Writers, Writers, Writers. There’s all kinds of them out there. Whether they be article-writers like me, or those who write works of fiction in the form of a book or TV show, the world is filled with lots of them and being a writer requires a lot of thinking and rewriting, sometimes it requires a lot of looking around. As someone who used to write works of fiction myself in my high school years, I always found the most interesting stories came from things that happened to me from faulty field trips to articles in the paper. It’s not always easy to transition from fiction to non-fiction though, some story writers may have done so, and transferring from a journalist to a series writer sounds like it could be difficult. Or is it?
Recently, writer Kat Sieniuc has signed with United Talent Agency to get some new representation in making inspiring new stories. Both Kat and UTA have done the right thing in this case as Kat has quite some interesting experience from originally working as a journalist at Globe and Mail. Kat has made some other great strides in her career and I had to talk about it with her. After all, it’s not often a writer speaks with another writer in an interview, at least not for me. So read on, and be prepared to take notes like a writer does, because you might find some interesting things out.
HNMAG: You started out as a journalist from Globe and Mail. What was it like writing real news before getting into fictional writing?
Kat Sieniuc: Journalism taught me so much about how to be a screenwriter. It taught me deadlines, working independently and collaboratively with your editors, writing for an audience — that’s all very transferable to what I do now.
Obviously screenwriting is fictional, but I do think the storytelling is similar. You want to find that seed of what will make people care about the story you’re telling. A lot of time that starts with character. In journalism, my favourite thing to do was write about people. Now when I’m coming up with ideas, I’m often inspired by something I’ve read in the news or noticed happening in the world, and I don’t know if I would have that instinct if I wasn’t a journalist first. I like to write social satire, stories that are part of a larger conversation, and I think starting off in journalism really informed how I approach storytelling.
HNMAG: And how did you manage to transition into the writer’s room of TV series from journalism?
Kat Sieniuc: I loved The Wire and I always aspired to have a career like David Simon — he was a journalist first, a crime reporter, and I thought I would gather all these stories and experiences from my reporting, then write a movie or television show in ten or twenty years. But as I started writing more and more scripts in my spare time, I knew screenwriting was something I wanted to pursue for real, so I ended up leaving a journalism job that I had in New York to move back to Vancouver and really sort of try this dream out that I had. I literally googled what you need to get represented to become a working screenwriter. I took an online course on writing a television pilot. Once I had that piece of material, I submitted to some online writing competitions and got some positive feedback, which made me feel like I was on the right path. I made the official switch when I used that pilot to apply to the [Netflix sponsored] Pacific Screenwriting Program in Vancouver. It was the first year they were doing it. I got in and it taught me everything I know now.
HNMAG: What kind of stories did you gather while writing for Globe and Mail?
Kat Sieniuc: I mainly wrote local breaking news, in Toronto and also for a summer in Vancouver. A lot of my reporting involved renting a car and following breaking stories. I covered the BC wildfires one summer. I covered a tornado in Ontario. I also covered the [Toronto] Mayor Rob Ford story — that was an exciting and stressful time. In New York, I worked at a trade publication for lawyers called Law 360, which was legal news. Very different!
HNMAG: What was your most interesting interview or article?
Kat Sieniuc: Probably covering Rob Ford. I was on the team at Toronto city hall that was running around with a scrum of reporters shouting questions at him about his scandal. It was almost like out of a TV show.
HNMAG: Does it feel surreal to be interviewed instead of conducting an interview?
Kat Sieniuc: Definitely. I’m not used to talking about myself. I’m a little bit better now because when I’m pitching my ideas and scripts in meetings, I have to talk about myself. But I’m definitely more comfortable asking other people questions.
HNMAG: Now for some of the other steps on your journey. You helped adapt a podcast into a TV series recently. How did that differ from usual TV writing?
Kat Sieniuc: I loved that writers room. It’s always fun coming into a room with preexisting material that you already love and then getting to expand on it with everyone. It’s a very creative process.
HNMAG: You’re very big on writing women who dominate spaces and you’re also exploring female relationships. What do you enjoy most about writing these characters and their stories?
Kat Sieniuc: I’ve always been obsessed with anti-heroes. Some of my favourite characters are Don Draper, Tony Soprano, Walter White — and I feel like you don’t often see the same kind of female characters on TV. I like to write female anti-heroes. I think that a lot of times they are true underdogs. A common theme I’ve found myself exploring in all my work is an underdog’s quest for agency, particularly in times of darkness, uncertainty and adversity.
Kat went on to see how she enjoys watching a woman defy authority, and she feels it’s like wanting to find her own power. She does it to see characters find their true power and finds it interesting in ways that people wouldn’t expect because it’s not often on screen. With women being layered and nuanced, there should definitely be more women written in a style like she described.
HNMAG: I understand you’re writing a new pilot and pitching a feature project. Any details you can share about it?
Kat Sieniuc: I can’t at the moment. I wish that I could! But everything is kind of secret until it’s finished.
HNMAG: You do a lot of real life stories. Do you find stories from real life make for more interesting concepts?
Kat Sieniuc: I do get inspired by real life people a lot when I’m writing. I find there are universal themes everyone can relate to found all over real life, and I like to pull from those when I’m telling my stories.
HNMAG: You’ve gotten pretty far in a couple of years. What would you say was your most ambitious project?
Kat Sieniuc: Something I have been reflecting on lately is that a writing career is a marathon, not a sprint. So it kind of feels like every project of mine is ambitious because I feel like I’m running a marathon. You just have to keep going. But I love writing so much, I can’t possibly imagine myself doing anything else.
HNMAG: Now to talk a little more about United Talent Agency. How exactly did you get involved with such an amazing company?
Kat Sieniuc: I was connected with my agent there a couple years ago and it just wasn’t the right time. Then we reconnected recently, and I had new material to share that he read and really loved. This time the timing was right and I had more experience under my belt. I think on both sides it just felt like the perfect time and a really good match.
HNMAG: What do you hope to get out of this agency?
Kat Sieniuc: UTA has the access and expertise to help me promote my writing and ideas and get people interested in working with me. It’s really incredible to have such a good team that has my back. I can’t believe it. I love my other reps too, over at Grandview and Characters.
HNMAG: What are some of the advantages of being with UTA and Grandview?
Kat Sieniuc: It’s access, it’s expertise, it’s strategy. With my team especially, they give me invaluable advice and notes on my material and my writing and my career. They all just want the best for me and I feel very supported.
HNMAG: Sounds like you have some reliable connections.
Kat Sieniuc: Yes. Definitely. I’ve met so many people because of my team — creative executives, other writers. I got the job on The Left Right Game through my manager and made some incredible friends in that room. I feel very lucky.
HNMAG: And do you hope someday you’ll be leading a project in this company or doing something even you never thought you’d do?
Kat Sieniuc: I would love to sell my own TV show and be a show creator one day. Hopefully soon. It’s a goal, for sure.
Kat said the important thing is to just keep writing. It’s people like her that inspire to press on and continue with writing and writing and writing. And maybe some other things too.