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Q & A with Canadian Star Sidney Leeder

Actress Sidney Leeder
Actress Sidney Leeder

If you’re under the age of 45 and you haven’t seen Canadian actress Sidney Leeder on TV yet then chances are you live under a rock or don’t have a television because this young star has been on practically every hit show over the last few years.

From the multi-award winning teen dramas Degrassi: The Next Generation, Beauty and the Beast, Reign, Debra and The L.A. Complex to comedies like Life With Boys and those targeted towards a more middle-aged audience like Satisfaction, as well as the sci-fi and supernatural dramas Alphas and Lost Girl, Leeder has done it all.

Besides the glitz and glamour that comes along with working on such well-known shows, what’s impressive about this actress is the fact that mostly every role she has taken on is starkly different from the others. Leeder is definitely not an actress in danger of being pigeonholed into playing one role over and over—her versatility across the board is just too strong for typecasting.

Aside from playing countless pivotal roles on highly-rated television shows, Leeder has also made an indelible mark on the international film industry where she has not only further revealed her versatility, but displayed the kind of rare magnetism that is required to keep viewers engaged for an hour and a half or more.

For Leeder, drama is her favorite performance genre as an actress, at least for now. And her dramatic performances in films like the Lifetime Originals Salem Falls and The Hazing Secret as well as David Hewlett’s sci-fi feature film Debug take the cake. From being murdered and coming back to haunt her sorority sister’s dream in search of restitution in The Hazing Secret to starting rumors about having an affair with her high school teacher in Salem Falls and playing the spunky lead character Lara who is virtually raped to death in the film Debug, Sidney Leeder has a knack for taking on diverse characters.

Leeder was born to perform and her track record of success to date proves it. Anyone can see that she is beautiful; in fact, prior to becoming an actress she spent several years as a model signed to Elite Model Management as well as Ford Models. But, captivating an audience takes a whole lot more than beauty, and Leeder has proven that she has the emotional depth and the remarkable ability to bring characters to life on screen so seamlessly that being beautiful becomes almost secondary to her sheer talent.

To find out more about this insanely skilled young actress make sure to check out our interview below! You can also find out more about her through her website: http://www.sidneyleeder.com/

As well as through her IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4564202/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

Where are you from? 

SL: Toronto

When and how did you get into acting?

SL: I was first introduced to the art of performance through dance. I began dance training at the age of three and by age eight was traveling across Canada with a competitive team. After graduating high school I was accepted into Ryerson University’s BFA Performance Dance Program. During my freshman year I signed with Elite Model Management and began working as a professional model. Through Elite I had the opportunity audition for my first commercial, a dance spot for Joe Fresh, which I booked! It was during this experience that I realized my love for the camera and immediately took action enrolling in acting classes. After just a few months of training I was referred to agent David Ritchie at Ambition Talent and began working as a professional actor at the age of 18, and I booked my first role as a guest star in the family channel TV series What’s Up Warthogs.

Sidney Leeder
Sidney Leeder as Catherine in “Salem Falls”

 

Can you tell us a little bit about the film Salem Falls?

SL: In the movie adaptation of Jodi Picoult’s novel Salem Falls for Lifetime I played the role of Catherine, a high school student who creates a rumor that she had an affair with her professor/soccer coach that ends up sending him to prison. In the film I acted alongside Sarah Carter (The Vow) who plays the lead Annie Peabody and she makes it her mission to get to the bottom of the false accusations. I also acted alongside James Van Der Beek (Dawson’s Creek) in the film.

How did taking on the role of Catherine in the film Salem Falls character challenge you as an actress?

SL: I booked this role during my first year of acting so I still had much to learn about the technicalities of working on camera. In one of the most pivotal scenes of the film I confess to lying about my alleged affair with professor Jack Mcbradden. The scene takes place while walking down a long passageway. It was lengthy and revealing dialogue that required serious mental concentration. In addition, continuity required specific parts of the scene to be said as I hit specific marks. Slowing and speeding my speech, monitoring my steps and delivering a convincing performance was quite a multi-tasking challenge! It was an eye-opening experience for a newbie like myself and taught me a lot about the discipline and control required to work as an actor on set. I left that day with an entirely new respect for actors on shows like The West Wing! This character was also a challenge to play, as she needed to have just the right balance of maturity and naivety. Prior to shooting I talked a lot with director Bradley Walsh about the characters motivation and significance. Having the opportunity to delve into such a complex character so early on in my career was an amazing challenge.

Canadian actress Sidney Leeder
Sidney Leeder as Melissa in “The Hazing Secret”

You were also in Lifetime’s film The Hazing Secret—what happened in this film and why was your character important to the story?

SL: In The Hazing Secret Megan, played by Shenae Grimes-Beech, loses her long-term memory in an accident she had five years ago as a sorority girl. Every night, she has the same dream of a party and the death of a sister. When she’s invited to a Greek reunion, she realizes it wasn’t just a dream. I played the role of Melissa, the sorority sister that haunts Megan’s dreams. I was a college freshman who accidently made out with the boyfriend of her sorority leader, and as punishment/sorority hazing my character is locked in a coffin where she suffocates to death due to claustrophobia. During the hazing Megan tries to protect me but has little power over queen B, Nancy. After witnessing a kiss between her sorority sister’s boyfriend Mike and I, Nancy makes it her mission to ensure that I’m punished, and throughout the film Megan attempts to unveil the secret behind my death.

Can you tell us about your role in the sci-fi film Debug?

SL: I played the lead role of Lara in the intergalactic sci-fi thriller feature film Debug. The film revolves around six computer hackers, including my character, as they try to prevent Iam, an artificial intelligence that will stop at nothing to defend his right to exist, even if it means killing the humans that get in his way. My character Lara is a free-spirited joker and party girl who’s engaged in a clandestine relationship with Mel, another young offender aboard the ship. I’m serving time in a work release program for eco-terrorism, but I can’t resist playing pranks during our mission. In my more serious moments though I admit to having a really bad feeling about the ship. When Mel, who typically wishes I’d be more discreet about our interactions, suggests a simulated sex romp, I jump at the chance — but it’s just a set-up by Iam played by Jason Mamoa.

Canadian actress Sidney Leeder
Sidney Leeder as Lara in “Debug”

Does Lara face any major transformations over the course of the film’s story?

SL: Lara is very intuitive right from the get go. She warns the others that something about this mission feels wrong and explains that she is sensitive to the energy of her surroundings but is ignored. She has a good heart and is a smart girl but her fun loving, adventurous nature often gets her into trouble. While she is timid at first about their mission she decides to make the most of the situation and use this time as an opportunity to fool around with Mel. When he suggests ‘virtual fraternization’ Lara is slightly hesitant but intrigued by the concept. She decides to follow the ships orders and enter a sensory system where she is asked to remove her clothing and enter a pool of crystal clear liquid. As she does this she is transported virtually to a blood stained prison cell where Iam awaits her. It is there that he, and every other man who has set foot on the ship rape and beat her to death.

While mentally she in this virtual reality, Lara’s physical body is actually drowning in the sensory system pool she entered. By the time Mel finds her it is too late and she is already dead. During the conclusion of the film all members of the deceased crew (including Lara) come back to life virtually and help Kaida played by Jeananne Goosen, to destroy the ships artificial intelligence for good.

How was Debug different than some of your past work?

SL: Playing Lara was tricky because she could easily be perceived as an irresponsible, foolish girl who ultimately gets what she deserves simply for having promiscuous inclinations. Refusing to settle for playing a forgettable damsel in distress I did my best to give Lara a quiet strength and a wholesome, grounded personality.

What was your favorite part of working on that project?

SL: While working on Debug I met so many amazing people. The cast and crew were incredible. I learned so much during this project simply from listening and observing others. Being on a spaceship everyday was also pretty awesome!

Can you tell us about some of your other film projects?

SL: During my first year acting I booked a role acting alongside Seann William Scott in the feature film Goon where I had the privilege of working with award winning director Michael Dowse. I played the role of an underage, inebriated young woman who projectile vomits onto Seann William Scott as he forces her to leave the bar.

In the feature film Bang Bang Baby directed by Jeffrey St. Jules I played the principal role of Eleanor, the typical mean girl from high school that makes her peers lives hell. She especially has it out for Stepphy, one of the other leads in the film, and she goes to great lengths to crush her dreams.

I was a principle dancer and actor as well as choreographer and producer on Jungle, which revolves around singer/songwriter/producer Drake as he contemplates the price of fame and the point of life. On the production I worked closely with Drake, director Karim Huu Do (Adidas), director Kristof Brandl (Converse) and award winning producer Jason Aita. In the film I played the role of a struggling dancer, a stranger Drake sees in passing and wonders what her life is like. In a quick montage you catch a glimpse of my daily routine and emotional struggles. I was also the 2nd unit producer and coordinated much of the film.

I was the lead actress Lily in the 3D film The Killer. My character Lily is a quiet killer who works at a remote gas station and feasts on her customers’ blood. In the film a serial killer enters the store with plans to kill me but I transform into a vampire and kill him instead. I also co-produced the film and while on set I had the pleasure of working with actor Jeff Pangman (Man Seeking Woman).

How about television projects?

SL: I had a guest star role in season two of The CW/Showcase television series Beauty and the Beast where I worked alongside series leads Jay Ryan and Kristin Kreuk. I played Gina, the daughter of a member of the mob, who is used to lure a beast/creature in “Kidnapped,” the second episode of season two, and I am saved by Vincent Keller, the lead character played by Jay Ryan.

I had a recurring role in season three of the TV series Lost Girl as Kasey, a Kitsune (Japanese word for fox), who is disguised as a sorority sister but is actually a magical creature with the ability to transform into a fox. I help the leads Anna Silk and Rachel Skarsten solve mysteries in multiple episodes.

I landed the role of Raquel in the 13th season of the hit TV show Degrassi: The Next Generation. My character is the new college friend of lead Biannca DeSousa played by Alicia Josipovic, and I discourage and disapprove of her engagement to her high school boyfriend Drew Torres played by Luke Bilyk.

I’ve danced in multiple episodes of the CW TV series Reign where I worked with choreographer Jennifer Nichols and performed alongside series leads Adelaide Kane, Megan Follows and Toby Regbo.

I had a guest star role in season one of the TV series Satisfaction where I played the role of Sarah, a new bartender at the bar where lead Leah Renee works. I play dumb and schmooze customers for large tips often making up elaborate dramatized stories about my grandma and aunt dying. I manage to make lead Pat Thornton fall in love with me and propose with his grandma’s heirloom ring. At this point Leah confronts me and I admit to lying at work to get what I want. I confess that I’m saving up to go on a Barenaked ladies cruise in Phuket. I had the privilege of working with Canadian comedy icon, director Mike Clattenburg. Clattenburg is best known for creating and directing the hit TV series/movie saga The Trailer Park Boys.

I acted in season one of the television series Alphas as a high school girl having a romantic evening at the high school football field with my quarterback boyfriend Marshall Williams. While making out on the bleachers I’m attacked by a zombie who ends up being a teacher from school.

I guest starred as Maggie in the TV series Life With Boys and in the show, the lead Allie Brooks played by Madison Pettis, is annoyed with the girls her brother perpetually dates so she tries to set him up with me thinking it will make him a better person. I guest starred as Cindy in the television series What’s Up Warthogs!, the new girlfriend of lead character Eric Ortiz played by Tiago Abreu. All of his friends and co-workers at the high school radio show end up loving me and he feels his position at the radio show and in his social circle is compromised. I grow more popular than him, and this ultimately this ends our relationship.

In the TV series Debra I guest starred as Helen Tibbles, the evil, controlling girlfriend of lead Auzzie played by Austin Macdonald. His friends are horrified at the thought of a future with me as his wife and bring the relationship to an end. I was also in season one of the TV series The LA Complex, which aired in the USA and Canada on the CW channel and MuchMusic.

They are all very different, what made you choose to participate in these projects?

SL: I love exploring all kinds of characters. No matter how big or small the role, each experience offers tremendous opportunity to grow as an actor and as a person.

You get approached all the time to work on projects with people, what makes you pick one role over another?

SL: Reading the script always gives me an accurate indication of whether or not I’d like to partake in a project. Quality of writing is so important in filmmaking. To me it’s the bare bones. Without believing that you have a strong foundation, it’s challenging to execute a project with confidence. When presented with a character that is written with depth and purpose I’m instantly intrigued. Resilient, complex characters always inspire me.

Do you feel that you get cast to play a certain type of character more than others?

SL: I find that there are two main categories I typically fall into. One is innocent and vulnerable and the other is a snooty mean girl.

Out of all your productions on screen, what has been your favorite project, or projects, so far and why?

SL: I’ve enjoyed all of the productions I’ve had the pleasure of working on. Each one is special to me in its own way. Salem Falls stands out as one of my most memorable. Playing Catherine allowed me to explore the internal struggles of a young girl finding her voice as a woman. I loved the character’s dark yet innocent complexity. Being taken seriously as a young actress with something important to contribute felt like a great accomplishment. Shooting in the fall on the gorgeous campus grounds of the University of Toronto also made the experience super enjoyable. I have a soft spot for collegiate, fall films.

What has been your most challenging role?

SL: Playing Lara in Debug was my most challenging role. Physically it was demanding, as it required a drowning death scene and tons of screaming! Having to enter the headspace of a rape victim was also an emotionally exhausting experience. In addition, I was faced with the topic of nudity in film. It pushed me to be honest with myself. I learned the importance of expressing my limits and developing strong trust and respect with cast and crew. It was a big learning curve and an arduous project but I loved every second. All of the challenges I faced were huge life lessons.

What is your favorite genre to work in as an actor?

SL: My favorite genre to work in is drama.

What do you feel your strongest qualities are as an actor?

SL: My scream and my boobs. Joking. My adventurous spirit and determination.

What projects do you have coming up?

SL: Bang Bang Baby is currently available to rent or buy on iTunes. Debug is now available on DVD and you can catch it on Xfinity TV. I also just wrapped a film entitled Lunch, which will screen at the Beverly Hills Playhouse Film Festival; and I’m currently writing a web series with director Brian Lee Hughes. More details to come!

What are your plans for the future?

SL: I plan on expanding my horizons to the states! I hope to continue working in the film/TV industry as an actor and look forward to landing larger, more challenging roles. This past year I had the opportunity to work behind the scenes as a production coordinator and producer on many commercial, music video and short film projects. In the future I plan on combining my knowledge of production with my passion for acting and creating my own original content.

What do you hope to achieve in your career as an actor?

SL: Creative fulfillment. Reach my full potential.

Why is acting your passion and chosen profession?

SL: Being on a film set is one of my favorite places. It’s like stepping directly into a storybook.

Acting gives me a natural high and allows me to explore myself, connect with others and imagine endless possibilities. I act because not acting simply isn’t an option. The need to perform and create has lived inherently in me for as long as I can remember. Growing up my favorite pastimes included writing and performing plays, choreographing elaborate dance routines, shooting films and starting bands. I’m happiest when performing and creating.

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An Interview with Acclaimed Canadian Screenwriter, Mark Satterthwaite

Mark Satterthwaite
                                 Screenwriter Mark Satterthwaite (right) and girlfriend Carla Gallo (left)

Over the years award-winning screenwriter and producer Mark Satterthwaite has brought laugh out loud comedy to some of Canada’s most beloved television programs.

Satterthwaite is a master wielder of jokes who has doted his ingenious writing upon an array of TV shows ranging from live-action and animated series to awards programs and talk shows.

In 2006 Satterthwaite wrote and produced the highly popular single camera sketch comedy series The Morgan Waters Show. The critically acclaimed series, which aired on CBC and garnered a Gemini Award in 2006, starred Morgan Waters (The Amazing Gayl Pile, Cock’d and Gunns) and featured celebrity guests including stand-up comedian Gilson Lubin, Tyler Kite (Republic of Doyle, Instant Star), actress and musician Alexz Johnson (So Weird, Final Destination 3), Canadian television personality Ed the Sock and many other pop culture icons.

Satterthwaite, who has written several other hit television programs including the animated series Almost Naked Animals, Grojband and The Dating Guy, as well as episodes for MTV Live, CBC’s one-hour special Canada’s Smartest Person, and the second season of the game show Bet Your Ass, has a talent for sniffing out jokes that will stick with whatever audience he is writing for. As the writer, director and producer of the episode “My Brother, My Record” for the series Canadian Comedy Shorts, Satterthwaite’s work earned the award for Best Mocumentary at The World of Comedy Short Film Festival.

While his innovative writing has helped garner countless programs a long list of prestigious awards over the years, he has also written the scripts for some of Canada’s most beloved awards programs.

In 2007 he co-wrote and directed the Gemini Awards, which were televised on CBC and hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos (The Hour, Battle of the Blades, Chelsea Lately, Bystander Revolution). A successful awards program relies on strong comedy moments in order to keep audiences engaged while the hosts announce the awards for each category, and Satterthwaite’s unparalleled writing for the 2007 Gemini Awards kept fans buzzing long after the awards ceremony was over.

To find out more about this exceedingly talented screenwriter’s career and what’s next on the horizon for him, make sure to check out our interview below!

 

Where are you from and what was it like growing up there?

MS: I was born and raised in downtown Toronto, Canada. I loved growing up there cause it always felt like a *small* big city. Toronto’s super walk-able and is broken up into amazing neighborhoods, so I feel like I spent my youth on tree-covered streets with friends. Pretty good.

How have your early experiences influenced some of the work you create today?

MS: My parents used to take my sister and I to see plays when we were kids. A lot of sleuth-style, whodunit plays, and it was so much fun. I would always figure them out at the act break. Not sure what it means, but that gave me a weird confidence when I was a kid… That I could solve these scripted mysteries.

Growing up in Canada we didn’t have much of a star system so it never occurred to me that I could end up writing television for a living. It just didn’t seem plausible. When I got my first writing gig at 22, I was floored. I really couldn’t believe it.

When and how did you get into the industry as a screenwriter?

MS: Canada’s answer to MTV, a station called MuchMusic, held a yearly competition where one lucky Canuck got to work at Much for a summer, with a free apartment, a new car and $10,000. All you had to do was submit a creative video to show why you deserved it. Long story short, I wrote a short and got second place in the national competition. The next year, I wrote and animated a 3-minute short and got second place again. It was heartbreaking. But the creative director at Much, David Johnson, loved my video and hired me on as a freelancer. I owe my career to David!

What are your favorite genres and audiences to write for?

MS: I love absurdist comedy. I think that’s why I ended up doing a lot of writing in animation, because it’s such an anything goes environment. Want to create a new character? Do it! Blow something up? Sure. Morph anything into anything else? WHY NOT?!?! It’s very liberating.

I actually prefer writing animated shows to writing ALMOST anything else… Other than film. Writing big splashy, Hollywood comedies has my heart. I just finished a 90-minute ridiculous script. I’m really happy with it, and I hope you get to see it soon!

Can you tell us a little bit about some of the projects youve written over the years?

MS: Coming up as a freelance writer in the Canadian television system was tough but exciting, because I had to wear many different hats to keep the lights on and to stay creatively challenged. One week I was writing an animated series, the next I was writing jokes for a game show, and after that I was in a writer’s room, scripting a sitcom with a bunch of other writers. It was a great way to figure out what I liked.

I started writing and developing TV years ago with my friend Morgan Waters. The Canadian Broadcast Corporation asked us to put together a sitcom that would work for “tweens.” Something distinctive that could be a starring vehicle for Morgan. We were both very into an American comedy troupe called STELLA at the time (we still are) and we decided to emulate what they were doing, with our own twist, for a Canadian audience with The Morgan Waters Show. Our writing and development process was to push the humor and scenarios as far as we could, so we made sure we were challenging our audience, as opposed to holding their hands. It worked out. The show won a Canadian Screen Award in its first season.

Soon after The Morgan Waters Show ended, I was offered the job of helping to bring MTV to Canada by working on the creative for the network launch, casting the hosts and story editing the live, daily comedy show, MTV LIVE. This was such an incredible experience. We watched audition tapes from hundreds of hopeful hosts from all over Canada, worked on the creative for the launch to make sure that people noticed, and put together a live daily show like no other on Canadian TV. We had amazing leaders in Mark McInnis and Alex Sopinka, and they really trusted me to lead the team of 30 or so creatives, coming up with script ideas every morning. It was a blast. The show was a hit within a year and was doing something for Canadian comedy that hadn’t been done since SCTV.

The Canadian Screen Awards are Canada’s answer to the Golden Globes, honoring excellence in both television and in film. I’ve been lucky enough to work on dozens of projects that have won CSAs, but I also got to work on the other side of the stage when I was approached to write the awards show with a super talented writer named Paul Bates. Our job was to focus on making sure that the show ran smoothly and was super funny. This was at a time when videos were just starting to go viral, so one of our mandates was to come up with edgy sketches that could roll into the show and might get people looking online the next day. I wrote and directed a sketch about what happened to all the puppets from Canadian television shows after their shows ended, a retirement home for puppets sketch. The sketch aired in the middle of the show and the live audience roared with laughter. The sketch became a national news story and even ended up in the New York Times. Mission accomplished.

My break into animation came when a Canadian production company I had done a lot of work for, Marble Media, approached me about re-writing and punching up an entire season of a new animated series called The Dating Guy. The show had good bones but needed a lot of help in the comedy department. I had such a good time peppering in as many original jokes as I could, often pushing the limits of good taste and TV acceptability. I learned a lot from the project- namely, that it’s always better to push as far as you can with your writing and get pulled back by producers. If you come in soft, it’ll be near impossible to edge things up later on. The Dating Guy was my first foray into animated TV, and my writing and contributions were very well received, so soon after, I was getting offers to write on other animated series. I did three seasons of writers’ rooms, punch-ups, rewrites on an international hit kid’s animated series called Almost Naked Animals. It was a great show and I learned so much from it.

After Almost Naked Animals, production companies started coming to me to develop and write pilots and bibles for new animated series. I loved getting involved in the shaping and writing of these worlds early on. One of the shows I got to help bring to television was a kid’s concept called Winston Steinberger and Sir Dudley Ding Dong, a ridiculous absurd show about a kid and his cat in space with their alien guardian. I wrote the pilot and the bible for E1 productions, Sticky Pictures Australia, Teletoon Canada and ABC Australia. After two pilot scripts and a bible, we were green lit to series with me at the helm as head writer and story editor of the show. I worked with over 40 writers on 52 scripts to get the first season done and done well. It’s a distinctive, hilarious show and I think it’s going to be a hit when it hits the airwaves in early 2016.

What made you choose to participate in the projects you’ve done over the course of your career?

MS: Sometimes I would choose projects, and sometimes they would choose me. I always knew that Canadian TV isn’t what it should be. There is a lot of filler in there. And I made a decision early on in my career, not to write for shows that I didn’t care about. That was my goal. And because I could write jokes and scenarios for both kids and adults, I was lucky enough to move around in the business, writing on many different styles of shows. My goal was always to work on something new and different. I think that’s why I like film so much, cause you sweat onto the page for one great story, and then you move on to the next. My ADHD doesn’t allow me to do the same thing over and over.

Do you take a different approach when writing for animation opposed to live action?

MS: If I had my way, I’d be writing the absurdist style I enjoy so much for live action projects, but it really can be a different beast. So I try to inject what I can, where I can. I love that animated, “anything goes” sensibility, and I think live action could use more of it. But I also love dry British humor. I grew up with a British dad holding the remote control, so we were always watching Britcoms. I loved them all. Still do. I think my sensibilities really come from the absurdist styles of STELLA, old 80s flicks like Top Secret and Spaceballs, and dry British comedies like Alan Partridge and The Office. I think there’s a place for animated humor in live action TV. It’s just about finding a balance.

You’ve also written storylines for several commercials, can you tell us about a couple of them and how you came up with the storylines?

MS: Agency 59 came to me about writing and directing a series of PSA commercials about drinking and driving for Labatt Blue. The goal was to deliver a strong message without beating people over the head. It was an interesting challenge to keep the topic light but focused, and I was up to it. I worked with the agency writing over six spots that I think were pretty funny and delivered a strong message. Everyone was happy.

You’ve also produced many of the projects that you’ve writtencan you tell us from your perspective, how the roles of screenwriting and producing are different? How do you manage to successfully tie them together?

MS: I never used to understand what producing was in television. But yes, I would often be hired to write and produce on shows. I really enjoy wearing both of those hats cause I don’t always find it easy to write and then give a script away, leaving it up to others to execute/shoot/animate. I really care about the projects that I work on and I like to be able to see them through to broadcast, to try and ensure that they end up being as close to what I had intended when I wrote them. Sounds a little controlling, I’m sure. And I think part of it is. But I really do care and want the best product to hit the screen. I don’t think there’s any point in working in a creative industry if you won’t bleed for what you’re writing.

What have been a few of your favorite projects so far?

MS: My complete favorite project was writing the feature I just finished. Film has always felt like this elusive, glorious mountain peak that I just couldn’t get to. I almost wouldn’t let myself try. So much of writing, for me, is overcoming all the little demons in your head that tell you that you can’t do it. “Hit the couch, fat ass. Just watch some TV. It’s easier”. Being a freelance writer takes so much discipline and you really have to believe that what you’re going to write will be worth someone else’s reading time. The feature I just finished, I think, is super funny and a good heartfelt story.

Other than that, being the head writer on Winston Steinberger and Sir Dudley Ding Dong, story editing a show for MTV when it first came to Canada, creatively helming a commercial shoot in Argentina, writing absurd sketches for Funny or Die and writing award winning sitcoms with your friends is a pretty sweet gig.

What has been your most challenging project?

MS: Writing a feature, by far. It’s so impossibly hard. I’ve been writing television for over 15 years now. I really felt like I had a good understanding of structure. But 90-minute films, the good ones, are beasts. They need to have a good strong structure, characters the audience can get behind, a minimally saggy middle and a nice arc that keeps an audience active. It’s so difficult. That’s why most films aren’t that good. It’s a very difficult proposition. Honestly, writing jokes is by far the easiest part of writing. It’s the structure and guts of a good script that need your focus.

As a screenwriter, where do you get your inspiration for the projects you create?

MS: I get inspiration from so many different aspects of my life. To start, my girlfriend is one of the funniest people in the world and a writing/acting force to be reckoned with. She’s been successful in TV/film for 15 years now, so I’m always bouncing things off of her to see what she thinks. If she likes it, I like it. I also have never been able to turn off the part of me that loved 80s and 90s silly, absurd comedies- Mel Brooks, Zucker Bros, John Hughes. I just loved all of their movies so much. John Hughes found a way to make me laugh so hard but also really care about characters. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is such a perfect example of that- hilarious, heartwarming and redeeming all at the same time.

What do you hope to achieve with the projects you create?

MS: I’d like to make people laugh and feel good, and I’d like to get offers for new, challenging projects from people seeing the work I’ve done. Sometimes I’ll read comments on the Internet from people who have watched episodes of something I’ve written. “This is my favorite episode!” or “This show is the funniest thing on TV” or “WRITE MORE! MAKE MORE!,” and that always makes me feel like a million bucks. Writing scripts is hard work; it’s so nice to know that people like it.

Why are you passionate about working as a screenwriter?

MS: I’m passionate about screenwriting because it’s a huge, huge life test. All of the time. It’s fun and it kills me. Do I have the will to get this script done? Am I confident enough in myself that I can write something that stands out? Am I special enough to write a script? Do I have a point of view that will engage people? Every script is a gut check. I think that’s pretty remarkable. And sometimes the answers to these questions can be very sobering. Other times they can make you feel like a million bucks.

 

Canadian Screenwriter Nicole Demerse Brings the Comedy

Nicole Demerse
Nicole Demerse (left) and her husband Alex Bull (right) on the WB lot in Los Angeles

Occasionally a television production might struggle in developing a script that is ready to go to camera. When that happens, the producer will usually consult a list of heavyweight writers to help them bridge the gap from concept to script. In Canada, one writer has stood out to be one of those go-to writers to help turn a concept idea into a full-blown series. Nicole Demerse has a passion for telling stories that spark a conversation. Over the past 14 years her focus has been predominately writing for youth television as a sought-after screenwriter, across multiple genres, for a worldwide audience of millions.

She is not one to shy away from the tough issues. In an episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation, one of the high-school aged characters faced the difficult dilemma of abortion. There was such a strong reaction to this episode that the New York Times discussed the plot with its international audience. The show and its predecessor are part of the long running Degrassi series that is one of the most popular productions to ever come out of Canada.

And for Nicole, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. She is able to weave inventive and stand-out stories across many television genres or formats, having seen great success with animated comedies for kids and adults, movies-of-the-week (MOW), and original series. The plots and characters she creates are often from very different worlds, proving her ability to speak to a variety of different audiences.

Nicole recently penned seven scripts for Game On, a show about what it would be like to have sportscasters commentating on an average suburban boy’s daily existence. The series stars Samantha Bee from The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and Jonathan Torrens of Trailer Park Boys.

Game On Executive Producer Steve Westren says, “When Nicole agreed to come aboard it was considered to be a real ‘get’ – our broadcaster was thrilled to have such a sought-after, highly respected writer joining our team. Nicole’s scripts are the perfect amalgam of funny, smart, and emotionally resonant. She doesn’t just go for the joke, she finds the core truth in a moment, which always makes comedy much funnier!”

Nicole was also a writer the long-running animated series Totally Spies!, a show about three teenage girls in Beverly Hills who also happen to be international spies. Totally Spies! is an international juggernaut and is viewed in over 200 countries worldwide.

The industry has certainly noted Nicole’s accomplishments. She was nominated for a Gemini award for her work on Degrassi: The Next Generation. The Gemini is the highest awards honor for Canadian television (recently renamed the “Canadian Screen Awards”). She also received a Writer’s Guild of Canada screenwriting award for her work on the show The Blobheads, a sci-fi comedy about a teenager whose baby brother is deemed ‘Emperor of the Universe’ by three aliens who move in with the family in order to keep their Emperor safe and happy.

Nicole’s talent has taken her to the top of the Canadian television scene so it comes as no surprise that producers in Hollywood are looking to add her to their list of writers and show creators as well. She is staying busy by keeping her creativity sharp, working on projects that keep pushing her limits for content. Nicole is currently developing two new hour-long dramas, Choice, which follows a doctor who is led down a dark path by her own poor choices, and Washington Prep, which revolves around a group of corrupt politicians who are grooming the next generation to follow in their dirty footsteps.

Nicole’s hard work has put her at the top echelon of desired writers in Canada, but for Nicole the work helps enrich her own life as much as the audiences who adore her writing.

When asked why she writes, Nicole says, “Humans love good stories, it’s ingrained in our DNA. 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.” Asked why she’s enjoyed writing for kids all these years, Nicole says, “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.”

This talented screenwriter has also written episodes for the Emmy Award winning fantasy series The Zack Files, the Gemini Award winning animated series Atomic Betty, the International Emmy Award winning sci-fi series Dark Oracle, as well as contributed ground-breaking scripts to 42 other television shows.

Canadian Heartthrob Evan Williams Shines on Screen!

Evan Williams
                                                           Evan Williams shot by Elodie Cabrera

Canadian actor Evan Williams has become a hit with audiences in film, television and stage. He got his start as a performer as an actor in musical theatre, which led him to pursue a career on screen. Working on projects produced by industry giants including HBO, Disney, MTV and ABC, he’s portrayed roles in everything from the wildly popular teen drama series Degrassi: The Next Generation to the feature film Lloyd the Conqueror, a college comedy with a twist of fantasy.

His wide dramatic range sets him apart from his peers, and was a decisive factor in the decision to cast him as a lead in the sophisticated new French drama Versailles.

Versailles is the highly anticipated upcoming series from Canal+ and SuperChannel, and is the highest-budgeted French television program ever produced. Williams plays the role of Chevalier, a cunning and unscrupulous noble in Louis XIV’s 17th century court based on the real life Chevalier de Lorraine. With Machiavellian efficiency, he works his way into the higher echelons of French royalty, making no effort to conceal his affair with the king’s brother Phillipe.

“He was a ruthless schemer, a guileless manipulator and an imperious presence in the court of the king… It was fun to dive into the real man beneath all the layers,” Williams said. “This position made him very dangerous and very much in danger, and that type of complicated tightrope walk is a dream for an actor to dig into.”

Following in the footsteps of The Tudors and The Borgias, the series is set for release later this year, and producers are pushing for the risque, political intrigue-driven Versailles to compete with American shows like Game of Thrones and House of Cards. By filming in English, Canal+ and SuperChannel will undoubtedly court international audiences with the enticing and addictive tale of French royalty in a country on the brink of revolution. The highly ambitious Versailles is slated to begin its captivating hold over television audiences on the French Canal+ channel in the fall.

Constantly showcasing his cross-genre talent, Williams previously played the lead role in Lloyd the Conqueror. The film centers around the subculture of “LARPing,” or live-action role playing. Popularized in the film Role Models, it is a real world version of fantasy games complete with knights, kings, dragons and plenty of props. Williams’ titular character Lloyd is on a mission to dethrone a dark wizard ruling over the group.

A hilarious film crossing college humor with a nerdy edge, Lloyd the Conqueror won the Alberta Media Production Industries (AMPIA) Award for Best Dramatic Feature and Best Original Score.

Williams plays the lead role of Ben in director Carolyn Cavallero’s upcoming drama Paradise Club, about the San Francisco’s cultural renaissance in the 1960’s. The film stars award-winning actors Elizabeth Rice (From Within, My Dog Skip, Mad Men) and Eric Roberts (Runaway Train, The Dark Knight, The Expendables) as members of the counterculture. Williams’ character Ben finds himself falling for Catherine, played by Rice, but they soon find that the cold reality of real life may destroy their utopian fantasies.

“I play a disgruntled alcoholic rock star named Ben, who has hit the peak of his fame and wants out, as he navigates a twisting and turning relationship with a young student named Catherine who is moonlighting as an exotic dancer,” Williams said. “It’s a very elemental story told through the freaked-out lens of the period.”

Paradise Club will begin its tour of the festival circuit in October.

An avid devotee of all things music, Williams got his start singing in choir before he began performing in musical theatre productions. It was those roots which motivated him to write and record one of his songs, “I’m Not Waiting,” for the film Ride, which was selected and requested personally by director and Academy Award-winner Helen Hunt (As Good As it Gets, Mad About You).

As if that array of new projects were not enough, fans of Williams can also catch him in the fifth season of MTV’s Awkward beginning August 31, where he will be appearing in the lead role of Luke.