Mike Lobel is a man of many talents.
Since gaining recognition for the role of Jay Hogart in Degrassi: The Next Generation, the 36-year-old actor/filmmaker has led a diverse and multi-faceted career.
Though many may primarily know him for his acting work, he has gradually expanded into the worlds of directing, editing, composing, and producing.
Most recently, he edited and acted in the web-series Detention Adventure, which focuses on four students who purposefully land themselves in detention as a guise to search for Alexander Graham Bell’s hidden laboratory, rumored to be underneath the school. The first season debuted last year in Canada on CBC Gem to much acclaim and recently became available to U.S. viewers on HBO Max.
Its second season dropped last Friday, October 2nd, in Canada and will air October 15th in the U.S.
Andrew got to chat with Mike about his work on Detention Adventure, Degrassi & more. Check it out below!
How did you become involved with Detention Adventure?
My best friend from high school is also a filmmaker and we’ve always worked on projects together. He created the show and it was his brainchild. That’s basically how I got involved. The second season is in the can right now and we’re really excited about it.
Was there anything about this experience that differed from previous editing work you’ve done? Were there any challenges or learning curves?
Interestingly enough, because of my Degrassi background, I’m super familiar with the setting of school hallways and lockers. I always seem to be shooting in that kind of setting and telling the stories of adolescence and coming of age. That’s a world I know. In terms of new things I encountered, this was my first longer format project. Until now it’s been film, documentary, shorts, some music videos. It was interesting to see something evolve through a season arc. That was new for me. I know as an actor what it’s like to evolve a character through a season, but to do it as an editor was a completely different thing because I had to handle multiple character arcs.
Did anything have to be cut out during the editing process?
There’s an episode coming in season two that I don’t wanna say too much about, but I also wanna give you a little dish. There’s an actor in season two who plays a teacher and he’s, honest to goodness, the funniest person I’ve ever seen on camera. The episodes are about eleven to twelve minutes long. When I turned in my first cut of the episode that this teacher was in, I think it was about twenty minutes because I just couldn’t cut anything that he did. It was all solid gold. Obviously, producers and such came along and said “Okay, it’s a little too lengthy. We get it, he’s funny.” I think that’s the only thing that ended up on the cutting room floor. With the production value on the show, we’re squeezing every free cent up there on the screen. It’s really a passion project for a lot of the people behind it. So when you see the script, that’s usually what’s gonna end up on screen unless something just terribly isn’t working.
Was there a particular episode or scene from the first season that you enjoyed editing the most?
There’s a moment that I always think about from season one where I really love the mood we created and I’m particularly proud of it. It’s the moment where Hulk reveals to us the pin and has that conversation about his father. Brett is commiserating to him, “Oh, my dad sucks,” and Hulk says “I wish I still had a father.” I’m actually getting choked up now thinking about it. It was a really beautiful thing that we ended up capturing there.
All of the actors gave great performances! I feel like the character who was expanded on the least in the first season was Joy. Do we get to learn more about her in the second season?
We do get to learn more about her. I would say that in season two, you get an ever deeper sense of the characters’ home lives. Season one was almost entirely confined to the school. In season two, we’re gonna go outside of the school more. The adventure is too big to be contained by that space. We’re also going to see a lot more interaction between their parents and a little bit more about what makes them individually tick.
You also have a small acting role on the show. Do you have any memories of being on set you can share?
The director, Joe Kicak, who like I said is a really good friend of mine since high school, puts me in everything he does. He’ll call me and go “I really want you to edit it. There might also be a little something for you to play in there.” He’s always kind of trying to insert me. I don’t know why. There were a few things that I really liked about playing the caretaker role. It gave me an interesting look at what it was like being on set and working with the actors. The actors know me as the editor, but they also know me as a character. Being an editor, you’re often in the later part of the project and you exist solely in a dark room for months. Being able to step on set and get a feeling for the camaraderie between the cast and get to know everybody in that way has enriched my experience as an editor. I get to see where their characters’ personalities and their own personalities as people cross over. I can pick up on those things and use those in the edit. Joe also thought it would be funny if we assume that maybe the character I’m playing is a continuation of my character from Degrassi so he had to name me “Caretaker Jay.” [laughs] If you look at my uniform, the name tag says “Jay” on it and I guess he thought that was just a fun homage.
Did you give any advice to the younger actors when you were on set?
I don’t remember dispensing any wisdom per say. I’ve gotta say, they all have pretty good heads on their shoulders. There were certainly a lot of questions about my tenure at Degrassi. I definitely feel like I’m passing a torch just by being there and appreciating their talents, encouraging them, and editing them. I really want to do them justice and put their best performances up there on the screen.
Segueing into Degrassi, prior to being on the show, you were a big fan of Degrassi Junior High. Do you recall an earliest memory of discovering the franchise?
Well I am wearing a Joey Jeremiah hat right now [can confirm that Mike was sporting a stylin’ fedora], so that will tell you something. Being a Canadian and growing up here as a kid, it was ubiquitous. I don’t know if there was a particular moment. I just remember flipping channels through basic cable. There were probably only six channels back then and it was on one of them. It just hooked me. All of the characters were going through these really intense things and I had never seen anything like that. The show to me felt like someone was reaching through the screen into my adolescence and naming it in a way that most adults around me couldn’t understand. It had a profound effect. I remember many years before joining the cast, I would see some of the actors out in public around the city and just freak out. My first day on set, I showed up and of course Stefan Brogren was there and Stacie Mistysn. It was like living a dream. I felt like I knew them already, which was a little strange, but I was so grateful to have that experience and become friends of theirs.
Is it true that you originally auditioned for the role of Dylan?
Yeah, I did. I think about that sometimes. I auditioned for the role of Dylan and then they just gave me the role of Jay. So I must have screwed up that audition [laughs].
You didn’t read for Jay at all?
They just called me back in and that was who they cast me as. Who knows why?
I’ve always been curious about Jay’s backstory because it didn’t get explored much on the show. Do you wish it could have been expanded on?
I absolutely do. There were clues in the script so I just sort of made my own personal decisions about how I would carry that forward. I was bullied in school because I was into weird music and I dressed strange. I went to a school in a neighborhood that was fairly, for lack of a better word, preppy. So I played Jay kind of in a way that was almost revenge. I know that sounds weird. It felt like revenge to me on one level, but I also was kind of falling in love with parts of Jay. Like his confidence. His charm. I think because of where I went to school and the people who were my bullies, I probably decided to model it on them. I thought of Jay as kind of an overly privileged kid who just didn’t have a good relationship with his father and was really just bored. I never felt like he needed to steal for money. It was more for fun or to see what he could get away with and maybe it was a cry for help.
What’s it like having been a part of a show like Degrassi that still has such a passionate and rabid fanbase years later?
It’s incredible. To be honest, my experience on that show was a gift. I’ve done a lot of shows and they’re not like that. This was my chance to be part of almost a phenomenon and I don’t take that lightly. I think about all the people who have told me over the years that the show really had a profound effect on their lives. People who have just confided in me that the show helped them get through something that was really important that they feel like they couldn’t have done otherwise. I’m honored to be a part of that fraternity.
What do you think Jay would be up to during the pandemic?
Selling toilet paper would be the first thing he’d be doing. He would have a toilet paper business running out of the trunk of his souped-up car. I can maybe see him running a successful car dealership or something like that. Who knows?
A few years ago, you directed a documentary called Rising Voices. Can you speak a little about what your inspiration was to make it?
I have been working for the last seven or eight years with an organization in Toronto called TakingITGlobal. They’re a grassroots organization that promotes youth voice and choice through technology. They have programs that they run all across Canada. I’ve been lending my skills as a producer, videographer, and editor and I basically help them to tell the stories of their programs. They came to me with a small idea which was centered around indigenous reconciliation in Canada during our one hundred and fiftieth anniversary, which is contentious because it’s a colonized nation. It started as a small documentary project where I would go across the country meeting with youth changemakers. People who were really driving change in their communities, whether it be indigenous, LBGTQ+, people who were speaking about systemic racism. I was collecting their testimony and their story and asking them one important question which was “How do we proceed with the next one hundred and fifty years of our country?” That was the only question and the frame. There was so much incredible testimony and experience that was given to us that I just couldn’t cut out. Especially coming from privilege and being able to acknowledge that this wasn’t my voice in the documentary, this was their voice. I really wanted to do right by them and it ended up becoming a long format feature documentary. We took that to a few festivals and cut a short out of it that ended up going to TIFF.
Will it ever be widely available?
I’m going to have to follow up on that. It went to festivals and I know it’s being used by the organization. I’m going to see about maybe releasing it more publicly. I would like to get it out there because I think it’s really important.
Is there any reason why you’ve decided to work more behind the camera in recent years?
I’ve always had a love for behind the camera work. I actually started acting just because I wanted to be on film sets. I wanted to be part of it in some way. I’ve been making movies since I was a kid with a little Handycam. It’s always been happening simultaneously to acting, but it’s only been in the last few years that it’s become serious and I’ve made more headway in that realm.
Do you have a favorite aspect of filmmaking?
I do. I think this goes for performing as well. For me, I like to create and I really want that creation to mean something. I’m a big movie buff and growing up it always amazed me how a movie could make me a feel or how a TV show could change my mind about an issue or even make me aware of one that I never knew existed. It’s so powerful and intoxicating to me that we can be moved to change by that medium. I think that’s really why I do anything in this industry.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about season two of Detention Adventure or are there any other upcoming projects you’d like to promote?
Season two is the big thing on the horizon. I just birthed it so I’m feeling pretty proud. I also have a few artists that I might be doing music videos for. Stay tuned for more!