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The Office writer Anthony Q. Farrell has a big job on his hands, convincing fellow Canadian TV scribes to step up and take the lead in local series writer rooms.
“I’m getting messages from young writers that are in rooms with showrunners who don’t have any experience showrunning, and it’s difficult because they want to be supportive but that person doesn’t have training and they don’t know how to do that job,” Farrell told The Hollywood Reporter.
By definition, the job of showrunning calls for being the top dog in the writers room. And Farrell explains that too many polite Canadian screenwriters, much less from Black, Indigenous and people of color communities, either are reluctant to take charge when appropriate or see barriers in their way.
“It’s a very Canadian thing to say, I’ll let you handle that,” the veteran writer and executive producer says. Farrell is eager to change that with a first-ever Showrunner Training Bootcamp hosted by BIPOC TV & Film, an organization campaigning for racial equity in the Canadian entertainment industry.
Confidence to take the creative reins, it turns out, comes naturally to Farrell as the showrunner and executive producer of the sci-fi primetime comedy Overlord & The Underwoods while also developing other shows. His TV credits include CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie and the upcoming Marble and BYUtv series The Parker Andersons/Amelia Parker.
Ferrell recalls an actor friend telling him he had an “American swagger” when running a writers room. “I told him, I guess that’s kind of because I’ve worked in the States for so long, but it’s weird to me that it’s not the norm up here. You’re the showrunner, you’re the runner of the show!” Farrell adds.
Backed by special guest instructors and panelists from the U.S. and Canada, Farrell’s program, co-designed with writer and producer Jinder Oujla-Chalmers, will train up to 50 Canadian BIPOC writers on how to manage and staff their writers rooms, production and post-production schedules, and deal with production companies and broadcasters.
The bootcamp comes amid an increase in opportunities for BIPOC creators to become showrunners on Canadian TV shows. In the past, creators from under-represented communities would too often get a series greenlighted, only to see a more experienced showrunner or supervisor take the lead on the show.
“It’s usually a white man, sometimes a white woman. If that person is open to learning and listening, it can be a great experience. But too often that person is dealing with an ego situation or a touch of white fragility, dare I say,” Farrell argues.
The bootcamp aims to get mid- and upper-level BIPOC writers ready for the jump to showrunning so they can avoid the pitfalls of a Canadian TV industry too reliant on white gatekeepers. “They [BIPOC creators] might be a great writer, but now you have to be the manager of other writers, you have to answer questions to different departments, be part of postproduction — you have a lot of things happening which you have not been trained for as a writer,” Farrell explains.
A 2021 report from the Writers Guild of Canada revealed that writers from marginalized and underrepresented communities were least likely to occupy leadership roles or senior credits on Canadian TV series and that lack of racial equity impacts how BIPOC creators are hired, or not, and how much money they make.
“It was a painful experience creating my own television series, being given a green light, only to have the showrunning position go to someone else. I’ve found throughout my writing journey no one ever talks about what the showrunners task really is. Like it’s a big secret that nobody is willing to reveal,” writer and executive producer Jinder Oujla-Chalmers, who partnered with Farrell on the Bootcamp, said in a statement.
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