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Ian Weir fell into writing for television sideways. His professional career began as a radio playwright for CBC and BBC, then he wrote almost exclusively for the stage. In the late 1980s, Phil Keatling, head of CBC TV in Vancouver, approached the New Play Centre looking for new writers for the regional anthology series Lives From Lotus Land. Weir was one of three names put forward.
"I made the classic mistake of trying to write what I thought they would want for TV," Weir says. "For me it was quite a crossover, because radio is purely word-based. You start with the written word, and conjure everything from that. To a certain extent, stage is the same way. Television, obviously, is very visual. It was a process of learning to speak a different language, to envision the story happening like a comic strip in my mind, then attaching words to it. When I was crossing from stage to TV, it always took two days to remind myself that I'm not speaking English today, I'm speaking Italian."
Weir's Lives from Lotus Land episode was noticed by Brian McKeown, who was producing Beachcombers. "It was a wonderful situation for emerging writers, because they were routinely commissioning twice as many scripts as they could produce to get some seed money to new writers, and help them hone their craft. Right now there's so little freelance work available, it's tough."
Like many neophytes, Weir freelanced for numerous animated and episodic shows, such as Psi Factor and Beast Wars, but soon became dissatisfied. "You're always the tradesman who is brought in to build the porch on someone else's house. There's a sense of incompleteness about that, so four years ago I took on a story department position on Cold Squad. I really wanted to see something through from its inception until the season's end."
He followed producer David Barlow to Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy, which was "an immense amount of fun. Cold Squad had a good run, but I found it psychologically difficult to work on because the subject matter -- dealing with murder and grief -- is quite relentless. Cowboy, a character comedy, was a much sunnier experience. I'm just happier in a universe that's fairly benign."
After the first season on Cold Squad, Weir decided to create a show of his own, Edgemont Road, in a bid for greater creative control. "I really enjoy the teen genre. One of the first shows I worked on was the low-budget teen soap Fifteen for Nickelodeon, and I did a number of scripts for Northwood. The second part of the equation was the practicality -- with one year of experience, was I going to be taken seriously if I came up with something expensive?"
Weir envisioned a teen drama that could be done for half the cost of a normal half-hour series, and in two weeks devised a bible for Edgemont. "My intent was to do something real, grounded in three-dimensional characters. When you write issue-oriented drama, you write down to your audience, or teach them lessons." With producer Michael Chechik, Weir approached the CBC, who put it into development and within a year, it was picked up. Season one debuts in January and season two -- which Weir is prepping for shooting to begin in October -- will immediately follow. (Edgemont has sold well internationally, including to Channel 5 in the U.K. and Fox Family in the U.S., where it will air starting in August.)
Weir limited the cast to teen unknowns, most from BC, who will soon become household names. "Having worked on teen shows in the past, I found out that adults can be a problem, because adults carry most of the power. The only way to avoid having adults making decisions is to devise reasons why adults aren't in the position to make decisions or make bad ones, and you wind up doing a show about a group of kids with dysfunctional parents. Our adults exist as off-screen characters, the same way you deal with off-stage characters in a play."
Edgemont is also unique for its unusual structure in the story department. "Because we're trying to keep costs tight, we can't hire a large story department for a long period. Because we're shooting 13 episodes in 35 shooting days, we have to pre-write a lot of material. So I start out as chief cook and bottle washer. The executive story editor is Susin Nielsen, and for the last week we convened the story department. I've put together a group of freelancers, but four weeks before we start shooting, Susin will be back full-time. The two of us are basically the department, plus a junior story editor, plus an intern."
Weir is also branching out to the big screen, and learning another new language. "The sheer size and scope of the screenplay is a different thing -- that massive image involves a very different kind of writing. TV is a much smaller form, and I don't mean that in a pejorative way. Film and TV scripts are fundamentally different creatures. TV is wonderful as a pure storyteller's medium."
One project Ian Weir worked on is an adaptation of L.L. Wright's novel The Suspect, to be directed by Daniel Petrie. Weir then began writing for YTV's Reboot. "It's such a totally different way of writing and thinking, and is a lovely counterpart for Edgemont. They're worlds apart, but I certainly enjoy inhabiting both of them."