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Vancouver Writing Seminar with Larry Kaplow (House, Body of Proof)

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Before TV, eh?, I wrote about television for other sites. American television (gasp) for American sites. That’s how I learned that I wasn’t learning about homegrown shows and a website was born. At the time I was writing an awful lot about House, so really you could credit an American show created by a Canadian for the existence of this website dedicated to Canadian TV. If you want to ignore a lot of other factors.

My first interview with a TV writer was with Larry Kaplow, who had just written House’s second-season episode “Autopsy,” which went on to win the Writers Guild of America Award for episodic drama. And as one of the House producers he would later be nominated for a few Emmy Awards for best drama. I take all the credit.

He’d also go on to be a friend who allows me insight into the creative process of writing for television, a warts-to-wonders view I hadn’t seen clearly from simply researching and reviewing books on the subject.

When he was giving a week-long writing seminar in Kiev, Ukraine recently (after talks at USC, NYU, Duke, Johns Hopkins, and the National Association of Broadcasters, among others), I took advantage of our friendship and his jetlag to ask him to conduct a one-day seminar in Vancouver on May 6. Aimed at aspiring and emerging TV writers, it’s for people who, unlike me, can put his hard-won experience into practice.

“I’ll show people how to do it, how to write for television in the real world,” he told me about the seminar, which will cover topics such as breaking in, pitching, story structure, the writing room, dealing with notes, writing for production, and the development process. “There are a ton of great books out there. Best of luck to you. I only understand them now because I’ve spent the past however many years doing it.”

That however many years started with assistant gigs on Clueless and Chicago Hope before writing for Family Law, Hack, House and Body of Proof as well as developing his own projects.

He explained his glamorous path to show business: “I went to undergrad for English, grad school for creative writing, then wrote a shitty novel and a bunch of scripts that got options, then I got lunch for writers on the lowest-rated show in the business, then a kindly upper-level writer named Marjorie David basically begged David Shore (Canadian) and Stephen Nathan (not Canadian) [editor’s note: but who now works with Hart Hanson (Canadian)] to hire me as a researcher. I worked my ass off for Paul Haggis (Canadian) and I got my first script, and miracles of miracles I’m still here writing.”

“Passion and commitment are everything — because if you’re willing to let things go, then you’re not right for this business. And believe me, this is something I still have to learn.” In fact, he cites the most important thing he’s learned over his career as “I’m here to learn.” (He’s also here to teach; he’ll be giving a couple of class talks at local schools while he’s in Vancouver.)

His advice to aspiring writers? “If it’s what you want to do, don’t give up. That ‘if’ isn’t a small thing. If it’s REALLY what you want to do, you won’t care who you are in the business, because the business is telling stories. And if you can be a part of that in any way, how cool is that? I never thought I was going to write TV. Never. And yet here I am, courtesy of kindly giants — several of them Canadian.”

As for what he wants to get out of his time in Vancouver, that would be “to meet the mad and interesting, of course. Is there anything else?” With the Stanley Cup playoffs we’ve got mad covered, no question. So come on Vancouver, let’s bring the interesting.

Seminar Details

TV, eh? presents a one-day seminar on Writing for TV with WGA Award winning, Emmy nominated Larry Kaplow (House, Body of Proof), at Vancouver’s Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue, Simon Fraser University.

Aspiring and emerging writers will learn practical information on breaking in, pitching, story structure, the writing room, dealing with notes, writing for production, as well as the development process for their own work.

Where:
420 Strategy Room
Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue, Simon Fraser University
580 West Hastings Street, Vancouver

When:
Sunday, May 6, 2012
9 am – 5 pm

Cost:
$250 + HST, including lunch

For more information and to register:
www.tv-eh.com/events
diane@tv-eh.com

778-230-1587

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WGC Award nominee Matt Watts on Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays’ “Bridges”

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Leading up to the Writers Guild of Canada awards on April 23, TV, eh? is posting a series of interviews with some of nominees. Matt Watts was nominated in the Comedy category for the “Bridges” episode of Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays.

Can you describe the episode, and how it fit into the Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays season?

“Episode 5: Bridges” is the first episode where the season arc really kicks in. At the beginning of the episode, David realizes that he’s allowed his patient, Michael, to become too dependent on him and tries to make the relationship more professional by putting some distance between them. As a result, Michael feels he’s being pushed away, and reacts badly. This forces David to tell Michael the big truth: that he’s been writing a book about him without his knowledge or consent. It’s a huge turning point in the season.

What about this episode are you particularly proud of?

It went through so many drafts. For a brief period, the script was about clothing, and Michael’s inability to remove his hoodie and toque (to tie in more with the b-plot where Michael and Claire are having sexual difficulties) and the exposure scenes had Michael and David in a crowded bar wearing short-shorts. No, really.

There’s so much going on in that episode, I didn’t think we’d be able to pull it off – but we did (Allison MacLean did an amazing job directing it) and we were all involved in it. Don (McKellar) oversaw everything, Bob (Martin) did a pass on it before I did my final pass (and then went back to Bob for the production drafts – as do all the scripts) and it ultimately turned out to be one of my favourite episodes of the season. So yeah, I’m proud of that… That we pulled it off. Although my name is on this script, it was a group effort, it was a monster.

What does this recognition mean to you?

I’ve had such a crazy, fortunate career, meeting these guys when I was really young. They took me under their wing when I was 20 and have included me in so many of their projects, but this is the first time I’ve had a “written by” credit on one of them. It means a lot to me, but it also means a lot to Bob and Don; they’ve told me they’re really proud of me, and this nomination. So that means the world. It’s been a long time that I’ve been vying for their approval. Whether I win or not, I have it. Now I can die.

And finally (imagine my best Joan Rivers impression): what will you be wearing to the ceremony?

Whatever I wear it’ll have to look decent no matter how much alcohol is spilled on it.

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Endgame & Heartland actor Torrance Coombs on the business of deception and those eyes

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With roles in jPod, Heartland, The Tudors and Endgame, Vancouver actor Torrance Coombs has become a familiar face — with stunningly recognizable eyes — in the Canadian television industry. He answered TV, eh?‘s questions about his career, his Internet following, and the chaos of pilot season in Los Angeles.

I’ll start with the hard-hitting question — did that cool actorly name destine you to be an actor? Assuming not, though, how did you get into acting?

I was actually going to be named Tory, but my mom thought I should have a more formal sounding name in case I got into politics. That didn’t happen. Although I guess acting is somewhat like politics. We’re all in the business of deception.

I got into acting through school choir, doing a couple of musicals. But I didn’t really start to take it seriously until Sally, my high school drama teacher, recruited me for the theatre company. I really connected to the other weirdos in the program and found a real passion for it during long rehearsals. I ended up in theatre school in university and now here I am.

With jPod, Heartland, The Tudors and Endgame you’ve had some diverse roles. What do you think your strengths are as an actor?

Let’s be honest here, I owe an awful lot to my eyes. They’re a feature that allows me to stand out in a group of relatively comparable actors. My other biggest strength I’d say is my diversity. I’ve played geeks, bad boys, cowboys, rapists, murderers. Sexy and unsexy. On the one hand it’s an advantage, because I’m in the mix for a lot of different roles. On the other hand, I think it takes a little longer for a guy like me to establish an identity, because I’m not the guy who immediately springs to mind for any one particular type of role.

What’s been a career highlight so far?

jPod was an early highlight. Most of the cast of that show are still dear friends of mine. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard so consistently in my life as I did on that set every day. The Tudors was another highlight, and in every sense has changed my life. It’s the meatiest role I’ve had the chance to play. It’s also pretty hard to beat shooting on location in Ireland. I really felt a connection to the country and the people there.

jPod had a devoted online following, as well as Endgame, which gained new fans through Hulu. How does that kind of Internet fan base help a show?

The jury’s still out on how much it’s helped either of those shows. But from my perspective, it’s a great way to connect with the audience. TV lacks the immediacy of theatre. It’s hard sometimes to know whether people are actually watching, or what they might be thinking about your work. The feedback at times can be devastating, but mostly it’s really lovely.

How much hope do you have that Endgame could get a second season based on the Hulu success? (And if it did, would it end up as a web exclusive series?)

The word on the street is that there is a decent possibility of more Endgame getting made. Without any knowledge of what’s going on behind closed doors, I can’t say how close it is to happening. My understanding is that if it does return, it will also return to TV on Showcase in Canada.

You’ve been in LA during pilot season – what’s that process like? How does it differ from your experience in the Canadian TV market?

Quite frankly, it’s chaos. I’ve never actually booked a pilot during pilot season. I seem to have much more luck in the off-season. There’s something about the pressure and intensity that isn’t conducive to doing your best work. The process is similar to what happens in Canada, there’s just a lot more people doing it. It can psych you out a bit because you can see what you’re up against and how terribly the odds are stacked against you. I prefer being blissfully unaware of the odds. It frees me to just do the work and hope for the best.

What’s next for you?

I’m going back to Banff to finish shooting a movie I started on last year called Drawing Home, about Peter and Catharine Whyte. Other than that, nothing concrete, but a lot of pokers in the fire.

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WGC Award nominee Evan Thaler Hickey on Connor Undercover’s “Escape Artist”

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Leading up to the Writers Guild of Canada awards on April 23, TV, eh? is posting a series of interviews with some of nominees. Evan Thaler Hickey was nominated in the Children & Youth category for the “Escape Artist” episode of Connor Undercover.

Can you describe the episode, and how it fit into the Connor Undercover season?

Let’s see if I can do this without being too spoiler-y! “Escape Artist” is one of the hinge episodes in Connor’s second season. Up to that point, Connor (our secret agent in training) and Gisela (his protectee) have been working to keep Gisela safe from a faceless adversary bent on capturing her (for what reason, no one knows!). But now, there’s a new player in town who knows who’s behind the entire conspiracy; and he’s playing a major game of cat and mouse with our two heroes as they try to capture him. Oh, and Connor and Gisela are handcuffed together the entire time. It’s a crazy thrill ride and it gives them a big clue into who the big bad of the series is.

What about this episode are you particularly proud of?

I think it’s the overall tone of the episode. Connor’s an action/adventure/comedy and the episodes sort of live or die on finding the right balance between those elements. It’s gotta be funny but not too jokey ’cause that kills the tension and the stakes have to be high but not life-threatening since it’s a kids’ show. I’d already worked on the first season of the series but writing this episode was the first time I felt I really got that. It felt good.

What does this recognition mean to you?

This is really big for me — not just because it’s the first industry award I’ve ever been nominated for but because this award’s all about writers judging writers on their writing. It’s not about what made it to the screen, it’s about the script you wrote and I think that makes it mean more than just about any other award out there. Plus, it’s made my mom really happy.

And finally (imagine my best Joan Rivers impression): what will you be wearing to the ceremony?

A look of anxiety and lots of deodorant.

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WGC Award nominee Ken Cuperus on My Babysitter’s A Vampire’s “Blood Drive”

Leading up to the Writers Guild of Canada awards on April 23, TV, eh? is posting a series of interviews with some of nominees. Ken Cuperus earned one of  three nominations for My Babysitter’s a Vampire in the Children and Youth category, for the “Blood Drive” episode.

Can you describe the episode, and how it fit into the My Babysitter’s a Vampire season?

“Blood Drive” takes place early in the season as Sarah struggles to keep herself from drinking blood, which would turn her from a fledgling into a full vampire. But temptation comes knocking in the form of a school blood drive, and Erica is piling on the peer pressure to get Sarah to drink. Everything gets more complicated when it is revealed that the two nurses who are running the blood drive are, in fact, vampires themselves… and the blood drive is a long-running scam to stock up on fresh blood. Rory and Erica try to steal the blood from the blood truck, but get captured by the vamp nurses — and Ethan, Benny and Sarah are forced to give chase, to rescue their pals. That’s where the title comes from. It’s a blood drive … but also they are driving in a blood truck. Forget the script, the title alone is award worthy, right? (crickets)

What about this episode are you particularly proud of?

Did I mention how clever the title is? I mean, it’s a blood drive, right? But also … there’s the driving of a truck that contains actual blood. Rarely is an episode as aptly titled as this one. Also, I managed to cram in a “Sarlacc Pit” reference, which will be mildly interesting to Star Wars fans and nobody else.

What does this recognition mean to you?

It’s really great to have my work recognized, and I love that I am up against some of my favourite people in the industry. I’ve been working alongside both Ben and Alice since my earliest days as a preschool writer, and I would be thrilled to see either one of them take home the award. I don’t know Evan, but I have no doubt he is equally deserving, and I’m rooting for him as well. Of course, if I do win, I will rub it in all of their faces mercilessly.

And finally (imagine my best Joan Rivers impression): what will you be wearing to the ceremony?

Probably the same outfit I wear to every single event ever. I mean, I own maybe three pairs of pants. And my “good” shirt has holes in the sleeves. I’m not what you’d call a sharp dresser. If it wasn’t for my wife, I’d probably just show up in my pajamas. I have serious issues.

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