If you have not had a chance to check out SyFy’s new hit Van Helsing, I would invite you to do so even if you are not a fan of vampires. In fact, it was just announced this week that the show has been renewed for season two! Bravo to the cast and crew! Recently, I had the chance to ask a couple of the writers who work on the show about a few things regarding Van Helsing as well as some of their past and future endeavors. Permit me to introduce to you Matt Venables and Jeremy Smith.
JS – Like most kids, TV was a huge influence in my life growing up. It’s sad to say, but it’s true. Back before the days of stream binge watching or PVR’s, we could only absorb our favourite series week to week, one hour at a time. That feeling of anticipation leading up to your favorite show, and, more often than not, the satisfaction after watching a really good episode, led me to want to be involved somehow. Writing was something that kinda came naturally to me, so it seemed like a no brainer.
MV – I used to write as an outlet growing up. It wasn’t until film school that I actually thought about writing as a career and it’s been my passion ever since. As far as becoming a TV writer it was definitely after watching Six Feet Under. That changed everything for me. The ability to take your time and develop characters while telling a story was just so appealing
I think you both worked on Continuum. Was that the first time you worked together? How did you get involved with that show?
Continuum was the first TV series we wrote on together, but our creative relationship started when we met in film school. Before that we wrote and directed music videos together and wrote many scripts–TV and film–that ultimately didn’t go anywhere. We got involved with Continuum at the development stage. One of the executive producers had recommended us to Simon, whom we hadn’t met before, and that recommendation got a double down from Jeff King who brought in as co-showrunner in season one. So it was really a case of previous relationships with really good people paying off in spades.
How did you get connected with Van Helsing? What drew you to this show?
That is a long twisty road of how that all transpired. A dear friend, colleague and mentor of ours, Sara Cooper, had given a script we wrote to her former managers. They read it and really liked it and they now represent us. They are producing partners on Van Helsing and they thought we were a good fit for the show, having written genre and a strong female leads for the past four years. Simon Barry, as you know, was the creator of Continuum and literally the guy that gave us our shot. He had hired two unknown, unproven punks on his flagship series; it sounds insane. I can’t state enough how instrumental Simon was in launching our careers. Anyway, he became involved with Van Helsing and recommended us to Neil Labute. So we had executive producers from two sides recommending us, and all we had to do was meet with Neil, as obviously he would want to interview the people he’s gonna be stuck in a room for weeks with, and lucky for us, we didn’t tank that interview. A couple days later, we were hired.
As for what drew us to the show, any chance you get to work alongside the likes of Simon Barry and Neil Labute, you take it. We knew it was a vampire show and it had a post-apocalyptic element to it, but with no pilot script, we really didn’t know too much beyond that. That really excited us–knowing we may be stepping into a room and crafting a series from the ground up with amazingly talented people.
We wrote two episodes in season one. As for procedure, the writing team works as a unit crafting each episode, act by act, scene by scene. Once we feel an episode is sturdy enough, we’ll move on to the next episode and so on. When we’re confident as a team that the season tracks, the show runner will usually assign individual episodes to each writer. Then it is the writer’s job to take the broad strokes road map of that episode we broke as a team and craft an outline. That gets approved by producers, network, all the big wigs. Once approved, you move onto drafting the script and process of approval repeats itself.
As a writer, did you have the opportunity to be on set while it was being filmed? Is it a typical process to do rewrites once filming has begun? Did you have to do that for Van Helsing?
We were on set a lot for filming. Probably more than they wanted us to be. Rewrites are a part of the process. They happen at every stage of the script and can continue on right up to the moment you’re shooting a scene. On set, in the moment, rewrites are not uncommon. Luckily for the writers on Van Helsing, we had extremely talented peoples in Jonathan Walker and Jackie May on set for those sudden rewrites.
We are currently writing on a re-imagination of a classic animated series ReBoot. Having never written animation and being fans of the original, we wanted to be a part of it for sure. Luckily, it paid off because it’s been a lot of fun to be a part of.
Do either of you have aspirations to create your own show? Any plans to direct eventually?
Every writer in television has the ultimate dream of having their own TV series. It’s kinda the holy grail of the profession. We’re constantly creating new works in the hopes that one of them takes off. I think one day we might try our hand at directing, but for now our focus is writing.
Why do you think Van Helsing will connect with viewers? What would you say to someone who might be hesitant about tuning in?
Van Helsing isn’t like most vampire shows or movies. These vampires aren’t going to seduce you with charm and a hypnotic gaze. These vampires are going to eat you! We’ve created a kill or be killed world, and I think fans of survival stories will thoroughly enjoy it. It’s not going to be for everyone–that’s with any genre show–but at the core of our series is a mother trying to find her daughter in a world wrought with danger. Who wouldn’t be interested in that?
What advice would you give to aspring TV/film writers?
Write. We can’t stress that enough. Write as much and as often as you can. It is a craft that will never be perfected, but can always be improved. Read others’ work. Find scripts for the shows you love and read them. Lastly, have others read your work. Never be precious about your words, especially if you ask for feedback. You may not agree with a note someone gives you, but at least try to understand where the note came from and why they gave it. The sooner you learn to let go of criticism, the better you’ll fare once you get into a room full of professionals.
As far as I’m concerned, the crew of hit television shows like Van Helsing and Continuum rarely receive the recognition they so highly deserve. I realize that writers are used to being in the background, but I believe it behooves the viewers to remember that without gifted writers like Matt and Jeremy, there would be no show. I am fully congnizant of the fact that the cast are often highlighted, and while no one would argue about the genuine significance of capable actors, I am committed to acknowledging those behind the scenes whenever I can. I suppose the fact that I am a writer myself gives me a certain kind of understanding and fascination where TV and film writers are concerned, and indeed these two gave me more insight into writing for TV than I have known heretofore. I would invite everyone to check out Matt and Jeremy at the links below. Furthermore, I would ask you to consider checking out Van Helsing, and most notably, the episodes that are “theirs.” And in the event that you are behind like I am (is it bad I have only watched the pilot–on second thought, don’t answer that!!), be sure to catch up on demand (thank God for DVR’s and modern technology!).
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