Women Behind Canadian TV: Christin Hanly

Photo courtesy of Christin Hanley
Photo courtesy of Christin Hanley

Work hard and be a good person. Be the person that other people want to have around set and opportunities will come to you. Christin Hanly is living proof of those words. After attending film school in New York City, she began working in various positions throughout the industry in Calgary and Toronto. Tired of the positions she was getting, Hanly moved home and ended up quitting the business altogether to open a cupcake shop in her native Saskatoon. Then, after a frustrating period spent in the baking world, Hanly moved back to Calgary and got into script coordinating.

One of her first gigs in Calgary was as an assistant to Wynonna Earp showrunner Emily Andras, while slowly taking over script coordinating duties in Season 2. Now, as the series gets ready to begin production on Season 4, Hanly’s hard work and great attitude has paid off, and she has been promoted to Associate Producer.

Hanly, who also was script coordinator for CBC’s new drama Fortunate Son, recently participated in our Women Behind Canadian TV series. With most of Canada’s TV production happening in Toronto and Vancouver, she tells us what it’s like to work out in Calgary. She also details how she overcomes the challenges of working away from the Toronto-based Wynonna Earp writers’ room and some of the biggest lessons she’s learned from Andras.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The TV Junkies: I know you had a pretty wide and varied background before you came to a career in television. Can you share a little bit about the path that got you into TV?

Christin Hanly: When I was a kid we didn’t have a lot of money and one of the theaters in town had 50 cent movies. My parents didn’t know what to do with us so they’d take us all the time. It was everything from Disney to Dirty Dancing. I always wanted to tell stories and be involved in that. I thought maybe I would be an actor, but I took a community program and I was the only kid that wasn’t in the play. They made me the stage manager, and so I thought then maybe my talents were better suited behind the camera.

When I was 15, I started volunteering at the local community access station. I put in 1000 volunteer hours in the first year, and then got hired at the local TV station to do news. I started working there as an audio engineer on the weekends, and then I did some camera operating and switching. When I was 18, I moved to New York City for film school. I went to the New York Film Academy, and it was only three or four months. I would go and spend my days in class, and then at night wander the city and look at people. It was a completely different world to me because I had lived in Saskatoon, which had a population of like 200,000 people. I would go to plays on the weekend, spend time in the museum, and soak it up as much as possible.

At the end of my course I had to move back though. No one in my extended family had graduated from university at that point, so after my dad got moved to Calgary for work, I moved with them and started taking film classes at the university, while also on the side working on non-union film shoots. More and more, the work started to take over, to the point where I was still paying for university and not taking classes. To this day, no one in my family has graduated from university, as I dropped out. I started working full-time and directed a couple of exercise videos and a movie that no one will ever see.

I then picked up and moved to Toronto. I did a couple of sketchy Craisglist student films and got hired by Global TV to work on The Mom Show. The first season, I worked as a production assistant, then as a researcher, and ended up as an associate producer on three or four lifestyle programs. There I really learned about researching and booking guests, as well as how to put together a show. I was doing quite well there, but then my grandpa passed away.

I was having days where everything was super frustrating and I’d say, ‘I’m just going to quit this stupid business and open a cupcake shop.’ My gran was left with a house that needed to be cleaned out in Saskatoon. It was a pretty big job so I moved back to help during hiatus. I bought a house and found out there’s absolutely no film industry in Saskatoon. So I went back to the first TV station I had worked at, and they said they’d hire me for $11/hr. I couldn’t do that so I started a cupcake shop with my cousin. It was really terrible. [laughs] People are really mean about cupcakes, and I discovered customer service is not for me.

TTVJ: Cupcakes are serious business! How long did you run that shop?

CH: I sold that business 5-6 years ago and my husband and I moved to Calgary. I applied to be a part of the union and got a job in an office. I realized after working on a few shows, including Fargo Season 2, that I wanted to be a script supervisor. That person is on set, sits next to the director, and helps with continuity. But I took a job as an assistant production coordinator, and the producers on that show needed a lot of help keeping the scripts in order because they didn’t have a script coordinator. They’d send pages to the office to deliver that were out of order and it’d give me hives. So my production coordinator (Michelle Gougeon) had me work with the producer to learn more about the script. It was a great experience, but then everything quieted down. 

I started doing day calls, and I said I’d do day calls on shows if it was close to my house or it was warm. I came out a few times on Wynonna Season 1, and one day we went to the studio. They put me on the light and the buzzer that signals when we are rolling. Any time I saw someone coming near the door, I’d go and hold it for them. Then I went and was assistant to Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) on Tin Star. They asked if I’d be interested, and I said I’d try it out. I had such a good time. It was like hanging out with my best friend and getting paid for it. She really brought me into the world of producer, actor, and business interactions. She let me see the business through a different set of eyes. She’s actually still one of my really good friends. 

At the end of that show, I heard Emily [Andras] was looking for an assistant. I asked a couple of people to recommend me to Emily and Brian [Dennis, Wynonna Earp executive producer]. I came in for an interview and they said ‘oh we remember you held the door for us!’ I got the job and it was sold to me as assisting Emily and a tiny bit of script coordination. I got into it and loved the script coordinating part. I kept learning and kept doing more and more for the script part. Now I work as a producer’s assistant on Fortunate Son, Brian has had me do publicity stuff on JANN, and I’m the ‘do you need it done? Call Christin.’ 

Michelle Faye/Wynonna Earp Season 3, Inc./Syfy
Michelle Faye/Wynonna Earp Season 3, Inc./Syfy

TTVJ: However, we hear you may have a new title that you’re adding here on Wynonna Earp Season 4…

CH: I do have a new job title. This year I’m going to be an Associate Producer. 

TTVJ: Congratulations!

CH: I’m very excited about it. 

TTVJ: That seems to be something they do a lot on Wynonna, promote from within.

CH: They really do. One of the things I really like about Wynonna, and Emily and Brian, is that they really recognize when people have ideas that work. I’ve seen them take ideas from Locations PAs and grips and turn them into the story. They recognize that you don’t have to be an executive producer to know what makes good television. They are so good too at finding people who can make a difference. They make those people feel as though they are a part of the team and valued. 

Along those same lines, I am sort of the only script coordinator in Alberta. You move from writer’s assistant to script coordinator to junior writer and then you’re in the room. It’s a pretty transient position and traditionally, they don’t usually have script coordinators come up to Alberta. But Emily and Brian recognized that it was something I had an interest and talent in, so they’ve been encouraging me to do that. So this past year I was able to train three other people to be script coordinators as well. Now we have four people in Alberta that can be script coordinators. 

TTVJ: What exactly does a script coordinator do?

CH: Essentially we are the go-between from the writers’ room to production. Emily will get scripts from the writers, go through it, make changes, and then give it to me. I’ll go through it and assign scene numbers, check for spelling mistakes, and make sure the story makes sense. If they mention that Peacemaker [Wynonna’s weapon] glows blue, then I will track and make sure that for the rest of the episode when it’s supposed to glow blue that it doesn’t glow purple. I’m a bit of the logic police and I can be a bit of a stick in the mud. 

I also do a lot of research because not a lot of Canadian productions can afford writers’ assistants and script coordinators. So in Fortunate Son, it was set in 1968, so I learned a lot about American involvement in Vietnam and American espionage. On Dark Cargo I learned all about semi-trucks. 

I need to also be in charge of the lore of the story. That’s where the mythological Excel spreadsheet for Wynonna Earp comes in. I keep track of everybody’s birthdays, middle names, what their childhood best friend called them, and that it all tracks throughout the season. 

I also do clearances and that’s huge. It’s split between two people — one in the art department and one in the story department. If you’re reading a story and one name is “Christin Hanley,” then I’d have to run that by the legal department and clearance company to make sure that there are either more than 3 “Christin Hanleys” in this area, or there are no “Christin Hanleys” in this area. It’s a lot of research and no day is ever the same. Right now I’m looking for spaces for the writers’ room because we can’t use the same space we used in the past. So I’m putting on the producer hat and looking for a space to rent. 

One other thing I started doing with Fortunate Son is that I’m now a member of the Visual Researchers Society of Canada. Fortunate Son turned into a really stock footage heavy show, and I was in charge of finding historical video and getting it fairly cheap for the show. I’m like a treasure hunter, knowledge keeper, and I do anything that needs done kind of person. That falls more under producing than script coordinating. A script coordinator is someone who is almost like an editor, but not a content editor rather than more of a formatting editor. 

CBC
CBC

TTVJ: For a show like Wynonna Earp, you’re in Calgary where production is happening, but the writers’ room is based in Toronto. What’s that process like? What are the challenges and how do you deal with them?

CH: I’m pretty lucky because Emily is very communicative. She’s super easy to get a hold of and is able to answer questions. If it’s a lot of smaller stuff she’s entrusted me to answer on her behalf. On some shows you have to run every little thing by the showrunner, but Emily trusts her team, and she trusts that we make decisions on her behalf in the best interest of the show. It’s hard to not have them in the same city because I’d love to be in the same room and learning from them, but all of the writers are very responsive and quick with responses if I have questions. It’s not as big of a hindrance as it could be. I think that’s mostly because Emily and the writers are really wonderful people. They get along, they really like the show, and they are really interested in helping people be better and do better. They know that if I’m calling them it’s not because I’m pestering them, but that I have a question that is going to make the show a better situation. I really love that about them.

I’ve heard horror stories about rooms that are super competitive and the writers are mean to each other. We’re so lucky to not have that. Emily and Brian have really put together a team that really likes each other. 

TTVJ: Were you in similar situations on other shows you’ve coordinated for like Fortunate Son?

CH: Fortunate Son is an interesting case because it was mostly the showrunner who wrote all the episodes. Jennica Harper and Sarah Dodd each wrote one episode, and then Andrew Wreggitt wrote the rest of them. He was the one and only fountain of knowledge for it. I know Jennica from working on JANN and she’s so wonderful as well. Dark Cargo had the writers come up and it was convenient to go into their office. 

As I progressed and learned more with coordinating and producing, I’ve been pretty lucky where I can approach the showrunner with ideas of my own and have them be received. As a script coordinator I go to all the wardrobe, art department, and production meetings. I take notes so that everyone is on the same page. If I’m in one of those and someone says ‘she’ll pull up in a hybrid vehicle’ and the show is set in the 1970s, then I feel confident enough — because of Emily and Brian — to say ‘actually, that’s not a thing that existed at that point.’ 

TTVJ: Toronto and Vancouver has a lot of TV production happening and I know there’s big production communities there. What is the community like out in Calgary? 

CH: Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of opportunities for writers’ rooms out in Calgary. I think that’s due to the size of our industry. Vancouver has like a 100 productions on the go and we have 7. It’s a bit of a different situation, but we have a really good film community here. Everyone that works in the film industry that I have met is really thankful for their job. They are all really interested in growing and becoming better to make the industry better. 

We have a really high population of female workers in all departments, and not just the typical roles. We have a lot of a female grips and camera people. It’s really cool to see and I think that’s because we’re a fairly young industry. We don’t have that many shows so the people who are in the industry are really hearty and try to do a good job. Then the people who are really good will get work more often. It’s really nice to be in that environment. Sometimes it feels a little small, but it’s filled with some really interesting and genuine people.

TTVJ: As a young writer early in her career, you’ve gotten to work alongside Emily Andras. What’s been the most important thing you’ve learned working with her?

CH: This is such a great question and I could talk for HOURS about Emily and everything I’ve learned from her. She’s so good at sharing her knowledge and encouraging other people to shine. While I’m working on other shows I’ll often be reminded of things she’s said and can see how they relate to my current show, how she’s used that philosophy on Wynonna and how it makes her successful.  

I’m going to combine two because they feel really relevant to me as I start working on my own writing projects. Pick the things you’re willing to fight for and fight to the very end for them. For me, I really want to see more female identifying and diverse people on my screen. Any chance I get I’m asking, “Can we make this character female or diverse or both?” Combine that with just keep writing. No one writes a masterpiece the first time out, especially baby writers, so just keep at it. Keep practicing and keep going.

@EHConCanada
@EHConCanada

TTVJ: You’ve had the unique experience through Wynonna Earp to attend fan conventions and interact with fans. That’s not the norm for most script coordinators and producers. What’s that experience been like for you?

CH: I can’t even begin to tell you how special it is to experience the fandom. I didn’t join twitter until Emily encouraged me to and sort of crept around the edges of the fandom for a bit. I’ve been very lucky to attend EHCon Canada and the Calgary Film Fest and still do it relatively anonymously so I was able to see it through the eyes of the Earpers as well as the cast and crew. I was so nervous at the first con because even though I had interacted with people online I had never met anyone in real life but it instantly felt like home to me. I’m so lucky I get to experience the love and joy of Earpers and count myself among them. 

TTVJ: Do you have any advice to share for young writers or creatives looking to get into the industry?

CH: Work hard and know your worth. Be the person everyone wants to work with and remembers because of your good attitude. You’ll get noticed and people will be more willing to help train you if you’ve got a good attitude. Watch the other people that are shining stars on set and ask them for career advice. They’ll often have really great advice and be willing to chat with you. A lot of local unions have training classes that you can take if you’re interested in working in film. You can also check community colleges and public TV stations for training and volunteer opportunities. If you live in a small town or don’t have any access, listen to podcasts and watch shows about the business to learn as much as you can. And keep learning!

 

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Fortunate Son airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC. Wynonna Earp Season 4 will premiere later in 2020 on SYFY and CTV Sci-Fi.

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