Just two years graduating with honours from Toronto Film School, aspiring showrunner Jhanik Bullard has already landed himself a job on a hit CBC/CW crime drama working alongside his dream mentor.
“I’m working as a showrunner’s assistant to Morwyn Brebner on Coroner and she’s amazing… she’s a woman in a male-dominated field and she’s kicking ass,” said the Class of 2018 Writing for Film & Television alumnus.
“She’s really set the bar for me in terms of a boss and a leader in the industry. The care she has her crew, cast and fellow writers is amazing. The thoughtfulness that goes into every episode, every draft, every line is amazing. It’s inspiring to know that one day, if I get that coveted role of showrunner, I want to be as good of a showrunner as she is.”
Born and raised in The Bahamas, Bullard became fascinated with the idea of becoming a screenwriter while marveling over how some of his favourite books – namely the Harry Potter series – were adapted from the page to the screen.
So, when he decided to make the move to Canada in 2015, it wasn’t long before he jumped at an actor friend’s recommendation to pursue his passion for screenwriting at Toronto Film School.
“My experience at Toronto Film School was really great. One thing TFS did for me was give me the ability to get into the writer’s mind when I watch a show…and just knowing the ins and outs of the process of how the show is made,” he said.
“For me, that doesn’t take away from the beauty of it, it adds to the beauty of the final product. And I’m really thankful to Toronto Film School for that – for teaching me the craft of writing.”
It was also at Toronto Film School, Bullard said, that he forged a lot of long-lasting friendships and connections he feels will serve him well in the future – both personally and professionally.
“In fact, that’s how I got this gig now,” he said of his showrunner’s assistant job on the Toronto set of Coroner.
Working under Brebner – whose other notable writing/producing credits include Rookie Blue, Saving Hope and Mary Kills People – it’s Bullard’s job to maintain her schedule and assist in making sure her workday is as seamless and distractionless as possible. In the course of those duties, he also gets the opportunity to lend to Coroner’s story – doing research and gathering images for Brebner and the other writers, as well as sitting in on meetings with other departments.
“I’m trying to absorb everything and ask a lot of questions, because it’s all part of the story-making process. I get to work in tangent with everybody…and that’s cool, because I get to see how each department works, how they budget, how weather and how COVID has affected everything,” he explained, noting that, as a screenwriter, the experience has been an invaluably eye-opening one.
“It’s helped me understand that I need to take everything into consideration and try to be as practical as possible. So now, as I’m writing my own scripts, I’m making edits in consideration of all the things I’ve learned from this production – dialogue, scene descriptions, headings, slug lines, all that stuff. And it’s making my craft better.”
Another lesson Bullard has learned since embarking on his journey into the film and television industry is the importance of inclusion and diversity – thanks, in large part, to his volunteer work with BIPOC TV & FILM.
Founded in 2012, the BIPOC TV & Film is a grassroots organization dedicated to increasing the representation of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour in Canada’s TV and film industry – both in front of and behind the camera. Bullard has volunteered with the organization for four years, and currently serves as treasurer of its Visioning Committee.
“BIPOC TV & FILM are fighting to make sure rooms are inclusive – that it’s not just one set of voices that’s telling all the stories, that it’s a conglomerate of different voices sharing their lived experiences and their stories – and helping to shape a better Canada, a better world,” he said, noting that he also works with the organization’s founder, Nathalie Younglai, on Coroner.
“I think in order for any change to happen, everybody has to be invited to the table, have a seat, and have the opportunity to have their voices heard.”
When Bullard isn’t on the Coroner set or working with BIPOC TV & FILM, he’s been keeping busy writing his own projects – three of which are currently in different stages of development right now: A time-jumping mini-series that Bullard describes as his “passion project”; a collaborative, seven-part episodic series about love; and feature film period piece with fantasy elements.
“I’m really drawn to writing dramas and the ways they unfold. I also like to personalize my stories a bit, by telling my story through the characters I write, but not in detail,” he explained.
“I like keeping my characters as grounded as possible, because I want people from everywhere to be able to identify with my character. Because, I think ultimately, it’s the story is what draws people in, but it’s the characters that are what keep people.”
His ultimate aim, he said, is to one day be a showrunner – either on a project he has written himself, or on an adaptation of a much-loved book like The Alchemist.
Until then, he’s anxious to get himself a job in a writer’s room.
“I feel like that’s where all the juice is; that’s where the meat of everything happens,” he said.
“I want to be in the writing room to see how writers collaborate with others, because that’s what this whole industry is about: The collaborative efforts of different departments coming together, different lives coming together to bring a common vision to fruition.”