Women Behind Canadian TV: Catherine Reitman

CBC
CBC

How to balance who we are as women with a healthy home life is at the core of Catherine Reitman’s new CBC comedy series Workin’ Moms. It’s a story and show that was born directly from Reitman’s own experience, and during production of the show’s first season she was a woman literally trying to have it all. Reitman was living the exact plot of her show as a mother to two young boys who was also creating, starring, directing and writing a new comedy series about the struggles women face as they return to work after having children.

The actress, who had roles on Blackish, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and How I Met Your Mother, created Workin’ Moms to open the dialogue around motherhood and share in the fact that no one is doing it perfectly. In order to help her, Reitman hired an all-female writers’ room for the show’s first season and put women in many other key behind the scenes positions such as director, editor and camera crew.

She recently joined The TV Junkies as part of our Women Behind Canadian TV series to discuss why she felt responsible as showrunner to hire other women. Reitman also shares her experience and the struggles she faces as a woman looking to maintain her professional identity now that she has two small children at home.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The TV Junkies: You have done a lot of work as an actress, but was the goal always to work behind the scenes?

Catherine Reitman: With my type of personality I knew early on that I needed to be in control of myself and have a say. Being an actress is a really unbelievable head trip because you’re going in and giving this performance, and even though you have control over your body and the performance, the takes they ultimately choose and how they cut the scene often can leave you feeling really unsatiated. The coverage might not be the one, the take is too big or it’s disappointing because it didn’t honor the work you had done on that character.

Look I was raised around directors obviously, but even as an actress I remember feeling like I want to be able to choose my takes, direct myself and help others without feeling so powerless. Showrunning was a huge gift in that because even when there were other directors, I could step in respectfully and change things. Often as actors we’re not aware of our own faculties or aware of what’s coming out of us. You may think you’re delivering it one way, but it’s coming out angry. There are things you can do on the other side of the lense that can protect the people you’re working with and that was something that interested me. That’s been a really exhilarating part of the process.

TTVJ: You have an all-female writers’ room on Workin’ Moms, something you’ve said you didn’t necessarily set out to do. What benefits came out of having only female voices in the room?

CR: I guess I get scared of saying ‘oh we had to have an all-female writers’ room’ because that in many ways just handicaps, since there’s such a stigma about female writers and directors that they are less experienced, greener, more timid, more emotional and that’s something I just simply disagree with. When I say I wasn’t setting out to do that, first of all it’s the truth, but it’s also to protect my writers because I believe I found the strongest writers for the show. I witnessed that in a room that was emotional in the perfect way, emotional when it made sense and we all shared our personal stories. It was a very safe environment. There wasn’t any anger, edge or judgement. I think we all did a fairly good job of listening to each other, supporting one another and it felt like a safe community to “go there.”

@WorkinMoms
@WorkinMoms

TTVJ: You’re right when you talk about the numbers for female directors being just horrible. As a female showrunner, did you feel obligated to look out for and hire females?

CR: That I’m not afraid to say because the numbers are staggering and there aren’t a lot of options. I did make a point of saying to the CBC that I wanted to hire female directors. The only option was to hire green female directors because they had not been given the experience. How are we supposed to compete in a field of people with more experience if we just haven’t been given that chance?

So we hired Aleysa Young who is not completely inexperienced–she’s done a number of commercials as well as Baroness Von Sketch. Even though that wasn’t a scripted arc show, which of course was a concern of many people, there was a gift there. She understands how to set up the shot, she understands where the joke is in the scene and how to be efficient. There was some convincing, but it was a win for us. I think our show ultimately benefited from it.

TTVJ: That seems to be the consensus, that we just need people willing to take a chance on these lesser experienced female directors because if you’re comparing strictly by resume, we’ll never be able to compete.

CR: No, it’s not fair. It’s similar to the working moms thing where it’s not a women problem. We’re as equally talented, ambitious, skilled and forward thinking, but society isn’t changing at the same pace around us. So the infrastructure doesn’t reward those qualities and talented women.

We did it across the board outside of directing though. We had a really hard time finding female editors, hired two really talented male editors and ended up hiring someone who had only been an editor’s assistant, Angela Jekums. She is very talented, but very, very green and you can feel it. I sat down with her and there was more time put into it, but her instincts are great and she’s really smart. You just have to give these people a shot.

TTVJ: I’ve heard that despite good intentions, it can be very hard to find enough women to fill all the positions behind the scenes.

CR: We had some difficulty for sure. We had one woman though, Maya Bankovic, who is hands down the strongest DP [director of photography] I have ever worked with. I thought she was outstanding and this is a woman who should work to death, but I’m afraid to say that because I don’t want to lose her. She was this constant eye opener for me because hands down she just had the skill, but in addition to that she had this way–let’s not forget this is the person on set directing the cameras, right there in it with the director and the actresses through some pretty vulnerable scenes–but to have someone like that there who can be incredibly emotionally mature and sensitive, she’s tapped into what you’re going through as an actor, she knows what the writing stands for but is also just so good at working the camera and where it should be. We just won the lottery as far as DPs.

CBC
CBC

TTVJ: Your show landed at a network, CBC, where you worked with a woman exec, Sally Catto. Was the fact she was a woman one of the reasons why CBC felt like a good fit for your show?

CR: I would follow Sally into hell. That is the truth and anywhere that woman would be, I would be. If that woman ever goes to prison, which she wouldn’t, I would bail her out over and over again. She’s my spirit animal and soul guide, but she’s not the only woman executive over there. CBC has an outstanding amount of female executives and we had the luxury of working exclusively with female executives. Our notes and everything came from women and they were hands down the best notes I have ever gotten from a network–not fear based, smart, kind, brave–things we hadn’t experienced elsewhere. That wasn’t the reputation we had necessarily heard about the CBC and it was very surprising. Anyone who questions whether CBC has some guts, they do.

TTVJ: You learned that your show was greenlit right after discovering you were pregnant with your second child. Even though the show is about working mothers, did you have any concerns about that or worry people would think “this is the problem with women in charge or women working when they have kids, they can’t commit to things.”

CR: No, I think my fear, which is mirrored in the show, wasn’t about the stigma of working mothers as much as my own identity crisis. To be honest though, the identity crisis occurred more with my first son and returning to work. The second was more ‘am I being a good mother?’ I was gone for long hours, and even now, I’m going on my second day without seeing either of my kids. You go through these waves where you feel like there are grandparents and nannies raising your children and you’re not present. My son hasn’t crawled yet, it’s going to happen any day, and in the back of my mind I’m thinking ‘today could be the day and I just don’t want it to be with my nanny. I don’t want him to develop until I’m there.’ I know that makes me incredibly selfish but that’s as candid as I can be.

Things like that for my second son is what I was worried about, that I’m going to miss the most treasured period of his life, which I did. It was a sacrifice I stand by. I believe in the show and know it was important for me. I think one of your biggest fears when you get pregnant is that you’re no longer going to be connected to the woman you’ve been working on. Returning to work for me was this cord that connected me to who I was and that my journey continued. That is something that trumps all other fears.

TTVJ: What advice do you have for young women looking to get behind the camera and create?

CR: I was listening to Shonda Rhimes recently and I think she said it best with ‘if you’re a writer you’ve got to write. You’ve just got to keep writing.’ I think that applies to being a director or an actor. You have to lie, cheat, steal, borrow, get friends to lend you a camera–people don’t even have an excuse any more because we’ve been gifted with these phones that have the most extraordinary cameras. We should all be making things, and if you do have the gift or the bite, you have to continue making things.

You also live somewhere as extraordinary as Canada where the government is literally paying you to make things. That doesn’t exist in America. I think Canadians who have the bug should absolutely be taking advantage of that, because it’s a pretty incredible system we have here where we really support our artists. So make things, make things, make things. Put them up online. Put them on the internet. Send them to people and get them into rooms.

 

Are you enjoying Workin’ Moms? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Workin’ Moms airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on CBC. Read more from our Women Behind Canadian TV series here.

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