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The 2011 Ten to Watch: Jenn Engels

This screenwriter may have a Bay St. background, but she's firmly entrenched in the world of comedy now, having penned scripts for HBO series and CBC comedies alike.

Each year, Playback puts out a call for the industry to recommend its best and brightest
up-and-coming talent for our 10 to Watch list. With over 100 nominations this year, including only 10 seemed impossible — virtually every nominee deserved to be on the list. The selection represented here is the culmination of careful consideration by Playback‘s editorial jury, in association with film, TV and interactive industry execs and organizations. Having already made a splash, these talented 10 are poised for great things. 

Jenn Engels / screenwriter

Hometown: Toronto
Agency: Meridian Artists
Big break: HBO Canada’s Less Than Kind

The buzz: Although Engels has been everything from Bay Street businesswoman to stand-up comedian in her career, she always kept her underutilized English Lit degree in the back of her mind. Seizing the day in 2006, Engels joined the Canadian Film Centre’s screenwriting program and earned a Global Apprenticeship Award from the Banff World Media Festival in 2007. Shortly after that, she began a three-season run on Less Than Kind, which earned her two Gemini nods as well as a Writers Guild of Canada award nomination. She’s now penning scripts for CBC spy farce InSecurity.

What did you find was the biggest challenge in breaking into the writing world?
It takes a lot of perseverance. I think one of the things I learned from acting was that you have to develop a thick skin, because your job description is to go to auditions for roles that [statistically] you’re just not going to get. So I think in this field as well, you have to be rigorous about looking at your skill set and seeing what needs enhancing.

What do you think about the opportunities for comedic writers in Canada?
I think they’re good. It seems like [Canadian] networks really want half-hours. Comedy is always in demand. And there’s also a very strong animation industry in this country. Judging from the people that I graduated from the [CFC] with, there were a lot of writers trying to make it into drama writing, which can be harder to crack. So you’ve got lots of opportunity if you want to be a comedy writer.

You’ve seen a lot of success in a few short years. what’s your secret?
Riding on the coattails of others? I used to be in this sketch comedy group and we weren’t very good, but our shows were a lot of fun. Our motto was “ride on the coattails of others,” because we would invite great stand-up comics to do sets between our lousy sketches and nights turned out really well, largely because of these comics. Really, my success is because I’ve been working with amazing people and I’ve been learning a lot from them. It’s such a collaborative experience and job. RB

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