It’s no wonder that internationally acclaimed writer Sonia Gumuchian has caught America’s attention. An award-winning writer with sharp dialogue, hilarious stories and impeccable timing, Gumuchian’s ability to turn real life situations into fun and engaging scripts will leave any person wanting more.
Originally from Vancouver, Canada, Gumuchian has a way with words that is an impeccable blend of both natural talent and deliberately honed skill. With her first novel under her belt before she finished high school, and then graduating from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Writing for Screen and Television, Gumuchian’s talents were quickly recognized by major powerhouse networks in Hollywood.
Working for respected TV networks such as HBO and FOX, as well as ABC Studios, Gumuchian attended table reads and provided coverage on potential scripts, which helped her learn the ropes of what goes into developing some of today’s most watched shows. Gumuchian even worked with the Hallmark Channel where the ideas she pitched were taken into consideration in the development of the 2016 Kitten Bowl, the nation’s most beloved rescue pet adoption of the year. THE KITTEN BOWL, guys.
Her pilot “Hi Again” has been met with glowing praise and interest. Centering on a young woman who wakes up as an android that’s been built by her ex boyfriend, yikes, Gumuchian’s script for “Hi Again” was awarded as a second rounder at the esteemed Austin Film Festival, an honor that only 15 to 20 percent of almost 10,000 submissions receive.
“At the time, I was inspired by the technology centered around transhumanism and the surge of science fiction content we were receiving,” Gumuchian explains. “After personally visiting AI symposiums and conducting interviews with scientists who are creating the next generation of materials made to simulate human faces, I wanted to write my own spin of the genre. What if someone was brought back to life, but not on their own terms?”
And that’s exactly what happens. The story begins in 1987, when 21-year-old Kat tragically dies from a drunken bowling accident, leaving her friends, family, and loving boyfriend, Toby, behind. Cut to 2018 and Toby, now a successful scientist, finally succeeds in downloading Kat’s consciousness onto an android, only for Kat to break up with him the second she wakes up (something she was meaning to do before she died). Now, faced with a world far into the future, Kat must navigate new waters and become reacquainted with her loved ones. With “Hi Again” Gumuchian pulls at heartstrings while exploring the depths of human connection and making the reader laugh out loud, pretty much all of the time.
One priceless mark of a great writer is their ability to pick up and expand upon a contemporary idea and make it into something more– a throughline regularly seen in sci-fi novels and scripts, but Gumuchian does it with comedy. A a certifiable pro, that’s exactly what she did with her “Good Cop, Old Cop” script drawing inspiration from the series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” The script, which is only one of several that will leave audiences rolling on the floor laughing, earned her attention once again when, going up against 800 other entries, it made it into the Top 7 in Filmmakers.com’s TV Script Writing Competition.
The story follows Jake and Amy as they go undercover to infiltrate a fake ID epidemic, which leads Jake to the painful realization that he can’t connect to the youth anymore; meanwhile, Boyle distrusts Rosa’s new boyfriend, as Mike and Scully investigate a suspicious Chinese restaurant. The script’s ingenuity lies within Gumuchian’s seamless creation of fresh new material cut from a preexisting cloth, an invaluable asset to any writers room. Honestly, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if she starts writing for Saturday Night Live or the like very soon.
With talents expanding from screenwriting to journalism, Gumuchian has been chosen to contribute as a staff writer to a plethora of popular magazines and media outlets such as The Fullest Magazine, and Neon Tommy.
Covering countless red carpet events and movie premieres for media outlet Neon Tommy, her review of “A Million Ways to Die in the West” not only gained major traction with audiences, but it was retweeted by Alex Borstein, one of the film’s stars. A gratifying moment for any writer.
“On one of my most glamorous nights, I was invited to join the red carpet of the ‘Hunger Games,’ and got to chat with the likes of Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence” Gumuchian recalls.
The voice found in Gumuchian’s writing is gripping and visceral, hilarious and deliberate, engaging and unwasted. She is an unparalleled and important presence behind a keyboard, a mind behind the pages that continue turn the world of entertainment on its side, in a good way.
She admits, “I’m the type of person where I’ll say yes to nearly any experience, and no matter how dangerous or silly my adventures may be, I usually encounter an interesting story or person along my way, and most of my stories do come that real-life inspiration. I live life as a gatherer of stories. Every new day is an opportunity for inspiration, meeting strangers, and getting whisked off to new locations.”
Though she’s gained international attention for her storytelling capacity in the realm of pop culture and comedy, Gumuchian’s gift extends far beyond that alone. Her ability to speak bravely and candidly about tragedies such as the Armenian genocide in the piece “Coming to Terms with Genocide” has helped to shed light on heavy and hard hitting world events while also giving readers a deeper look into her personal world.
She explains, “One piece that I’m proud of is a reflection I wrote about the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and my personal experience with it growing up. It was a hard piece to write, as I had to explore sometimes painful parts about not just the genocide itself, but my part in keeping the legacy alive.”
Without passionate, honest, and gifted writers such as Gumuchian, we, the human race, would never really know the true impact of incredibly sensitive, and even painful, events our cultures and societies have endured. Gumuchian’s article about immigration and her family’s personal migration history can be found in the ‘Volume 5’ print edition of The Fullest Magazine.
As a writer Sonia Gumuchian is one powerful storyteller who’s creative genius clearly spans the gamut and she is definitely one to keep your eyes on.
Camilla Sauer is one of Germany’s most successful head writers. Over the past 20 years of her career, she’s been accredited for her remarkable work on over a dozen different TV series, produced by some of the biggest German and European TV and Film production companies.
Getting her start as a creative writer at the young age of 19, Sauer proved early on that she was destined to spend her life creating and telling stories. Just three years after her first professional gig, she went from intern to full-time storyliner on Germany’s second highest rated TV series, Verbotene Liebe (Forbidden Love). With numerous awards won and over 4,5000 episodes aired, Verbotene Liebe circles around the lives of young men and women in Germany, their friends, and their families, and has become well known for its positive representation of LGBT characters and its presentation of controversial issues. The show is produced by UFA Serial Drama (Metropolis and The Blue Angel), one of Germany’s oldest and most distinguished entertainment brands
Sauer worked on Verbotene Liebe for two of its 20 seasons. From there, she climbed the ranks and earned what would be her first of many head writer titles for a season on the crime series Einsatz für Ellrich, of the award-winning production company, Constantin Entertainment.
“Two years later I started working for Alles Was Zählt, where I continued to work for three years,” Sauer said. “I was there from day one and was fortunate enough to be able to create this TV drama with some of the most talented writers. We were all so different, but each and every one of us was passionate about the show. We were encouraged to tell fresh, new, and compelling stories. We all put 100% of our effort into the stories – and it paid off.”
In February of 2008, while Sauer was the head writer on the show, Alles Was Zählt was awarded Blu Magazine’s Best National TV Format award for its portrayal of the relationship between two of its characters, Deniz and Roman. Additionally, Guido Reinhardt, Chief Creative Officer of UFA and producer of the groundbreaking series, provided Sauer with the opportunity to work as a creative producer together with the producer of the TV series Unter Uns, ultimately trusting her to relaunch this show and work with a different team of writers, with a different broadcast station in the process. “Camilla is truly a writer of extraordinary merit and ability,” Reinhardt recently commented of his professional colleague of over 10 years. “She possesses a talent that is rare, and it is her unique combination of talent and experience that has resulted in her becoming one of Germany’s most successful head writers.”
Having aired in 2006 to the present, Alles Was Zählt is one of the longest running TV dramas in Germany.
While it’s obvious that creative talent is a must-have when it comes to being a successful writer, one of Sauer’s greatest strengths that Reinhardt pointed out: life experience, along with empathy and a sense of structure, are also qualities that mustn’t be overlooked. Sauer is well versed when it comes to all of these, her expansive success as a head writer in the entertainment industry serving as proof. Expanding upon what she’s learned regarding the importance of these assets, Sauer explained, “It takes empathy to create characters and to be able to connect with how they feel and act. Not because you would do so, but because your character with his background, culture, and personality would do so. It takes some life experience because life gives you the best inspiration every day, everywhere. The best stories I’ve ever heard stem from real life experiences. Lastly, structure is needed to be able to take your story to the next level; To create a plot, a script, a scene. I know a lot of writers who are either very creative, but have issues with creating structure, and vice versa. If you have both – you are considered one of the lucky ones.”
In addition to head writer, Sauer has also worked diligently as a creative producer and story consultant on numerous distinguished projects broadcasted on some of the most established networks throughout Europe such as, Soko Familie, Herzflimmern, Unter Uns, the award winning Dahoam is Dahoam, and Lena – Liebe Meines Lebens, the latter which she first began working on a few years post her work on Alles Was Zählt.
“A story consultant in Germany is probably considered a creative producer, or a co-showrunner in the US. It’s someone who works closely with the producer and/or show runner. Together they create the story concept, characters, and the long running plots of the TV series,” Sauer said of her job title. “This particular work is not so much focused on the details like scenes or dialogue, but more so of the development of the whole concept of the TV series. The staff writers break our ideas down into episodes, scenes, and scripts.”
In 2010, Sauer was hired by the academy award winning production company, Wiedemann & Berg (The Lives of Others, WhoAmI, Welcome to Germany, and Dark), to create Lena – Liebe Meines Lebens with showrunner Günter Overman (Storm of Love, Verschollen, and Hinter Gittern – Der Frauenknast). The series title translates to Lena – Love of My Life in English, and is an adaptation of the Argentine series Don Juan y Su Bella Dama, created by Claudio Villarruel and Bernarda Llorente.
It was on Lena – Liebe meines Lebens where Sauer first worked with co-founder and CEO of Wiedemann & Berg, Quirin Berg. Berg, who thinks quite of the writer’s talents, shared, “I have had the pleasure of working with Camilla Sauer and can without a doubt certify that she is an exceptionally talented head writer, and furthermore, one of the best head writers in Germany. Camilla is extremely unique in many aspects. She is outstandingly creative, a very fast thinker, she has a wonderful ability to express her ideas clearly, create deep and three-dimensional characters, and eventually bring them to life. Additionally, she can immediately identify specific problems in a story and articulate a solution to them.”
Since 2012, Sauer has been staffed as the head writer for Germany’s hit series Schicksale – und plötzlich ist alles anders (Fate – and suddenly everything is different). Produced by Constantin Entertainment, the TV series has been running for eight years, consists of twelve seasons, and was recently picked up for another (1 year).
In Camilla’s words, the idea behind Schicksale – und plötzlich ist alles anders is that, “Things are not happening to you, they are happening for you. Even if it looks like something bad is happening to you, it just creates a new opportunity for us to learn, to grow, and to eventually make better decisions that lead to a better life. ‘Fate’ is about that one single moment, that ‘accident’ that might look like some random situation, that completely changes your life.”
While working on such a long running show for an extended period of time has its challenges, Sauer has demonstrated that she is an expert when it comes to contributing fresh and exciting stories to an ongoing series, and in doing so has played a pivotal role in the success of Schicksale – und plötzlich ist alles anders. Former CEO of Constantin Entertainment Christoph Knechtel raved of the head writer, “Camilla is truly a head writer of extraordinary merit and ability. I was fortunate enough to witness her extraordinary talent in screenwriting when she served as writer, head writer, and showrunner on numerous television series like K-11-Kommissare im Einsatz, Einsatz für Ellrich, Schicksale, In Gefahr, Im Namen Der Gerechtigkeit, and Soko Familie for huge networks such as Sat. 1, RTL, VOX, and more. Her demonstrated skill and unparalleled creativity on these and other projects have earned Camilla widespread recognition and international acclaim as one of German television’s leading writers.”
Presently, Sauer is in development with the German TV production companies, UFA Serial Drama, Constantin Entertainment, and Bastei Media, on a few pilots and television series while continuing to write for Schicksale – und plötzlich ist alles anders.
Driven, versatile and passionate, German television writer-producer Kirsten Ittershagen, who works as a Showrunner for German and international TV series, has ascended to the top of her field thanks to a powerful combination of raw talent and creative vision. In a decade’s time she went from an entry level aspirant to become the creator, writer and producer on one of the nation’s top series, Alibi Agency, a program that deftly combines comedy and drama into a singular, intriguing format.
The road which led her from a career in advertising to television and Alibi Agency was one marked by fate and determination, an odyssey that began when Ittershagen was a child and came to fruition, years later, after a dramatic leap of faith. “I’ve been a TV fan since childhood,” Ittershagen said. “It all started with Love Boat, Magnum, P.I. and Beverly Hills 90210. My mom was always concerned that I didn’t read as much as my sister did—I came home from school and enjoyed the afternoon by watching German and American TV shows.”
“It became my passion,” she said. “Even during my studies of Sociology, Cultural Studies and Psychology at the University of Hamburg, I still watched TV in the afternoon or evenings. After I graduated, I began working in advertising but still dreamed of a career in the TV Industry. I had to follow my passion in order to be happy and very spontaneously, I quit my job, moved to Berlin and decided to be a writer. It was a big risk, but luckily it worked out.”
Against some steep odds, Ittershagen’s determination and skill began to pay off. Starting as an intern at GrundyUFA (an independent TV subsidiary of the fabled UFA film studio), Ittershagen soon graduated to working out plots as “storyliner” moved on to story editing and before long found herself the head writer on popular, long-running dramas Unter Uns (Among Us), Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten (Good Times, Bad Times”) and the writer-producer of Verbotene Liebe (Forbidden Love)
“My biggest dream came true,” Ittershagen said. “I got job writing for the company which produced my favorite TV series that I’d watched for years.”
A story teller second to none, her ability to imprint a unique twist on a familiar scenario has served her well, and Ittershagen managed it in a particularly demanding sector of the industry—the high pressure world of TV series. This is an arena of inescapable deadlines, where a writer must not only meet an almost impossibly tight schedule but also maintain consistent quality and narrative poise.
And she did it with impressive skill. “Kirsten combines exceptional creative talent with the management strength necessary to run a room of writers, each of whom has their own character,” said Jan Diepers, Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten executive producer. ”I remember several occasions where it seemed impossible to continue with a storyline; whether due to budgeting reasons or an unforeseeable incident, but Kirsten never lost focus or her positive, creative attitude. She would usually return from the writer’s room with an even better idea and solution.”
Ittershagen’s extraordinary talent isn’t just known in Germany. As a passionate traveler Ittershagen loves to work internationally and for different cultures. For the international company FremantleMedia, Ittershagen worked in Croatia on the show Ruza Vjetrova (Rose of the Wind) for Croation broadcaster RTL, heading up their international writers room. Typically for Ittershagen, the show become one of the most successful in that country. She also developed a TV series called The Mall for the same company, set in Dubai and marketed to air in the Middle East.
Following this international success she also became the first German writer-producer invited to join the faculty at Serial Eyes Program, the groundbreaking European postgraduate high-level TV series writing and producing program in Berlin, where she mentors up and coming European scriptwriters and producers.
Her creation and subsequent success of Alibi Agency was almost inevitable. “Ten years ago I had the idea about a guy who helps people to cheat on their spouses” Ittershagen said. “I started research and found an actual alibi agency which offered all the professional lies, fake worlds and realities you need, hiding an affair, two families or even a disease like cancer or HIV from bosses or a job in porn or escort from families.”. I’m a very honest person and I was fascinated and disgusted in the same time. But I realized, in creating these stories, how important is to discuss the value of truth and, also, the easy way out with lies. It resonates with audiences and they reflect on their own lives—‘Would I do the same? Who I can trust?’ And now, on top of that, ten years later, we live in a world full of lies, in the news, the internet, all around us. Whistleblowers coming out with some truths we never wanted to hear, or did we? That’s why Alibi Agency mirrors the contemporary feeling of society.”
Her precision, vigor and ability to consistently turn out world class scripts earned her a formidable reputation among her peers—her daily drama shows average 4 million viewers each, and earned her the prestigious German Soap Award in 2012 for “responsible social and humanitarian storytelling” for her teenage HIV-themed story of the show Unter Uns (Among Us).
Her background in sociology and psychology lend canny depth to her scripts and Ittershagen’s crisp, articulate dialog, sense of pacing and sheer reach of storyline benefit every project to which she contributes. For Ittershagen, with an already significant level or professional achievements, the sky is the limit; as Jan Diepers points out, “Kirsten has an extraordinary ability to spin ideas further than most writers I know.”
And the multi-faceted Ittershagen—writer, producer, series creator, showrunner—wouldn’t have it any other way. “It is an astonishing feeling when you see your ideas, characters and stories come alive on the screen,” she said. “Television is a mass medium that has major impact on society and I want to use it for greater good. I see my purpose as a writer in sending important, uplifting messages to my audience. There is enough fear, pain, violence, hate and terror out there—I think the world needs hope, love, light and laughter. And as a TV writer I have the chance to make the world a better place, at least a little.”
Delivering a punch line is hard work. Saying things in the right way to provoke laughter is not easy. Comedic actors definitely have their work cut out for them. That being said, writing something that makes people laugh can be even harder. Ottawa born and Toronto based comedic actor and writer Adam Niebergall knows this better than most.
After discovering a passion for acting in high school drama classes and the improv team, Niebergall continued his dramatic studies at Queen’s University. After graduating and moving to Toronto, he took writing classes at the world-renown Second City.
“I got into writing because I was really inspired by what people around Toronto were doing with comedy and I wanted to find out what my point of view would produce compared to theirs. People like David Dineen Porter, who lives in LA now, working as a writer on The Late Late Show, or Tom Henry and Chris Locke, who are both stand ups in Toronto, were inspirations,” said Niebergall.
Niebergall also formed a close friendship with Roger Bainbridge and the two formed the sketch comedy group Tony Ho.
“I especially loved Roger’s writing, obviously I’m such a weird fan boy of my friend Roger, but he really made unique stuff and had great ideas and I wanted my writing to be my own version of that,” he said.
Niebergall is now an award-winning writer and actor after winning a Canadian Comedy Award in 2015 as a member of sketch troupe Get Some. Get Some also won Toronto Sketchfest Best of the Fest that year, as well as Best of Fest at Montreal Sketchfest in 2016.
“For me, my writing surprises me. Whenever I feel like I’m really getting somewhere with my writing I feel this sort of meditative quality of peace, and I’m pleasantly baffled at having no idea where it came from. You live your everyday life as yourself and you know who you are, but at least for me, when I write I feel like ‘…who the hell am I? I didn’t know that stuff was in there’. I like that feeling a lot,” he described. “What I like about writing comedy is making really complicated emotions. I love the idea of making someone laugh but also feel something else. It’s such a neat idea to me that someone can laugh and feel sad at the same time, or that you can laugh and feel confused at the same time. I want to write comedy that you might think about later. Either there was a visual or a joke or a concept that stayed with you and you can’t shake it and hopefully it makes you feel weird.”
Despite his success, Niebergall still acknowledges the challenges that writing can bring. He believes there are two challenges that all writers need to overcome.
“You have to maintain your confidence when you’re stuck with something and you have to try and figure out how to fix it or you feel unmotivated and you can’t think of what to write,” he said. “You also have to let go of things you love when you’re writing something. Often the kernel of an idea that got you so excited to write something is ultimately expendable when you’re nearing the final product or it doesn’t work anymore and you have to get rid of it. It’s really hard to do for me. I feel like it happens almost every time for me so I’m getting used to it.”
Niebergall definitely overcomes these challenges. Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll, a producer and writer who has worked with Niebergall, describes working with him as working in a “joke factory.”
“Adam’s a complete dream to have on the production team, and brings a creative drive to the process, that not only makes everyone around him work hard, it gives us all a trust in one another. Adam not only works well professionally and with full attention to detail, he also makes sure we work efficiently,” said Fernandez-Stoll. “I’m thankful to know such a good writer, actor and all around great guy.”
Daniel Beirne, an actor, writer, and producer known for the award-winning television show Fargo, has known Niebergall since high school, and describes him as a pleasure to work with.
“Adam is a joy to have on set, both with his humor and his ease of performance. Adam comes prepared, and is always ready even after long hours of work and waiting. Adam makes other actors feel at ease thanks to his ability to make them laugh and feel comfortable, and by extension increases the overall workplace atmosphere to one of joy. Adam brings thoughts and ideas to his characters and process that strengthen the project as a whole, often in unexpected ways,” said Beirne. “His surprising approach, although often quite funny, comes from a very honest place, and it makes for extremely compelling viewing. Adam is naturally unique, and he uses his craft to enhance that uniqueness, to bring about a singular performer, who will go far.”
Niebergall’s writing credits now extend to two comedic short films Japan and Wanda that were both nominated Canadian Comedy Awards. Japan was also selected for LA Comedy Shorts Fi Festival and won the Laugh Sabbath film festival at NXNE in 2014.
“Making Japan and Wanda were both very hard work really taxing because we wanted to make spotless, professional impressive looking movies with almost no budget at all,” he described. “Luckily we had great help. Henry Sansom was a miracle for us because he had unbelievable camera equipment and he was willing to work with a really small crew to shoot them both. Same goes for Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll. He helped us produce both movies and we couldn’t have done it without him. Also Morgan Waters and Tim Moore who have cut our movies beautifully for us.”
Despite all of his success, Niebergall still finds the criteria for great writing to be mysterious.
“I wish I could make a formula or something. My process changes all the time. I know that I really get going when I feel like I’m making the weirdest possible idea I can write that still feels honest somehow or relatable. I’m inspired to be so damn weird but still really engage your interest,” he concluded.
Connecting with people on an emotional level is tricky. Creating something that truly terrifies someone, or makes them overwhelmed with sadness enough to shed a tear is not easy. Being capable of writing something that truly speaks to someone is a gift. That being said, there is one reaction that many writers strive for and fail to achieve, and being able to generate it takes not just skill, but talent a writer must be born with. That reaction is laughter.
Canadian sitcom writer Nadiya Chettiar knows this too well. After having overwhelming success writing for Package Deal, Netflix’s Some Assembly Required where she was nominated for a Leo Award, and the upcoming show Workin’ Moms, Chettiar is becoming a seasoned professional.
After achieving so much in her career so far, she can now offer advice to those looking to follow a similar path.
“The biggest challenge is that trying to make people laugh involves putting yourself out there,” said Chettiar. “You’re showing people what you think is funny, what you think period, and that’s revealing something about who you are. Even a dog in a lobster costume has to reveal that he had that lobster costume in his closet already. It’s scary.”
“I think when you and other people laugh at the same thing together, it’s a bonding experience. You’re also bonding with the person/thing/dog in a lobster costume that made you laugh. So that’s really rewarding. It’s tapping into something that is universal,” she continued.
Sitcom, short for “situational comedy,” is all about working around relationships and experiences of the characters that the audience slowly becomes more and more familiar with as each episode progresses. It is different than writing stand-up comedy, where the joke is the punchline. Often, the punchline in a sitcom is entirely dependent on the characters the writers have created.
“I think when you’re writing for characters the only real rule that applies is the comedy has to be true to the characters,” described Chettiar. “The moment you have a character saying or doing something that they wouldn’t normal do, the illusion is broken. It’s game over.”
“Personally, I think writing is really tight when the character has to say the funny thing they are saying or do the funny thing they are doing because there is simply no other way for that character to react in that situation,” she explained. “Also, I love it when comedy is grounded in reality. The closer to real life, but maybe tweaked in a way that only that specific character would react, the better.”
However, there are obstacles in the way for those who strive to make others laugh. Everyone knows the feeling of telling a bad joke. The moment where you say something with a bit of a chuckle, and the room falls silent. Slowly, you have to pretend you didn’t think the joke would be that funny, and crawl into a small corner of the room to hide the embarrassment. For sitcom writers, there are a lot more people to hear the joke than a couple of your close friends. The key to success as a comedy writer, according to Chettiar, is perseverance.
“I write bad jokes all the time,” she said. “When a joke is one where I find myself doing a lot of explaining about why it was funny afterward… That’s never a good sign.”
“If you’re in a writing room and no one laughs at a joke you pitch, it feels bad, but at the same time, the writers’ room is a place for experimentation, and pitching bad jokes is unfortunately a part of the process of pitching good jokes,” she explained. “If you’re on stage and you don’t get a laugh, it just sucks. But the same rule applies. You have to keep going because if you don’t, you’ll never make anyone laugh. But I will say that the best jokes are ones that I think are funny, as well as other people. When we agree on something being funny, that’s a good joke. Write, fail, write, get better. It’s a process.”
Chettiar also recommends enrolling in writing courses to gain experience for new writers.
“Not only will you get the benefit of someone skilled looking at and assessing your work, you get the beyond important bonus of deadlines,” she said. “Deadlines, especially when they are imposed by someone other than yourself, can be enormously helpful.”
Television writers also have to deal with a fact that many jokesters are exempt from. They are not the ones telling their joke.
“Actors bring so much to your work,” said Chettiar. “We’re really lucky as scriptwriters in that way. Especially in the hands of a funny actor. I’ve written lines that weren’t even jokes, but in the hands of the right actor, end up being the funniest moment in a scene. That is always so fun to see.”
Chettiar always knew what her path should be. For those just starting out and starting to feel discouraged, remember what brought you there in the first place.
“I love to laugh. I love funny people,” she said. “I guess it comes out of growing up with three siblings. Four kids under one roof meant there were often fights and squabbles going on between us. But it seemed that whoever could make the others laugh was always the top dog. And if you “got” the joke, you were in. I guess there’s a sense of belonging tied into sharing a laugh with people. I guess for me, comedy was like a commodity when I was growing up. We really valued a good joke.”
After all, there is no greater feeling than making people laugh.
“It may be the purest form of joy I know,” Chettiar concluded.
It takes a very rare individual to not only be able to write a successful script for a production, but produce it as well. When it comes to getting a project off the ground and actually bringing it to the stage or screen, the writer is the person who knows the ins and outs of the story they’ve created and feels the most passionately about it, at least initially; so, in an ideal world it makes sense that they’d be the best person to pitch the project to networks and ensure that the world they’ve created comes across accurately once production begins.
Unfortunately for the many writers who want to make it in the highly competitive entertainment industry, the differences between being the writer and the producer on a project call upon two very different personality types. Whereas the writer can retreat into their imagination creating their work without having to interact with other people—the producer has to be able to pitch the heck out of the story getting financiers and network executives on board, and if successful, then they have to communicate and guide everyone involved in the production towards the end goal.
While these individuals are understandably few and far between, Canada’s George Reinblatt is undoubtedly one of them. Over the last decade the unique and multifariously talented producer and writer has transitioned between the two roles with ease, consistently creating successful productions along the way.
To get an idea of the success Reinblatt has had as a producer, just look at the multi-award winning production “Evil Dead: The Musical,” which he wrote as well.
The production, which initially opened at a small theatre in Toronto in 2003, was an instant hit, and by 2006 the show was running as an off-Broadway production in New York where it received extensive international acclaim. After watching the show on opening night in NY, New York Times’ critic Anita Gates wrote that the show had the makings to become the next “Rocky Horror Show.”
“This was really special for me, as it was my show – I wrote the book and lyrics. So it was important for me to be on the producing side to make sure I could have a hand in all aspects of the production — from casting to merchandising to ticketing to even choosing the venue,” explains Reinblatt about producing the initial run of the show.
As the writer of the musical, Reinblatt created a masterpiece on paper, but it was his capacity as a producer that took that hilarious cult world from that which could only be experienced in the imagination and erected it into something audiences could collectively enjoy as he intended it. Prior to going into production with the hit show, Reinblatt reached out to the movie studios and secured the rights to the Evil Dead franchise in order to make the stage production the official stage adaptation of the film trilogy.
“Evil Dead: The Musical” won the Dora Audience Choice Award as Toronto’s Favorite Show, and after having several extended runs, by 2008 it became the longest running Canadian show in Toronto in over two decades.
Over the last year Reinblatt has been working hard producing a slew of comedies for international television networks including the Comedy Central special Jeff Ross Roasts Criminals: Live from Brazos County Jail.
“It was amazing how much time and effort had to go into this one comedy special,” admits Reinblatt. “I came up with the idea of doing a comedy show in a prison. Jeff Ross thought it was a great idea. Comedy Central thought it was a great idea. But finding a prison willing to let us come in there and roast them, that was the hard part.”
Reinblatt and everyone on board knew they had something special on their hands, and after a year of planning and researching prison life, Reinblatt helped bring the eye-opening special to the screen.
The special, which aired in June, offered audiences more than just a few good laughs as they watched renowned comic Jeff Ross, known to many as ‘The Roastmaster General,’ roast the inmates at Brazos County Jail though. Along with Ross’s satirical jokes, the show included shocking facts about the American prison system making it a valuable source of information as well. Reinblatt’s brilliant idea for the show coupled with his ability to make the project happen as a producer made the release a resounding success.
As a writer on the series The Burn with Jeff Ross, and the popular Comedy Central roast specials of Roseanne, James Franco, Charlie Sheen and Justin Bieber, Reinblatt has worked with Jeff Ross multiple times over the years. He is also known throughout the international entertainment industry for penning the scripts for an impressive list of productions including the series Just for Laughs, George Stroumboulopolos Tonight, The Arsenio Hall Show, the 2012 and 2013 MuchMusic Video Awards and more.
“Different is what I do. I’m always looking for my next project to be different from my last. And jumping from a musical to a prison comedy special to a sketch show is about as different as you can get,” admits Reinblatt.
From the standpoint of producer, George Reinblatt knows exactly what story ideas will sit best with audiences, and earlier this year he began producing yet another exciting comedy series. The new 20-episode series Almost Genius, which is slated to begin airing on Country Music Television Canada in 2016, combines popular YouTube videos with some of the best comics in the entertainment industry today. Using highly innovative production technology, the show actually inserts the comics into the YouTube clips using green screen.
Reinblatt says, “It’s going to make people look at their favorite YouTube clips in a whole new way.”
With inimitable creativity, Reinblatt has continually displayed his capacity for producing starkly different projects for both the stage and screen, all of which reveal him as someone who is not only capable of creating captivating stories, but ensuring the production process goes off without a hitch as well.
“I just want the overall experience for the audience to be a great one, so I love being involved in all aspects of a production to ensure that happens,” explains Reinblatt. “Sometimes as a writer, you write something, hand it in, and what happens from there in performance, or editing, or anything else, is completely out of your hands. As a producer you get a say in the overall direction. You may not always get exactly what you want. But your voice is always heard and you can help navigate the direction of the final product.”
Hundreds of people across various departments behind the scenes work grueling hours day in and day out in order to bring us our favorite television shows; and, besides the cast, few of these individuals rarely get the recognition they deserve.
Over the last week at Tinsel Town News Now we’ve brought you inside interviews with some of these incredible professionals who continue to dote their unique talents upon the entertainment industry, not for the praise, but because this is what they love to do.
This week we are excited to give you an exclusive look into the world of writing for television with Writer’s Guild of Canada Award winner and Gemini nominated screenwriter, Nicole Demerse.
Over the course of her astonishingly successful career, Demerse has written episodes for over 45 television shows. From laugh out loud comedies and teen dramas to action-packed sci-fi adventure and animated shows Demerse has done it all, and she knows exactly what it takes to keep television viewers engaged.
Some of the shows she’s written for over the years include the hit dramas Degrassi: The Next Generation, Radio Free Roscoe and Instant Star, the animated shows Fugget About it, the Total Drama Island franchise, Braceface, Ruby Gloom, Atomic Betty, I Spy, Producing Parker, Chirp, and Totally Spies!, the comedy shows She’s The Mayor, Majority Rules, The Blobheads, and many more.
Demerse has also written several movies of the week including Mixed Up!, and The Invisible Rules of Zoe Lama, as well as several others that are currently in development.
To find out more about what it takes to become a successful writer in the television industry, some of Demerse’s personal career highlights and how she got to where she is today, make sure to read our interview below.
You can also check out more of Nicole Demerse’s work through her IMDb page.
TTNN:Where are you from and what was it like growing up there?
ND: I was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I have lived in several places (London, England and Vancouver, British Columbia). Toronto is the fifth largest city in North America and pretty safe city as far as big cities go, so it’s a great place to come of age – all the benefits of a big city and few of the risks. We also have a large film and TV industry here, both foreign and domestic, so I was exposed to the business growing up.
TTNN:How have your early experiences influenced some of the work you create today?
ND: I grew up watching WAY too much TV! Thanks, Mom and Dad. But seriously, in my case, that was a good thing. Even though I lived in a big city, television is what introduced me to the rest of the world. I always laugh when my friends say they don’t want their kids to watch TV because as long as you pick the right stuff, television can be highly educational and can help foster a great imagination in children. I used to love watching nature documentaries as a kid – especially anything to do with the ocean. Toronto is situated on the shores of Lake Ontario and while it’s a huge lake, it’s no ocean. We used to take trips to Florida every year as a family and I’ve always loved the ocean. So between yearly family vacations, I’d get my fix watching NOVA, Nature on PBS, old episodes of Jacque Costeau, The Discovery Channel, etc. It actually inspired me to get a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology. Of course, once I graduated I realized that I actually didn’t want to do hardcore research and become a professor, I wanted to explore the world and make great television and write. As a kid, I also loved watching sci-fi and action adventure, anything that was out of my normal sphere of experience. I also read a lot, but I was always a very visual kid and television was a medium I loved from a very early age.
TTNN:When and how did you get into the industry as a screenwriter?
ND: After doing my four-year Bachelor of Science degree… and make no mistake about it, “Marine Biology” may have an artsy sound to it, it is a hardcore science degree that involves tons of math, statistics and physics. My program started with over five hundred people and only 30 graduated. I did my fourth year thesis on “Ion regulation in a population of migratory Lake Sturgeon from the James Bay Watershed.” And as I was standing there, in a northern Ontario river, waist deep in hip-waders in freezing cold water, I had this moment of realization that without a camera to document this stuff, what difference was I really making. Sure, our research would go into some periodical and hopefully it would be useful to somebody, somewhere, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to inspire kids like me to learn and think and dream. I hope to write my “Finding Nemo” or “SpongeBob Square Pants” someday so I can put my degree to some sort of use. It would make my parents proud.
After University, I did science journalism for about a year and again had a crisis of conscience because I didn’t want to do research, I just wanted to tell good stories and make stuff up. Journalism tends to frown on that… unless you work for Fox News. Then I heard that the Canadian Film Centre, founded by the iconic Canadian filmmaker Norman Jewison as a film school in 1988, was venturing into television in the early aughts (2000). They were starting their “Prime Time Television Resident Program” and it sounded like something I wanted to be a part of. So on weekends, I wrote a script called “Interns” about four interns who were friends. It got me an interview and I was later picked from across Canada to be part of the program.
I recently found the script and to my horror realized I hadn’t even formatted it properly! I was totally untrained in television writing and had no clue what I was doing. I guess they saw something in there and decided to take a chance on me. I graduated from that program several months later with huge college loans to pay for and some local animated shows were hiring… and the rest is history. Kids, youth and animation are thriving industries in Canada, and we do it very well. Our stuff sells all over the world. Some of the shows I have written for have sold in over 200 countries.
I started out writing boy’s action-adventure, and then aged up to tween sitcoms, teen drama (Degrassi: The Next Generation), then adult-comedy, both live-action and late night animation. So I feel like I’ve kind of grown up along with my audience.
TTNN:How did your interest in writing for youth audiences develop?
ND: When I was a kid, the original Degrassi series was on TV and I loved that the kids looked like regular kids and were facing regular kid issues, though with hugely heightened stakes. So it was a real honor to get a chance to work on the new incarnation of the show when I was older, Degrassi: The Next Generation.
I also used to watch a CBC/Disney co-production called Danger Bay. It was a scripted show about the sea and saving wild animals in peril. Dr. Grant Roberts was a veterinarian who specialized in marine mammals and he and his family lived on a private island off the coast of British Columbia, they had a Jeep and a floatplane, which as a kid, seemed like the best life ever. I also used to love watching animation as a kid. Shows like The Simpsons, South Park and Family Guy definitely shaped my sense of humor.
TTNN:Why are you passionate about writing television projects for this audience?
ND: I’ve always wanted to inspire kids to dream and see the world through the scripts I write. Sure, people might argue that ninety percent of the stuff I write doesn’t have much ‘educational benefit’ in the truest sense of the world, but I think fostering a kid’s imagination is the best thing you can do as a parent. What’s that famous Einstein quote– “Logic will get you from A to Z, Imagination will get you everywhere.” If it’s good enough for Einstein, it’s good enough for me!
Humans also love good stories, it’s ingrained in our DNA, and kids are no different. A good story can help you through a rough time, inspire you to take risks and to grow, or just make you laugh or cry. I think it’s really important to tell good stories to kids, stories that spark their imaginations and get them to dream and believe that the world out there is so much bigger, cooler and more exciting than the little place where they grew up, that the world is full of possibilities.
TTNN:Can you tell us a little bit about some of the projects you’ve written for television?
ND: Degrassi: The Next Generation was definitely a seminal show for me. Like I said, I used to watch the original when I was a kid, so to grow up and write for the new incarnation was a full-circle moment that was not lost on the inner kid in me. Degrassi: The Next Generation never shied away from tackling tough issues. Myself and two other writers wrote a two-part episode on abortion that was so controversial, it was banned in the U.S. and even the New York Times wrote a piece about it. I don’t want to get too heavily into politics here, but our storyline just told the story of a normal, average 16-year-old girl who made one mistake one night and didn’t want that mistake to be the end of her life. It was about her body, her choice, and her ability to determine the fate and future trajectory of her life… and well, it caused an uproar that no one thought a small Canadian show could ever cause. That’s the power of TV!
Like I mentioned above, I grew up watching great primetime animation, so the chance to work on two late night animated properties here in Canada was definitely a highlight of my career. Producing Parker was about a woman trying to balance family life and work, though somehow I got to write the prison episode. That’s the third ‘prison episode’ I’ve written in my career. Not sure what about me says: “hey, that blonde girl would know what it’s like to be in prison… but that’s the best compliment I can receive. It means I have a healthy imagination… or unhealthy, depending on your perspective.
Even though I’ve never been in trouble a day in my life, I can’t even let a parking ticket sit for more than a week without paying it, it’s amazing to be able to stretch the creative juices and write about a world so far removed from my own life.
Fugget About It was another late night animated comedy about a New York City mobster who was forced to live in Regina, Saskatchewan as part of the Witness Protection Program. Again, it was another opportunity for me to stretch my creative muscles and dive into the shady world of mobsters, and then make fun of it for a living.
Totally Spies was also a career highlight. It’s an animated show about three Beverly Hills teens who might look like your stereotypical beach babes, but they kick some serious ass as spies on the side. Honestly, I will write anything about spies! I love that entire world… again, it’s so far removed from my daily life and that’s what makes it exciting to write. I also love when a show takes a well-known stereotype, plays with it, and then turns it on its ear without being preachy. Totally Spies didn’t apologize for what it was – it was just good, campy fun! – and audiences in over 200 countries fell in love with it.
Recently, I worked on a cool teen show called Game On, which will begin airing on YTV in March, 2016. Game On stars Samantha Bee (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) and Jonathan Torrens (Trailer Park Boys) as sportscasters who give color commentary on the life of a 14-year-old boy named Toby Martin as he goes through the normal trials and tribulations of any teenager. The chance to work on a show with Samantha Bee was definitely a personal highlight! I am such a huge fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and Samantha Bee was always one of my favorite contributors.
I’ve also written three MOWs (“Movies of the Week” or Television Movies) in the past two years and I’ve fallen in love with the format. The Invisible Rules of the Zoe Lama was based on a book series by Tish Cohen and is set in a high school. It follows a teen guru who everyone goes to for help (the books were inspired a bit by Jane Austen’s Emma). Mixed Up!, my second MOW, is about two dolls who come to life and wreck havoc on a teen’s life. I just love any movie set in the world of high school! Perhaps I’ve never grown up. My third MOW, Committed, is about three sisters with commitment issues who must return to their small town and run the family bridal salon when their mother mysteriously disappears. Writing half hour comedy is great fun, but being able to really dig into a world and write a movie with a beginning, middle and end, a self-contained vehicle all on its own, has been a wonderful challenge. I’ve really taken to the MOW format and hope to do more in the future.
TTNN:Have any of these projects won awards?
ND: I was nominated in 2004 for a Gemini Award, which was recently renamed the Canadian Screen Awards – the highest television honor in Canada, for my work on Degrassi: The Next Generation.
I also won a Writer’s Guild of Canada, akin to the Writer’s Guild of America, Canadian Screenwriting Award in 2005 for my work on The Blobheads, a hilarious live-action show about a 14-year-old who discovers that his baby brother is the Emperor of the Universe, even though he can’t talk or even sit up on his own yet, and must now live in the same house as the three aliens who have come to be near their ‘chosen one’.
TTNN:From your perspective as screenwriter, are there differences between how you approach an animated series compared to live-action?
ND: Yes and no. It’s all the same when it comes to story. You want to tell a compelling, interesting, funny story no matter whether it’s animated people saying the lines or real, live flesh and blood humans. The only real difference comes at the script level. In live-action, it’s considered a no-no to “direct” the script, i.e. put too much detail into the action lines – therefore telling the director what to do.
In animation, you have to direct the script on the page and often, the more detail the better, i.e. props, sound effects, physical gags, you name it… it’s all there on the page. That’s not to say that directors and storyboard artists in animation don’t bring a lot to the table – they often add comedy gold! – it’s just a different formatting approach. And animation often allows you to go a bit crazier as you’re not bound by the laws of physics.
TTNN:What made you choose to participate in the projects you’ve done over the course of your career?
ND: I wouldn’t say I really ‘picked’ the projects when I first started out. I just felt incredibly lucky that anyone would want to pay me to write for a living! I basically said yes to anything and everything that came my way. Hence why I have written for 45 shows and counting. That’s a factor of several things… I had huge college loans to pay for and worked day and night to get out of debt. I’m also a type A personality and am happiest when I am insanely busy. Whenever I have some down time, I always start a new original project. I just can’t stop writing! It drives my husband a little nuts. He’s always asking me to shut my brain down so we can just chill for a bit.
TTNN:What has been some of the challenges you’ve faced in your career?
ND: The biggest challenge in this industry isn’t necessarily at the project level – it’s more of a holistic problem that all television writers face. I’ve talked to many new writers about this. Basically, you need to be a jack-of-all-trades. Not only must you be comfortable sitting alone in your office, by yourself, for 8-10 hours a day writing – just you and your imagination – you also have to be comfortable on-set when you’re running a show having hundreds of people looking to you for guidance and barking questions at you 24-7 for 6-8 months straight. Those are two very different people… one is a loner personality that likes being on their own, the other is a ‘people person’ who loves being in the thick of the action. Those two people must live simultaneously in the same person if you want to work in television, specifically. Then, on top of that, you have to be an excellent sales person who can go out and sell yourself and your writing. Agents and managers are a great help, but you can’t rely on anyone else to build your career, at least that’s how I feel. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, you also have to be good at public speaking. I am constantly asked to speak at events and have to be comfortable talking in front of crowds. Then, as if ALL that wasn’t enough, you have to be a performer because when you go in to pitch producers and network executives the people on the receiving end want a good show! They don’t want someone who blandly reads off a piece of paper, they want someone who brings the show to life. Those are the biggest challenges of being a Screenwriter in television.
TTNN:What projects do you have coming up?
ND: In addition to the three MOWs I mentioned above that are in various stages of development and production, I also have two original hour dramas in development. Washington Prep is about politicians behaving badly and the consequences of raising the next generation in their exact image. Choice is a project about a young Doctor who goes down a very dark path. Neither one is a comedy and it’s been such a wonderful challenge to transition into the world of one-hour dramas. I also have a comedy in development, New Arrival, about a family whose baby mama suddenly shows up on their doorstep sixteen years later and needs a place to live.
TTNN:As a screenwriter, where do you get your inspiration for the projects you create?
ND: People always ask me this and it all comes from my brain… not to sound trite. But that’s where it all starts. That’s why it’s so important to find some downtime and go out into the world and try new things and travel, so I have things to write about. I will try anything once, as long as it’s not illegal and there’s a good chance it won’t kill me. Everything I try will end up in a script somewhere someday, guaranteed. It’s also very hard to be friends with a writer, because anything you tell me will also end up in a script somewhere someday, guaranteed. Of course, names and details are always changed to protect the innocent.
TTNN:What do you hope to achieve with the projects you create?
ND: World peace. Sorry, that’s just me being a smart ass. There is nothing better in this world than laughing your ass off! If I can make people laugh, then I’ve done my job. If I can inspire them to dream or to get off the sofa and travel someplace exotic or try something new, then even better. There’s enough shitty stuff in this world, so it’s an honor to be a purveyor of jokes.
TTNN:Why are you passionate about working as a screenwriter?
ND: I love the challenge of having to be so many different things to different people. If I wanted to just write alone all day, I’d probably be a book author or write films. I love that television demands you to be a CEO of your own show, running a huge team of people, keeping things on time and on budget.
TTNN:Do you think you’ll stick to writing TV shows for the youth audiences, or is there another area of screenwriting you’d like to explore?
ND: While I love writing television for kids and youth, and will probably always do it on some level, I also have other stories to tell now that I am married. I have written for several adult comedy programs and would love to do more of those, as well as write some one-hour dramas. I have two one-hours currently in development. One is in the older teen space (a la The OC or Gossip Girl) and the other is a character-driven drama (a la American Mary), so we’ll see what happens with those. I’d also love to write more MOWs going forward.
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