Heather Conkie’s answers to last week’s questions

Posted on Mar 23, 2010

It's tough being in two places at once. While the Heartland Christmas movie was being filmed in Calgary the post-production on episodes 317 and 318 was being done in Toronto so Heather was spending a lot of time flying back and forth.

The good news is that filming on the movie wrapped on Friday and everyone is thrilled with the results. Like you, they can hardly wait for December to air it.

The better news is that the series finale (which Heather wrote, and you still have a chance to win an autographed script of it here) is primed to roll on Sunday, and she knows you're going to like it!

The best news is that Heather was able to take the time to answer your questions before flying off once again, this time on a well deserved vacation! Click through to read 'em!

Here are her answers. Enjoy!!!

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Q: Congratulations Heather, Heartland is awesome. Like everybody here on blog I ever dreamed to ask you one question. It might be a little bit difficult, because we don't know so much of you as we know about every cast member and his/her role. I think Heartland wouldn't be the same without Mallory. So I was wondering how you got this idea (because she is not in the books of Lauren Brooke)? The idea of such a great person... funny and always loved. Thank you so much, Heather. You do a great job! ;) Greets from Germany, by the way.

Posted by:Tiishirt on March 15, 2010 at 10:18 AM

A: I totally agree. Heartland wouldn't be the same without Mallory. When we were developing the first season we felt really strongly that we needed to represent a wide range of generations in the show. And so a twelve year old Mallory was added even though no character like her is in the books. I loved the idea of an only child, way too old and wise for her years who has an uncanny way of seeing things clearly and insightfully, a kid who actually says what other people only allow themselves to think. She adds a lot of humour to the show - especially in her scenes with Jack - and it's been a pleasure watching Jessica Amlee bring her to life.
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Q: Heartland is such a great show! I love going downstairs to sit in front of the tv anxiously waiting for the newest episode to air and i am never dissapointed :) my question for you is i noticed that on the heartland music list there are many songs by mathew barber. What helps you decide which songs to use in an episode? Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions!!!

Posted by:Holly on March 15, 2010 at 11:46 AM

A: So glad you like the show, Holly! Picking the end song is one of my favourite things to do. It's such an amazing feeling when you hear the right one - the one that makes what's on the screen even more emotional and meaningful and captures the theme of the episode in words and music. When I get chills or goose bumps or choked up a bit or all three I know I've found it. Matthew Barber's songs seem to be incredibly suited to the tone of Heartland. I think we've used almost all his songs from his first CD. His new CD is just out and we've already used a track from it too. Wait for it at the end of episode 318. I am so glad we can give Canadian artists a boost because there is so much talent out there, including of course, Jenn Grant - I never get tired of hearing our opening credits.


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Q: Hey Heather! I just have to say you write Heartland PERFECTLY! Any ways my question: When you write, do you just write as you go along or do you plan it all out then write it?

Posted by:Jenna on March 15, 2010 at 05:15 PM

A: Thank you so much, Jenna! Actually a lot of planning goes into the season as a whole and each of the individual scripts. I have a team of writers who work with me - you've seen their names on the screen credits - Leila Basen and David Preston, who write as a team, and Mark Haroun and Ken Craw. We sit down and work out an overall arc for the entire upcoming season and then individual arcs for all the episodes and characters. Then we figure out story lines that push all the arcs forward. Scripts always start with an Outline and then move to a Draft that has all the dialogue in it. Sometimes when I write a script though, the ending might be quite different to what I had in mind when I started.
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Q: Greetings, Heather! Heartland has become one of the few shows I watch on a regular basis, and a lot of it has to do with the consistency in quality story-telling and the performances of the wonderful cast. Thanks for providing us with wholesome entertainment! It is clear to me that you are gifted in the writing department, as you've been honoured in the past with several awards and nominations. My question to you is: "Why television?" (as opposed to novels, short stories, or even feature films, etc.) Thank you kindly for answering these fan questions.

Posted by:TC on March 16, 2010 at 08:45 PM

A: Thank you, TC for the kind words. I always look forward to reading your thoughts and comments on the Blog. Why television? Because I love it! I love the whole process - the writing, the filming, the fabulous cast and crew who make it happen, working with the picture and sound editors and the composer. I still get a thrill seeing it on the air for the first time even though by then I've probably watched it ten trillion times. Well, maybe not that many. Writing feature films would be wonderful too, I definitely haven't closed the door on that possibility. But I like the immediacy of television. Sometimes work on a feature can last years from development to completion. I can be part of producing 18 hours of television in the same time frame. Novels are not out of the question. It's something I plan on.

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Q: Hi Heather, First of all, thank you so much for answering all of these questions! You and all of the other writers do such a good job on Heartland - every episode is just outstanding! So, on to my question: What was the inspiration beides being for drama behind Peter being a love interest for Lou instead of someone like Scott, whom she ends up marrying in the books? I'm asking this because I've seen a lot of blog posters questioning this exact fact. Once again, you and everyone else are absolutely amazing, and I look forward to season 4 and the Christmas movie!

Posted by:Milly on March 15, 2010 at 03:27 PM

A: There really is a Peter camp and a Scott camp. The writers and I like to keep the audience on their toes and yes, keep the drama going. At this point we don't even know what road our Lou will eventually take. Life is like that. You never can tell what the future might bring.

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Q:Hi Heather! 'WoW'; one word to sum up all that you did with Heartland! You, the rest of the crew and the actors really made this show special and loved. Heartland has become more than a show to me, but its become part of my life (in a good way!) I'm just glad that we have you to deliver it!!! On to my question regarding music: What made you choose 'Dreamer' by Jenn Grant, and what other song(s) would you have chosen if not 'Dreamer' for Heartland's theme song? I'm looking forward to you answering this. Thanks for taking the time to do this for us Heather!! We really appreciate it!!!!!!!!! :)

Posted by:Sarah on March 15, 2010 at 12:51 PM

A: Thank you so much, Sarah. We love the show too and believe me, it's become a huge part of my life as well. In a good way. It's a great question. Originally, we scored the opening credits with a beautiful "big country, big sky" sounding piece of music. Very orchestral. And then our music director sent us "Dreamer". Once the song was edited to fit the opening credit sequence - it was one of those goose bump moments. It was fresh. It was original. And so well suited to Amy, her amazing gift with horses, and the images on the screen.

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Q: Hi Heather, I'm very excited to get the chance to ask you a question because I've always wondered who had your job in the heartland series. Besides from the actors and actress, my favourite parts of heartland are the scripts, characters, music and everything else...... :) When you write the scripts (which i absolutly LOVE, by the way) how long does it take you to right a script for a full episode? Thanks so much for everything, you really do make Heartland just that much more special. From Heartland's biggest fan, Francesca.

Posted by:Francesca on March 15, 2010 at 07:56 PM

A: Thanks so much, Francesca. The Outline stage of a script is always the most time consuming. It's when I figure out the themes and arcs of the episode and where the story fits into the season. I love writing the Draft, adding the dialogue, hearing the voices of the characters. The Draft goes through lots of revisions before it goes to camera. I guess it's about a two month process from beginning to end. And the writers are never just writing one script. We work on a few at a time.
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Q: Hi Heather, I admit that I never heard something about you, maybe because you're "behind the scenes", but I have to say that is a big pleasure to know better the person behind all the stories that we love. I think too that you are awesome, your job is wonderful, and (maybe more than the actors) is more of Heartland in you that in anyone. So, congratulations!!! I'm talking all of this because I write too, and I think it would be WONDERFUL to have the lines that you wrote on people's (actors) mouth and in the fan's imagination. To transport all of this to the screen must be AWESOME. So, being a young writer, I ask you: What are your strategies to keep the atention and to continue to surprise the audience? Maybe it would be include the famous "cliffhangers" or another things with the dinamic of the scenes or more. Thank you the attention and the pacience to answer all these questions...And "Hi" from Brazil!

Posted by:Débora on March 16, 2010 at 10:31 AM

A: Our audience is pretty savvy and keeping them surprised is always a challenge. And yes, those cliffhangers are part of the strategy. We try to take our characters down a road with unexpected twists and turns but more importantly, that road still has to be believable and honest. I wish you all the best in your path to being a writer.

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Q: Hi Heather, You are amazing! Every week I sit down in front of the tv and am never disapointed. Each episode just keeps getting better and better!!! I know you have kept something from the book series, changed somethings and created completely new things like different characters and horses but do you ever go to Lauren Brooke the author and talk about different things like the script, story-line, and characters? thanks so much for taking time out of yor busy schedule to answer our questions. :) Keep up the good work!

Posted by:Kelly on March 15, 2010 at 05:53 PM

A: Hi Kelly. So glad that you think the episodes are getting better and better. The Heartland series of books gave us a great start and a wonderful source of inspiration. We've taken quite a few of the stories from the books and built on them, especially in the first two seasons. I've never spoken to Lauren Brooke but the publisher is apparently very pleased with where we've taken the characters and happy with the ones we've added, both human and equine.

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Q: First Heather...Thank you for helping to bring a wonderful CANADIAN drama to the CBC. I love this show and as a family this is the time where we sit around the ole tv together and watch what we consider a most excellent Canadian adventure. It gives us the opportunity as a family to discuss many of the issues and events that happen in front of us...AGAIN A Big Thank You (Merci) from the Belle Province. So my question is : What is a typical day of work for you? I'm fascinated with the workings of behind the scenes folks..! Thank you for taking the time to do this...it's greatly appreciated!!

Posted by:Dalaigh on March 16, 2010 at 01:06 PM

A: Every day is different which I love. But for instance, we just finished shooting the Heartland Christmas movie and a typical day was getting up at about 5:30 AM in the dark, driving forty five minutes outside of Calgary to our "circus" where all the trailers are parked (cast, producers, hair, makeup, costumes etc) have scrambled eggs from the catering truck and then get taken to set - in this case an incredibly beautiful dry river bed surrounded by fifty foot cliffs. With a dozen horses. Scenes with Amy, Ty, Jack and Tim are blocked, rehearsed and shot with both horses and cast. We work six hours and then return to circus for lunch. More scenes are shot in the afternoon. Outlines and Drafts of scripts for season four are also coming in and I read them and make notes. I'm also working on my own Draft of episode 401 so it's never far from my mind. We finish shooting at around 6:30 or 7 PM and head back to Calgary. There might be time to grab a quick dinner if there is a restaurant still open. I usually listen to music at the end of the day to chill out. And the next day it starts all over again, but at a different location. In a regular season workday I work with the other writers, have phone calls with our composer "spotting" music cues for upcoming episodes, listen to potential closing songs, work on my own scripts and give notes on the ones being written by the other writers, visit the set, work with the directors who are in prep for upcoming episodes, consult with the casting agents for guest roles. My day often ends in the editing room looking at the latest cut of a show. All in all, very busy, but exciting and rewarding. It takes a lot of people to make a show like Heartland and I am fortunate to work with such a talented and funny and good natured group. It's all about collaboration.

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Q: Heather! Hi from Australia : ) Just thought I would say that you are the best person for the job - as you are faithful to the books, but use your own imagination and make each episode the very best! Ok, here is my question...What is the funniest request you have had from an actor in Heartland, for you to do to their character?

Posted by:The_Heartland_Fan on March 15, 2010 at 10:52 PM

A: No one has asked me anything totally outrageous but Graham was absolutely begging to have a motorcycle written back this season (episode 314) even though he completely ripped his pants and came close to injuring himself doing an unplanned wheelie on his old motorcycle in season 1.
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Q: Hey Heather! I am a HUGE heartland fan and i might as well tell that to the writer of the show! Because without you, i would be heartland free and that wouldn't be a fun life... So thank you for writing all those great episodes!! My question is: Are you going to write an episode that will ever include Caleb's parents? I've always wondered about them... Thank you so much! Everyone in the USA says hi!!

Posted by:Margaret on March 16, 2010 at 05:44 AM

A: And a big "Hi" back to everyone in the USA. I think you must be a fly on the wall in the writer's room because we just recently had a discussion about Caleb's parents and what sort of people they might be. And yes, there is an event down the road that may just be the time to introduce them.

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Q: Heather: Congratulations on producing such a wonderful show. I like the fact that it has humour, drama and good clean fun. My question is-- Amber has such a beautiful singing voice ( I loved her duet with Jack in "True Enough".) Will we be hearing her sing in any future episodes?

Posted by:Sheila on March 16, 2010 at 03:08 PM

A: Again, I think we have spies in the writing room. I'm writing an episode for season four where we will definitely give Amber a chance to show off her vocal talent. Because yes, she does have a beautiful voice. Shaun brings his guitar to set and in between filming he and Amber are often found hanging out, singing together. They're great to listen to.

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Q: Hi Heather. Amazing job with Heartland, the episodes are just unbelievable but I have always had this question and you are the best person to ask. Why isn't Sundance- Amy's buck-skin, ill mannered, tempered pony- part of the T.V series? He was always such an important horse in Amy's life in the books so I was wondering were he went. Thank you so much for taking time off to answer our questions!

Posted by:Eve on March 15, 2010 at 08:24 PM

A: Thanks for the question Eve. We wanted Amy's main horse (Spartan) to be the one that she and her mom rescued in episode one of the series. If you recall, that rescue ended tragically with the death of Amy's mom. After the accident Amy and Spartan had a lot in common. They were both emotionally fragile and afraid to be hurt again and that was a big inspiration in our story telling. Over the three seasons, Amy and Spartan (Amber and Stormy) have developed a strong emotional bond, both on and off camera. But as to Sundance, I haven't ruled him out. He may very well appear sometime in the future.
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Q: Hey Heather, thank you for participating in the Heartland questions and answers, a new Canadian tradition right up there with Roll Up the Rrrrrim! My question for you, in keeping with a Twe tradition (not nearly as widespread as Tim Hortons) is: What is your favorite comfort food? Like, what do you eat when you need to come up with a super fantastic expiallidocius plotline? I am making a masterlist of Heartland favorite foods.

Posted by:Twe on March 17, 2010 at 04:17 PM

A: Hey Twe - I love pasta - especially linguine with pesto sauce, but if I were to tell the whole truth, I would confess to a passion for plain old mac and cheese. With ketchup.

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Q: Hi Heather, Thanks to you and your writing team for making my favourite show on TV. I've even got most of my friends and family watching it :) I find a lot of shows will keep the main couple apart because I think they feel that a happy couple is boring. I completely disagree and think that you guys have done a terrific job keeping the drama in a (mostly) happy relationship. My question is that do you feel that you can keep writing interesting stories where Amy and Ty stay together?

Posted by:Sandy on March 17, 2010 at 06:08 PM

A: That's a very good observation, Sandy. We tried to keep Amy and Ty apart for the first two seasons and it wasn't easy. And I'm sure you noticed some of the reactions on the blog. Most people wanted them to be a couple sooner than later. But I'm glad we waited as long as we did because it made it a far more poignant moment when they told each other how they felt at the end of episode 218. And I was the lucky writer who got to type those lines. I think Mallory spoke for a lot of fans at the end of that episode when she remarked to Jake on her way out of the room - "Finally." Keeping them together this season has been fun. I really loved writing episode 303 where Ty gives Amy a promise ring. But every relationship has its ups and downs and theirs will be no exception. As they grow and mature, their stories will reflect that - hopefully in a real and interesting way.

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Q:hey Heather! heartland is an amazing family friendly show, which is hard to find these days. :P when i watched the episode for the first time, i had my doubts about how well this show was going to turn out. I mean, first of all it was based in Canada instead of Virginia (which is perfectly fine with me, cause im Canadian! go Canada!), lou had dark hair instead of blonde, and just other minor details that really stood out to me. But once I saw more and more episodes, I was amazed at how well it justified the books. It stuck true to the whole concept of the story of heartland. As the show progressed, I saw what a wonderful job all the actors had done at portraying the roles, and didn't have any more doubts about the show. No matter how much the show changed from the novel series, it seemed to become even better! I applaud you in the awesome script writing for the show. :) My question for you is : how did the idea come about to have Ty come into the story as a person with a troubled past needing to stay at heartland under some sort of parole, rather than being a stable hand who worked on the heartland setting and was already a friend of amy's, as in the novels? Heartland is a great show, and keep up the good work! Every episode keeps me waiting in suspense, or has me crying along with the actors. You have a true gift at the art of script writing! Enjoy the sunny unpredictable whether of Alberta! It's got to be better than the constant rain here in BC! :P

Posted by:tiffany on March 17, 2010 at 06:25 PM

A: Thank you for your very kind words, Tiffany. I'm glad you have an appreciation for both the books and the TV series. Right from the first days of development it was my goal to give Ty a backstory that could be peeled like an onion through many seasons. I wanted to give his character a little more dimension and a chance to change and grow as the episodes unfolded. I also wanted him to have a bit of an aura of mystery. In many ways, when Ty first arrived, he was just about as damaged as some of the horses that Amy deals with and that gave us way more to work with than if he had been Amy's friend from the start. Instead he had to earn her friendship... and eventual love.
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Q: Hey Heather! It's amazing that you've been involved in writing this great series! I read a LOT, maybe to much so it's not a surprise that I want to be a writer myself in the future (specifically script writer) and my question is: What are good things to know and skills to have to become a successful writer?

Posted by:Savanah on March 17, 2010 at 07:00 PM

A: You need to be a fabulous eavesdropper. I'm serious. Some of the best lines of dialogue have come from conversations I have overheard. So carry a little note book around with you. And you need to be super self disciplined. I'm still working on that. Good luck and I hope you achieve your dream to be a writer.

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Q: My question for you Heather....how much involvement do you actually have on set or are you more involved with the writing process? :) Thanks

Posted by:3blindmice on March 18, 2010 at 01:58 AM

A: I am involved in both. I try to be on set as much as I possibly can. We have cast read throughs before every episode but it really helps to hear the actors on set and help them out if they are having any problems with the dialogue.

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Q: Hi Heather!
I just wanted to say how impressed I have been with the season so far! It is absolutely fantastic. I have never come across a TV series so well acted, directed, written an filmed. It is my favorite TV to watch, because so many of the struggles that happen to each of the different characters, seem to tie in with every day family struggles :) Thank you for everything that you have done, Heather! Alright so my 1 question from a million is: Who has been the hardest character to write? Thanks so much!

Posted by:Phoebs on March 15, 2010 at 05:53 PM

A: Wow! That's a lot of praise. Thank you so much Phoebs. That's also a hard question. I think it's easier to answer if I tell you who I find the easiest to write for. I love writing for Mallory. Her round about but totally honest assessments of people and situations are fun to do. I totally get Jack. I love that Amy can be a bit black and white in her opinions - there's very few grey areas there. I like that she understands and tolerates animals better than she does people. Caleb has a style of talking all of his own - yes he does. And so does Ashley. Heartland is peopled with so many characters of different ages and definite personalities that it's a joy to write. I love it when I can hear their voices in my head. I sometimes talk out loud when I'm writing. And yes, I cry at the emotional bits.

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Q: I love the Heartland shows! I have a question for you: How did you decide on which horses to use in the TV series after hearing about them in the books? Did you think about what you thought that they would look like? Thanks for answering all these questions, and I hope that there will be lots more seasons of Heartland!

Posted by:Teri on March 15, 2010 at 07:00 PM

A: Hey Terri, we have a wonderful animal wrangler, John Scott who finds the horses and all the other critters for Heartland. I guess we have a mixture of horses on the show - some from the books and some original to the TV series. In my imagination, Spartan was always a dark horse and we were lucky that John provided us with such a wonderful animal to play him. He and Amber have a real connection and it shows on screen. In the same way, when I read about Pegasus, he was always a larger than life white horse. The horse who played Pegasus has the most beautiful soulful eyes. He was perfect as the horse with a past - Tim's favourite rodeo horse and the horse that Amy's mom treated, discovering her healing talents. Sugar Foot turned out beyond my wildest dreams. He is so adorable. He's also a brat. He loves to eat anything sweet. I also have a soft spot for Max, the big St. Bernard who is almost as big as a horse.

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Q: Great show! Everyone i know agrees. Where do you plan on taking Heartland, as you go further on with more seasons in the future?

Posted by:natalie on March 15, 2010 at 11:19 AM

A: Thanks Natalie. We plan to continue to make it a family saga that is believable and honest. We want the audience to get to know our characters like they would old friends. I have all sorts of scenarios in my head for future episodes. Thanks to you and fans like you, we hope to stay around for a while to come.

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Q: I was wondering if you like working with animals and whats your fav.?

Posted by:Bailey on March 15, 2010 at 04:23 PM

A: I love working with animals. The horses are wonderful and all have personalities of their own. But I think my absolute favourite animal was the baby cougar in episode 306. I couldn't stop playing with it. SO CUTE!

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Q: Hey Heather. There's nothing I can say that can sum up everything you've brought into Heartland and done with the show. I watch it every week along with all my friends. I love how you bring out the drama, emotions, and character in every single person on Heartland. You give them all a chance to really show who they are and what they can do. Its hard to pick a question for you because there's so many to choose from. OK so my question is, Did you plan just to follow the books by Lauren Brooke or did you want this to be something that fit into Lauren Brooke's Heartland world yet still be your own masterpiece(as you could call it) Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions and we all look forward to see what you have planned for Heartland in the future(hopefully many, many more seasons)
crazycowgirl

Posted by:crazycowgirl on March 15, 2010 at 07:26 PM

A: I read all the Heartland books over one week when I started working on the series and I thought they were incredibly well written. I definitely wanted the series to fit with Lauren Brooke's world but books and TV are very different mediums. I wanted to augment that world with a new setting, some new characters and different story lines. I wanted to give the existing characters some more layers and dimension because week after week of episodes gives you such a wonderful chance to get to know and develop them as real people. But the books gave us an amazing base from which to go from.

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Q: I'm really glad to have the opportunity to ask you a question, since you're behind the storylines for Heartland. Heartland has given me a lot of inspiration as a writer because when I was little I badly wanted to write horse stories. Then as I got older, I realized that a lot of the horse stories I used to read were actually pretty shallow when it came to characterization and plot, so I moved on to other types of fiction. But I always told myself, "Someday I will write a horse story that is both horsy and good quality fiction." And then came the Heartland TV series, and showed me that it is indeed possible to have both horses and awesome storylines. It's hard to settle on just one question about how you make it happen, but here goes! How do you balance the desires of horse fans (the ones who always want more about the horses) and those of people fans (the ones who love the character drama--like me) when planning the storylines for a season? For example, I've noticed that the plotlines involving people continue to develop throughout the season, where a plotline involving a certain horse often only lasts one episode. Is that how you find the balance?

Posted by:Key on March 16, 2010 at 01:33 PM

A: You're a very keen observer, Key, and that makes me think you have the makings to be a good writer. I have to admit that when I started this project I had some doubts as to whether I could keep it out of the realm of horse story of the week. But the horses on the show have become characters just as much as the humans have. We try to have long arcs with the Heartland horses - Spartan, Pegasus for example. The horses that Amy treats and works with are, as you say, usually episodic, but occasionally I want to revisit them. I think we have struck a really good balance between the character drama and Amy's involvement with her horse "clients". I also like to think that some of the horse story fans have been drawn into the human drama and vice versa.

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Q: What the best part of working on the set ?

Posted by:sophia1234 on March 15, 2010 at 12:30 PM

A: The catering. Not to mention the most absolutely fabulous cast and crew that there ever was, the most talented animal wranglers and stunt people I have ever worked with and the beautiful Alberta scenery.

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Thanks Heather! Now go enjoy your vacation!