It was a sweltering July day, the 15th to be exact, when Sue and I disembarked from our bus in what felt like the middle of nowhere. And even then there was a walk through more nowhere, and down an unsuspecting road, until we stumbled ont our destination for the day.
From the front, this rather generic looking, low office-building described as nondescript at best, was plain, practically uninviting…but as we walked through the door, being met moments later by Public Relations Rep for Murdoch Mysteries, Tanya Koivusalo, we realized we were stepping into something amazing, fantastic and for both of us, completely unforgettable. Tanya had gone out of her way to arrange a set visit for us, and had sworn us to secrecy over anything we saw, and since we’re not keen on spoilers ourselves, we were happy to keep mum… until now!
We wandered through a number of production offices with reproduced stills of the, let’s be honest, ridiculously good-looking cast, as well as turn of the century reproductions of pictures, fabric and art. That alone was stunning, examining the pictures, seeing how the city of Toronto had once looked, and does so again for Inspector William Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) each week on the CBC.
We’re here to take a look at the sets and chat to the cast while they shot episode 6 of the show’s 7th succesful season, Murdochophobia (706), penned by Maureen Jenning and Peter Mitchell, which as the name suggests there may be some creepy crawlies to be seen, or maybe other fear-inspiring things as well…
We get a look at the swing sets constructed for this week’s episode there are hotel rooms, a phobia room… we also bump into our very good friend Tanya Lemke, who greets us happily with hugs and smiles. We know so many amazing people!
Before we even have a moment to soak in the busy, and minutely detailed environment, we are swept into the gorgeously appointed office, set rather, of Dr. Julia Ogden (Helene Joy) to chat, with the charming, and very likable Jonny Harris, who portrays the comedic, imaginative, and wonderfully earnest character of Constable George Crabtree.
We talk about whether or not George has any phobias, while skirting spoilers, and our love for Stephen King’s mammoth novel 11/22/63.
After our brief, but enjoyable chat with Jonny, who is as nice in person as you think he would be, we wander out of the office, and find ourselves wandering through jail cells, the iconic morgue set, until we find ourselves standing in the amazingly detailed, and simply stunning precinct. The level of detail paid to this set is incredible! There are things you will never see on-screen that just enhance the reality of the set and consequently the show. There are typed reports spewing from typewriters, there are hand-written notes and file folders everywhere. You would swear you had stumbled into an actual turn of the century police precinct, the only thing that would ruin that image is the lighting rigs above, and the occasional cluster of electrical cords. We wander through Murdoch’s office, checking out the blackboard, which is ready for the following episode (awesome!!!) sit at his desk, and wander through Brackenreid’s office as well – so fantastic!
We get to watch Jonny and the engaging and charming Georgina Reilly shoot a scene together as they work to discover a murder weapon. Close-ups and reaction shots are shot rapidly and efficiently as we cluster around video village watching the playback.
Between takes, a body is rolled into the cold room set, with a cry of “Bring out your dead!” Which elicits a guffaw from me, as I love a good Monty Python reference.
During the reverse set-up, Georgina steals away to chat with us about her character, Dr. Emily Grace, cutting up bodies and the fantastic period costumes the cast get to wear. Georgina is a complete doll, joyous, full of light and eager to laugh.
We get to take a peek in the cold room, during the turnaround (which happens incredibly fast, allowing the actors to stay in the moment), and see that there are bodies stacked everywhere… looks like the body count is pretty high for the episode they’re shooting (707)!
We begin to hear rumors about the following week’s episode, there is talk of a lake monster in Lake Ontario… consider my interest piqued!
Shooting continues, on the cold room set while a smoke machine at the far end of the stage wafts moody ambience over Harris and Reilly. Jonny stabs a block of ice repeatedly with an ice pick to break it down, while Georgina pontificates on a murder weapon.
Scenes are turned out for this brilliantly and deservedly succesful Canadian show speedily, but never without creativity, as the director calls for even slight changes to improve a shot or performance. They move from master shots, to medium to close-ups with the dizzy speed of a well-oiled machine. It’s amazing to watch.
Sue and I, escorted by Tanya as guide step back into the precinct set, eager to wander it at our leisure and examine all the details, we’re about to settle into our explorations when a blur races over to us, a very happy, and welcoming Yannick Bisson, William Murdoch himself, comes over to introduce himself, shake our hands, and then races off to get into costume.
It is not the first, nor last time that day that I think he is an absolute professional and a genuinely honest and good guy.
Things go from amazing to mind-blowing as we get a chance to step out onto the backlot, and we are in turn-of-the-century Toronto. There are a plethora of stores, a butcher’s, a general store, a hotel, carts, docks, back streets, pubs and alleys. Sue and I have literally stepped back in time, and I think we were both filled with an urge to run around the set and just play!
The most amazing part is the level of detail in the store windows, and open doorways, and then you stick your head around a little further, away from what the camera would see, and then it’s all plywood, and construction material. It’s amazing how realistic everything looks! Some of the false fronts are even on wheels to be moved about to change the shape of streets, and create all new locations and squares.
Ducking back inside, it’s still sweltering out, but both Sue and I vow to return to the backlot and continue our exploration. We wander towards Ogden’s office, where a side branch of video village is set up. Helene Joy gives us a quick wave as she rushes by to join Yannick on set.
With these fantastic sets and the beautiful costumes I imagine it lets the actors, not just the viewers, fall into the era and their characters easily.
Helene and Yannick run a scene together, their stand-ins stepping from their positions so the leads can step into a set that is completely ready for them.
I grin as I realize that Sue and I are like time-travellers in the biggest way at this very moment.
Through the window, the early 20th century has just come to life, while ducking down under the ledge, Sue and I are interlopers from the 21st. In fact there’s a moment when we realize we almost made it on-screen as we catch our image on the monitors during a quick rehearsal. But when that scene happens on-screen, I will no doubt grin, because I’ll think, we’re right outside that window right now!!
Cut is called and resets and repositioning are underway, allowing for us to sneak away, and return to the morgue set, which is lovely, and you’d be hard pressed to believe it wasn’t an actual functioning place. We’re joined by Helene for an all too brief chat, just as we are getting into the talk, duty calls, and she must return to set.
We’re joined, however by Michelle Ricci, who penned the lake monster episode, as well as a number of fan favorites, including Murdoch Au Naturel. We have a brief chat with her about her writing, and the research that goes into each and every episode, as Yannick does a quick fly-by through the morgue set.
We have a brief but illuminating chat with the showrunner Peter Mitchell. Not only is Murdoch in safe hands, but it’s clear from his opinion and those of the rest of the cast and crew, that there are still many stories to tell, many mysteries to solve, and many sights to see.
We wander back to Dr. Ogden’s office, which is now filled with cages marked for specific phobia inspiring creatures, but they are still empty. We wait for the red light above the stage door to go out, while Yannick’s distinctive, soft-spoken delivery as Murdoch fills the set.
As the light switches off, Lemke, who works on props, flies by.
We get another brief moment to chat with Helene, while cameras reposition and get the set ready, including the arrival of a snake, and I’m happy to learn that Yannick and I both share a phobia of them.
I also got a huge smile from the fact that unless required Yannick wears an awesome pair of kicks instead of Murdoch’s shoes. It helps to keep him comfortable on set – hidden secrets. It’s not really a surprise of course, it’s just cool.
Then, joyously, we get to chat with Yannick as well. And I came away completely stunned by the interview (I also realize that a couple of my questions could have been misinterpreted in a bad way, which was not my intent…). Yannick is a complete professional. He is everything that you would expect from the show’s lead, he’s warm, gracious, and honest. In short, he’s a complete charmer.
He knows his job, and he does it. Incredibly well. He’s proven to be an amazing leading man, and a strong and positive leader on the set. He helps to set the tone for the show on and off-screen, and while the set seems relaxed, it’s also an efficiently run one, and he and all those who work with him, help to create and foster that environment.
It’s an amazing place to be.
Lunch is called, and we worm our way through the craft services line, piling our plates high and we settled into the lunch room to chat with both Tanyas over lunch. We hear rumors of bugs after lunch, but Sue and I are eager to wander the backlot again at leisure, as well in addition to watching a little more filming.
Rehearsals kick into gear after lunch and the director walks Yannick and Helene through the scene, as they work together to bring the story to screen.
It’s amazing to watch, but it’s almost time to go. We get a wander through the backlot again, which is so much fun to play in.
From there Tanya takes up to wardrobe where we get a chance to talk with Alex Reda, as we eye the fantastic costumes he and his department create each week. There are stunning costumes here, the level of detail, just like on the sets, is amazing. Alex is happy to show us around and amaze us with items and designs.
We begin to wander our way out through the sets, making our goodbyes, not wanting to leave it behind, everyone has been welcoming and friendly.
Murdoch Mysteries has made a name for itself as a brilliant television series, and every one involved goes above and beyond to make it so. Every department gives it’s all, and every week it is on the screen for everyone to see.
It’s no wonder that the show’s fans are so passionate. That passion is shared by those who make the show, crafting each episode, meticulous in performance and detail.
Sue and I wander through the burgeoning 20th century, making our goodbyes, expressing our thanks, before finding ourselves back in the sweltering heat of the 21st century.
We look at each other, stunned. Did that just happen?!
We cannot express our thanks enough for all that we saw and did, for those who found time to chat with us. Thank you to each and everyone of you.
Season 7 looks to be the best season yet, and that’s saying something given the brilliant track record of the seasons that came before!
What a great day!!
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays on CBC.