In a funny, lively ceremony held this evening at Koerner Hall in Toronto, the winners of the 27th annual Writers Guild of Canada Screenwriting Awards were announced. The first in-person WGC Awards ceremony since 2019 (due to COVID-19 precautions), tonight’s gala brought together hundreds of Guild members, industry professionals, and fans—all in celebration of the Canadian screenwriters behind the programming and films viewers enjoy in Canada and around the world.
Some winners of 2023’s top prizes include Clement Virgo (Brother), Marsha Greene (The Porter, pictured above), Kurt Smeaton (Children Ruin Everything), Jason Sherman (My Tree), and Veronika Paz (Astrid & Lilly Save the World). Special awards were also presented to Laura Good, winner of the Sondra Kelly Award, and Adrian Morphy, who was awarded the Jim Burt Screenwriting Prize for his script The 300 Year Old Man. Susin Nielsen, creator and showrunner of Family Law, received the Showrunner Award—the prestigious final prize of the event.
The ceremony was hosted by Vance Banzo, a Saulteaux/Cree comedian, actor, writer, and member of award-winning sketch comedy troupe and series TallBoyz. Awards were presented on stage by showrunner Anthony Q. Farrell (Shelved, Run the Burbs); actress Paloma Nuñez (Shelved); actress and screenwriter Emma Campbell (The Next Step); writer/actor/producer Amanda Joy (Son of a Critch, Amelia Parker); showrunner Emily Andras (Wynonna Earp); writer and producer JP Larocque (Sort Of, JANN); actor and screenwriter Sugith Varughese (Transplant, Fraggle Rock); Amir Kahnamouee (previous WGC Jim Burt Prize winner); and screenwriter and producer Ken Craw (Heartland).
2023 WGC SCREENWRITING AWARDS WINNERS
CHILDREN’S The Guava Juice Show, “Adventure 9000″ Written by Christine Mitchell
COMEDY SERIES Children Ruin Everything, “Road Trips” Written by Kurt Smeaton
DOCUMENTARY My Tree, Written by Jason Sherman
DRAMA SERIES The Porter, “Episode 104” Written by Marsha Greene (pictured above)
FEATURE FILM Brother, Written by Clement Virgo
MOW & MINISERIES Written in the Stars, Written by David Elver
PRESCHOOL Dino Ranch, “Wings Over Dino Ranch” Written by Ben Joseph & Mike D’Ascenzo
SHORTS Second Life, Written by Darrin Rose
TWEENS & TEENS Astrid & Lilly Save the World, “One Rib” Written by Veronika Paz
JIM BURT SCREENWRITING PRIZE Adrian Morphy for The 300 Year Old Man
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.’
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.
Director Jill Carter has had a wide and varied career. She’s been behind the camera on Beauty and the Beast, Private Eyes, Spiral, Heartland, Murdoch Mysteries and The Murders. But her latest gig, on Astrid & Lilly Save the World, might be the most interesting and well-received so far.
Airing Wednesdays on CTV Sci-Fi Channel, media on both sides of the border have been universal in its praise for Astrid & Lilly Save the World, celebrating its cast—led by Jana Morrison (Astrid) and Samantha Aucoin (Lilly)—co-creators Noelle Stehman and Betsy Van Stone, and plot. Combining the horrors of high school with monsters, a portal to another dimension, humour and regular-looking characters has drawn comparisons to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but Astrid & Lilly is definitely a unique beast.
We spoke to Jill Carter about joining the show, her cast and what goes into creating the world Astrid and Lilly are in.
The last Newfoundland-shot supernatural series I loved was Surreal Estate, which was, sadly, cancelled. I’m thinking that Astrid & Lilly Save the World is going to fill that hole. I really enjoyed the first episode. Jill Carter: Thanks! We definitely had fun making it. I had been to Newfoundland but hadn’t worked there. It was a really wonderful experience and obviously a very beautiful province.
Actors audition for a project. How does it work for a director on something like this? JC: I have an agent in the U.S. and an agent in Canada, and they have a pulse on everything that’s happening, either that’s already in production or things that are coming into production or in development. They will either pitch their directors or writers or whoever before there’s a call. There are variables that can go into how you are pitched a project or how they pitch directors on a project.
And then they just go through the rounds of meeting who they think might be the type of person that could deliver the type of show that they are looking to deliver, and also might bring some new ideas to the table. They were meeting with people and my agent pitched me and they liked the idea and, I think, the fact that I had just done the opening two episodes of The Bold Type.
I was sent the first two scripts, the ones that I ended up directing, and the show bible. Immediately, on the first three pages in, I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is so fun.’ Their writing was so clear, there was a clear POV and you really immediately understood who these people were, the dynamics of the characters and what was happening.
It was so nice to read something that was so strong and had a clear perspective and was also highlighting things that all of us as human beings have been in high school. It doesn’t even happen to happen in high school these days, where we haven’t felt like we’ve been able to be our full selves. We’re judged unfairly or we aren’t able to fully be the unique people that we are for a multitude of reasons. I think it’s a throwback or a fun trip down memory lane.
The show is built on that friendship and they’re very unique girls. Their friendship is so important to what makes the show relatable. I was very charmed by what I was reading and the ideas that were being put forth and then getting to play in a dimension that I actually hadn’t had.
Other than Beauty and the Beast, I hadn’t really done a lot of work in that area. It was fun to have the opportunity to play with prosthetics and visual effects in that way and create a fun language around it.
Being the director of the pilot episode, there’s that added responsibility of helping to build this world using colour. I’m imagining it must be a collaborative process between yourself, your cinematographer and the two co-creators as well. JC: That idea was something I pitched when I was interviewing. It was a thought that came to me as I was reading the material and trying to figure out what would I want to see. Being a teenager is such an emotional time in your life, navigating feelings, and the colour wheel kind of popped into my head. I started thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have each monster, because of the nature of how the monsters were being presented, and how they were capturing their prey?’
They were going after people that they wanted to ultimately kill. Our first monster preys on people’s sadness, so what does that look like in a colour and how can you subtly infuse the story and make it stronger without hitting people over the head? Working with Betsy Van Stone, [producers] Danishka Esterhazy and Samantha Levine and Anne Tipper, our cinematographer, our production designer, Helen Kotsonis … working with the key creatives to say, ‘OK, this is the idea, this is what we want to do.’
Is this a first for you, working with key creatives who are all female? JC: It’s definitely up there. I think this is the first show where we’ve had non-binary and women in every key position.
Both the leads are relative newcomers to the industry. What was it like working with Jana and Samantha? JC: I cannot say enough good things about both of the girls. Day in and day out they blew me away. On Day 1 we had a big steady cam scene that was covering two, three pages through the hallways of the school. I was literally saying, especially to Sam, because she’d never done this before. I’d be asking her to do these things and talking to her, and she was unbelievably natural. I actually don’t know that I’ve ever worked with an actor who was that natural.
They were lovely, lovely human beings, very open, very curious, unbelievably prepared.
Astrid & Lilly has been positively reviewed by Canadian and U.S. media. That must be gratifying. JC: It’s really exciting. I love the fact that despite the fact that the girls are struggling in high school and trying to figure out how to fit in, one of the things that are so amazing is that they really do like themselves. Everybody has moments of insecurity, but they really are genuinely who they are and you don’t meet characters like that very often. I don’t feel like their struggles are presented in a stereotypical way. It’s very positive messaging that the show puts forward.
Astrid & Lilly Save the World airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. Eastern on CTV Sci-Fi.