Degrassi Bloggers Visit the Set of Degrassi

Yesterday I, along with 4 other Degrassi bloggers, were lucky enough to get the chance to visit the set of Degrassi in Toronto. We were there to meet the producers/actors/writers/crew/etc. and get an inside look at the production side of the show. I was there with Kary from Degrassi Blog, Alex and Taylor from Degrassi Experience, and my fellow blogger and Degrassi Talks co-host, Ashley. I think I can speak for all 5 of us when I say that we had an amazing time! We were so lucky to be able to have this experience. Degrassi is very open to working with the fans and bloggers. It is obvious that they are so passionate about the show, because we love it so much. I’ve never met such an open and welcoming group of people.

I will have lots of behind the scenes details to share throughout the summer season, but in the meantime, here are some interesting details about our visit:

We arrived at Epitome in the morning and met Stephanie Cohen, the VP of Marketing and Communications at Epitome. Stephanie has been working on Degrassi since the beginning, and I’m sure that most of you uber-Degrassi fans will know who she is. As she was explaining our plans for the day, Degrassi co-creator and executive producer Linda Schuyler walked in the door. Linda is definitely somebody that I look up to and admire. She and her colleagues essentially started Degrassi and the original Playing With Time production company from scratch. As somebody who has watched every single episode of Degrassi, including the very first series The Kids of Degrassi Street, it was an honour to meet Linda in person. I did get the opportunity to talk to Linda briefly 5 or 6 years ago, but this was my first time being introduced to her. She is just as sweet as you would expect her to be, and she was very excited to meet all of us.

We also got to meet executive producer Stephen Stohn, who everybody knows because he is very active on Twitter. He insisted on giving us the set tour at Epitome. Stephen is exactly what you would expect him to be. He is so passionate about what he does, and he loves interacting with the fans of this show. This was the first time that I’ve ever actually talked to Stephen, and it was so great to finally meet him in person.

We made our way towards the offices at Epitome, and the first place we stopped was right outside of the writers room. Obviously, we were not allowed to go inside, although we did take a little peak. None of us wanted to be spoiled for future storylines, so I intentionally made sure that I wasn’t seeing anything. However, we did get to meet and talk to the writers. This was definitely another highlight of the day for me. First, we met Michael Grassi, who I instantly recognized from this interview. He introduced himself to us, and then the other writers came by shortly after. Surprisingly, the writers were actually interested in asking us questions. They wanted to know when we started blogging, why we do it, and things like that. I explained that I have always loved Degrassi, and to be able to discuss it with everyone else is so rewarding.

Another thrill was when Stephen asked us if we wanted to take pictures holding Degrassi’s Emmy Award that the show won in the late 1980′s. That was very exciting, because when else would any of us have the chance to hold a real Emmy Award? It is much heavier and bigger than you might expect! I took a picture with the Emmy the last time I was on set as well, but it was definitely cool to do it a second time.

Stephen gave us a tour of Epitome Pictures, and he explained to us how the studio was originally built. He told us that they essentially built the building themselves. Epitome is very professional, but it also has a fun and relaxing atmosphere. You can tell that everybody who works there really loves what they do, and the building itself is gorgeous.

Stephen took us to various famous Degrassi locations, such as the Degrassi hallways, the school washrooms, the science classroom, the Matlin household, the Edwards household, the new mall set, and more. We got to take pictures, which you can view in our photo gallery. It is so amazing to see the places that I’ve seen on TV. Everything is a set, so it’s not completely real. But it’s like walking down the hallways of Degrassi Community School. It’s so surreal.

We also got to visit other rooms and offices, such as the “Audition Room” (that was the sign on the door). Stephen explained to us that at lunchtime, they will screen the latest episodes for the cast in that room. This is also the same room where they have had read-throughs since the beginning of TNG. Stephen told us that what is unique about the Degrassi read-throughs is that the cast hasn’t read the script beforehand. Unless it is a major storyline, usually they are finding out everything that is happening to their characters as they read the script. One of the most emotional read-throughs is definitely the one for Rock This Town, when JT dies. Of course everybody remember this behind the scenes video from that moment, and it was so cool to be in the room where this took place. On the topic of season 12, Stephen told us that he is really excited for this year. He said that season 12 is getting back to more issue-based, emotional storylines. I could not be more excited!

We met up with Linda Schuyler again in the editing room. She was working with somone and editing – get this – the 300th episode of Degrassi! Of course they didn’t want to spoil us, but they did play a 1 second clip from a Maya and Campbell scene. We were also fortunate enough to see the new opening credits that you will all see when the season 12 premiere airs on Monday. I can’t give away any details about the opening credits, but I will say that the 5 of us were screaming and gasping at every cast member appearance. I think it is one of my favourite Degrassi opening sequences of all time! The fans are going to love it.

Later, Stephen took us to the back lot where we got to see the exterior of Degrassi Community School (so surreal!), various characters’ houses, The Dot, a few stores, and some sets from The LA Complex. While we were outside, we ran into Jordan Todosey and Lyle O’Donohoe AKA Adam and Tristan on Degrassi. They walked around with us for a bit and visited the LA Complex sets, which they hadn’t seen before. It was so great to meet the two of them! They were both so nice and welcoming to us bloggers. We also briefly ran into Melinda Shankar, who was coming back from a scene she recently filmed. We got to chat with her for a short while, and it was really great.

Next, Krista Legault (who works in communications at Epitome) took us over to the studio across the street. This is a new building that Epitome recently acquired because they needed more room to film The LA Complex. I had never been to this studio before, so it was exciting to get to see a new place. When we got over there, they were in the middle of filming a very intense scene. Obviously I can’t tell you what I saw, because even saying what the set looked like would give it away.

While we were at this studio, we got to meet various crew members. To be honest, I was just as excited to meet the crew as I was to meet the cast. They were so nice to us, and they kept looking up our websites and twitters on their phones. They were also asking us lots of questions about blogging and why we love Degrassi so much. I always find it difficult to explain what it is about the show that I connect to. But I told them that because I watched Degrassi when I was growing up, I think I am a less judgemental person. I hope they know that the work they put into the show is appreciated.

One of the highlights was meeting Mitchell, who some of you might know as @MTNESS22 on Twitter. He is the DOP on Degrassi, as well as various other shows, and he was hilarious. We had so much fun talking to him. Later in the day, he also arranged for us to take this picture with the camera after they filmed the scene, and then he tweeted it. Yes, that is me holding the clapperboard (I think that’s what it’s called?).

Lyle had a major role in the scene that they were filming, so we got to talk to him again for a bit. I know I said this already, but he is so sweet and easy to talk to. He was telling us about how he used to work in a funeral home (no lie) and it was hilarious. It was also his last day on set before the hiatus.

There were so many highlights of the day, but I think my favourite part was actually getting to watch them film the scene. It’s so interesting to see how the show is put together, and how the actors, director, etc. work together. We got to stand behind the director and watch from the monitor.

Obviously I can’t say what happened in the scene, other than the fact that it involved Tristan and it was very intense. But I will also say that I was almost in tears just watching from a tiny monitor. Lyle gave an amazing performance, and it is a storyline that I think a lot of kids will be able to relate to. I know that Degrassi fans have been pushing for a storyline like this for a while. If the rest of season 12 is similar to what I saw on set, then I think it is safe to say that season 12 might be one of the best seasons ever. It is so exciting to see Degrassi get back to issue-based storylines. I think the fans are going to love it.

Eleanor Lindo was directing, and although we didn’t get to talk to her, it was so cool to watch her work. I admire her so much. She has worked on Degrassi since the Junior High days, and she always seems to direct some of the best girl episodes (e.g. Fight the Power, Breakaway, Secret).

After we watched the scene, we went to have lunch with the cast and crew. It was like a turkey dinner lunch on that day, so we were very lucky. We had lunch with Krista and Lyle, and the 7 of us talked about the premiere on Monday, our favourite characters from Degrassi, and what we had planned for the rest of the week.

Lastly, before we left, we got to talk to the writers again. Mostly because we love talking to them. The writers seem to know so much about the fans and how the fans perceive the characters on the show. It’s so interesting to get their point of view. They asked us about our favourite characters, and I told them about how much I love Fiona because she’s the opposite of what you would expect. I also thanked them for writing such an amazing TV show.

All in all I can say that it was one of the best days ever. I am so proud to be a fan of this show. I don’t think that many other TV shows would be as open to involving the fans as Degrassi is. You can tell that everybody who works for Epitome – from the actors, writers, crew members, etc. – all seem to love what they do. I think that passion comes across when you watch Degrassi. It is such a heartfelt and important show that connects to it’s audience and really means something. I have to give a big thank you to everyone at Epitome for giving me and the other Degrassi bloggers this opportunity.