Interview: Melissa Joan Hart Talks Directing ‘Melissa & Joey’
Melissa Joan Hart stars as Mel Burke in the hit ABC Family comedy series Melissa & Joey. Successful in television, theater, and film, Melissa also serves as executive producer alongside her co-star Joey Lawrence. With a list of credits too long to list, many viewers will know and love Melissa Joan Hart from her beloved roles in Sabrina The Teenage Witch, Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains It All, and Drive Me Crazy.
Melissa has also dabbled in directing, having directed episodes of Sabrina The Teenage Witch, Taina, and So Weird. Melissa is back behind the camera for the upcoming Halloween special of Melissa & Joey — which will also serve as a Sabrina The Teenage Witch reunion! Beth Broderick will be appearing in the episode “Witch Came First” airing Wednesday, October 22nd.
We had the amazing opportunity to chat with Melissa about directing the episode and what fans can expect from the reunion.
Check out our interview with Melissa Joan Hart below:
Pop City Life: Hi Melissa, thank you so much for talking with us today! I feel like I’ve been watching your talent on screen my whole life. You’ve had such a consistent career from Clarissa to now directing Melissa & Joey, so I was wondering what initially inspired you to direct an episode?
Melissa Joan Hart: I’ve been directing since I was about 20-years-old from my days on Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I guess I was always very bossy on set [laughs] and I was just always wanting to learn new things. From my days on Clarissa, I was constantly following the directors and shadowing them and talking to the crew and figuring out how the cameras worked and trying to play with the lighting boards. I was always very curious about all the stuff going on behind the scenes.
I was fascinated by it all and when it came down to Sabrina, we had such a difficult time finding directors that could handle the style of show that hadn’t really been done before, because it was technically a three camera show but it probably should have had only one camera. We didn’t have a live audience, but we did shoot three days a week and we rehearsed twice a week, so it was sort of a hybrid show as one of the first hybrid, technically, single-camera sitcoms.
It was really complicated to film with all the magic and talking animals. We had a permanent green screen. It was very complex and we constantly had directors coming in and out that were confused and asking us, “Wait, how do I do this?” So instead of us answering those questions all the time, we took it amongst ourselves to direct including myself, Beth Broderick, our UPM. We had a lot of people behind the scenes on our show that started to step up and direct a few episodes.
I remember, I directed the 100th of Sabrina and a few Halloween episodes — that was something I always liked. When I was done with Sabrina, I decided to make my own short film and show a little bit about my storytelling technique. I did a short film called Mute and I worked at a bunch of other shows including a few Disney channel shows. Then with Melissa & Joey, I’ve been able to direct a few for the last few seasons!
It’s a lot of work to be in front of the camera and behind the camera, but I enjoy it. This one was especially special to me, the Halloween episode of Melissa & Joey airing on October 22. Not only because it was the Halloween episode, but also because it’s a Sabrina reunion of sorts. People have been asking me for a long time to do a Sabrina reunion so, with this episode, we’re able to give the fans a little bit of what they want to see. We had fun with animals and magic and playing with the different premise of our show and flashing back to my past!
Pop City Life: Because it’s a Halloween special, are there any Halloween traditions or things you love and/or watch every year for the holiday?
For Halloween, I usually like to go to one of these Fright Night things, like Halloween Horror Night at Universal Studios. I usually leave the kids behind but, this year, I was thinking of taking them or going on the haunted hayride or doing something along those lines. As far as Halloween goes, we usually go trick-or-treating with my mom or some friends.
Luckily, this year, it’s not on a school night, so we don’t have to go to bed early, but I think this year we may do a little candy swap. At school, they do the candy swap where you give the candy and you get something else. I think we may do that this year because we don’t need any candy in our house. These kids are hyper enough [laughs]. Otherwise, we don’t have that many Halloween traditions really. I just try to make sure we carve our pumpkins. We give ourselves a good afternoon to go pumpkin picking and carve the pumpkins, which we’ll do this weekend.
Then picking out the costumes. We talk about it for months and months and months, but the kids always change their minds the second they see something else that’s new and exciting. I’m trying not to buy the costumes too soon. I’m trying to wait until just before so that I can make sure I know exactly what they want to be. Last year we had to buy three rounds of costumes because we started shopping for them in September [laughs].
Melissa also revealed on a press conference call what else viewers can expect from the episode and season 4!
Can you tease any of the Sabrina jokes or references we might see?
You’ll see some recognizable faces! You’ll see some cat action happening [laughs] It was very reminiscent of my days on Sabrina and the fact that I was directing it was special because it brought me right back to those days when I used to direct the show. Actually, I would say it’s more Sabrina than it is Melissa & Joey!
What was it like working with Beth Broderick (Aunt Zelda) again?
Actually, she guest starred on Melissa & Joey last year, so it was a perfect tie-in for her to come back and yet still reveal that she has this witchy past with me. It was a lot of fun and we had a blast on set. Now we’re 10 years older and we wrapped Sabrina about 12 years ago — so it was really nice to catch up, now that I’m a true adult and to work together again was really lovely. Now I’ve just got to get Caroline Rhea on the show!
Can you give us any teasers for next season?
Mel and Joe got married in the last season finale and Mel ended up in the hospital with a broken foot. Joe had just found out he had a daughter, so they didn’t really have the dream wedding that they were trying to have. They had some surprises come up, but they made the best out of it. The same sort of storyline is going to continue on through Season 4 with the honeymoon. It’s going to be a never-ending saga of “when will we get a proper honeymoon.” The writer’s brought up the “when will we have a baby” storyline right away. The baby and the honeymoon will be discussed a lot in the fourth season.
What can we expect from this season in comparison to others?
We bring in a few new storylines. We have now a great little actress, Jada Facer, who plays Dani, Joe’s daughter. Then we have Kevin Fonteyne coming back as Joe’s nephew, who we saw in the Jersey episodes last year and the wedding episodes.
He comes back and is fighting for Lennox. He’s in love with Lennox and she’s torn between him and Zander, played by Sterling Knight.
We have a fun storyline going on there all the time between Sterling and Kevin and Taylor, a nice love triangle that’s really fun to play around with. They’re all so talented. Then Chris Rich came back for the Christmas episode and he’ll be back for a few more. We’ll have Faith Prince back again and we had Tamera Mowry back again. We’ve been having some fun bringing back some old guest stars that we love and adore. Trevor Donovan came back for the Christmas episode. There’s a big 1880s style duel that goes on, between him and Joey, for my hand.
It’s been really fun and we had such a blast being able to bring back cast members that we’ve loved and adored through the years. That adds to not only the comedy, because we’re bringing back some of the stronger performers, but also people that really gelled and characters that really resonated with the audience.
We’d like to thank Melissa Joan Hart for taking the time out to chat with us! We really appreciate it and we tried our best not to geek out too bad over Clarissa Explains It All.
Keep up to take with Melissa by following her on Twitter @MelissaJoanHart.
Don’t forget to tune in to Melissa & Joey 4×01, the Halloween special “Witch Came First” on Wednesday, October 22nd — part of ABC Family’s 13 Nights of Halloween!