence that will be shot later this afternoon. If not for the network of electrical cords covering the floor, or the constant background noise of radio chatter, you might believe we really are standing in the heart of Mount Weather, a giant post-apocalyptic fortress and one of the show’s central locations this season. As a fan, I certainly want to.

It strikes me, as I follow Jason off set (the great stone walls sadly revealed to be nothing but plywood and steel cables on the outside), that everything in this world – the blood-soaked extras lined up for the washrooms, the wardrobe department full of skeleton hands and futuristic guerilla armor – has come out of Jason’s head.

During our interview and on set, Jason is remarkably friendly, telling stories and joking with the crew, putting me at ease almost immediately. Towards the end of the day he passes around an iPad displaying a fan’s recap of the most recent episode (which he reads and retweets most weeks). As the executive producer on set, he is constantly interacting with the actors and director, editing dialogue or making notes for post-production. But despite the rush of activity around him, he finds time in between takes to chat with me about his career as a writer and what it’s like to work in television today.

Tell us a little about how you got to where you are as a writer/creator in television.

I always knew I could write, like from the earliest school years. But I didn’t know how to have a job as a writer. I didn’t know what kind of writing I wanted to do. After I graduated, I literally came down to I was either going to write books or screenplays – I had never even read a screenplay before. I looked at them and the screenplay was this thick and the book was this thick, and I was like “Eh, I can write a screenplay more quickly.” Little did I know it’s like haiku, y’know? The length doesn’t make it any easier. So I started writing scripts, and I got lucky pretty quickly. My first script got me an agent, which almost never happens, and eventually it was optioned for no money, but it was a good calling card. Three hundred people in the industry read the script because of my agent and then—I had nothing else. No scripts, no other ideas, no idea what I wanted to write yet, I didn’t really have a voice as a writer. So my agent fired me – or “dropped” me – but that was okay, because then I started to work my way up.

Slowly but surely I got a job as an assistant to a producer, and I met people who were working, developing movies with him, and at some point I probably told one of them that I was a writer and he read something of mine and liked it. So this particular sleazy producer hired me to write a martial arts movie, which was weird because I knew nothing about martial arts. It didn’t matter because he said, “Just get to the fight scenes, and when you get to a fight scene just write fight scene, and we’ll figure it out.” So the script, instead of a hundred and ten pages – it was like 25 pages and 8 fight scenes. The movie never got made of course. But they paid me $8,000, which was a lot of money. Someone was paying me to write. That was kind of cool.

And then I met a guy who was a real legitimate producer. And he hired me to write something for another $8000, but it was a good story, and that script got me another agent and that ultimately found its way to Jodie Foster, and Jodie optioned it, and then developed it for a while and she decided to put it in what they call “turnaround.” I could resell it, essentially, and that script turned out to be my first sale as a screenwriter.

That was like – I don’t want to tell you how much money – I had like $60 in the bank and the next day I had sold a script for seven figures. It was a good day. I thought that that was it. I thought that that was the mountain. You know, I’d been climbing this mountain; it’d been six years from the day I landed in LA to that day. And I thought that was the dream you know? I was going to sell a script, I was going to be a working writer. I never thought I’d sell a script for that much money. Anyway I looked around and I was like “Now what?” And I realized there was just another mountain. I got to the top of this mountain, and I looked up, and oh my god, I still had so far to climb after that. And no one was giving me anything, so I still had to pitch and figure out what I wanted to do.

The script sale and that job were the beginning of fifteen years of nonstop work on huge movies. But nothing got made for those fifteen years. Not because the scripts weren’t good—some of these scripts I wrote I still think are good—but for one reason or another they just don’t happen.

I was making quite a lot of money doing that, because a screenwriter makes his money for the writing not for getting the shit made. So I was getting money, but I wasn’t getting anything shot. I didn’t know how to make a film, I didn’t know how to make a show. I didn’t know anything really.

And then I said okay, well, I’m going to start writing for television. And because I had that feature career I was able to just come right in to television as an executive producer, as someone pitching to the studios. They were interested in what I had to say because I had a name already in the feature side.

I got a pilot made five years ago, and then I wrote a couple that didn’t get made, for Warner Brothers, and then the book proposal of The Hundred came my way and obviously, now we’re going into season three.

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Roslyn Muir

roslynInterviewed by Jackson Runkle.

Roslyn Muir is a screenwriter, novelist, story editor, and teacher. She is an MFA graduate of the UBC Creative Writing program and has a BFA in Theatre from Simon Fraser University. She grew up enjoying science fiction and is the recipient of the prestigious Praxis screenplay award. She has recently produced a dram film, The Birdwatcher and has written two movies of the week, Anatomy of Deception and Reluctant Witness.

I wanted to interview Muir for three reasons: she has succeeded in writing screenplays in a variety of genres, she is currently developing more, and she manages to do all of this with a family while teaching aspiring screenwriters. That’s what I consider a triple threat. I was fortunate enough to sit down and interview her in person.

How did you become a screenwriter?

My background is really varied. In school I didn’t start out wanting to be a writer. I was really into theatre, and I wanted to be an actor. That’s what I did, I went to SFU and did a BFA in Theatre. I was a performer in both film and theatre. I did a bit of writing, I wrote some plays and performed in them myself. [Read more…]

Linda Svendsen

linda_book_photos-002Interviewed by Emily Swan

Linda Svendsen is an acclaimed Vancouver writer, leaving her mark on both fiction and television. Her story collection, Marine Life, was published by Farrar Straus and Giroux (U.S.), HarperCollinsCanada, and Residenz Verlag (as Happy Hour) in Germany. The stories appeared in the AtlanticSaturday NightO. Henry Prize StoriesBest Canadian Stories, literary magazines in the U.S. and The Norton Anthology of Short FictionMarine Life was nominated for the LA Times First Book Award, the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and produced as a Canadian feature film.

After her children arrived, Linda focused on television for almost two decades. With her husband, Brian McKeown, she co-produced and co-wrote the miniseries, Human Cargo, which garnered seven Gemini Awards, including Best Movie or Miniseries, Best Screenplay, and a George Foster Peabody Award. Other long-form writing credits include Murder Unveiled (with Brian McKeown), At The End of the Day: The Sue Rodriguez Story, and The Diviners, adapted from the Margaret Laurence novel. She has written episodes for Airwaves and These Arms of Mine. In 2006, she received the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.

Sussex Drive (Random House Canada, 2012), a satire exploring what happens when a Conservative Prime Minister’s wife and a leftish Governor General can no longer play “Follow the Leader,” is Linda’s most recent publication. It’s a novel.

Linda has been a faculty member in the Creative Writing Program at UBC since 1989. In her twenty-five years with the department, she has helped and inspired all manner of students looking to hone their own crafts. Having been inspired by Linda myself, I reached out to her over email to learn more about her journey with writing.

How were you originally drawn to a career in writing? I know (from extensive, online stalking) that you attended classes in creative writing while pursuing your BFA in English. Was this what first attracted you to the field?

In Grade 2 and 3, I became hungry to read and write. I was an only child and on Saturdays my father would have visitation rights for the day and he took me to bookstores and he bought me as many books as I wanted. I started a sequel to Tom Sawyer. I wrote the start of a Bobbsey Twins mystery…and I wrote through high school and have never looked back. I lie. Except for a few detours into acting, anthropology, and codependency, all of which became grist for the mill. [Read more…]