Astrid & Lilly’s Alix Markman: “I’ve always really been drawn to what I would term horror-adjacent”

I first met Alix Markman when we were both helping spread the word about the Toronto Screenwriting Conference. Since then, I’ve kept tabs on her career, which has included working as a story coordinator for the tween series The Next Step, script coordinator for the animated Go Away, Unicorn!, writer for the video game Gotham Knights and, most recently, executive story editor for Astrid & Lilly Save the World.

Airing Wednesdays at 10 p.m. Eastern on CTV Sci-Fi, Astrid & Lilly Save the World—about high school friends Astrid (Jana Morrison), Lilly (Samantha Aucoin), monsters and a portal to another dimension—is the perfect fit for Markman. With Wednesday’s new episode credited to her, we spoke to Alix about her career so far.

In your bio, you say there’s a fine line between horror and comedy and that’s exactly where you feel most at home. Did you grow up really liking humour and horror, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
Alix Markman: Very much so, I’ve always really been drawn to what I would term horror-adjacent. So think The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline and very much Buffy. Those types of things that really draw on the horror canon and are in a lot of ways, a love letter to the horror canon, but not traditional horror in and of themselves.

And then getting older, I was very drawn to things like Guillermo del Toro works and stuff like that. Again, very dark. Dark themes with almost a lighter access point.

At what point did you say, ‘OK, I want to do this for a living.’ Was there a light bulb moment?
AM: Sort of. It sounds deeply cliché, but I always wanted to be a writer. I knew from the time I knew what a job was that I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t know what type of writer. When I was quite young, I thought I would write books, I might be a novelist. And again, still in that sort of realm, growing up, I really loved fantasy and stuff, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter. I mean, I still love all these things.

And then when I was sort of a middle schooler, tween age, I got really into theatre and performing arts, so I thought I might be a playwright/performer. I kind of lost interest in performing, but never in the writing aspect. I was a theatre kid at the time when the movie musical was really making its comeback, Chicago and Dreamgirls and Rent and Hairspray.

I became very interested in what made a movie musical click. Why were some of these so successful, like Chicago? And why were some of these not quite as successful in their translation to the big screen? I went to the library, and it turns out there are no books about writing movie musicals—super rude—but there are tons of books about screenwriting. So I just picked up a bunch of screenwriting books and started reading about it. I really, really fell in love with the form. I just devoured these books and I started watching movies and doing breakdowns. I was like 14. I just completely fell in love with screenwriting as a craft. I thought I would primarily write films. And then, when I was about 15 or 16, my best friend sat me down. She told me, ‘OK, there’s this really weird show, but I absolutely love it. And I think if you give it a real shot, you’re going to love it too. We have to watch it. It’s called Buffy the Vampire Slayer.‘ She had the box set and we started watching it. That was my aha moment. I went, ‘Oh yeah. That, that is exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life.’

Astrid (Jana Morrison) and Lilly (Samantha Aucoin)

Writing a play or movie seems to be a solitary existence, as opposed to a TV show. Do you enjoy the collaborative aspect of writing TV?
AM: I love the collaborative aspect of it. Screenwriting, and writing for television in particular, has really circumvented that because you always have a team and if you are stuck on something, you can bring it to the room and say, ‘You know what? This scene worked on the board, but it’s just not working on the page. Let’s talk it out.’ And then in return, you get to be that person for other people. It’s really rewarding. And as much as we would all love to believe that we’re perfect writers, no, no, we’re not whatsoever. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.

A really good room will take that into account. And maybe one person really excels at dialogue. No matter what they can put it in these characters’ voices, and maybe one person really excels at structure, no matter what kind of story you’re trying to tell, they know exactly where each of the beats need to fall. And then maybe one person is really good at mythology. But in the best writer’s room, it develops into this sort of synergy that is just really, really rewarding to be a part of. And it makes you a better writer to work with better writers. I feel like that is very important. I think a lot of young writers are sometimes intimidated by the idea of working with other people.

You could read every screenwriting book in the world, you could take every screenwriting class available to you and nothing can mimic the experience of being in the room and collaborating with those other people.

You’re on Astrid & Lilly as an executive story editor. What does that title entail?
AM: In Canadian live-action, story editor is essentially synonymous with ‘writer.’ You’re part of a team, the writers’ room, where you collaborate with the other writers on the project to pitch ideas, break stories, and solve problems in order to support and ultimately execute the showrunner’s creative vision on the page. You also read every draft of each script and offer feedback in collaboration with the rest of the writers’ room to make each episode the best it can possibly be.

The show has gotten rave reviews in outlets like Time, particularly about its casting and diversity in front of and behind the camera.
AM: It’s been surreal. I feel like this show was tailor-made for me in a lab somewhere. I remember reading the pilot prior to my meeting with [co-creators] Noelle [Stehman] and Betsy [Van Stone] and just thinking, ‘God, what do I have to do to get this job?’

In that first meeting with Betsy and Noelle, they told me how important it was for them to have diversity, both in the cast and the crew and the creative. So to hear that from the beginning, I just knew I had to be a part of this. The Time magazine article in particular really blew me away. And of course, to see the comparisons to Buffy, which is such a monumental show for me as an artist and as a person, it’s truly been incredible.

Astrid & Lilly Save the World airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on CTV Sci-Fi Channel.

Featured image from Alix Markman. Astrid & Lilly image courtesy of Bell Media.