Tag Archives: Rachel Langer

Link: The Jim Henson Company boards fantasy drama ‘Knights of Panterra’

From Etan Vlessing of The Hollywood Reporter:

Link: The Jim Henson Company boards fantasy drama ‘Knights of Panterra’
The Jim Henson Company, the puppet-based production house behind Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, has come on board Knights of Panterra, a Canadian live-action series based on the Dino Knights kids books by Jeff Norton. Continue reading. 

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The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco: writer Rachel Langer on the challenges of transplanting the show to North America

Imagine that you’re a huge fan of cancelled UK series The Bletchley Circle, and then you find out that, not only is the show being resurrected as The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco, but production is being moved from London all the way to Vancouver, where you happen to live. What would you do?

If you’re writer Rachel Langer, you start dropping enthusiastic hints to friends like Daegan Fryklind, who served as consulting executive producer for the new series and wrote the pilot.

“I was in touch with Daegan in the early stages, basically fangirling at every possible moment about the show,” she laughs. “And I made it very clear to Omnifilm Entertainment that I was a huge fan and would love any chance to be a part of it.”

It didn’t require a codebreaker to decipher Langer’s hints, so showrunner Michael MacLennan—who had worked with her on CBC’s This Life and was her mentor at the Canadian Film Centre—quickly brought her on board as a co-producer. But then came the “intense” pressures of bringing the beloved British mystery series to life in North America.

“I was like, ‘Is that gonna work?'” she says.

We phoned Langer to learn more about the challenges involved in moving the show across the pond and what we can look forward to in Friday’s new episode, “Madhouse,” which she wrote.

You said you were a big fan of the original UK series. Did the idea of transplanting it to North America make you at all nervous?
Rachel Langer: I have this compounded fear every time I start working on a show that has an existing property—which at this point, is almost every show. I had worked on a reboot of another series that I had loved when I was younger, so I’m not unfamiliar with the worry that we aren’t going to do it justice, but I felt that really intensely because of how much I love the original Bletchley.

I don’t really know anything about how they make shows in the UK, other than talking to a few writers and producers that I know. But it seems like they don’t do a writers’ room; they just have one person with a very amazing vision. But we don’t do that here, we have a writers’ room. I was like, ‘Is that gonna work?’ And then there was always a concern that we were shooting in Vancouver, but it’s not set in Vancouver. That often works, but this was also done on a low budget, and it’s a period piece, which is hard to make look great on a low budget. But I’m really happy with the way that came together. Everybody involved just brought it to the max to make it look like the best possible version that it could for what we were doing.

And for the story, we had Jake Lushington, who is the producer from the UK [series].  He actually came and sat with us for a few days, and he is one of the most character-devoted producers that I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. It was cool to see him say, ‘Yes, here you are nailing the characters. Here’s one thing I can add that you might not have known,’ and really come and work with us that way. But he was really happy with where we had the characters, so I felt like, OK, we’re on the right track if they guy who knows the show inside and out is happy.

What was your approach to blending a lead cast that had two loved and established characters from the original series, Jean (Julie Graham) and Millie (Rachael Stirling) and two characters who were brand new to the audience, Iris (Crystal Balint) and Hailey (Chanelle Peloso)?
RL: We worked really hard to make sure we gave Jean and Millie the voices that they had before but in a new situation. The fact that we were putting them in a situation that was somewhat uncomfortable helped because you can understand that they may say or do things that are a little different from the norm back home because they’re in completely new surroundings. So we had a little bit of leeway there, but we did our best to have them stick to these amazing characters that had been built and presented to us. And then to kind of create foils to that with the other characters was fun because we felt that we had grounding and yet we had room to explore and expand at the same time.

As far as the audience goes, it’s sort of that thing where you can’t worry too much about it in the early stages in the same way that you can’t worry too much about the budget when you’re breaking stories. You do eventually worry about it and pare it back and change locations and make it work, but in the early stages, you really just kind of have to go full bore and not really think about it too much. Otherwise, you just get way too much in your head about how people are going to perceive it. You’ll never please everybody. They’ll always be somebody who hates what you did, who doesn’t think it works or it doesn’t make sense to them. And you hear about it on Twitter and then you just move on.

The last time we spoke with you, you were working on This Life, which was deeply character driven. What’s the difference between writing for a show like that and writing for a plot-driven mystery series like Bletchley?
RL: When I was on This Life, I was like, ‘This is the hardest show I’m ever gonna write!’ And then when I was on Bletchley, I was like, ‘No, this show is the hardest I’m ever gonna write.’ So I think I just feel that way no matter what show I’m on. But in terms of working on a mystery show, which I’ve never done, there’s a special part of the brain that needs to be accessed for red herrings and, for this show, codebreaking. I mean we’re writing for expert codebreakers, and we’re not expert codebreakers, we’re writers. So we did a ton of research, and there’s a unique challenge in making a codebreaking story accessible to an audience who doesn’t break code and needs to understand the story but to also make it seem like these women are experts at what they do. Because they were. We wanted to make sure that everybody knows how brilliant these women are, but we still have to make sure the audience understands at the end of the day how they cracked the code, or at least enough to be happy and satisfied with the story. So that was a huge challenge, and I remember some days just staring out the window down at Seymour Street [in Vancouver], thinking, ‘How are we going to solve this? I just don’t see a way out of this.’

The character stuff I find easier because it’s more intrinsic for me. I come from a place of character first. So I really worked hard to be plot-focused and mystery-focused on this one. And we had a very small room. We only had Daegan for a little bit of time. and then there was just four of us. So when one brain gets tired, there were only three more brains to pick up the slack. So we all worked incredibly hard to make sure we got what we needed.

You wrote Episode 4, “Madhouse,” which continues the mystery that began in Episode 3 involving the strange deaths of two women who were at a party hosted by Iris’ former Presidio colleague, Lydia (Jessica Harmon). Plus, Jean and Millie are on the outs because Jean plans to go back to her life in the UK. What can you preview about the episode?
RL: Episode 4 takes us further into the journey of the way that women in the suburbs—who were so often placed in a tidy package—needed to live their lives. We really get further into Lydia’s psyche around everything that is going on and how she’s been trying to conform to this status, and it doesn’t work and she kind of falls apart, as any of us would. So it takes us through the paces of sorting through who could have done this, why would they do it, and how can we keep Lydia afloat through this whole thing? And, of course, Jean’s decision to leave is challenged by Millie, and she’ll examine the pros and cons of going back versus staying.

Who was the easiest character for you to write?
RL: Hailey was the easiest for me. Probably because there’s a lot of similarities there of this girl who doesn’t quite fit the typical Instagram standard—whatever that would have been back then. I’m closer in age to her than I probably am to anyone else. But I also just really loved Iris, who is [a type of character] I’ve never had the chance to write for before, who just had some really interesting struggles of her own. The whole music element of Iris speaks to me because before I was a writer, I was a jazz piano player and failed spectacularly at that. So there are some similarities there that I enjoyed writing.

What was the best thing about working on Bletchley?
RL: I found it very rewarding to access a different side of my brain and write for a mystery that was centred around women—and the women were the smartest people in the show, the smartest people in the room at all times. And the idea that I got to contribute to something that I was already a huge fan of and just bring my best and do my absolute utmost to do it justice, whether we succeeded or failed, was hugely rewarding for me.

You are also working on the new supernatural series, The Order, for Netflix. Not only that, you’re a co-executive producer. Congrats!
RL: When my agent told me that that was going to be the case, I was like, ‘You’re kidding, right?’ and she was like, ‘Just take it and run with it.’ So, I was said, ‘OK. I’m getting my ‘straight white man’ on, and I’m going to succeed at this!’

Can you give us any hints about that show?
RL: I can say that it’s going to be super fun and that you’ve never seen such cool stuff come out of a soundstage in Aldergrove, which is an hour outside of [Vancouver]. And our cast is amazing.

The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on Citytv.

Images courtesy of Omnifilm Entertainment

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This Life: Rachel Langer finds catharsis writing heartbreaking “Well Fought, My Love”

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen This Life Episode 209, “Well Fought, My Love.”

Well, that was a gut punch.

We’ve spent nearly two seasons worried about Natalie’s (Torri Higginson) terminal cancer on CBC’s This Life, but it was Lawson family matriarch Janine (Janet-Laine Green) who received an unexpected curtain call on Sunday night’s episode, “Well Fought, My Love,” written by Rachel Langer.

In the heartbreaking installment—the penultimate episode of Season 2—Janine succumbs to a sudden heart attack on a quiet Montreal morning. And while the family is still reeling from that shock, Natalie suffers a potentially deadly medical complication that requires immediate surgery, forcing everyone to face two traumas at once.

“We talked a lot about whether that was the right move, but I think ultimately that’s life, right?” says Langer. “You get hit twice in a row sometimes, and things happen at really, really inopportune times.”

Langer joins us by phone from Vancouver to break down this difficult episode and tell us why the storyline hit so close to home for her.

First the big question:  When and why did the writers’ room decide that Janine was going to pass away?
Rachel Langer: It’s something we knew was coming for quite a while. It’s a show that talks about life and death in very grey terms. It’s not as black and white as it seems. So we knew very early on that we were going to build to that, but we didn’t know how or when. It just naturally came together as we built the rest of the season that those were the details of it.

And for Natalie—who is a mother who has spent the entire series worried about leaving her kids, worrying about how she spent her life the way that she wanted to, how she left the legacy she wanted to—to then lose her mother, it just really puts a fine point on the things she’s been going through. And it was so sudden for Janine, which is the exact opposite of her journey. So it was a story that we knew we wanted to tell, and I think we were all a little like, ‘Oh, do we do this?’ and ‘How do we do this?’ But you go where the story leads you, and we knew it was leading there for a while, so we just had to get there.

I know this episode was a very personal one for you.
When we were breaking the season we had three different development rooms in Toronto, and then once we got greenlit, we had a writers’ room and prep in Montreal. And I think during our second room, I got a call from my father that my grandfather underwent a massive stroke, and we weren’t sure what the prognosis was for a couple of days and then found out that he couldn’t swallow and it had shut down a couple of systems in his body, so it was just a waiting game for him to pass away. So everybody that was in the room was, ‘Go home if you need to go home. Don’t worry about us.’ They were just wildly supportive, specifically [showrunner] Joe [Kay] and Virginia [Rankin], our executive producer.

I basically was in the room breaking stories about a woman who was terminal and her friend Tia passing away and knowing where we were headed up to, while waiting for the news that my grandfather was going to eventually die. So it was quite a life imitating art imitating life sort of experience.

When I got to Montreal and was assigned this episode, it was after the funeral for my grandfather had happened and I’d had a month of two to kind of process it. I realized it was going to be mine, and I tried to trade Joe, but he said no. [Laughs.] And it was good he did, because it was a very cathartic experience for me to write about that. But it’s also hard to separate yourself and your personal experience and make sure you’re doing justice to the characters, instead of just your own journey.

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The aftermath of Janine’s death was pretty realistic, with the EMS personnel standing around and decisions having to be made about her body. Were there many discussions about how you wanted to present the uncomfortable realities of death in the episode? 
There were a lot, actually. In the breaking of the episode as well as when I was going through and outlining. It’s such a fine balance because our whole show is based around the real. We want to just keep that as our mandate at all times. This is about real life; this is about real people—well, they’re not real people, but they could be. And I think death is dramatized on TV as a lot of crying and weeping and wailing, and we all know that happens, but in the middle of those things, are quiet moments where you just have to figure out what to do next. So we had to make sure that we had enough of those to make it feel real without making it feel completely morose, while still showing the joy of families coming together.

The choice to have Natalie have a medical emergency on top of Janine’s death was bold. Why the double tragedy?
That’s a good question. We talked a lot about whether that was the right move, but I think ultimately that’s life, right? You get hit twice in a row sometimes, and things happen at really, really inopportune times. I think everybody in the room had a story of the moment where the worst thing imaginable happened, and then it was followed up by the next worst thing imaginable.

Here we are coming toward the end of the season, and Natalie’s had some really good news. She’s had to work through a lot, but she’s had a fairly smooth season, except for Episode 203, where we got to show what it’s like when she has a bad day. It’s inevitable that she’s going to have ups and downs, and it wouldn’t feel real if she didn’t, and to put these two tragedies together was a really interesting exploration of life saying, ‘OK, this is all happening, so deal with it.’ And so we were just like, ‘OK, that’s what we’re going to do.’ Also, you have to admit, it’s very high-stakes drama. [Laughs.]

We’ve spent two seasons exploring what will happen to Emma and Romy if Natalie should die, and then Natalie’s surgery forces them to make a sudden decision. 
It was interesting to us because we had dealt with this for so long, of what was going to happen to the kids. And then to throw it into relief and say, ‘Oh, actually, we have five minutes to decide, so I sure hope they’re ready.’ And in that moment have Natalie relinquish control to the girls and say, ‘You have earned the right to choose for yourself,’ was such a huge catharsis for us as a room and I’m sure for the characters as well, because they’ve been wrestling with this and then it comes down to crunch time and there’s that relief after the decision is made. And I think it’s pronounced through Romy because that’s probably not who Natalie would have chosen for her, but she has finally said, ‘You have earned the right to choose, and I’m going to respect that.’ That just felt like huge growth in a very quick moment for us.

Matthew and Nicole finally reconnected in this episode. What’s next or them?
I think they’ve entered a new zone now. I think we all know sex changes things, and I think the nature of how and why that happened for them is really interesting. Because Nicole showed up at a time of crisis and wanted to be there for Matthew, and that just sort of gets rid of every piece of baggage you had because you’re only focused on getting through the moment and the love that comes with that. And so now the question for them becomes, ‘As we heal from this crisis, what does what we just experienced mean for us?’ and ‘We can’t go back, so how do we go forward?’ I’m sure that they will both have fairly different viewpoints.

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Oliver also got the EMS guy’s number, proving life goes on even in the middle of a crisis. 
Yeah. That’s exactly it. You basically said exactly what Joseph said when we were discussing Oliver, to say that there are moments of joy and hope and happiness in the midst of tragedy, and you can choose to shut them out or you can choose to go with them. Oliver’s had a really hard time, so to give him something that he can go for in the moment, it felt really good to see him make that happen. And also I think because we’d dealt with the mood stabilizers that he’s now on, so if anybody’s in a position to see outside of the cloud of grief, it’s Oliver in this moment. So he’s well positioned to have a win there.

What were the most difficult scenes for you to write? 
The scene on the terrace where Gerald is talking about the funeral lunch. Even though it feels somewhat lighter compared the other stuff, it was a scene where I was using experiences that we had just gone through to try to inform the scene. So working through that and working through every single scene where someone had to be told or found out, those were the really difficult ones.

And, funnily enough, the scene with Emma and Romy in bed where Romy is giving the small facts on the whale. It was not a hard scene to write, because those are just things my husband and I do, but it was surprisingly emotional, because it was just a moment of, ‘How do we come together and not talk about the thing but still connect?’ And those sisters, I mean they’re so different, so that one really got me, too.

I thought the Stephanie Janusauskas and Julia Scarlett Dan were excellent in that scene.
That part about the polar bears at the end? That was all them. I wrote—and the team wrote—up until the part about the ants and, ‘Got any more,’ and then that was all the girls improvising about the polar bear, and it was perfect. Those two are so talented, and they have excellent onscreen chemistry.

What was your favourite scene of the episode?
I know it was a difficult scene, but the scene with Gerald and Maggie in the living room. They are both so good, and it was just so real, what they brought to it. Just seeing it come together like that, like the direction from Louis [Choquette] and the editing. You know, you take it so far as a group of writers and you all help each other out, and then you give it over, and these people just make it something completely different. That was just a magical one to watch. Peter [MacNeill] and Lauren [Lee Smith] are just next level in that scene.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience writing, “Well Fought, My Love”?
I get so sappy about this episode because it was so tough. But I realized how much of a team environment making television can be, and not every show has that. I felt incredibly supported going through this one, and I couldn’t claim ownership over what happened at all, over the end result, but it was just a big honour to be able to write something so personal, and then have people come in and say, ‘OK, now we’ll help you take it to where it needs to go.’ It was just a really big honour for me to do that.

There’s only one episode left! What can you say about the season finale?
People come back and things are different. I really like the way the kids’ storylines coalesce in 210. I really like where Emma’s journey of identity has gone this season, and I think it’s a really interesting kind of place for her. She’s got a lot going on in her head, and I think that’s realistic for a girl her age. And the same with Romy in making her choices. So I think it’s a really good kind of place that they get to.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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This Life writer Rachel Langer on Natalie’s bad day

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen This Life Episode 203, “Coping Cards.”   

Over the first 12 episodes of CBC’s This Life, Natalie Lawson has had more good days than bad as she fights terminal cancer. But that changed with this week’s episode, “Coping Cards,” written by Rachel Langer. After beginning Season 2 feeling energetic and hopeful, Natalie is forced to deal with debilitating side effects from her drug trial, while trying to put on a brave face for her kids.

“What we get the chance to do with the side effects is show what a bad day is like and show what good days are like,” says Langer. “That’s just kind of realistic when it comes to medical treatment.”

Natalie isn’t the only one having a tough time in the episode. Caleb feels caught in the middle of his parents’ custody battle, Romy is crushed by Oliver’s decision not to become her guardian, and Matthew learns Nicole wants to officially separate.

Langer joins us by phone from Vancouver to tell us about writing “Coping Cards,” her role in the writers’ room and her favourite scene of the episode.

Let’s talk about your background a little bit. You’re a former TV, eh? contributor.
Rachel Langer: Yes!

And you co-wrote the web series Aeternus, then worked as a writers’ assistant on Continuum, and attended the Canadian Film Centre. How did you land on This Life after that?
When I was at the Canadian Film Centre, our showrunner in residence was named Michael MacLennan, who had done Bomb Girls … 
When we came out, he was the showrunner developing This Life initially, and he hired me on to this to help with some of the younger voices. It was my first actual writing job, and he thought maybe I could speak to some of the younger voices and a little bit to Maggie as a millennial, and then it just kind of became all the characters. I was really fortunate when Michael got a great gig in L.A. and Joe [Kay, This Life showrunner} took over that he still wanted to have me around.

Are you still the go-to writer for the show’s younger characters?
I think it was at first my role and then as we moved forward, I just found that there was a facet of every single character that I could identify with, and I think that’s true of all of us. We just look into each of these people and say, ‘Oh I’ve been in a situation like that,’ or ‘I felt like that before.’ So I don’t feel like that’s my niche in the room anymore, I feel like I’ve been able to expand. But I always just adore writing for Romy. It’s very cathartic to write for someone who gets to say all the stuff that you wish you were allowed to say, but you’re not because you’re 33 and she’s 13.

“Coping Cards” is one of the first times we really see Natalie feeling unwell in the series. Why was that important to show now? 
This is really for us to get a chance to remind everybody that, when you’re undergoing something like Natalie is, when you’re undergoing a medical treatment, whether it’s life and death like hers is, or whether it’s just a difficult circumstance, it’s really a roller coaster of emotions . . . And for Natalie, who’s on this drug trial and really doing her best to exist within hope, this is a way to say it’s not that easy, you don’t just get to stay there all the time. So how do you pull yourself back to that even when the going gets a little tough?

Natalie has a couple of disturbing dream sequences in the episode. Tell me about writing those. 
I was so excited about the ‘fever dreams,’ as we called them. And that’s such a credit to our room to come up with those and what they meant and what each of them were about. I just felt very supported writing those because it’s something that we really haven’t done before, so it’s always a bit nerve-wracking to step into that zone of trying something new.

I think each [dream speaks] to thoughts and ideas that Natalie is able to deal with and  is constantly dealing with or is afraid to deal with . . . It was just really interesting to access those in a visual way without actually saying them out loud.

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At the beginning of the episode, Natalie asks Caleb to testify against David in their custody battle, and he’s hesitant to do it. However, he changes his mind at the end of the episode. Why?
Throughout the episode, he’s trying to be there for his mom in a tangible way, but also he’s trying to work out his frustration. He is just such a quiet kid who wants to be supportive. He’s had responsibilities thrust upon him, and he’s equally trying to buck that and embrace it at the same time. I think that just watching Natalie go through what she goes through and deal with things and still trying to soldier on, it’s just the only way he can think of to come through for her.

I loved Romy’s coping cards. She has one dealing with her fear that her family isn’t telling her truth, but the others deal with existential issues like the Big Crunch. Sadly, all her fears come crashing down on her when Oliver tells her the truth: He doesn’t want to be her guardian. So what now?
It’s a really interesting question because Romy does kind of live in the existential space of ‘Is the world going to collapse around me?’ and ‘What will still be here and will I still be here if it does?’ So she’s always seeking truth and seeking reality, and then when it happens, it’s not maybe quite what she had hoped for. So I think between her and Oliver, there’s just a question of if this is going to irreparably break what they had. Because what they had in Season 1 was just so awesome, but is this going to be a situation where she can’t recover from this?

Nicole shocked Matthew by saying she wants to move forward with their separation. What can you tease about their relationship moving forward?
I think it’s really complicated for Nicole, who didn’t ask for any of this to happen and didn’t want her tidy life to be turned upside down. And I think that dealing with the messiness of this is challenging for Nicole in a way that maybe we haven’t seen for her before. So between her and Matthew, they’re always tied together because they have a daughter together, so the question is going to be what does that look like for her and how can she fit him into what she likes—clean lines—when that isn’t going to be a clean line?

Emma landed a job after a tough interview this week. What can viewers expect from her arc this season? 
Emma is one of the best and most difficult characters to write for, because she’s a normal teenager with some really extenuating circumstances in her life. She’s at an age where she is really trying to figure out who she is, and so we try to write for her in such a way that always poses the question ‘Who am I, who do I want to be and how do I get there?’ And the answer to that question isn’t always the same for her because she’s 16, and that’s not an easy question to know the answer to or even to ask yourself at that age.

I think that we just really try to let Emma experience life in a way that is hopefully realistic and also not be afraid to be the person who doesn’t always focus on what’s happening with her mom, and the health thing that’s happening. She knows that, it affects her, but she still has to live her life.

There are some lovely scenes in the episode, particularly at the end with Natalie, Janine and Emma and then with Natalie and Caleb. Do you have a favourite scene in the episode?
I really enjoyed seeing that come together at the end, because so many people want to help Natalie and try to help Natalie and are just ineffective. But that’s normal. You can’t always be effective because it’s a unique situation, and the way you think is effective is not the way somebody else sees as helpful or beneficial. And people bring their baggage in when they try to help you out. So I think seeing that come together at the end, and seeing Emma uniquely positioned to be somebody who can sit there and say, ‘I’m OK to do this in this moment right now. I might not always, but I am right now.’ And with the support of Janine, it’s three-generation thing, so that was just a really cool moment to write.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Link: Women Behind Canadian TV: Rachel Langer

From Bridget Liszewski of The TV Junkies:

Women Behind Canadian TV: Rachel Langer
“I think there are a couple major things, and it’s a bit of a mental game for women which is a really challenging thing. I know for myself, I struggle to negotiate or ask for the things I want. I have a great agent so I don’t have to usually worry too much about that, but even when she’s negotiating on my behalf I kind of feel like an asshole a lot of the time, and I’m like ‘Oh no, I should just take what they give me and be thankful I’m working.’” Continue reading.

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