Graeme Manson- Co-Creator/ Writer: Orphan Black
When did you first realize you wanted to write/ produce for television?
When I first realized I wanted to write for TV I just got out of school. I really wanted to write in film, so at the time TV was great and it was a good gig because I needed to work and it was all about getting stuff made. The best thing about TV was, you wrote it, it got shot, it got edited, you saw it, all in a couple of weeks and feature films always took so long. I was really into that aspect of it but I was still a film snob. Then shows like “Six Feet Under” started airing and “The Sopranos” and some of the stuff I just loved in that era with the great story telling. There was so much more of an appetite for serialized storytelling as the cable world expanded. That’s when I really began to look at TV again.
What advice do you have for college students hoping to pursue the TV industry?
Just start writing, start shooting, start editing, and work with your friends. Start with small ideas, make web stuff, make short stuff, it’s all about starting and exercising those muscles. The game is also about relationships and start professional relationships, be it hunting down agents or whatever. Be a pro and make stuff with your friends.
What was your first job in the industry, and what was the main thing you took away from it?
Right out of University I got a job in the art department. I worked doing set decoration and props for six years and I learned how TV and films were made. It was the best education for me, a lot of times writers are writers and they’ll get their TV gigs and they don’t even know who does what on a film set, I learned my way around a film set all while writing on the side before I ever worked as a writer.
What was your creative process like with John Fawcett when you were developing “Orphan Black?”
We were buddies who went to the same film school, different years, but we both went to The Canadian Film Center in Toronto. We had worked together before and our tastes and sense of humor really aligned and we wanted to do something together, we were constantly throwing ideas at each other. John pitched the opening scene of “Orphan Black” which was; Girl gets gets off a train. Looks across the tracks. Sees someone who looks exactly like her and in the moment their eyes meet the double commits suicide. All that was, was a great opening scene, but it seemed like a great mystery so we began exploring that and we explored it as a feature film for quite a while before we explored it as a TV show.
How technically different has it been than anything you’ve worked on in the past? Has it been a challenge doing the multiple clone scenes with Tatiana (Maslany)?
It’s been a challenge but it wouldn’t have happened without my partnership with John. Part of the reason I say work with friends is because I’ve had good relationships with directors. Especially early in your career, partnering up with a director who you admire and who you think can get things done as a team, you bring different things to it. When we realized it was about clones I got juiced on the writing aspect of it, because we were thinking clones were way juicier than they had been given their due’s. The nature versus nurture theme started to really get interesting for me, and John really started to get fired up by all of the technical challenges of doubling up the same actor. The technical aspect largely falls on him.
What is your favorite thing that you’ve ever written for “Orphan Black?”
There are a few things. The clone dance party was great because it was an idea that required almost no writing but it was an early idea and I knew that it could be a great triumphant end to a season. I had the idea really early in the season and put it up on the board, “four clone dance party” and everybody thought it was a joke. And John got on board with the technical aspects of it. I like in the writer’s room when you pitch and idea and everyone goes, “No, that’s stupid. That’s like, the dumbest idea ever.” You stick to your guns and refine the idea a little more and refine why this stupid thing is actually the best thing. Donnie (Kristian Bruun) shooting Doctor Leekie (Matt Frewer) was one of those ideas. My favorite scene to date, is a very quiet, clone scene. It’s when Cosima and Sarah lie in bed near the end of season two and they talk about sacred geometry and Buckminster Fuller. I really liked that scene because it was a scene that I wrote because of my friend, the real Cosima, Cosima Herter.
As a Co-Creator and watching this show develop into what it is now, how has it been to watch the fans reactions and know that you’ve played a huge role in that?
It’s one of the most surprising and rewarding things about the whole show. To have thought that there would be a clone club when we started out, we just had no idea. I remember at some point around episode three John and I were like, “Hey, this works. Do you think if people watch this they will have favorite clones?” (Laughs) That’s really cool, having been in TV for a while the social media aspect, we’ve seen that grow. When I first started writing for TV that didn’t exist, we got fan letters (Laughs) that’s a really cool and ever developing aspect of TV. Part of the fun of being in TV right now is that it’s changing so much, I think it’s a great time to hit our stride and it’s probably the only time we could have ever made our show, right now on cable and with social media.
What shows made you fall in love with television and what shows are you currently loving?
Shows that made me fall in love with TV were, “Carol Burnett,” (Laughs) “Mash,” a Canadian show that was filmed on the west coast, “The Beachcomers,” and these are all from when I was a kid. “Adam-12” and “CHiPS.” Then when I got a little older it was “Hill Street Blues,” and then in rapid succession, “Six Feet Under,” “The Sopranos,” “Dexter,” and “The Wire.” That’s when cable started to explode and I really, really wanted to work there. Currently I’m loving “Mr. Robot,” “Peaky Blinders,” and “The Knick.”