Tag Archives: Lara Azzopardi

Backstage: New season, new characters, new problems

When I was in high school (oh so long ago), I viewed the new school year as starting over. The summer was spent hanging out with my closest friends, on family vacations and working. Every September was a new year with new classes and in most cases, new friends.

The same is true of the kids at the Keaton School of the Arts. They’re back for another school year in 30 new episodes of Backstage—airing next Monday to Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET/PT on Family Channel—with plenty on their minds. For Vanessa (Devyn Nekoda) and Carly (Alyssa Trask), it’s owning up to pulling the fire alarm. For Bianca (Julia Tomasone) and Jax (Matthew Isen), it means reuniting after a summer he spent on tour with DJ Diamond Mine/Kit (Romy Weltman). And with seven new characters joining Keaton, this year promises to be a humdinger.

To sort it all out, we turned to Lara Azzopardi, Backstage‘s co-creator, showrunner, writer and director for help. She tells us what’s in store for some of your favourite characters, a peek at new ones and the injury that caused an entire rewrite of the Season 2 scripts a week before filming began.

Backstage is back for Season 2! A new season means a new year at school.
Lara Azzopardi: Yes, a new year. The students have all had a summer to get over and evolve during and they return with new problems and new drama. Lots and lots of drama at Keaton!

I always viewed the new fall school year as a clean slate. Is that the case for some of these kids?
One hundred per cent. We’ve got quite a few new characters. All of the emotional storylines carry through. For any viewers who watched the first 30 episodes, you will see a lot of carry over but we are starting fresh. New year, new characters. Old characters but with new problems. We’ve all been through high school so we all bring our problems and stories about it to [the writer’s room] and try to make it as grounded and real as we can.

You have several new characters this year, but does having a group return from Season 1 help you production-wise with filming 30 episodes? Have you all developed a shorthand to make production move more smoothly?
Definitely. Everyone had a rhythm and we were lucky enough to have all of our directors from Season 1 come back. Everyone knew what we were up against. The writing process for Backstage is that I like to have as many scripts finished before we start shooting as we can. We have a big readthrough of the first 15 episodes before we shoot them. We spend an entire day reading and the actors can ask questions. It’s great. However, a week before shooting, our lead broke her ankle. And, fictionally, Vanessa broke her ankle in Season 1 of Backstage. She broke her ankle a week before we started shooting and we had to rewrite everything. That was really fun. [Laughs.] We decided not to shy away from it and just go for it. It meant a lot of sleepless nights for the writers. We were writing as we were shooting.

The first episode begins with Vanessa and Carly. They were the first two characters we met in Season 1. Have you always viewed these two as the anchor for Backstage?
For me, it always started with Vanessa and Carly. Episode 1 in Season 1 is them meeting outside of Keaton and walking in together. Yeah, they are a bit of the anchor. I look at the storylines as streams and they are the anchors for those streams. However, I think that relationship between them is the heart of the show. As a female, going through that experience of high school and having a friend that you grow with and have your conflicts with and love with, that’s where I really share my experience.

Will Vanessa and Carly keep in touch 20 years down the road?
One hundred per cent. Their friendship as a love story is what I try to explore with Vanessa and Carly. I think for sure that they end up together as best friends, talking about their kids 20 years later.

Let’s discuss Jax and Bianca. He returns from a summer tour with Kit. What can you say about their relationship this season?
It’s a bit of a slow burn. It’s going to go up and down. There are some very exciting things that happen with the Jax, Bianca and Kit storyline.

Alya and Miles broke up last season. What’s the deal with them this time around?
Alya and Miles have been arced out through 30 episodes. We like the slow burn on Backstage and it’s ups and downs. I look at them as our OTP—our One True Pairing—and there is quite a journey for them this year.

There are several new characters this season. Can you tease a couple of them for me?
A theme of this season is family. We explore family in the 30 episodes. We try to go into these kids’ lives a little bit more. We have a brother duo in George and Aidan, who are going to be a part of the show. Beckett explores family as you will come to see. Our cast is so big it’s impossible to show every kind of kid on a TV show but we really did try to represent as many people as we grew up with through the show. We’ve got some bad guys this season. But even our bad guys are good guys … we try to figure out the good in the bad and why these kids act the way that they do.

Season 2 of Backstage airs next Monday to Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET/PT on Family Channel. Backstage airs in its regular timeslot beginning Friday, March 23, at 6:30 p.m. ET/PT.

Images courtesy of Family Channel.

 

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Lights! Camera! Classroom! Family Channel’s Backstage returns

From a media release:

It may be March Break for most fans, but class is back in session at Keaton School of the Arts as Family Channel’s popular tween drama Backstage returns for its second season. Premiering Monday, March 12 at 6:30 p.m. ET/PT, the highly anticipated second season debuts as a full week event, with new episodes airing daily at 6:30 p.m. ET/PT until Friday, March 16, and an advance preview on The Family Channel App. The all-new season headlines Family’s March Break programming lineup, which includes the return of the out-of-this-world competition series, Massive Monster Mayhem and new movies every day!

Backstage follows a group of exceptionally talented teenagers as they face the challenges that come with attending the prestigious Keaton School of the Arts. Season two welcomes a brand new school year for the students with the emergence of new rivalries, friendships and a multi-school arts competition. The series, which is filmed in Toronto, features an all-Canadian cast and all-original musical score, with episodes directed by some of today’s most notable music video directors including RT! (Snoop Dogg, Sean Paul), Director X (Drake, Rihanna, Zayn), Wendy Morgan (Dragonette, Janelle Monáe) and Warren Sonoda (Johnny Reid, George Canyon). Following premiere week, Backstage moves to its regular timeslot, Fridays at 6:30 p.m. ET/PT.

Season two of Backstage premieres as part of Family Channel’s March Break lineup, a can’t-miss programming event for the entire family. The fun officially begins on Friday, March 9 at 9 p.m. ET/PT with the network premiere of Daddy’s Home (starring Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell) and features must-see movies daily at 7 p.m. ET/PT, from March 10 – 18. Movie titles include: The Smurfs, Astro Boy, Hotel Transylvania, Monster House, Zathura: A Space Adventure, Away & Back, Open Season 3, Surf’s Up and The Peanuts Movie. The festivities also include the return of Massive Monster Mayhem, a laugh-out-loud comedy that pits real-life kids against all-star monsters in the most grueling and toughest challenges known to mankind. New episodes will debut on Monday, March 12, Wednesday, March 14, and Friday, March 16 at 9:30 a.m. ET/PT, before the series moves to its regular timeslot on March 24, Saturdays at 9 a.m. ET/PT.

 

Family Channel’s multi-platform offerings will also be joining the March Break celebrations with new episodes of Backstage available on the The Family Channel App beginning March 9. Immediately following each episode’s broadcast premiere, fans can head to the App to watch the next episode of Backstage, one day early! Those looking to catch up on past episodes can take advantage of the App’s Free Preview, which currently offers the entire first season of Backstage and the first part of Massive Monster Mayhem to users without a subscription throughout February and March. New episodes will also be available on Family OnDemand, with a sampling on Family.ca.

Backstage stars Josh Bogert as Miles; Aviva Mongillo as Alya; Mckenzie Small as Scarlett; Devyn Nekoda as Vanessa; Alyssa Trask as Carly; Colin Petierre as Sasha; Matthew Isen as Jax; Julia Tomasone as Bianca; Romy Weltman as Kit, Kyal Legend as Julie, Adrianna Di Liello as Jenna and Madison MacGregor as Cassandra. Joining the cast for season two are: Thomas L. Colford (Center Stage: On Pointe) as Beckett; Joshua Kilimnik (Odd Squad, Bruno & Boots movies) as George; Stephanie La Rochelle (Heartland) as Frances; Sydney Kuhne (Dino Dan) as Azadehl; Robert Bazzocchi as Aidan; Corteon Moore as Matteo; and Hailey Fauchere as Mindy.

Commissioned by DHX Television, Backstage was created and developed by Fresh TV. The series’ executive producers are Brian Irving, who also serves as producer; Lara Azzopardi, the series’ co-creator, show runner, writer and director; Jennifer Pertsch, also co-creator; Tom McGillis and George Elliott. Mario Azzopardi (Stargate SG-1, The Outer Limits, Degrassi) also directs. Backstage is internationally distributed by DHX Media.

 

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The amazing race to make Family Channel’s Backstage

Lara Azzopardi has been a producer on such shows as Lost Girl, The Listener, The L.A. Complex and Combat Hospital, and totally switched genres when she became showrunner, writer and director on Backstage, Family Channel’s series about the artistic kids attending an arts high school.

Pregnant with her third child, she expected the usual six to eight-month show development so she could give birth before filming would begin. Nope: Producers Fresh TV accepted her series bible and pilot script on a Friday and greenlit it the following Monday. Filming 30 episodes of Backstage in 30 days was tough enough, but Azzopardi had just given birth, meaning baby was on-set through the entire process. Combine that with the fact her cast was made up of singers and dancers with little formal acting training, and Azzopardi’s ride has been a wild one.

I’m fascinated with the behind-the-scenes of television, and I think you’ve got to be the only showrunner I know that was hauling a newborn around during production.
Lara Azzopardi: It was not planned that way! [Laughs.] I would never have been able to do that if it was my first baby. I don’t think I would have had the courage. It all kind of worked out in a crazy way and I felt I knew kind of what I was doing. But when I think about it now, it was pretty insane.

Fresh TV pitched this “Fame for kids” idea to you. What was it that excited you about their idea?
They had put together a two-page document that had a very general synopsis of the school and stock characters of the people they wanted to see in it. I had never done a kid’s show before. I had written a freelance script at the beginning of my career for Degrassi and that was eight years ago. When I met them, they had read a spec script and a script from The L.A. Complex, and they wanted to meet me from that. I’m a huge fan of shows like My So-Called Life and Friday Night Lights, and I told them, ‘I’m interested in doing a Fame that’s grounded and, as a parent, I’d love to watch too.’ I went off and wrote a pretty big bible. I wrote fast. I’m a pretty big fan of ensemble series, so I was excited. We sent in the script on the Friday and it was greenlit on the Monday and I was due three weeks after that.

I’ve been in development before, and it usually lasts at least a year if you’re lucky. So, when I took this on I figured I had time to get notes, do re-writes and see what happens.

Lara Azzopardi
Lara Azzopardi

Not only did they greenlight it, but they greenlit it for 30 half-our episodes.
Thirty episodes.

I’ve seen the first two, and you pack so much into those two episodes that it seems daunting to write 30. Was it daunting? How did you do it?
At the time, I didn’t know what I was in for and it was happening so fast. By the end of it—and we have three stories per episode—we wrote about 97 stories. That’s credit to my writing team Kate Hewlett, Lauren Gosnell, Matt Schiller, Scott Oleszhowicz and Jennifer Pertsch. I had my baby in my arms when we started the room and were breaking an episode a day, sometimes an episode and a half a day. We wouldn’t leave the room until it was done. The baby was in the writers’ room in a sling and we were breaking from 10 a.m. until, sometimes, midnight.

The reason for the rush, too, was that we wanted to get that Friday Night Lights look, which meant filming on location, which meant a real school … which meant we would only have the school from when it let out in the spring until it went back in for the fall. We shot using two crews at the exact same time in the same location shooting four episodes as a time. We filmed 30 episodes in 30 days. I have to give credit to the cast and crew; these kids had four scripts in their heads and once and the crew were passing the scripts between them.


At the end of the day, Backstage is a coming-of-age story for all of these kids. They are figuring out who they are until graduation and even then some of them might not know who they are.


Do the 30 episodes represent one year of studies at Keaton School of the Arts?
Yes.

Let’s talk about working with the kids in your cast. I’m assuming not very many had acting experience?
We cast real dancers and real singers, so I think because they all had a discipline they had worked at, they brought a drive and professionalism with them. I was nervous because we were casting non-actors and had a crazy schedule. They were up for the challenge. We had two acting coaches on hand and had done an acting workshop beforehand and I was available anytime they needed.

I like the usage of the characters speaking to the camera, like a confessional.
That came from necessity and from creative. For me, it was backstage not only in these kids’ lives but also backstage in their heads. It’s what they’re really thinking and feeling. It allowed us to be very subtle when we’re in the moment in the show and that subtext is said in the confessionals. We shot all of the confessionals at the end of production.

We meet Vanessa and Carly right away and see the first day of school through their eyes. But they have a major fallout and are at odds. Will they become friends again?
It’s a journey. I have three daughters and I really tried to write a friendship in terms of how I’d love to react with my girlfriends or daughters. There are going to be arguments and I just hope we made a show where both girls are right and wrong. There will be lots of ups and downs.

Jax is an interesting character. You want to like him, but right now he’s an arrogant jerk.
Jax is someone who has had some success and then goes to a school where everyone is good and he’s not better. There is quite a journey that he goes through over the 30 episodes and he learns a lot about himself.

At the end of the day, Backstage is a coming-of-age story for all of these kids. They are figuring out who they are until graduation and even then some of them might not know who they are.

Backstage airs Fridays at 7 p.m. ET/PT on Family Channel.

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