The Storyteller-in-Chief Behind Syfy’s Wynonna Earp
Den of Geek talked to Wynonna Earp showrunner Emily Andras about Season 4, and what inspires her as a writer.
When people talk about the cleverness and compassion of Wynonna Earp, one of the things they’re also talking about is the cleverness and compassion of showrunner and creator Emily Andras. The Canadian television writer and producer, who showran succubus drama Lost Girl for Seasons 3 and 4 before developing supernatural western Wynonna Earp for Syfy (adapted from Beau Smith’s comic book series of the same name), is the heart and soul of this show and community.
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While the Wynonna Earp experience is the result of so many people’s creativity, passion, and dedication to this story—not only behind-the-scenes and in front of the camera, but also in the fandom community surrounding the show—it all begins with Andras, and it’s a responsibility she doesn’t take lightly…
“The biggest thing I feel now that I’ve been through a year of #FightForWynonna, is how important it is to lean into what people love about the show,” Andras told Den of Geek earlier this month at New York Comic Con, referring to the fan-led campaign that helped save Wynonna Earp when funding issues delayed a production start on Season 4 and left the fate of the show temporarily uncertain.
In the past, Andras has described the creator-fandom relationship using a bus analogy: The TV showrunner is the driver of the bus. You, as a fan, can get on the bus—you can cheer or yell or complain while you are on the bus, and the showrunner might hear and recognize that—but if everyone tries to drive the bus, the bus will crash. Andras is the type of bus driver who has always cared what the passengers have to say, and that quality, which is not inherent in all showrunners or creators, continues to be a guiding force going into Season 4.
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“This sounds really intuitive, but sometimes the more you’re on a show, the more you are distracted by shiny objects or new things,” said Andras. “And those are important to keep it feeling fresh, but I’m very aware the Earpers fought for Wynonna and Waverly and Nicole and Doc and Jeremy. So those are the things that we have to come back to time and time again. Those character’s close relationships, them being a dysfunctional family, we fight for each other no matter what. So I feel more encouraged about making [Season 4] classic Wynonna Earp if nothing else, you know?”
What is “classic Wynonna Earp,” you might ask? In some ways, it’s hard to define.
“This is the type of show where ‘x’ can happen. Someone can lick a potato,” laughed Andras. “I’m spoiled. I feel like I don’t know how I’m ever going to do another show because I’m like, ‘This one’s just so fun.’ And God, I’m just so grateful to be back in it. I missed the show and now that I’m even in the nitty-gritty, I’m still like, ‘Oh yeah, this is so fun.'”
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In other ways, “classic Wynonna Earp” is easy to define. Wynonna Earp is about family, it’s about love, and it’s about fighting for those things even when winning may seem or actually be impossible. The job of a showrunner does not leave a lot of time to reflect on the themes most important to their cumulative work so far, but Andras has some great insights when I ask what links her writing: which ideas does she find herself coming back to again and again in her work?
“I think you really figure out what matters to you as a writer,” reflected Andras, of her career so far. “There are so many battles you have, just with producers and networks and decision-makers, and you really start to realize what you’re willing to go to battle for. So, for me, obviously, it’s strong female characters who are complicated and three dimensional. And the other thing for me is LGBTQ representation is huge. And I feel like the same themes that always happen in my work are things like: being able to define yourself versus defining yourself how society sees you or what you’re told you are. Being able to choose who you are versus who people expect you to be.”
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While Andras has written for non-genre television, including that Canadian cornerstone Degrassi: The Next Generation and police drama King, she is best known for her genre work, and that’s where her heart seems to lie. In addition to Lost Girl and Wynonna Earp, Andras is currently developing a show for Syfy called Axeholes, about a group of con-goers who get pulled into their favorite fantasy series.
“I just love the story of underdogs,” said Andras. “I like the story of women coming into their own power and authority and independence. And that’s why I feel like genre appeals to me so much just because it’s the playground of the underdog and people finding magic in themselves they never knew they had. So I feel like I will always explore those things.”
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Andras is supported by a team of writers in crafting the story of Wynonna Earp. What does she look for when bringing someone into the writers’ room?
“It’s not a very sexy answer, but the truth is it’s a very intimate environment when you are working with someone all day long,” said Andras of the logistics of TV writing. “Writing for television is it’s really a group activity. We have a room full of people all debating opinions and story points and pitches. So, first and foremost, I try to go with someone who’s going to get us, who’s going to get that it’s very intimate and it’s a safe space and we make a lot of inappropriate jokes. But you’re also pitching stuff from your own life. Like I went through this really bad breakup one time and people were like, ‘Boo, that sucks’ or whatever.”
It’s perhaps not surprising, given Wynonna Earp‘s storytelling strengths, that, when describing her ideal writers’ room, Andras uses the language of emotional intelligence when describing both tangible logistical concerns and more esoteric writerly qualities.
“It’s still an office space,” continued Andras. “So, I look for someone that I can tolerate and who I think can put up with me and my energy. Lots of showrunners look for different things. I really like someone who’s got a ton of ideas. Like I really want an energy in the room of democracy. I want everyone pitching ideas. Some writers are a little more internal and a little more thoughtful and that’s okay. And also maybe someone who doesn’t necessarily think like me. I’m not threatened by a different take or a different character.”
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Because of the size of the writers’ room (five or six people), Andras noted that everyone in it needs to have multiple skillsets. They can’t just be good at writing one character or one tone (more than most shows on TV, Earp is a tapestry of tone); they need to be able to do everything a Wynonna Earp script requires.
“You have to be able to do double duty,” said Andras. “You have to be good at drama and comedy and all the characters. But it’s still, like any group dynamic, it’s a weird chemistry, you know? We’ve been very lucky. I really love my writers. And we have a lot of returning writers this year too, so that just feels so safe and easy and fun.”
At the time of New York Comic Con (early October), the writers’ room was roughly halfway through the Season 4 writing process, with five of the season’s 12 episodes already broken (i.e. the story beats mapped out). It is no doubt a tough, albeit fun process, with the Season 3 finale leaving tons of loose ends to address.
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Last time we saw Wynonna, she had just watched her sister Waverly get sucked into The Garden, with Doc, in full White Hat Mode, willingly following. When Wynonna returned to Purgatory, she found the town abandoned, save for Nedley. And to top it all off: The Earp Curse has been broken, with Peacemaker magicking itself from a gun to a sword/dagger. When Andras wrote these cliffhangers, did she know what would happen next, or did she leave it all as a question for Future Emily?
“A little bit of both,” said Andras. “I like to set up a little Tetris for Future Emily & co. to have to decipher. I feel like I know about half the answers and then some of them I’m like, ‘Well, this is going to be a fun challenge to write your way out of.’ So I knew some things, but then sometimes you come up with a better idea and you’re like, ‘Oh, this is much better.'”
Andras said she has an idea of how the show should end, but, other than that, she seems to be a natural pantser living in a plotter’s industry.
“Sometimes it’s infuriating to be like, ‘Oh my God, we have all these cliffhangers we have to answer,'” said Andras. “But it also gives you a bit of a jolt at the beginning of the next season. That you’re like, ‘Okay. Here’s the puzzle you have to solve.’ So yeah, this was a tough one. Lots of stuff going on at the end of Season … We put the players on the chessboard and now we’re just going to see what happens to them all.”
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I spoke before about the tonal tapestry Wynonna Earp so often seamlessly weaves. It can be the saddest show and it can be the funniest show, and those things are sometimes true at the same time, which is exceptionally hard to pull off in storytelling, even though sadness and hilarity often hold the same space (or at least spaces near to each other) in life. This smorgasbord of tone is intentional, and something Andras is obviously (and rightfully) damn proud of, both in terms of intention and execution.
“One thing I feel like Lost Girl and Wynonna Earp have really taught me is that ‘fun’ is really difficult to write,” said Andras. “It’s taken for granted. We really think something serious and very dour with a male antihero is prestige TV and I don’t think writing a show like Wynonna Earp with so many different tone shifts is any easier than something like that. You know what I mean? And also it’s underrated. People want to come home and go on a journey and feel every spectrum of emotion on the rainbow. And I really love writing shows like that, that make you cry and laugh and barf and yell at me on Twitter.”
Wynonna Earp Season 4 will return in 2020. In the meantime, you can yell at Emily Andras on Twitter @emtothea.
Kayti Burt is a staff editor covering books, TV, movies, and fan culture at Den of Geek. Read more of her work here or follow her on Twitter @kaytiburt.