Women Behind Canadian TV: Emily Andras

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Photo courtesy of Emily Andras
Photo courtesy of Emily Andras

There’s no hiding the fact that we still have a long ways to go in terms of diversity on television, both on and off screen, but things are getting better, says writer Emily Andras. According to the former Lost Girl showrunner, visibility and the increasing number of people willing to speak out against inequalities they see on screen, are a major factor as to why we are getting closer and closer to achieving parity, in front of and behind the television camera. Representation, both racially and within the LGBT community, is something she strives to do with her upcoming SyFy series Wynonna Earp, which follows Wyatt Earp’s great granddaughter, as she battles demons and other supernatural beings.

Representation and what is owed to fans are issues at the center of a recent controversy involving the television community and the CW’s The 100. Fans of the show have been very vocal with their outrage over a recent turn in the story, and it’s caused many discussions in both the media and on social networks. Having ran Lost Girl, a show which featured a bisexual lead (played by Anna Silk), for two seasons, as well as writing on shows such as Killjoys, Instant Star and Degrassi, Andras weighed in with her thoughts on the topic when she recently joined our Women Behind Canadian TV series.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The TV Junkies: What were some of the biggest influences on you growing up? What characters have stayed with you to this day and still affect your work?

Emily Andras: My parents are both so creative and funny and well-read…I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Rob and Katy’s enormous influence and support. They were both huge readers, and as such, books and stories and the ability to spin a good yarn, or land a killer joke at the dinner table were celebrated in my house. At the same time, my parents weren’t snobs. They simply loved television, from The Bob Newhart Show to St. Elsewhere to Friends to Days of our Lives (Bo and Hope 4 Life, yo). To this day, Katy Andras writes the liveliest emails I know, and Rob’s multiple wedding toasts (a natural extension from his days as a speechwriter) are the stuff of legend. So I can say I came from a line of ‘writers’ honestly.

As for characters that stayed with me, I bet I spent more time re-reading about the exploits of Laura Ingalls and Scarlett O’Hara in my teenage years than I did speaking to actual people. They were both women whose strong constitutions and opinions got them into all sorts of trouble, but ultimately helped them triumph in the most delicious of ways. They were, for lack of a less clichéd term, complicated. And they felt so real to me that they leapt off the page. I felt I knew them as clearly as I did myself. Career-wise, if I can eventually look back and say I wrote a character who has one tenth of their charisma and moxie, then I would say I almost succeeded.

TTVJ: How does Wynonna Earp stack up against other female characters you’ve written such as Bo (Lost Girl) and Dutch (Killjoys)? What traits do you try to instill in your characters?

EA: I am incredibly biased, but I freaking adore Wynonna. She treads a lot of the same “outsider” ground as your Bos and Dutchs (both creations of one of the most badass-ed writers I know, Ms. Michelle Lovretta) and shares their strength, instincts and wit. But Wynonna is less fully formed when we first meet her; she’s anything but a leader. She’s basically one of the bad guys. Can you be forced to be good? What really makes a hero? Is redemption possible for everyone? Can a woman ever own too many leather jackets? These are the questions I want to explore with Wynonna Earp, which are natural extensions of the traits I like in all my characters, male or female, which boils down to duality.

Strength and weakness, narcissism and selflessness, and always, always, the struggle to define oneself and become who you want to be versus how society sees you or tells you to be. That’s the stuff that increasingly floats my boat when it comes to character development, and I feel pretty lucky to work in genre, where there’s a lot of room to explore these big issues…in between super sexy yeti fights.

TTVJ: You’ve acknowledged on Twitter that Wynonna Earp will feature LGBT representation, and Lost Girl certainly was a trailblazer for it in many ways. As a whole, we seem to be in a new era for representation on television, what are your thoughts on it and how do you see things moving forward?

EA: Lost Girl had a protagonist, a heroine, a LEAD who was bisexual and spent large portions of the series involved in a relationship with another woman, and I am damn proud of that, particularly as it wasn’t easy to push that through, so to speak. I think Canada is well ahead of the curve when it comes to representation and diversity onscreen and off, but of course we still have a long way to go.

That being said, what a time to be alive. Movements like #OscarsSoWhite and Minorities Are Not Disposable frankly delight me. It’s pretty gratifying that audiences are recognizing where we are falling short, and demanding that they see themselves on screen and have their own stories be told. Because honestly, at this point, how many more glossy shows about a middle-aged white anti-hero and the wife (slash mistress) who love him do we need anyway? Except you, Bryan Cranston. You can do anything.

What creators and studios will come to realize, is there’s an entire universe of untapped stories that haven’t been told yet out there. And if we tap into those stories, and put them on screen and audiences respond, isn’t that good for everyone? Even if you’re just looking to watch something that feels new and fresh? I think so.

SyFy/Showcase
SyFy/Showcase

TTVJ: There’s a lot of controversy at the moment surrounding whether or not creators owe fans a happy ending. Lost Girl, with Bo and Lauren ending up together, could be cited as an instance where this happened for the LGBT community. Can you share your thoughts on the issue and what is “owed” to fans?

EA: You can argue that this is a complicated issue. As a creator, showrunner and writer, my number one job is to keep the audience titillated and engrossed. To manipulate your emotions so that you stay engaged with my show. In short: I have to bring the drama. As much as fans might think they want to watch their favourite couple, whether straight or gay or other, end up happily holding hands on a couch eating cookies forever and ever amen, trust me…that is not compelling television.

On the other hand, and this is not complicated: minorities are not expendable. Queer baiting continues to be a phenomenon that erodes trust with the very audience we as creators are hoping to engage. I don’t necessarily feel I ‘owe’ the fans anything, but I damn well hope I can deliver them a story that doesn’t rely on hackneyed tropes like “Bury Your Gays!” Do I promise to never kill a character who happens to be gay? Absolutely not. I write genre and all my characters have to be up for some seriously crazy shit. But I simply refuse to punish an LGBT character because of their sexuality. It’s not only hackneyed and boring, it’s verging on irresponsible. I believe we can do better, and by better, I merely mean “deliver more original storylines.”

TTVJ: With all that being said, what positive changes regarding diversity do you see being made right now that have you excited?

EA: Take a look at this series! There are a ton of women just KILLING IT in Canadian television. From writing to showrunning to producing to network execs to directors. Listen: we are so ahead of the curve vs. the States. We continue to be vocal about the imbalance of gender and race when it comes to telling stories in this country. And Canadian television is consciously trying to reach gender parity, thanks to good work by the WGC (Writers’ Guild of Canada) and others. Speaking of the WGC, they also have a dynamite Diverse Screenwriters’ Program that seeks to mentor writers who may not normally have found it easy (or even possible) to break into the industry.

The other hilarious and delightful change that is happening is: it’s getting hard to be a secret sexist and/or racist. Because the Internet. People talk, discuss, debate; they are informed. By that I mean, other writers, network executives, and increasingly, the fans. Got a room comprised solely of white male writers? People notice. Didn’t hire a single female director over the course of a series? We see you. And look, as audiences, you have a choice. Want to encourage diversity in entertainment? Devour the things you feel represent you. It matters. Vote with your eyeballs, as they say.

SyFy
SyFy

TTVJ: As a showrunner, how does diversity factor into your choices when it comes to building a writers’ room?

EA: The hard, embarrassing truth is that initially, I will always go for the most qualified, trustworthy hire regardless of gender, because showrunning in Canada is brutal. We expect American-level product but we never have the budget to hire enough people to actually do the jobs, and oh god everything is on fire all the time and also what is sleep?

That being said, given that the shows I have had the pleasure of running have been female driven, when presented with two candidates who are equally qualified, I always go for the woman. It’s the only way we’re going to catch up, and as a decision maker I feel like it’s my duty to put my money where my mouth is.

TTVJ: What advice do you have to other young women looking to break into television writing?

EA: Don’t worry about your vagina, if you have one. Which is also my life advice if you want to be a firefighter. It honestly doesn’t matter. Your ability to be cheerful and work hard and plaster on a brave smile in the face of endless, crippling notes on the draft you slaved over for six days and then try again matters. Be the best you that you can be…and that doesn’t mean trying to be what you’re not, i.e. one of the boys, a person who likes boys, or a member of a boyband. If you love sports and wanna talk sports, great. If you love makeup and wanna talk makeup, super. If you have feelings, good, we need ‘em–preferably on the page, in the mouth of your characters.

Remember, television writing is above all else, collaborative. We have to be able to sit in a room with you for 10 hours a day, for months, without wanting to ceremonially burn your iPhone. So when you interview, don’t misrepresent yourself. I’ll never stop pitching story ideas, and would probably toss myself in front of a bus for my showrunner if I respect them, but I’m also a goofy, eager, utterly uncool blabber mouth. I gave up trying to hide all these things in interviews years ago. I’m not trying to sell anyone a bill of goods; if you hire me, this is what you’ll get. Present your best self, but make sure it is yourself.

More specific advice? Get a mentor. A mentor who you genuinely admire. Thank your mentor for their excruciatingly detailed notes and scathing advice and that time they saved your ass in front of the producer or showrunner and then, when the time comes, please, please be a mentor.

Try not to cry at work, especially when you’re starting out. Or practice holding in your tears for exactly as many steps as it takes you to get to the bathroom. That being said: I cry at work at least once a week, and I know who I can cry in front of. Find your cry guardians. Then stick together like glue. Or just let the dams burst once in awhile. In the immortal words of Tina Fey, Warrior Princess Angel: “If you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.”

 

Thoughts? Comments? Sound off below! Read more from our Women Behind Canadian TV series here.

Wynonna Earp will premiere Friday, April 1 on SyFy and Monday, April 4 at 9 p.m. ET on CHCH in Canada.

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