Emmy-award winning alumnus Andrew Wreggitt visits campus

Behind every spectacle, there is a person on the other side of a green velvet curtain creating the illusion. One UBC alumnus is the man behind the curtain of many well-known Canadian TV shows and movies, including Emmy award-winning The Phantoms and Corner Gas: The Movie.

From his house in the mining town of Fraser Lake, B.C., a young Andrew Wreggitt watched The Beachcombers, a CBC show about exactly the kind of small town he was growing up in. Wreggitt never suspected that one day he’d be the person pulling the cords and pushing the buttons behind the curtain of that very same television show.

“I knew that people must write [television],” Wreggitt said of his first encounters with the genre, “but I didn’t ever imagine that I was going to be one of those people.”

Today, the Canadian screenwriter has produced over 90 hours of network television.

Wreggitt always knew he wanted to be a writer, but he was drawn first and foremost to poetry rather than screenwriting.

During his time in Fraser Lake, he was influenced by the poetry of Michael Ondaatje, citing The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left-Handed Poems as one of the texts that turned him on to writing poetry.

“That book just blew my mind,” said Wreggitt. “I didn’t realize poetry could be like that.”

Amongst others like Leonard Cohen (a favourite being The Spice-Box of Earth) and Al Purdy, Wreggitt also enjoyed Canadian poet Phyllis Webb who became a teacher of his when he was accepted for his first year to UBC’s creative writing program on a scholarship.

Having been accepted earlier than most creative writing students (who enter the program after their second year), Wreggitt was intimidated but eager to be surrounded by people who shared his creative drive and to experience a community outside of Fraser Lake.

“I was really a puppy,” said Wreggitt. “A lot of [my classmates] were older than I was. There were people from all over the country and the world and I found that very exciting.”

During his time at UBC, Wreggitt continued to work on his poetry, thriving amongst his newfound creative community.

“I was very influenced and supported by the other students,” he said. “These [peers] are your contemporaries, and you’re going to have your first successes together and your first abject failures together ... We would trade our work back and forth, so I think in some ways it was almost as influential as what your professor says to you.”

Wreggitt credited the opportunity to explore new authors as an important factor to the development of his work.

“I took a Canadian poetry course, and I was exposed to a whole bunch of poets that I didn’t know about, and then I really kind of got into it. [I] started to write more and submit to publications. I got some books done,” he said. Wreggitt has written five books of poetry including Making Movies in 1989 which won the Writers Guild of Alberta Stephan Stephanson Poetry Prize.

As he worked on his masters degree, Wreggitt realized that poetry was unlikely to pay the rent, so he took a summer job a the CBC offices archiving episodes of The Beachcombers.

His job at CBC put him into contact with the show's story editor, and, at the end of the summer, he bravely ran three ideas for new episodes across her desk. She rejected all of them. Undeterred, he told her he had one last suggestion. She said she would consider it if he was able to write it down. He made another gusty leap, took a script from the office so he could copy the format, and began work on the first draft of what would become the episode called “Hanson’s Ark.”

Wreggitt attributes this gumption to necessity. “How else are you gonna do it?” he said. “How do you break in?”

He published his last book in 1997. These days he finds himself juggling multiple television and movie projects, often all at once.

“Part of the reason I stopped writing poetry, I think, is because I kind of said what I wanted to say in that form. In a way, poetry [was] kind of [a] rehearsal to get at the kind of material that I was trying to find in my screenplays,” said Wreggitt.

Far from selling out to the smoke and mirrors of the silver screen, Wreggitt has allowed his creativity to organically navigate his career choices and his decisions about the projects he will work on.

“One of the great blessings of what I do now is, because I do so many kinds of movies, I become a mini expert for a little while in whatever I’m working on,” he said. “I don’t say yes unless I think it’s something that I can get really excited about, [if] I think I want to be in that world.”

Wreggitt has worked on the Emmy award-winning TV movie The Phantoms -- based on the story of the 2008 tragic bus accident in Bathurst, involving the school’s basketball team -- to Corner Gas: The Movie, and the sci-fi thriller Survival Code. He has also worked on scripts for episodes of Canadian favourites like Heartland and Flashpoint.

He is currently working on a movie for Discovery Channel and continues to work on multiple series with the CBC. With his ever-growing list of credits, Wreggitt has certainly come a long way down that yellow brick road.

Wreggitt will be giving a talk on campus titled "10 Post-It Notes: My Career in TV." The talk is being held at The Victoria Learning Theater (Room 182) in IKB on January 28 at 7 p.m.