When Mr. Young debuted in 2011, it was the first multi-camera sitcom produced in Vancouver. The family comedy has since become a bonafide hit on Canada’s YTV and Disney XD in the US and around the world and was just nominated for Programa Favorito at the 2012 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards Mexico.
Mr. Young is already shooting its third season – and Writing for Film & Television alum Jennifer Siddle has joined the show’s writers’ room as an Intern Writer.
We caught up with Jennifer, along with Mr. Young Writer/Supervising Producer Jennica Harper – who, as a former instructor in the Writing program, was instrumental in connecting Jennifer with the show’s executive producers – to find out how Jennifer nurtured her network, stayed prepared, and ultimately got the gig.
Hi, Jennifer! What’s the story on how you came to sign on with Mr. Young? Did you throw your hat in the ring or were you approached?
Jennifer Siddle: I threw my hat in the ring. I was in Los Angeles recently at the L.A. Webfest [for the web series Plaid Men] and I went for a dinner with a group of writers I knew, one of whom was Jennica. She was talking about the show and how the producers are hoping to start up a new series in Vancouver.
I thought about what a great opportunity that could be, so when I returned to Vancouver I messaged Jennica to ask her if she thought some new writing positions would open up if the new show got the green light. She told me that there might actually be a position opening up in the writers’ room at Mr. Young immediately. She asked me if I had a spec to send her right away. Luckily, I had a Modern Family spec ready to go. She passed it along, and within a week I had an interview with the Executive Producers of Mr. Young. It happened incredibly fast.
You graduated in 2007. but you stayed involved at VFS, first in Writing and then in Entertainment Business Management. What made you stick around?
Jennifer: I was offered the job of Teacher’s Assistant in the Writing Department immediately after graduating. I had no other employment lined up and I knew I loved the staff and the program, so I accepted. I stayed for so long because I honestly loved coming to work every day and it allowed me to stay in touch with the industry. Throughout my time at VFS, I got to facilitate workshops on script writing, be an associate producer on numerous shorts, and produce the sketch comedy shows. I became the Program Assistant and then the Program Manager in EBM, and soon realized that I didn’t want to have a career in administration. It was time to make the leap into television.
Plaid Men, Mr. Young. do you identify as a comedy writer first and foremost?
Jennifer: Yes, definitely. Although we actually wrote Plaid Men as a drama, knowing the comedy would come out of the fact that they were sock puppets that were smoking, drinking, and trying to be serious. Otherwise, every film script and television spec I’ve written has been comedic – at least, it was meant to be.
People tell me that drama is easier to write, but I think I would have a tough time telling a serious story without sounding cheesy.
Jennica, how did you first get to know Jennifer?
Jennica Harper: I didn’t teach Jenny, but after she graduated, she started working in the Writing program. When I came in to occasionally teach a class, I’d chat with her, and got to know her that way. She became part of the Writing program community in Vancouver. instructors, staff, and grads sometimes hang out socially, and also support each other’s creative endeavours.
What do you think Jennifer’s journey – from VFS student to working at VFS to Mr. Young – can teach other emerging TV writers? What made her a good hire for the show?
Jennica: I’ll be very clear – Jenny was hired because she worked hard, reached out to me at the right time, turned in a good spec script, and was a pro in her interview with the showrunners. A writer who has taken a totally different journey could have done all that too, but there were a lot of ways in which Jenny’s particular journey helped. Working at VFS meant she remained part of the film and TV community in town. We wouldn’t know each other otherwise.
She was also actively creating stuff within that community. When I heard Plaid Men was happening, it registered that Jenny was “getting stuff done” – so, when she contacted me to ask about possible upcoming opportunities, I knew she was committed to her writing career.
Jennifer, how involved are you in the day-to-day of the writers’ room? A lot of us might hear “intern” and think “sandwich runs”. How actively do you participate?
Jennifer: Thanks to craft services, I’m not needed to go on any sandwich runs! I’m in the writing room, learning how to pitch story ideas, break episodes into beats, group rewrite, evaluate casting, consult with the costume and props departments, and contribute to the show during the Friday night tapings in front of the live studio audience. I’m getting to experience everything the writers do, short of writing an episode.
As a writer, what’s the toughest thing about working on a family sitcom like Mr. Young?
Jennifer: I’m so far removed from being a nine-year-old that sometimes it’s difficult to wrap my head around what a kid thinks is funny. I’m sure most of the jokes on the show that we think are funny are completely different than the gags on the show that the kids laugh at. It makes the live taping that much more interesting when you can hear an imediate audience reaction.
What’s the best thing about it?
Jennifer: There is such freedom in kids shows. We are consistently breaking rules and writing things that could never happen in reality. I can’t believe some of the stuff we get away with, with the animals and the over-the-top silliness of the gags. It almost feels like we’re writing animation series at times.
Thanks – and congratulations – Jennifer! Mr. Young shoots in front of a live audience most Fridays. Check out the show’s Facebook page to find out how to attend – it’s a one-of-a kind education for any aspiring TV writer.