Ian MacIntyre – Writer: The Beaverton, Inspector Gadget, Degrassi: Next Class
When did you realize you wanted to work in television?
As a kid, I watched way too much television, which led me to high school plays and then to theatre school (if my parents ask, I’m still planning to do a law degree at some point). After that, I moved to Toronto and started auditioning and performing live comedy. I really thought acting was going to be my thing, but I quickly realized that I loved writing sketches just as much as performing them. So soon, I was pursuing scripted work. Ultimately I’ve found the writing side of this industry more satisfying, and less maddeningly arbitrary, than the on-camera part.
What advice do you have for college students who are looking to pursue the television industry?
Get out and meet people as often as you can. I know many writers tend to be introverts, and the work is often solitary. All the more reason to get out to industry meet-ups, live talks, anything with other writers at it – both professionals and newbies. While this business does ideally come down to how well you can write, TV writing is fundamentally a social job and personal connections help. No one wants to hire someone only to discover that they’re now stuck in a writers room with a maniac. A producer once told me that the thing that put me over the edge to get a job was, “You seemed like someone I wouldn’t dread running into at the coffee machine.”
In addition to the most obvious advice – write all the time – I also highly recommend producing things on your own when you’re starting out. Short films, plays, sketch comedy, anything. You’ll begin to hone your own craft, meet other new industry people, and have completed projects to show professionals. But if nothing else, the sense of accomplishment you get from actually creating a thing is a great inoculation against the rejection you’ll likely face early on. Doing sketch comedy purely on my own terms kept me satisfied and sane enough to keep going, especially early on when I was just scraping by.
What was your first job in the industry? What did you learn from it?
I was hired to co-write a one-hour educational sketch comedy TV special that taught English language idioms to ESL students. It was even worse than what you’re picturing. It was very non-union, almost entirely self-funded by a lawyer who had never worked in TV before. Luckily I was paired with a more senior writer, who was hired as a “consultant” in order to skirt union rules. He taught me a ton about writing with an eye towards production, minimizing locations and performers, and understanding what was possible on a budget. Then he quit because the boss was a kook, and I got paid slightly more to write the entire thing myself. Woof.
Something you wish someone had told you about the industry?
It’s never wrong or “too early” to shoot for a higher goal – whether that’s getting an agent, writing on a bigger show, or pitching and selling your own shows. The worst thing that can happen is you get told “no”, and frankly that’s a good thing to get used to early on. But also, I’m a person who tends to put off going for things by saying I’m “not ready yet”, or “I don’t have enough experience”. And while ability certainly should determine whether you achieve that next goal, sometimes it can be worse to wait until you’ve reached some “ideal moment”. There’s no overseeing arbiter of the TV industry who’s going to grant you permission or tell you you’re ready to take a risk, so don’t wait for it.
What is your writing process like?
Better when I’m on someone else’s deadline. Once I have someone waiting for a draft, I find it very easy to be diligent and get pages out. I also love the process of breaking story in a room with other people and offering and incorporating suggestions to make a script better. Everything just moves, and it’s a great feeling.
As for when I’m working on my own projects… let’s say there’s room for improvement. I like to get a draft of something out as fast as possible so that it can be shown to people and I can tear it apart. Also, forcing myself to shut off Twitter and do the work when I don’t have an external deadline is easier said than done. Shout-out if you’re a writer like me who needs to shut off your phone and leave it in another room when you’re staffed in a writers room!
What is your favorite thing that you’ve ever written? (From The Beaverton or Degrassi: Next Class)
Probably my first Degrassi: Next Class script, #TeamFollowBack, which actually just got nominated for a Writers Guild of Canada Award. The main storyline was about a teen girl who gets harassed online, sort of a Gamergate riff. It was a topic that I had already been following online, and I did a ton of additional research into women who’d gotten attacked as part of it. As much as I can’t relate to being a teen girl in that specific situation, the injustice of seeing what women can go through online got me pretty fired up. Plus our amazing showrunner, Sarah Glinski, had a very clear idea of the story she wanted us to tell, and really set me up for success on that script. I felt really fortunate to get to write on such an established show, especially at a time when the creators were particularly excited and energized.
As runner-up, I would have to say an episode of Inspector Gadget called “The Thingy” that was a G-rated parody of John Carpenter’s “The Thing”. It was also their Christmas episode, and I still can’t believe I got away with it.
What shows made you fall in love with television? What shows are you currently loving?
Again, I watched WAY too much TV as a kid, but early seasons of The Simpsons basically shaped everything about my comedic tastes and distrust of authority. Then came Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which blew my mind in terms of what was possible with long term TV storytelling. I had never before seen a show that could effortlessly blend horror, comedy, romance, and action, while always having so much heart. Amazingly, it almost perfectly holds up today.
As for now, I’m currently loving Atlanta, Superstore, You’re The Worst, Powerless, Westworld, and I’m embarrassingly excited for the next season of Stranger Things.