It really doesn’t feel like I’m covering a season of Murdoch Mysteries until I’ve spoken to star, executive producer and director Yannick Bisson. Our chats go back to Season 1 when the show debuted on Citytv. Yannick is a busy guy and I always appreciate our discussions and his insight.
With Season 14’s return coming this Monday at 8 p.m. on CBC—with “Murdoch and the Tramp”—we got on the phone to talk about this season, directing, upcoming Murdoch projects and, of course, how COVID-19 has affected television production.
Congratulations on Season 14 of Murdoch Mysteries. I watched the first episode and, wow, what a great kickoff to the season.
Yannick Bisson: Thank you so much. That means a lot because I had the good fortune of directing that one, so I am that much more invested.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. How badly has COVID-19 affected production on Murdoch?
YB: Well, there were a couple of different phases. At first, it was prep and we weren’t sure how things were going to go. We were fortunate to be advised by somebody very high up in the Ontario government who advises policy; that was our point person. We had great protocols in place. Our temperatures were being taken every day we arrived and then we were kept in pods. We kept the entire crew separated into, I believe, five or six different pods to help alleviate any sort of cross should anything happen. And, you know what, for the entirety of the shoot, nothing did happen. We had, I believe, one positive test came up and it turned out to the false positive. The young man went through a second round of testing and it turned out to be fine and then he was able to come back to work.
For me, it was my first time [directing] two episodes. For filming, we [wore] masks, would take off the mask and then, right at the last second the performers who were on camera would take off their masks and then anybody who is seen within any sort of proximity to them—which was already very much limited—would have to have a secondary shield measure in place, which was for their own protection. That went well for a certain amount of time. And then, when we started getting closer to fall … we started to get testing going and we decided, OK, we’ll test the daily actors. We’ll test the main cast weekly and then finally everybody just said, ‘You know what, let’s just test everybody weekly.’ And we carried on to the end and it was fine. It was totally fine. Fears were alleviated.
I don’t think this season suffered as for what’s going to end up on screen. I really don’t think you’re going to be able to tell. As a matter of fact, I think some of the stuff we shot this year—I know I say this to you every year—but I think this year, pound for pound, is going to be the best year we’ve ever done. The writing was incredible. We had the same amount of writers writing for a more concentrated amount of running time. I was really eating my words. I was like, ‘How can we possibly keep going? This is nuts.’ And every new episode this season, I was like, ‘Wow, OK.’ And then we have the ending of the season, which is, we’ve got sort of two cliffhanger episodes that are just going to blow people’s minds.
It’s a bit of a bombshell. We get introduced to a character from Murdoch’s past that I don’t think anybody saw coming. And it’s going to impact the entire cast for good. It’s quite a big deal. And, at the same time, it’s also very exciting and it’s a big new sort of layer to Murdoch and certainly to his relationship with Ogden and everyone else in the cast. It’s going to be very interesting how we move forward from this. I’m really intrigued because it leaves some things open as well that I still don’t know either so pretty exciting.
We learn on Monday that William’s not a fan of vaudeville. What about you? Are you a fan of Charlie Chaplin and the old silent films and Buster Keaton and that kind of stuff?
YB: Oh, absolutely. And, as a matter of fact, I felt so privileged to be able to take on that episode and sort of pepper in some bits of that. We had some limitations because there were some proximity issues and then different things that we can’t do. And then there’s inevitably some limitations within you know budget-wise we can’t do these massive CGI setups that a lot of shows are doing nowadays. I’ve been watching The Queen’s Gambit and man, there are computer graphic installations that they did to impart the 60s, which is mind-blowing.
When you were directing this season, did you have to use certain camera angles that made people seem closer together or for proximity issues or because of the bubble?
YB: I did have to use some trickery to compress larger crowds when it got into our core sort of cast it was a little less of a big deal. It is less of a constraint because we’re part of one bubble, one group. But yeah, when we had big days we had to really stretch the amount of background and the scenery had to be suppressed. A lot of things had to be compressed in order to make it seem as though there were a lot more people than there were, and also to see some apart.
Is there someone that you’ve looked to as a director for inspiration or someone that you really admire as a director?
YB: Oh man, there are so many. I wouldn’t know where to begin. I love a lot of older movies where I can kind of see the innovation, whereas nowadays it’s a little more difficult to figure out where the trickery is because it is computers. But you know, to be able to break it down, watching things that still stand up like Casablanca and a lot of Hitchcock films, figuring out how they were able to really transport the viewer with a lot less tech, and again, the guys at the beginning of all of this, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin making it look like they were on top of a big building just with optical illusion. I’m a big fan of that when it comes to directing and sort of stretching the eye with less technology and with more lighting and more sort of staples and then, you absolutely have to blend it with some computers a little bit or optically you blend it a little bit.
Let’s chat about the Audible project, The Secret Diaries of Detective Murdoch. What can fans expect from it?
YB: The cool thing about it is it is all-new content. It’s all-new stuff. Now, somebody who is an Audible fan or a mystery fan, it stands up on its own because it’s all-new sort of musings and thoughts, feelings. And some of it was quite emotional. Some of it got cut pretty deep, and some of it, I had a bit of a tough time getting my head around. Some of these groupings and musings are about a certain character and then we go and we explore some of the past episodes. There are some sound clips, there are some thoughts, there are all different things that accompany each of the segments. For existing fans, it’s another layer or another level of entertainment of stuff that they can go and sort of expand some of their already known knowledge about the storylines and the characters and so on, but just to get another layer on it. And for somebody who’s not watched the show, they’re probably going to be intrigued, but the Audible segments do stand up on their own as well.
The cool thing about Audible was we were very fortunate to actually be one of the linchpins for Audible coming into Canada as a whole. This is a very new thing and this is really a whole lot of stuff that’s going to be available, but we’re, you know, the head of sort of being a Canadian content created, produced, written, and so on for Audible.
What about the AR project?
YB: This is something that we’re doing in tandem with Metastage, which is a technology and a physical way of filming and capturing assets that are very unique and haven’t been done yet. It’s an immersive experience for the Murdoch fan, and again, it’s something that can stand on its own or just be an added sort of layer for people that just love the Murdoch world. You are going to go into that world with me and you are going to have to be the detective and you’re going to have to prove your mettle.
I was recording this stuff and I’m like, ‘I hope I never have to play. I’m going to be embarrassed.’ I have to speak to all the probable outcomes of every episode since I had to record multiple versions of how things would play out. And I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is going to be hard.’ It’s going to be tough. People are going to have to literally, you know, buck up here and see what they’re missing.
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.
Images courtesy of CBC.