I call myself an almost-grownup, but when I pushed open the front doors on my first day as a writer for Degrassi: The Next Generation, I felt like I was suddenly back in Grade Nine. Would I be any good? Would I make any friends? What should I wear? And what was I going to eat for lunch?
I’d never written for a dramatic show before, and the writing team, who’ve worked on Degrassi for years, is legendary. “Accidents Will Happen”? “Time Stands Still”? “The Lexicon of Love”???? I was scared.
But the secret I kept until after I was hired is that I’m a huge Degrassi geek. I’d seen every episode of Degrassi: TNG and was a big fan of the original series. (I still remember when “School’s Out” aired for the first time. My entire Grade Seven class talked about it non-stop for days.) So when we started talking about characters and what they could do this year, I jumped right in.
“What’s going to happen with Spinner and Darcy?” “What about Ellie, is she really over Craig?” “I think Marco’s tougher than he knows.”
My bosses were amused, to say the least.
But I learned — fast — that there’s a lot more to working on Degrassi stories than knowing the characters. The members of “Team Writer” — four crazy, oversugared people — spent most of our days rolling around in chairs in our yellow ‘story’ room, trying to figure out what should, and will, happen in the Degrassi Universe. It sometimes takes weeks to get right.
Anyone could guess that if Craig comes back, both Manny and Ellie would be involved — what takes time is twisting and turning the plot so that everyone — even us — is surprised. How will the characters figure out what’s really going on with one another? Is Father Marco the one who’ll shed light on the latest crisis?
It’s not all business, of course. We writers spend a lot of time laughing and making jokes — some of which even make it into the scripts. (Not all of them — are you Kookoo Bananas?)
Just ask Stefan Brogren. When he’s not on-set playing Archie ‘Snake’ Simpson, he’s the creative producer of the webisodes known as Degrassi Minis and On The Sets. His office shares a wall with the writing room, and more than once he’s come in just wanting to know what the joke was.
Getting to know the actors behind the roles was one of the most hilarious parts of the gig. Unlike some shows where the stars hang out in their dressing rooms, never to be seen, the Degrassi cast came to visit a lot. It threw me for a bit of a loop at first.
In my head, I’d be thinking about Paige in the depths of despair, or Marco being unsure about his relationship — then I’d look up to find Lauren Collins and Adamo Ruggiero standing by my desk in real life, comparing notes on shoes, giggling about their plans that night, and digging for gossip about the upcoming scripts.
Which brings us to the best and worst part of the job: the read-through. That’s when the cast sees the script for the first time before shooting begins. And it’s terrifying. Will the actors understand what we were trying to get across? What about the characters’ voices? (I still can’t get Spinner’s charming speech slipups right!)
There’s nothing worse than when something you thought was really funny falls flat. The writers give each other sidelong glances and hope the moment passes quickly. But when it goes well, and everyone laughs so hard they’re still giggling three lines later, we feel like heroes.
Fast-forward to ten days later, when we get “rushes” — DVDs with the raw footage shot the day before. That’s when you get to watch the scenes really performed for the first time.
When you see a funny line you wrote combined with a funny expression from one of the actors, or watch a scene made a thousand times better because the director thought of a way to stage or ‘block’ the characters, you realize the best part of this job is that nobody can do it alone.
Writers need amazing actors, superb directors, fantastic sets and incredible editors (along with hundreds of other talented people) to make them look good!
My job — writing for one of the best shows on TV — is more fun than any gig should rightfully be. I can’t believe I’m a part of this incredible world. I couldn’t have asked for a better ‘freshman year.’
Oh, and lunch? It’s delicious. Pasta and steak and chicken? All at once? Why not?
Duana Taha served as Story Coordinator and Jr. Story Editor on Season Six of “Degrassi: The Next Generation.” She co-wrote episode 609, wrote episode 613, and was famous for consuming candy before lunch.