Emily Andras is no stranger to the supernatural or women who kick ass, whether supernatural or not. She’s been the voice behind strong female charactersÂ on shows as varied as Lost Girl, Killjoys, Instant Star, and King. Now she’s bringing her signature humor and heart to Wynonna Earp, premiering tonight on Syfy. I had the chance to talk to Andras this week about her path to showrunning and bringing Wynonna to the screen.
Andras first found her voice for writing for TV at university, and worked her way up through the ranks as a writer and behind the scenes as a production staffer. “Showrunning always seemed like something other people did. Even TV writing seemed like [that]. I grew up in Calgary. I was always a huge fan of writing and television. My mom was a voracious reader. She also really loved TV. She wasn’t a snob. She loved good storytelling,” she shares. “I wasÂ lucky enough to go toÂ universityÂ out East and there was aÂ program for radio television, andÂ my mom [told] me I should look at that. I had to write a spec script [so] I wrote [one] for Friends.”
“[My] joke is thatÂ it was 81 pages long and super over the top.Â As part of my mark, I had to get it adjudicated by actual writers in the business. I got a hold of theÂ Writers Guild of CanadaÂ handbook and e-mailed a bunch of writers and asked them to read my script. Writers as a bunch tend to generous. We all remember what it’s like starting out. People had different opinions about the script, but John May said, ‘You’re really funny, but you don’t know anything aboutÂ structure.Â [I’ll] mentor you,’ and sure enough, he did.”
“It’s never a straight line in TV. I did a bit of writing but I was also supplementing by doing production work. I worked on a kids puppet show and got yelled at by a guy with a puppet on his arm because I cut carrots into sticks instead of medallions. I thought, ‘I have two degrees and I will never forget how this feels.’ IÂ worked at Hockey Night in Canada and got coffee for the on-air talent.”
“Through the course of events and just knowing people in the business, I landed at Epitome Pictures, which is famous for doing Degrassi. They were looking for a young female writer to take a look at Instant Star. I looked at the bible and did the rewrite and they liked me and hired me as a junior. I worked myself up through the ranks and worked really, really hard.”
“[That’s where] I met Michelle Lovretta. She’s my Obi-Wan, and she hates when I say that [because we’re only four years apart]. She was such an incredible role model for me. We couldn’t have been more different but we immediately hit it off, no judgments. I can call her at 3 am.”
While Andras’s multi-season stints at Instant Star and Lost Girl eventually led to showrunning both, Wynonna Earp is Andras’s first show built from the ground up. “This is the third show I’ve showrun, but this isÂ the first show I’ve technically created, which is a whole other ballgame.Â For the majority of TV writers, I would suspect that’s end game,” she says. “Creating your own show and really being able to make every decision on it from casting to editing to how it looks to writing to the tone. That’s the brass ring. So that has been just incredible. What a privilege.”
The comic series originated almost 20 years ago, and it was Kismet that it found its way to Andras to launch as a series. “I feel like if you cooked up the perfect dream project for me in a lab, it would have been Wynonna. It ticked of all my boxes. When they brought the graphic novel to me, my hands went tingly,” Â she admits.
“It has a strong female protagonist who’s so witty and wild and kind of batshit crazy but also kind of principled with her own weird code. It was deliciously violent but in a really funny kind of Robert Rodriguez way. On top of that, it was set in the West. And it was a revision of the supernatural Western. I grew up in Alberta…so that for me was, ‘OMG.’ As far as even shows to create, I feel so lucky to have gotten this. It’s going to be hard to top this.”
Andras says the current climate of strong women inÂ sci-fi only helped get Wynonna greenlit. “I want toÂ give a little shout out to Canadian TV,” she says.Â “There’s been a resurgence of female-driven genre shows with Bitten, Continuum, Lost Girl, and Killjoys. The marketplace was very primed for this. Syfy right away got it. We got straight to series off the pilot and the bible…13 episodes.”
Comic creator Beau Smith was the perfect partner in the adaptation, which also netted him a follow-on project. “I can’t speak highly enough about [him]. He is such a lovely, smart, witty, wonderful West Virginian. He and I are like peas in a pod,” she says. “He’s been so supportive and generous of this project. He very much understood that going from 18 pages toÂ 13 hours [required some changes].”
“I love the framework of the comic but weÂ [had] to dig down and create real characters. She doesn’t have a sister in the comic book. She doesn’t have a boss. Doc never shows up. The way Beau andÂ I discussed…he always very kindly said the comic book is Wynonna full formed at 35Â or 40. SoÂ I said, ‘Let’s take her back and do an origin story.'”
“What’s happened, which has been amazing, is that he’s been so inspired that he’s creating a new series with characters I created. So it really has been a collaboration, which has been amazing. I used it as the framework and we built this whole new world for television. I would say the spirit and the tone and the fun of the comic still lives in the series.”
As Andras was writing, she didn’t have a specific cast in mind, but she did have types in her head. Once she had her cast in place, it helped shape where their characters went, up to a point. “You’ve really got to walk that tightrope as a creator and executive producer. I think you have to have a plan in order to sleep at night…for the first season in particular,” she explains. “You have to know what your big turns and surprises are.”
“I think you’d be a fool when you’re getting started not to keep an ear to the ground. Â You really have to watch your cast and see what their strengths and weakness are, because if youÂ write for them, you’re going to look like a genius. That’s good for me, selfishly, and for everybody. It’s fun [in the]Â first season to watch what they can do and see who’s better at physicality and stunts…who’s really funny and got a great sense of comic timing? Who do people naturally like? Which two characters have chemistry [or don’t]?”
“You can’t beÂ scattered and wing it. You have to see what the strengths and weaknesses are and you’ll only get gold on screen. The fun thing is if you have theÂ benefit of working closely with these actors for years and years, [and]Â everyone is comfortable, you canÂ push and challenge them. That’s one of the joys of working with a cast that you love. I do love this cast. I feel like these guys all have chemistry with each other. I could put any two actors together and get an incredible scene. They were the easiest part of my job this year.”
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