Emily Andras wrangles Wynonna Earp

The writer and showrunner reacts to her series' (pictured) cross-border debut and why its raw, female-focused aesthetic got the attention of broadcasters and viewers alike.
Wynonna

When it was announced Emily Andras was showrunning a new series based on a badass female comic book character from the ’90s, it couldn’t have seemed more perfect. Having honed her skills on Lost Girl and Killjoys, both of which aired/air (respectively) on Syfy in the U.S., Andras’ mix of wry humour and action-awareness was the ideal cocktail to helm a show about an alternate-universe U.S. Marshal who works with a special division battling supernatural threats.

The series debuted April 4 in Canada on CHCH, an indie Ontario station that reaches nationally through satellite, and April 1 on Syfy in the U.S. CHCH called Wynonna’s debut “very positive,” with an average audience of 126,00 (final, live +7) combined for its premiere and encore airings, and a 25% lift on overnights for the second episode. An average audience of 1.1 million (2+, live +3) tuned in for the premiere on Syfy. Playback caught up with Andras, who is represented by The Alpern Group, just after the series first two eps, and ahead of the Toronto Screenwriters Conference, where she’ll lead the WGC Writing Room Intensive later this month.

Your baby, Wynonna Earp, recently premiered in the US and Canada. How did the premieres go?

Really well. I’m really proud of the show. It’s based on a comic book by Beau Smith that I think is amazing. It’s a feminist, supernatural western about a demon hunter. I think the thing that surprised me the most was the response. It was just incredible. The reviews were stellar – [critics] really got it. They got the tone and the fun and thought the cast was great. And the response from social media has already exploded. I’ve never seen anything like it with the live tweeting on Friday nights, people already make GIF sets and what-not. Hopefully it translates into actual viewers. But I can honestly say I’m just so thrilled that people seem to really dig it and have kind of adopted it as their own. There’s already a fan group called “Earpers.” I love it.

What was it like engaging and reacting to fans of the comic?

I think that comic book fans are both wary and excited to see their heroes go from one medium to another. Certainly for anyone who’s picked up the original Wynonna Earp comic book, it’s a very different beast. [Wynonna's] very witty and funny and right off the bat I knew she was an extraordinary heroine, but she’s also a product of her time, which is the early ’90s. So [in the comic] she’s a very buxom blonde fighting werewolves in band-aids over her breasts.

One thing that helped comic book fans is that I was extremely collaborative with Beau Smith. It was really important to us that he approve of the show even though he also understood that there were going to be tons of changes as we moved into television. There were also a lot of people who knew my work from Lost Girl and Killjoys. I feel like, in particular, there’s a very big group of female genre fans who are really looking for this kind of work.

How did this project came to you?

There’s a comic book company based out of San Diego that is incredibly well respected called IDW. They knew they had this interesting cult property in Wynonna Earp and they had this very particular heroine. So they were quite determined to find a female showrunner who had some genre experience. They knew my work from Lost Girl and Kill Joys and we all met up.

If you could have created my perfect project in a lab, I feel like this would have been it. The second I opened the comic book I was like, Oh my god, this character is so fun, which is really important to me with my projects and genre.

There was a really strong Western element to it – but modern Western. Motorbikes instead of horses, cell phones instead of horseshoes. I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, so I really have an affinity for the West. Immediately I could see that this was maybe a chance to go to a part of Canada where we don’t do a lot of television. And IDW and I all paired up with Seven24, which makes Heartland, and are fabulous people. And the crew out there is so extraordinary. They’ve really had a great year. They’ve done The Revenant, Fargo and Hell on Wheels.

I also came in with a pretty strong pitch. I definitely thought there were things I wanted to dig down on. I wanted to make her a more real character. What if you had a famous last name of the greatest hero that ever walked the earth, but what if you yourself were anything but a hero? What if you were one of the bad guys?

Then one thing that was kind of funny is, I have a little girl and she’d been obsessed with Frozen and I think part of the reason that did so well was because of the themes of sisterhood. So, in the way that we were upending the Wyatt Earp myth and making it Wynonna Earp, I thought, Well, instead of a band of brothers – which Wyatt Earp was known to have – what if this girl had a gaggle of sisters? What would their relationships be like?

So I pitched it at various stages as Buffy meets Justified, and then eventually I pitched it as Buffy meets Frozen with a dash of Rodriguez, because it was definitely a 10 p.m. show.

This is your first series that you spearheaded from development through production as showrunner. What were some of the biggest lessons? Challenges?

I think there is something to be said for showrunning in Canada. We don’t necessarily have the same resources as a huge network show in the States. But I don’t think we should be underestimated. I think there’s a lot of pressure to deliver something that still feels like an American product, whatever that means.

I’m very aware I’m not digging coal out of a mine, I want to be clear about that, but I found that we had a smaller writing room, we had a smaller prep period before we went into production and we were block-shooting. Just the amount of decisions and meetings and things that needed to get done, I found pretty exhausting. My whole day is being in meetings, making decisions and it’s imperative that you make decisions as quickly as you can because nobody can move forward until they know what they’re doing. And then at the end of the day I’d have to go home and write or edit, which is hard.

But in the same way, I felt like there was a sort of freedom in being the boss. I feel like there’s nowhere else left to hide. The buck really stops with you. You can really choose how you’re going to treat your crew and treat your cast and rally the troupes and be collaborative. That I found really gratifying.

Tell us about your writers’ room: what was it like running it and what was your process like?

Every showrunner has a different process. Some showrunners run a room that has a very clear hierarchy. Some run a more democratic room. I’m a little bit in between. I like a lot of talk in the writers’ room. I’d rather people pitching and pitching and pitching versus big bouts of silence. I like enthusiasm – it doesn’t always have to be the right idea as long as we keep working. I like to think of myself as someone who rewards the best idea. I also believe pretty strongly and I make it clear from the beginning that we’re all going to pass our stuff around. That way I think it feels safe. I don’t want anyone to get too precious about their stuff and I reserve the right to rewrite, but I think there’s something really fun when we all get to take a crack.

It was an incredible team. I think we worked really well together. Everybody had different strengths and there’s something that only happens on the first year of a show where you really are trying to figure out what this show is together, which is really unique and kind of terrifying as well. You don’t know for sure how funny it is, how gory it is, how much sex you want, how dramatic it is, even how serialized versus episodic it is. So there’s something about being on a first season of a show that’s really kind of pure.

How did Wynonna Earp end up at CHCH in Canada? At what point did Syfy come on board? Which one was the commissioning broadcaster?

Tom Cox and Jordy Randall, [executive producers and managing partners] at Seven24 can speak to the actual machinations of the deal. Syfy was pretty keen from the get go. They basically bought straight-to-series, 13 episodes, off the pilot and the bible. And I think it was just Seven24′s really good relationship with CHCH, which is why it landed there. They seemed really keen to have it. I think it’s a good property for them.

Why does Wynonna Earp work right now? What story is it telling that others aren’t and what new audience is it appealing to?

It feels fresh right now. There are a lot of shows that do very well for Syfy that are kind of claustrophobic or they have spaceships, a lot of blues or greys. We really take advantage of the fact that this was wide-open spaces, big vistas. It has a very unique feel.

I feel like there’s a variety of female characters, which is really rare in television. You often see the exceptional female on television, but this is sort of a group of women working together toward the greater good, despite their flaws or because of their flaws.

But more than anything, I think it’s just really, really fun which is something that people are looking for right now. It feels like a Friday night hootenanny. The characters are really likable and funny and their relationships to each other are fun and interesting. Sure, we go darker. There are lots of emotions and I hope we can make you cry now and then, but more than anything it’s just a romp. I think that’s good. I think people want that.