Tag Archives: Lori Spring

Murdoch Mysteries: Writer Lori Spring recalls “Six of the Best”

Spoiler alert: Do not continue reading until you have watched the newest episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “Six of the Best.”

Monday’s instalment of Murdoch Mysteries was missing Inspector Brackenreid and Constable Crabtree. But what it lacked in characters on-screen was made up for with an incredible main storyline that dipped into Murdoch’s past while expanding on Watts’. The murder of a young boy brought the pair to an orphanage run by a Jesuit priest William learned under back in Nova Scotia.

The subject matter was dark, the direction by Sherren Lee masterful and the performances sublime. I spoke to the episode’s writer, Lori Spring, to get the scoop on “Six of the Best.”

We got a little bit more information about William’s past. Is it fun digging into that back story for him?
Lori Spring: It’s kind of this weird and interesting process because as this character builds year after year, it’s not like you know all this stuff in Season 2. It’s like you know every single thing about him but as this character evolves, his back story kind of fills in, in a way, out of his character. Out of the things that happened to him and out of the way that his character evolves, his back story becomes what it needs to be for him to be who he is.

You’re right. It isn’t like everybody’s sitting down and saying, ‘OK, here’s the entire back story for this character. We don’t need to learn anything moving forward because we can just refer to this page of bullet points.’
LS: I mean, there was a fair bit of information about him early on and from the outset and there were Maureen Jennings’ novels that the stuff came from. But details fill in as every season develops him more.

We also got a little bit of a peek into Watts’ background. We found out about him being an orphan but he really had this wonderful connection with the boys at the school as they were doing the investigation. I really loved Daniel Maslany’s acting and you did a wonderful job with that script.
LS: Thank you very much, I appreciate you saying that. With Watts, [Robert Rotenberg] and I also were able to have him discover that he was, in fact, that his lineage was Jewish, which was a pretty interesting twist. You kind of learn many things about the characters from the performances of the actors. All the nuances of the performances kind of start to make the characters more alive for you as a writer. You feel the character and then you’ve got a storyline that involves boys and you feel this character. Even back in ‘Murdoch Schmurdoch,’ you kind of sensed him connecting with the young boy.

You kind of sense that he had a sympathetic feeling about the boy and it’s just kind of funny, it’s kind of there. You kind of imagine Daniel Maslany as an actor into the scenes as you’re writing them and he’s brought so much to that character that is just kind of, I don’t know, it seems to happen.

Maybe it was your writing, maybe it was Sherren’s direction and the cinematography, but it felt like an old school episode of Murdoch to me and I’ll be interested to see what the viewers think. What are your thoughts?
LS: It’s funny you say that ’cause I think it’s the darkest episode I’ve written in a long time. The first episode I ever wrote was in the second season and a little boy went missing. That was a real sort of very mixed episode. It had a lot of things going on it but that was a kind of dark thread running through that. Yeah, there are dark episodes still. But this was one of the darker ones and I was able to watch the finished episode and Sherren Lee did a fabulous job and she drew really strong performances from, really sort of nuanced performances from everybody. I was very impressed.

It’s a touchy subject dealing with the subject matter that gets covered, but what is it with you and writing episodes where boys go missing or boys get murdered? What does that say about you, Lori?
LS: I don’t know, I’m not sure. It might say something about what people in the writer’s room think about me and what would be appropriate material for me.

There’s got to be a delicate hand and a deft touch with this type of storyline because it’s kind of a hot button topic. Whenever a child goes missing or is murdered, that’s always an awful thing. You need to have a deft touch when you’re writing this, don’t you?
LS: You do, and you have to mind your p’s and q’s and be aware that it’s going be a sensitive subject for people to be watching. The Murdoch audience, they know the show, they know the contours of the show, they know the tone of the show and this kind of pushes to the limit of the darker reaches of it.

What do you think when you’re seeing Yannick play this character and you see him unhinged? It freaks me out because he’s usually the guy in the room that’s calmest. If he’s losing it, that means a lot.
LS: I have to say I loved his performance. In a way, it brought the character that he plays, it re-animated the character and reminded us of the depth of the character that he’s playing. He didn’t overplay it. He contained it in a very Murdochian way. But, it exploded out of him especially in the scene in the jail cell. I was really impressed with his performance. It didn’t freak me out. It made me happy as a writer to have the script so well performed and directed.

Do you still get a thrill when you see the words that you wrote on the page being sad by the actors and actresses on set and in the broadcast?
LS: Oh, totally. How could I not? It’s done so well, but I actually was worried about this one because it was so dark and I was particularly thrilled to see how well this was executed. It was handled with a deft touch by the director. I was also worried about kids. They were great. All the kids were great. Sherren dealt with them really well.

You put forth a question, did corporal punishment, did it shape who William is?  
LS: Of course, it had to. I don’t want to, myself, psychologize the character too much because he’s not my character. Maybe it contributes to his being so buttoned down. We always thought that the Jesuit education was a part of his holding on to dear life, to his need to understand and be rational and explain and invent and he’s doing that for reasons. We’ve seen his relationship with his father. We certainly knew that his mother died in a way that was very painful for him. I think this was another part of the pain. And it’s been wonderful over the seasons, watching how his relationship with Julia has kind of opened him up, made him more confident in his ability to be emotional and attached.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below!

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC and streams on CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Murdoch Mysteries: writers Lori Spring and Robert Rotenberg discuss “Murdoch Schmurdoch”

Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched the latest episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “Murdoch Schmurdoch”!

As I wrote in my preview, “Murdoch Schmurdoch” is a bit of a departure for Murdoch Mysteries. Yes, there was a crime—the death of a theatre owner—which meant Dr. Ogden, Brackenreid, Higgins and Murdoch were all involved. But viewers were given an in-depth peek into the life of Det. Watts (Daniel Maslany) as it was revealed he’s actually Jewish. I found that insight to be highly enjoyable, as was the performance of Sayer Roberts as the legendary Al Jolson.

But, it turns out an early draft of the script had Crabtree discovering his Jewish roots. I chatted with longtime Murdoch Mysteries writer Lori Spring and Toronto-based criminal lawyer and mystery writer Robert Rotenberg—who co-wrote the episode with Spring—to discuss “Murdoch Schmurdoch.”

How were you and Robert teamed up to write this episode in the first place?
Lori Spring: I had gone into Shaftesbury with Bobby to pitch a series based on one of his unpublished novels. They knew that Bobby and I were trying to work together and they teamed me up with him. We went into the writer’s room together. Bobby is an experienced novelist and less experienced screenwriter so it was somewhat of a mentoring situation.

Robert Rotenberg: I’ve really wanted to get into TV screenwriting for years. I was talking to Christina [Jennings] and she mentioned her good friend Lori Spring. Lori Spring and I went to summer camp together when we were 15 years old! Lori and I got together. I came up with the idea of Al Jolson coming to Toronto when he was 18, they loved the idea and asked me to co-write with Lori which was the best thing that could have happened. I kind of went to screenwriting school for two months with Lori. It was incredible.

How did the main storyline, regarding anti-Semitism, break?
LS: The starting point was actually that Bobby had pitched Al Jolson as a historical guest character. He would have been around 19 years of age at that time. Then there was the general idea that he would have been in Toronto doing a performance. We had also sent some research notes because, at that time, there was a large influx of Eastern European Jews to Toronto in the late 19th century and earlier 20th century. By 1906, there were a number of Jews that were trying to initiate Yiddish theatres in the city. That became something that we wanted to work with. And Al Jolson was Jewish. So those were two threads that established themselves early on. Then we had the idea that one of the characters would find out that he was Jewish and Pete was really enthused about the idea of Watts discovering that about himself, so that became the B-story.

RR: One day, we were driving to the set and I turned to her and said, ‘I think we have too many characters.’ We walked in and said, ‘We’ve taken two characters and turned them into one.’ We had the producer and a director and it just became too complicated. It was much easier to make it one character, Levine. And we had an M.C. but decided to just let Levine do the introductions on-stage.

It really ended up being a Watts-centric episode and I loved that.
LS: Yes, and that was the intention.

RR: That was really fun. The original idea was that it would be Crabtree because they’re still kind of vague about his background. I loved the idea of someone hearing a tune and realizing that they’ve heard something from their childhood and putting it together. Then, they suggested it be Watts, which was a perfect fit.

That’s a lot of responsibility for you two. You shaped this character’s backstory.
LS: His tone has been established. Having worked on this show for so many years, the characters have sort of formed themselves and their backstories get filled in more and more every season. It’s not as if in the beginning of the show, William’s backstory was clear to everybody. It kind of fills itself in with every season. Watts is a latecomer to the season and it’s been a really interesting process.

Al Jolson really did visit Toronto and performed at The Royal Alexandra Theatre, but later than in your timeline.
LS: That’s right, he did. Well, I did the episode with Lucy Maud Montgomery and played fast and loose with that one too. [Laughs.]

I always love the little details and there were a couple in this episode. The Flatiron Building cutout was fun, and so was having Al Jolson turn around to show him just beginning to put on the blackface that would become his schtick.
LS: We really talked a lot about how to handle that. When he was the age he would have been in 1906 that was when Al Jolson started to do blackface, but we didn’t want to go heavy on the blackface because it’s pretty loaded. It wasn’t loaded back then. It was viewed quite differently back then and Al Jolson wasn’t the greatest guy in the world but was well thought of by black performers because he was very progressive in his racial politics.

RR: Historically, blackface was considered a very liberal at that time, which is completely opposite to what we think now. There were a lot of black performers at the time and it was considered as honouring them.

You wrote a very sweet storyline for John Brackenreid, having him fall in love with Charlotte. He’s such a blank canvas.
LS: [Laughs.] And to write scenes like that, you really start to fill in the colours. It’s fun to pretend you’re a 16-year-old boy in 1906 Toronto!

What did you think of “Murdoch Schmurdoch”? Let me know in the comments below!

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

 

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