Women Behind Canadian TV: Daegan Fryklind

Photo credit: Christina Gapic
Photo credit: Christina Gapic

Daegan Fryklind has just wrapped up shooting on Season 3 of the SyFy/Space Channel drama Bitten, the series she’s been showrunning since its inception. Gender roles are something that are at the forefront of Fryklind’s mind both on screen, as the supernatural thriller centers on Elena (Laura Vandervoort), the only known female werewolf, and off screen as she looks to build a well-balanced staff around her–both in the writers’ room and on the production staff.

A veteran television writer of other shows such as Motive, Being Erica and The Listener, Fryklind recently spoke with The TV Junkies as part of of our Women Behind Canadian TV series. We spoke with her about what role gender diversity plays when hiring a staff, as well as as her experience as a female working on some of Canadian television’s most successful shows.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The TV Junkies: Can you share with us a little bit about your background? You originally worked on feature films, why did you make the shift to writing for television?

Daegan Fryklind: I always wanted to be a television writer. I wasn’t aware of programs like the CFC (Canadian Film Centre) when I was younger, so I did my undergraduate and graduate degree in creative writing, doing novel and short story writing. I got in with a feature production company, a number of doors opened and I ended up meeting Pete Mitchell who was the showrunner of Cold Squad at the time. I pitched him an idea that was about this underground wrestling league. He liked it so he hired me on Cold Squad. From Cold Squad to Falcon Beach, Robson Arms, jPod and then I went on Being Erica, The Listener, I did an episode for The Guard, Motive and then Bitten where I’ve been the last three years.

One of the things about being a female showrunner and working with the team of producers here at Bitten is that they were interested in having female representation in the story department–obviously we have a female lead on the show–but I’ve been grateful and blessed in this room, and with these producers, that I’ve never felt like my gender was the reason they picked me. None of the people in the story department have been picked based on gender. It’s based on ‘Can you deliver a good script?’ I’ve never felt like J.B. [Sugar] or the producers at eOne or Hoodwink have diminished my capacity based on the fact that I’m female. I have had that experience in the past and you really do feel the difference.

I have been in rooms where I did feel like there was a gender imbalance in terms of recognition of ideas and support. It wasn’t necessarily that it was all male producers either, it’s a little bit of a crap shoot. Hopefully over here at Bitten–definitely in Season 2 I brought Jen Engels on in the room and she’s with us in Season 2 and Season 3–but in terms of the voice of the room it’s nice to have a balance across genders and diversity, all those elements that you’re looking for. But ultimately you’re going to hire the best writers and the personalities that are going to click. You’re trying to minimize drama as much as possible in your story department.

TTVJ: I think there’s a notion that when women are in charge they will inherently hire more women. However, your writers’ room on Bitten is mostly men.

DF: It was in Season 1 for sure and I interviewed a lot of women as well, but it was just the mix and the balance and who was giving the best interview and whose samples were the best. I do understand too where that is often times a case where men are given greater opportunity and they are in the room more often so their samples are going to be stronger.

In our development room I had Karen Hill because it was really important to me in the development room, not only that I had people that I knew and respected–Denis McGrath, Karen Hill, Grant Rosenberg–but also that we did have gender balance in that room. Because it was a new series. Because we have a female lead. Also because with the source material we are working with we wanted to increase the number of female characters and really play with Elena as the lead, and who are the archetypes of female characters we could position around her to shed light on her situation as the only female werewolf? So there were some choices we made in Season 1–the sheriff character we made female, there was a sister of the love interest and we made that a more regular character, created a girlfriend for one of the other pack members which was an off book character. We just wanted to make sure that we were representing more women on the show and increased that as the season went.

On a very, very practical level we have a certain level of nudity on this show and when it’s a closed set, for the comfort level of our actors and actresses on the show, I like to be there or have another female producer be there for them so that they know it’s not all male eyes on the monitor. In Season 1 I had to go to all of those because I was the only female above the line on the show. I can’t be everywhere at all times, so not only in terms of the voice and representation in the room, but making sure there are people who can be available to the cast in that respect.

TTVJ: You talked about women writing for women, but we have seen some men write really great female characters.

DF: Oh gosh yes! Will Zmak is one of the strongest feminists in our room. He married his high school sweetheart and has two daughters. Larry Bambrick has two daughters–all of the men on this show all have a very strong female presence in their life keeping them in check. It’s funny these questions that I get sometimes about writing strong female characters. I would like to think that we write strong characters and some of them are female and some of them are male.

Space Channel
Space Channel

TTVJ: On the flip side, is part of the problem that we need to keep equalizing things in front of the camera to change things behind the scenes?

DF: It’s on both sides of the camera. It’s not only in the writers’ room, it’s across the entire crew. There are times I’ll go on a tech survey and I’m with 25 people on the tech survey and I’m the only women. There are other departments where it’s just men across the board. You do kind of have to be your own strong female character in some ways. As I say though, on this show I’ve never felt like my voice hasn’t been heard because I’m female. There is a very progressive nature in this show in terms of gender recognition. It’s not a sexist show by any means. That starts at the top level down from executive producers and how women are treated in representation along producorial lines and into the story room.

But it’s the language too I find. It’s hard to kind of articulate it, but in meetings it’ll be more ‘You know, what if we did this?’ It’s a softer pitch when women are pitching an idea, and it’s not out of lack of confidence. I think we’ve just been trained coming up through this that if I say it very forcefully you’re going to think I’m angry or it’s accusatory. But if I do a soft pitch it’s going to land easier and everybody is going to buy in. We’re actually playing with this with Elena this season in terms of how Alphas are and if she were to move in that position what kind of Alpha would she be? How would she rule the pack? It is that sense that there’s a different way that women lead and it’s more encompassing ‘us as a team are going to do this thing.’

TTVJ: It seems that genre TV is much more welcoming to women in behind the scenes positions. Why do you think that is?

DF: To me it feels like genre TV has a tendency towards more female leads, starting with Buffy and then as things have changed like in the new Battlestar Galactica where Starbuck was a woman, and then more and more the adaptations are Wynonna Earp, Van Helsing now has a female lead, Lost Girl and Killjoys have a female lead. There’s just so many female leads across genre so of course hopefully that will translate into more female voices in the writers’ room to help represent those women in a way that is authentic–which isn’t to say that men can’t write authentic women either, they absolutely can.

TTVJ: What does your ideal television landscape look like then with a female presence?

DF: That would look like a room that was balanced. That would look like a room that doesn’t just have one female in the room, one diverse writer in the room. That would look like a room that was a true collaboration and a true mix of everything that you want your show to represent. Sometimes you will see a room where there’s a female in the room because there’s a box that needs to be ticked. That breaks my heart that we’re not at a point where it’s a given that there’s more than one woman in the room.

TTVJ: So what is your advice to young female writers that maybe are getting those positions because of their gender? Just take it and get your foot in the door?

DF: Well I’d say that to any writer who is a young writer–female or male it doesn’t matter–if you’re being offered a position in a writer’s room take it. Every single experience is going to help build your understanding of how rooms work. Each room I’ve been part of has been different and as you’re moving up the food chain and deciding whether you’d like to take on the endeavor that is showrunning, you build the way and run a room based on those prior rooms that you’ve been in.

TTVJ: Canadian television has some women in very prominent positions behind the scenes. What are your peers doing that you’re impressed by at the moment?

DF: Working. [laughs] It keeps getting tougher every year and the budgets keep getting tighter every year and so the complications and the challenges are bigger every year. For those of us who are still at it and managing to put together a watchable show from week to week, that is a lot to celebrate and a lot to be proud of.

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

Bitten returns for Season 3 to Space Channel and SyFy in early 2016.

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