An interview with Nathaniel Moher
By Caroline Ho, Arts Editor
For local TV writer Nathaniel Moher, it was an obvious career choice from a pretty young age. “I come from a long line of writers. My dad’s actually a playwright,” he said. “My rebellion was going into TV and not theatre.”
Moher, who grew up on Gabriola Island just off the coast of Vancouver Island, lives in Vancouver and has been writing professionally for years. He’s written for Vancouver-based shows including YTV’s Mr. Young, City’s Package Deal, and YTV’s Some Assembly Required. He was happy to answer some questions about his experiences in Vancouver’s film industry.
After obtaining a diploma in film production from Capilano College Film Centre, Moher started out working in entry-level jobs in the film industry, then worked his way up to becoming a writer’s assistant on a sitcom, a staff writer, and eventually co-executive producer.
“You just gotta let people know what you want to do,” he said. “Especially in the film industry, I find a lot of people are very happy to give you advice and help out on things.”
But success requires putting in a lot of your own hard work, making a lot of connections, and doing a lot of writing—especially “a lot of writing bad stuff [to] get better at writing good stuff.”
Even when not currently writing for a show, Moher said, it’s one of those careers where you’re never really off the job. “That’s a big side of things, the development side, of developing your own projects, or developing projects for producers, that you hope will one day make it to TV, but most of them don’t.”
On time spent between gigs, he said, “that part is also your job, even when you’re not necessarily getting a paycheque… To some extent, it’s like any freelance job, when you’re working on a project, you’re working on it, and then you end, and it’s like, oh, now I gotta find my next thing.”
One of these personal projects Moher wrote was the film Hopeless, Romantic (2016), which was turned into a TV movie. However, most of his work has been done in comedy shows, for kids and adults. He said his favourite show he’s worked on would probably be Mr. Young, which ran from 2011–13, partly because it was his first professional writing job and partly because it was a kid’s show. “The fun thing about writing for kid’s comedy is you get to get away with a lot more,” he said. “You get to be wackier, more crazy… whereas on the adult things I’d work on, I’d go in and start pitching really crazy ideas, and they’d be like, ‘You gotta tone it down a little.’”
Moher had a lot of insight into how Netflix and streaming services have changed the industry. “It’s cool because there’s a lot more outlets,” he said, referring to Netflix’s more experimental shows. “And now you’re getting away from conventional TV structure, a lot of these streaming shows don’t need three-act or five-act breaks… it’s definitely opened things up.”
“On the same side, now viewership is spread out, people aren’t watching TV the same way they used to,” he said, noting that it’s had a huge effect on how writers plot their shows. “People want to sit down and devour a whole season of a show in a weekend. That’s a completely different way to write a TV show than before, where it was just episode, episode, and people would wait a week, and you had a bit more room to breathe.”
To college students who are interested in becoming writers, he said, “My main advice is just write, just do it.” He suggests writing for an hour or two every day, and if that means giving up other free time, “you got to have that trade-off. When I was trying to get into writing, I was also working in the film industry, I’d be putting in a 12-hour day already and then going home and trying to write for an hour.”
Also important, said Moher, is putting your work out there to be seen by others. “Just be very vocal about, ‘That’s what I want to do,’ and find other people who want to do that, and have them read your work and critique it so that you can get better, and get advice.”
And nowadays, thanks to platforms like YouTube, it’s even easier to get feedback. The web has given every aspiring writer a new channel for creativity.
“It’s really easy and really cost-effective to just get a camera, and go shoot a thing, and put it on the internet, and tons of people can discover it that way… You can have a web series, people can watch it, and that also helps you develop your skills as a storyteller.”