Sonoma County places and faces show up in Netflix series ‘13 Reasons Why’

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By now, it’s well-known that the high school scenes in the hit Netflix series “13 Reason Why” are shot at Analy High School in Sebastopol, where filming for the third season is set to resume in August. Called Liberty High in the show and set in the fictional town of Crestmont, Analy has been a key locale since the series premiered in March last year.

“It was really tough to find a high school with an iconic look that would be different than any other high school show,” Joy Gorman, one of the executive producers for the series, said in a recent email interview. “Analy has such a beautiful facade and campus, and yet it feels like a diverse cross-section of students would go there of different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. We didn’t want Liberty to seem like a pristine boarding school, but still wanted it to be beautiful on camera.”

However, Analy is not the only Sonoma County locale to play a role in the controversial show that deals with teen suicide. For the show’s second season, which drew 6 million viewers within its first three days of release on Netflix in May, scenes were shot at the Epicenter arcade and indoor sports center in northwest Santa Rosa last August and the downtown Santa Rosa Plaza last September.

Local scenery provides a wholesome contrast to the somber and often provocative tone of the series, a stark difference that adds to the show’s visual and emotional impact.

“We were looking for an idyllic town that felt like it could be anywhere in America, and also didn’t look familiar, like you’ve seen it on television before.” Gorman said. “We thought there was something very inspiring and magical about the lush greenery and history of Sonoma County, and it gave the show a more elegant look than what audiences expect to see in a show about teenagers.”

Concerns raised by mental health professionals and a parental watchdog group over the show’s depiction of suicide, rape and sexual abuse prompted the inclusion of warning advisories for the second season. But the series also has prompted others to speak up in its defense, to say it offers a way of dealing with issues that real teenagers face.

“These things really happen, not just on TV. Is it pretty? No. Is it hard to watch? Absolutely,” said one of the show’s local fans, Santa Rosa contractor Jessica Hampton, 47. “I think anything that can open a dialog with children and parents or peers about these things is critically important.”

For Hampton, one of the pleasures of watching the series is spotting glimpses.

“As a West County native, I’ve really enjoyed the local scenery in ‘13 Reasons Why.’ My friends and I watched the first season together, and in addition to being totally drawn into the plot, we would point excitedly when we saw some location we recognized,” Hampton said.

Actress Katherine Langford, who won a Golden Globe award for best actress in a series for her portrayal of Hannah, announced in late May, before the show was renewed again, that she wouldn’t return for a third season. A spokesperson for “13 Reasons Why” said it’s too soon to disclose what direction the story for the third season will take. Release is expected midway through 2019.

Even as the show’s star moves on, “13 Reasons Why’’ has opened the door for some Analy High School students and recent graduates to work as extras or interns.

“I was an extra twice,” said Joseph Mossbridge, 18, who graduated from Analy last May. “The first time, there was announcement made by the school and it was a volunteer thing, and the second time I was paid. That was not through the school. That was through a website called MyCastingFile.”

Mossbridge’s first scene was shot at Analy High School’s football stadium, and the second, set during a “spring fling” dance, was filmed indoors at a studio on Mare Island, he said.

“We shoot not only in Sonoma County but in Vallejo and San Rafael,” said producer Gorman. “None of our show is shot in L.A. It’s 100 percent shot in Bay Area. Some of the characters’ homes are in San Rafael, and we shoot many interiors in Vallejo on stages. We have a pretty believable set of Analy High School and the gym and offices on our stages. It would blow your mind to walk through it — really feels like you are there.”

To an Analy student, even scenes that are actually shot at the high school can look very different on screen.

“The strangest experience is watching it,” Mossbridge said. “I didn’t even finish watching the first season, because it was too weird. A lot of it is different from actual high school, but still kind of similar in ways. And it was weird to me to go ‘Oh, wait! That’s my history classroom!’ It’s the math classroom or something in the show. Or like, ‘I walk through that hallway every single day.’”

As for his fellow students’ reaction to the content of the series, reviews are mixed, Mossbridge said.

“I know people who hate absolutely everything about the show. I know people who are totally fine with it. The main thing that my friends have thought is that it glorifies suicide, or kind of advertises it,” he said. “But a lot of people think it’s cool that their school is in the show, and I do, too.”

Other opinions about the show’s content are much stronger. Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane condemned the “13 Reasons Why” series theme as “dangerous and reckless,” considering that suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people.

“Every single parent out there should know whether or not their kids are watching this show, and should sit down and with them if the kids insist they want to watch it,” Zane said. “It does bother me that the show is filmed here. We should protest.”

Mossbridge said he now sees television in a different way after being on the set for a hit series.

“It was really fun to see all of things you don’t see when you’re watching TV. I think how elaborate it all was is pretty surprising,” he said. “At the dance scene, the actors jumped up and down a lot before their scenes, so they would look sweaty. And here’s another thing: all of the actors were much shorter than I expected them to be.”

Dillon Goss-Carpenter, 20, a 2016 Analy grad now enrolled in a film program at the University of California at Santa Cruz, one was of five local interns who worked on season one of “13 Reasons Why.” Goss-Carpenter, who had already decided to study film, was assigned to a mentor who job was to record scenes as they were shot and keep them ready for replay as needed.

“I was just basically helping him out with whatever he needed,” Goss-Carpenter said. “I would go get him coffee. One day particularly, just because of the difficulty of a particular shot, I had to do what he did and got to press ‘record’ on the machine. Aside from that, I was there to observe and learn, and help with whatever he needed.”

And what was the biggest surprise Goss-Carpenter took away from his experience on the set of ‘13 Reasons Why’?

“Frankly, it was the amount of downtime between each shot that kind of took me aback,” he said. “There is a lot of preparation that is required for every new take and every new angle. And there were a lot of people on the set.”

For the”13 Reasons Why” scene shot at Epicenter last year, the production company consisted of 120 people. The result is a fairly long sequence in episode 7 of season 2.

“There’s a long birthday party scene in our arcade for one of the characters who had tried to commit suicide with a gun,” said Lisa Alexander, public and community relations director at Epicenter. “He starts playing an arcade shooting game, and his dad comes over and asks if that’s good idea. It’s not a game that’s ours. They brought it in.”

The key character in the episode is Alex Standall, played by Miles Heizer. At the end of season 1, Alex was in critical condition with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. During season 2, one of the plot threads follows his recovery.

For the filming at Epicenter, the crew had to rearrange the arcade to exclude games that were licensed and couldn’t be shown on screen without permission, the Epicenter spokesperson Alexander explained.

“Between takes, the cast had a blast playing in the arcade,” she added. “We catered all of the food for the party scene, and a big lunch for all of the cast and crew. They rented out the whole building and we were locked down that day. It was a 12-hour day.”

Jennie Bruneman, Director of Maintenance and Operations for West Sonoma County Union High School District, said funds paid by Paramount, which produces the show, for the use of the venue have helped pay for a new library roof and helped support the school’s video production program.

At this point, it’s partly continuity that compels the cast and crew to return to Sonoma County for its new season, but that’s not the only reason, producer Gorman said.

“It’s seems to be a positive relationship,” she said. “We love the community.”

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @danarts.

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