This book will change the way you think about success.
Producer of television’s iconic Degrassi franchise Stephen Stohn tells stories from behind the scenes and of making it in the music and television world in this star-studded, rock ’n’ roll trip through a Canadian show business explosion. Stohn, who has been at the heart of the entertainment industry for over forty years, shares a lifetime of experience and unique insights into how dreams are turned into reality.
“Whatever It Takes” — both a mantra and Degrassi’s theme song — has been heard millions of times all over the world. It embodies a philosophy of struggle and self-belief leading to accomplishment, as well as the story of an exploring mind, an adventurous pursuit of experience, ringing failures, and the willingness to see things in a different way.
About the authors
Stephen Stohn is a Canadian entertainment lawyer and the executive producer of the Degrassi television franchise. He was also executive producer of the telecast of The Juno Awards for two decades, during which he was a director and then the chair of CARAS. He lives in Toronto.
Christopher Ward, Canada's original MuchMusic VJ, wrote the worldwide No. 1 hit Black Velvet. His songs have been recorded by Diana Ross, The Backstreet Boys, and many others, and he's been seen as a judge on YTV's The Next Star. Ward is also the author of Dead Brilliant and Mac in the City of Light. He lives in Toronto.
Martin Gero is variously the creator, writer, director, and producer of some of television’s hottest series, including NBC’s hit drama Blindspot, HBO’s Bored to Death, the Sci-Fi Channel’s cult hit Stargate: Atlantis, and the CW’s The L.A. Complex. His most recent series is ABC’s Deception, just now starting production, in which a Las Vegas magician begins working as a “consulting illusionist” for the FBI when his career is ruined by scandal. Martin lives in Los Angeles.
Excerpt: Whatever It Takes: Life Lessons from Degrassi and Elsewhere in the World of Music and Television (by (author) Stephen Stohn; with Christopher Ward; foreword by Martin Gero)
My heart sank as I put down the phone and wondered what to do next. After thirty-five years and nearly five hundred episodes, Degrassi had been cancelled.
I’d had brave words for the network executive at Viacom in reply to his almost nonchalant, “We’ve decided to move in a different direction. Degrassi is over, but we’d like you to come back to us with some ideas on how to celebrate the fourteen years you’ve been the top show on our network — something fitting to end the series.”
“It’s not ending,” I’d said. “We believe in what we’re doing. We thought you did, too. Our plans for this coming season are just too good to let go. Degrassi is going to continue. If not with you, then somewhere else.”
He ignored me. “I’ll look forward to hearing what you come up with to finish the show. Something grand. A special episode, maybe? Or … how ’bout you talk Drake into doing a two-hour concert special to end it all? Think about it and get back to me.”
Click. And that was it. A complete shock. We’d been sure the upcoming season was in the bag. But the television business can be brutal. Despite my confident words, it appeared this was indeed the end. Mute, I stared out the window and recalled the day thirty-five years earlier when, as a newly minted entertainment lawyer, I had first met my future wife, Linda Schuyler. It was a quick meeting, made quicker by the advice I had given her: “Don’t hire me!”
She was holding a small book entitled Ida Makes a Movie, and she wanted to buy the rights to turn it into a short television film. The book was out of print, and I suggested that buying the rights should be very straightforward; however, if lawyers got involved it could get unnecessarily complicated. “Here’s a form for an assignment of all audiovisual rights of whatsoever nature or kind, now or hereafter known, in perpetuity, throughout the universe,” I said (as a young lawyer I couldn’t help talking in legal mumbo-jumbo). “Take it yourself to the publisher in New York, offer them a small cash payment, and see what happens.” I added that by the time I opened a file for her and issued a bill, the internal cost would be greater than any fee I would charge for the small time involved, so my advice was for free.
I actually didn’t hear from Linda again for several years. She had indeed travelled to New York and met with the publisher. Her small payment was accepted, and she had become the proud owner of the necessary rights. She then scrounged five thousand dollars from family and friends, and, with her partner, Kit Hood, proceeded to make the film. It turned out well enough that she was encouraged to make another, Cookie Goes to the Hospital; then another, Irene Moves In; and then a fourth, Noel Buys a Suit. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) agreed to license the four films for broadcast. The licence fees were modest, but Linda’s production costs were even more modest, so it was a great fit.
The one question CBC had was: “What do we call the series?” There were four films, each with a different protagonist, and CBC needed one title to market them. Linda had mused in reply, “Well, each film is about kids, and we shot them in and around my friend Bruce Mackey’s house while he was at work during the days. He lives on Degrassi Street, so why don’t we call the series The Kids of Degrassi Street.” A total of twenty-six episodes of Kids of Degrassi Street were produced by the time CBC suggested aging up to a tween audience by creating a spinoff series called Degrassi Junior High. This would require much higher budgets and more complex financing, and Linda realized that she needed an entertainment lawyer to help guide her through it all. She remembered that nice young lawyer who had given her free legal advice back at the beginning of it all.
From then until now we’ve worked together, with me at first as the lawyer for the production company until, by 1995, Linda and I had also become producing partners and husband and wife. And as the years have unfolded, Degrassi has become the longest-running teen television drama in North America.*
I snapped out of my reverie and back into the present moment. It was mid-March 2015 and Degrassi was ending. The winter in Toronto had been especially cold that year, and snow drifts still piled high outside our television studios — studios that had been an empty warehouse until twenty years earlier when Linda and I had bought that warehouse, fulfilling a dream and slowly turning it into seven interior stages and an exterior backlot of sets, all spread out over two buildings and five acres we called Epitome Pictures. For more than a decade we had produced the most recent iteration of the Degrassi television franchise in those studios, where nearly a hundred cast and crew members were currently standing by, waiting for their work to begin for the year.
How would I tell Linda, and the cast and crew, it was all over?
I closed my eyes, breathed deeply, and imagined myself surrounded by a globe of light, a trick I used to keep calm. Eyes still closed, but still not completely calm by any means, I started to realize there might be a small chance to move forward — to manifest a possible strategy we had already been contemplating for the future.
Could the future be accelerated to now?
Stephen Stohn is the Forrest Gump of Canadian pop culture, a behind the scenes fixture for many of the most successful artists and celebrities from the '80s, '90s and beyond.
CBC’s q blog
I found this book riveting; an extraordinary mix of documentary-style, ground floor moments in Canadian entertainment history, and beautiful life lessons garnered from years of tough experience. Funny, engaging and poignant, you’ll feel like you’re being personally mentored by one of Canada’s most influential producers and creators!
A thrilling look behind the curtain at Stephen Stohn’s wizardry for creating fun entertainment. Bravo and a standing ovation for this great read.
A delightful romp … I laughed out loud and was inspired … Filled me with trips down memory lane as well as fascinating behind-the-scenes secrets I never knew.
Miriam McDonald, Actor
One of the best books about the industry that I’ve ever read. Inspiring and brutally honest.
Shane Dawson, YouTube star
Stephen Stohn is one of the architects of the current Canadian star system. He is also its most committed champion, so proud of the creative class we have here in Canada, and yet so humble about his own contribution to our vibrant creative community. From KD Lang to Drake, from ‘Black Velvet‘ to Degrassi, he’s telling the stories — as a mentor, as a visionary, and, above all, as a dedicated fan who recognizes the value of Canadian talent and who has built a career out of making sure that that talent is recognized around the world.
Elaine Lui, founder of LaineyGossip.com
The honest, insightful and highly entertaining stories here form a sort of sourcebook for those of us who want to work on becoming better human beings. It’s kind of a Zen manual for self-awareness disguised as a great entertainment memoir. And that’s why you should read it. You’ll not only enjoy yourself, you’ll be inspired by it too.
Bob Ezrin, Record Producer
This book will motivate you … just as Stephen Stohn has motivated me.
“Maestro Fresh” Wes Williams, rapper, actor, and motivational speaker
I thought I knew everything about Stephen Stohn (And Degrassi), but after reading Whatever It Takes I was proven wrong. After 15 plus years of working with Stephen I am floored at how much knowledge there is to be attained from him. Insightful, humorous and full of heart, Whatever It Takes is not only a must-read for anyone in show business but a great learning tool for those looking to make a break into the field. Oh, and it’s a hella fun read as well!
Stefan Brogren, Actor and Director
As a fan of Degrassi and the incredible musical artists mentioned in this book, I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes stories. As an improviser, I related to the impact of working with the right people, keeping positive, and always remembering that failure is a step to success, not a barrier. Read this book for fun and life lessons — you’re welcome!
Colin Mochrie, Comedian
A breezy read with a very appropriate title, Stephen Stohn’s Whatever It Takes brings us on the adventure of his lifetime and tells us all the secrets behind the insanely popular Degrassi franchise and the twisting turns of an ever-changing music business. It’s a must-read for anybody who is thinking about getting into a life in entertainment as a career: Stephen did it first, so his book is like a treasure map.
Kevin Smith, Filmmaker, Podcaster, and Author
The frontier days of the Canadian music and television industry are not so distant in our past. This book tells a great tale of some of the formative events: early boundary-breaking artists like the Cowboy Junkies and k.d. lang to the huge episodic TV success with the Degrassi series. When we met Stephen Stohn during our first contract time with Warner Music he was a gentle, sweet, and very proper looking lawyer. Had I known he was once a hippie songwriting vagabond, travelling across Europe with only his wits as currency, I would have trusted him more.
Jim Cuddy, Musician
This book is an amazing chronicle of the history of Stephen [Stohn] and the Canadian music industry. Stephen has always been a force pushing and developing Canadian music, film, TV, and entertainment to the world. He is one of our greatest ambassadors and this book really is a great read and ride through many decades of the Canadian scene. It’s a must-read for everyone, so get a copy and get ready for a compelling and informative read like you haven’t had in a long time.
Who knew that mild-mannered Stephen Stohn is the Hunter S. Thompson of Canadian entertainment lawyers?
I couldn’t put it down … a fascinating look at the entertainment world, and a humbling reminder that success is driven by what we learn through our failures.”
Kary Bowser, Radio Producer and Internet Blogger
A must-read for any aspiring entrepreneur.
Marc Kielburger, Co-Founder, WE
Stephen’s insights into the inner workings of our idiosyncratic television industry should be required reading for anyone who wants to turn their dreams of making TV into a reality.
Ben Mulroney, TV Anchor
Remarkably relatable, incredibly inspiring.
Ricardo Hoyos, Actor and Musician
From his escapades as a young hippie, dharma bum and aspiring musician with buddy Christopher Ward in the late 60s to becoming a young music lawyer, then one of the top entertainment lawyers in the most formative period in Canadian music cultural history, and onward to Degrassi Street, executive production and more, Stephen has done, seen and been a big part of a lot of stuff. Filled with tons of stories and anecdotes, Whatever It Takes is a surprisingly fascinating, interesting, and candid read to be authored by a lawyer (they can be dry) although anybody that knows Stephen would know better than to say that
An inspiring and witty tale—punctuated by some Canadiana and a few mishaps—that is tangible proof that the words of the Degrassi theme song really do hold a nugget of truth.
His passion leaps off the page and makes you excited to follow Stohn’s journey.
Boy genius Stephen Stohn shows us that respect, grace, love, and honour trump the bitchy loudmouth tactics so common inside the dream factory of music and motion pictures. This book is essential reading for future moguls and those planning to go all the way. The man is a prince.
Bruce McDonald, Filmmaker