"This street race is over in a shot

This street race is over in a shot
A camera shot, that is – on the set of Degrassi show

Staged with utter precision, the `race’ is anything but
Jun. 24, 2006. 01:00 AM

LAURANCE YAP

Toronto Star

Well, if that’s supposed to be a street race, it’s a pretty boring one.

I’m on location during a hot day at the filming of the first episode of the TV show Degrassi: The Next Generation and a light-blue Saab is going back and forth along a stretch of road.

Not very fast, and definitely not very furious, but it’s being followed by a camera car, which shoots it from a different angle on every pass. Once filming of the Saab is done, an orange Acura Integra rolls into place and the procedure begins all over again.

Cut all the pieces together to music and you (hopefully) have some compelling television. What you have here is procedural, almost scientific in how methodically it’s executed.

The director works down a checklist of shots he needs, while wardrobe and makeup artists make sure with wigs and clothes and other tricks the stunt drivers look as much like the actors they’re doubling for as possible. Other shots with the car have the real actors in the seats for close-ups.

“Being on a movie or TV set, it can sometimes seem like there’s a lot of standing around and doing nothing,” David Lowe, the producer of Degrassi: TNG, tells me at another location the following evening, where another racing scene is going to be shot.

“Or it can seem like just a lot of chaos. But what you have to remember is that everyone here is a specialist. They have one job that they’re really good at and they’re just waiting for their turn to get in and do their thing.”

Certainly, to the untrained eye, the location in Scarborough seems quite chaotic.

There are rows of trailers housing cast and crew in the back of a parking lot and people and equipment are everywhere.

There are rows and rows of lights and tripods and other rigging equipment scattered about the lot, and cars, too.

Underneath a street light, people mill around two identical-looking older modified Honda Civic coupes. One of them is having a camera strapped into the back seat to do some interior shots the cameraman lies down on the floor in the back seat to operate it.

The other is being rigged up for a major stunt to be performed later in the evening. A group of stunt performers watch the preparations, sitting on a curb at the edge of the parking lot.

Around a corner and behind one of the trailers, the Saab (driven by a hotshot rich kid in the script) has been strapped down to a moving platform attached to the back of a truck. This “camera car” will allow the Saab to actually be towed along at high speed while the camera mounted on the back of the truck runs, filming the actors inside “driving” it.

Using the camera car gives the producers and directors a lot more control over lighting (which they can mount to the truck’s various posts and girders) as well as the car itself. It also frees the actors to act instead of having to concentrate on driving. It’s an amazing contraption to see, and it’s all the more remarkable that the whole setup can actually move at high speed to simulate a race.

The original Degrassi TV show gained a reputation for being a grittier, more topical show for young adults than its glossier American contemporaries, and that’s something the producers of the new show are striving to emulate.

The “real” feel of the show has helped build a following not just in Canada, where it airs on CTV, but in Australia and the U.S., where TNG regularly tops the charts during its time slot.

The planning of an episode focusing on street racing predated much of the attention the activity has received in the media and from the federal government. But then again, teenagers and fast cars have always been a fascinating, if volatile, combination.

While I won’t give away what happens, the first episode of the new season, due to air in September, should pull no punches and ought to maintain the show’s reputation for tackling current issues head-on.

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