Fox TV screenwriter and UBC alumnus Hart Hanson on screenwriting south of the border
Hart Hanson, creator of the popular TV series Bones will mentor students and share stories from his award-winning TV writing career on Feb. 5.
What challenges did you face when you left a successful career in Canada to hit the big leagues in L.A.?
I had to adjust to the American model of making TV. It was bigger and louder and the stakes were higher. The shows cost so much more and there was a very clear definition of success: ratings. It was noisier and there was more jostling, but there were so many more opportunities that it actually felt much easier than working in Canada. I still think if you can make a living as a TV writer in Canada, then you have everything it takes to make it in the States.
Did you ever wonder what you got yourself into when you left Canada?
Soon after I left Canada, the Columbine shootings happened and three years later it was 9/11. So culturally I had some doubts. Also the standard of living was lower in the States than in Canada; we left a wonderful old home on a paving-stone street in Toronto for a rented place in L.A. that cost a fortune. I had to start from NOTHING in the States after building up a track record in Canada. Also, the schools were different for the kids. So yes, I did find myself lying awake every night wondering what I’d gotten my family into.
What lessons from the MFA program do you still apply to script writing?
The MFA program provided me with key principles to write by. It taught me to write from within and then to stand back and look at what I’ve written with an objective eye. That jumping back and forth from internal to external, from subjective to objective, from writer to editor, from participant to observer – you get the drift – has been invaluable to me over the years and I learned it during my time in UBC’s Creative Writing program.
TV is in a state of flux – what are your predictions for mainstream TV?
“State of flux” is a very kind way of putting it. Network TV is redefining itself so quickly that it’s disorienting. It’s almost impossible to get any traction or notice in this fragmented market. I have discussed this with many show-runners, agents, and executives at both the studio and the network. (And I have a profound sense of gratitude that I’m not running a network.) However, no matter what the models are, there will always be a need for content. And writers provide that content. Being a writer is a grand thing to be.
Hart Hanson is a MFA alumnus and former UBC Creative Writing professor. He is creator of the Fox Television series Bones, currently in its ninth year. Hanson will present a free public lecture, “From Here to There: A Nice Canadian Boy Goes to Hollywood” at UBC on Feb. 5. His writing credits range from Beachcombers to the Emmy-nominated Judging Amy.