By Kathryn Burnett
On the face of it, Vancouver-based writer Stacey Kaser should have known she was destined to write for television. What better vocation is there for someone who skips over the descriptive parts in books to get to the action? But it wasn't until she encountered a Canadian drama about a psychic private investigator that she was really sold on the idea.
"I always wanted to be a writer and had written insufferable short stories and magazine articles but I didn't know about television," she says. "When I read my first script I thought, 'Oh man, that's what I want to do.' I'd seen this cool show, Seeing Things, and thought, 'Wow. We can do TV here."
The inspirational local show had come from David Barlow creator and executive producer of Nothing Too Good For A Cowboy. Kaser had written an episode nominated for a 2000 WGC Top Ten Award.
Kaser has just finished two seasons as writer and executive story editor on Cowboy, in addition to story editing features, and describes her time on the show "as a dream that is unfortunately over." She has plenty of praise for fellow writers Susin Nielsen and Ian Weir, but says the dream situation had much to do with a flexible network and executive producers who gave the writers free rein.
"We started writing what we wanted to see and the exec producers -- David Barlow and Chuck Lazar -- would be great about saying, 'Yeah go for it.' There was something special about Cowboy. It had a terrific cast and we had a great writing team and it was fun, which it isn't always."
She says this generosity, coupled with budget restrictions, gave the writers a rare freedom to experiment. "For instance, we had to write a six-day episode that pretty much only used our leads. We'd already done a few and I couldn't think of any other reason to trap them in a cabin than they get stomach flu. And Chuck and David actually went for it."
Kaser also credits her time on Cowboy with teaching her some valuable lessons about the challenge of writing comedy. "Cowboy blended comedy and drama, so I really learned that to write comedy, you've go to come up with storylines first rather than gags. Comedy should come out of the characters while drama starts with a story line. Comedy is much harder to write because you have to do all the things you do in drama just as thoroughly. Then make it funny, and it has to look easy, too."
Comedy tips aren't all she took away from the show, attributing her editing skills in features to the time she's spent editing television. "Screenwriters of film can be a little snobby about television writers," she says. "But it's my experience that editing on television series provides a perfect training ground for work as a feature film storyeditor."
She also thinks feature scripts can greatly benefit from the process a television series goes through. "I know people who do a read-through for features and that's helpful. We should do more of that. Television series are far more collaborative at the writing stage and you get to work with a mix of people including the director. I think if writers in feature film were able to work more closely with the director, they'd have the opportunity to work out between them what the vision is."
Prior to her life as a writer, Kaser worked as a lifeguard, brewery worker, horse guide, and counselor for ex-convicts. Her first job in television came through her mentor Phil Savath. He dispatched her to research the climate in 1960s Canada to convince CBC executives that they should do a nuclear fear episode on 1980s television series The Adventures of Maximillian Glick.
She soon landed an internship during the second season of North Of 60, became a story editor, wrote an episode in season four while on maternity leave, and returned for the final season. Cut to a stint as story editor on Madison and the offer to work on Nothing Too Good For A Cowboy.
Kaser admits she is drawn to writing a feature -- her third, if you count the two languishing in a drawer -- but is focused on developing a half-hour comedy series. The Flower Shop explores the ways in which people with opposite personalities can change one another.
"I'm trying to do something old and new with this series by tracking the relationship between the two main characters and the way they develop - which is something comedy series don't always do, the characters often remain unchanged."
But if that project doesn't pan out she does have another destiny in mind. "I'd like to become whoever it is that gets to fire the CRTC who ruled that drama doesn't have to count as Canadian content."