It’s not often that you jump from one high-profile television series to another, but that’s exactly what happened to Natalia Guled. She served as a writer’s assistant on Orphan Black before moving into the position of story editor during the award-winning sci-fi series’ last season. Then, just a short time later she had joined the Murdoch Mysteries’ writer’s room.
Guled’s first Murdoch writing credit was Monday’s latest episode, “21 Murdoch Street,” so we got her on the phone to talk about her experiences in the Canadian TV industry and what it’s been like working on two popular shows.
How did you get into television writing in the first place?
Natalia Guled: I graduated from university in 2014 with the intention of getting into TV. I pursued it on and off. I got into various incubators that were informal and crafted my skills through that. I eventually met enough people who began to give me some real insight into this industry and one of them, Deb Nathan, told me to take a screenwriting course, which I did. Deb really took to my work and from that point on championed me. With her recommendation, I got into the Writers Guild of Canada Bell Media Diverse Screenwriters Program. I developed a screenplay that [Murdoch Mysteries showrunner] Peter Mitchell read and he hired me based off that script.
What was the screenplay about?
It was a 1950s con drama set in Birmingham, Alabama. If was the first script where I really figured out how to write. That program really helped guide me and I’d recommend it to anyone. I did apply to the Canadian Film Centre twice in a row before and didn’t get in, and I received my second rejection letter when I was staffed on Orphan Black, which was my first job in the industry. Another mentor of mine is friends with Graeme Manson, the co-creator of Orphan Black, and recommended me for a job there, which I got. The moral of that story is it really comes down to who you know and who connects with your work because that’s all that really matters in this industry. It’s a social, cooperative and collaborative industry and the connections I made are rich.
Let’s talk about Orphan Black a bit. Was it a learning curve to join that show as a story editor?
Oh my god, it was unbelievable. [Laughs.] The writers on that show were in complete command of their craft. I remember the first day that I arrived at work as a writer’s assistant and doing an internship that blossomed into story editor, and it was like learning a new language. There is so much jargon used in the writer’s room and shortcuts that are needed to get a story broken and it was overwhelming. But it was so clear that of all the places to cut your teeth in the industry, that was a fantastic opportunity so I really took it seriously. I really connected with the writers in the room and spent every day trying to learn something new and contribute.
How did you go from Orphan Black to Murdoch Mysteries?
Deb Nathan put my name in the list of people for Pete to meet with. He read my script, we had a nice interview and he hired me. It was pretty fast and I was very surprised to get the job. It was really a dream to join Murdoch Mysteries and work with Pete, who is so calm and masterful a showrunner and running a room in general that it was an easy transition.
This is quite the episode to get your first writer’s credit on. Crabtree and John Brackenreid go undercover in a boy’s school, Nina and Watts were both back. A lot was going on in this episode. There were funny moments and shocking ones too, like when John punched his dad.
[Laughs.] Yeah, that was a great moment.
How did the gambling storyline come about?
That was something that was broken in the room. We knew that we wanted to do a play on 21 Jump Street. I had entered the room about a month after it had convened and the story had already been loosely broken and that it would be two kids who were missing and had been up to no good at the school. It came together quite quickly, it took about two days to break it, and then I took it away to write a beat sheet, get notes on that and then work on an outline.
You dealt with something that continues to be timely regardless of the setting: racism with regard to the Banerjee brothers.
They just wanted to give another layer to these characters. We wanted them to be up to no good but sympathetic at the same time. The idea of two guys who normally would have been ostracized figuring out a way to create a social connection to these boys through gambling was sort of interesting to the room. There was actually a deleted scene between Brackenreid and Mr. Banerjee where they are discussing what it means to be part of the empire. In that scene, Brackenreid is glad to be part of the empire and Mr. Banerjee is like, ‘I’m only part of the empire because I’m trying to learn the master’s tools and gain independence from my country.’ There was more to the story but we had to cut it for time, unfortunately. It was a depiction of what the Commonwealth was at the time and Canada was part of that, so was India and a lot of other nations around the world.
Watts questions John about why he’s a cop. Will John question his decision throughout this season?
I think it was something that we definitely wanted to explore. We’re interested in the concept of walking in your parent’s shoes and if you’re doing it for the right reasons. We’re definitely going to be seeing more of John and more of what it’s like to be cop John.
Let’s talk about Crabtree and how fantastic it was to have him not only be a professor but also to bring in Curse of the Pharaohs as the book to study.
That was a lot of fun and Jonny had fun with it too. He ad-libbed a lot of that. He will always deepen whatever is on the page with another layer of humour or serious moments like when John Brackenreid comes into the room where Crabtree is and is upset he was wrong about Moore. He says to John, ‘Your father would tell you this, as would Detective Murdoch: you’re wrong until you’re right.’ Jonny added that emotive, mentoring attitude to the line. He always makes a great choice and that’s actually the case with all of our actors on the show.
It’s tough to add to a storyline after 11 seasons, but the one Julia is currently on with regard to infertility has been really interesting so far.
That’s something everybody has been really excited about this year. We get to have a deeper depiction of this marriage for sure.
After a season on Murdoch Mysteries writer’s room, what’s your experience been like overall?
It’s such a specific and special room. We come in at 10 and we usually leave and 5 and somehow 18 episodes and a Christmas movie get made. We crack each other up … it’s been a really lovely process for sure and I’m going to miss everyone in the off-season.
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.
Images courtesy of CBC.