Anyone who’s a fan of modern television serial shows knows that Netflix is a staple of a healthy and well-balanced entertainment diet. Netflix has some of the most popular TV shows out there, for whatever age group is searching. Kids over Harry Potter can enjoy The Series of Unfortunate Events; anyone dying to see a Tina Fey comedy can get hooked on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; there are no political dramas out there (or possibly ever) that can truly rival the epic writing behind House of Cards; and of course, smart and open-minded teens can find a lot of dynamic writing and interesting questions when watching the controversial series 13 Reasons Why.
The book by Jay Asher caused a lot of controversy and nervous discussions by itself, so you can imagine just how heated the debate has been over the recent series that has taken each controversial theme and run with it. Schools have considered banning the book, and teens accuse libraries of censorship when they remove it from their shelves.
Why is it all so controversial? Well, it’s about a young teen committing suicide and listing out the many reasons why, pointing out who’s to blame. It’s controversial for many reasons, and everyone talks about all the potential problems with it, so not enough people talk about the wonders of the show and how amazing it was to make. So set aside the drama, and let’s wrap ourselves up in the details behind the scenes. Here are sixteen behind-the-scene facts from 13 Reasons Why:
16. Counselors on Set
As we previously mentioned, this series is all about a teenager who decides to take her life after certain events lead her down a spiral of depression, self-loathing, and isolation. Since almost all of the main characters were played by teens or youngsters who had just recently graduated high school and the subject matter was not only true to real-life experiences but also horrifyingly dark, it should be no surprise to anyone that Netflix and series producers were smart enough to keep real-life counselors constantly on and around the set. Can you blame them? We’re actually highly encouraged and happy that the producers were smart enough to take initiative and surround their cast and crew with such safety measures since hard stories like these clearly take a toll on the psyche of everyone involved. Not only were counselors constantly on and around set observing everyone and making themselves available, but main character actors were required to have appointments with them on a regular basis.
15. Katherine and Dylan Knew Each Other Before Production Started
Hannah and Clay had an interesting relationship before her character elected to commit suicide, but there was also a preexisting relationship between actors Katherine Langford and Dylan Minnette. The actors have both been pursuing careers in front of the camera for much of quite a while. Katherine has spent much more of her time on stage than in front of the camera but has been in some pretty interesting indie works since last year. Dylan, on the other hand, has been in front of the camera a long time, with heavy roles in Goosebumps, Don’t Breathe, Let Me In, Scandal, and Lost. The two had actually worked together before, as had many of the cast members throughout the show (a bunch of them had specifically worked on Grey’s Anatomy, in particular). Getting them all together was practically a reunion for them all! Katherine described seeing the cast list as an exciting run down of all the friends she’d be seeing again.
14. Katherine Worked To Calm Herself Down
Katherine Langford played Hannah Baker, a young teenage girl who essentially starts off the series by killing herself. She then proceeds to reveal in flashbacks with Clay just how she spiraled from a happy and jovial teenager to a depressed, isolated, and crushed young lady on the brink of taking her own life. Needless to say, Katherine didn’t have too many overjoyed moments when she was on set. We saw her frowning much more than we saw her smiling. So Katherine had to work hard to keep up her spirits while Hannah’s were so low. She went as far as to buy a piano and play it as often as she could between takes and on any of her time off. The skill helped distract her from Hannah’s misery, gave her time to return to neutral, and gave her a talent to be proud of rather than sulk in the sadness of someone else’s life.
13. Everyone Else Did, Too – With Puppies!
It’s not like every other character was a chipper little thing on set either! The actor playing Clay was constantly grappling with how someone else’s suicide can affect everyone around them like a thrown stone creating ripples in still water. The actor playing Jessica Davis had to grapple with not only how the act of rape would affect her character but also how it truly does affect so many women and men around the world every day. And the rest of the characters had to grapple with how the actions of their characters (and their own actions) may heavily impact the lives of others around them. This was not a cheerful set. So almost every day, therapy dogs were brought onto the set to ensure that everyone had something to be excited about and something to offset the negative feelings stewing in them. Dylan Minnette said that they played with puppies almost as much as they actually filmed!
12. The School Was Actually Two Separate Film Locations
While the series was being filmed, Netflix producers and site selectors were seeking out a location that would fulfill all of the needs of the complex writing for the series. Site locators found the perfect location: a high school in northern California. The series was shot over the summer of 2016 while classes weren’t in session. However, things didn’t go entirely as planned — after all filming at the school was supposed to be wrapped, some rewrites and mistakes happened that required some reshoots at the school again. However, the creative team’s luck ran out; school was in session again and their filming location was unavailable for the next nine months. So set designers built an exact replica of the school in a giant warehouse that apparently was shockingly identical on the inside. Actors said that it was a bit jarring walking around the inside of the set and then walking off into a warehouse since they’d become so accustomed to this perfectly identical-looking school!
11. Semicolon Tattoos
The writers and producers were all kept constantly aware of just how important, dangerous, and risky their subject matter was; this story and series would impact so many teenagers all around the world, and they had to stay keenly aware of that at all times. The cast picked up on just how important the subject matter was as well, as they got to know their own characters as well as Hannah Baker’s, and they got a chance to identify with all of the characters in the series. Actor Brandon Flynn, who plays Justin, was the first to go and get a small semicolon tattoo, which was meant to represent Project Semicolon: a nonprofit organization working for suicide prevention in groups of all ages. After he got it, many of his cast mates followed suit to show that this cause has become one very dear to their hearts; one that they wish to fight for.
10. Additional Characters
If you didn’t read the book, then you may be surprised to learn that not all of the characters in the series were mentioned in the book. The series stayed pretty much true to the book, thankfully, in that most of the main characters stayed the same. Clay Jensen was the main character of the book, the recipient of the thirteen reasons why that Hannah Baker leaves behind. Hannah Baker was close to Clay and left her reasons for killing herself on a set of tape recordings for those she left behind to learn from their mistakes. Justin Foley, Hannah’s first crush, and Alex Stendall, the guy who sexually harassed Hannah, were also both included in the book. However, Stephanie was an addition to the show, as were a few other characters. After all, they were trying to turn a 288-page book into a multi-season show — they had to add in a bit more drama!
9. Selena Gomez
If you didn’t know already, Selena Gomez is one of the producers of the show. Actually, she was the one to get the show up and running. This book was rumored to be turned into a movie years ago, shortly after the book came out. Selena was cast as the main character, Hannah Baker, but studios were nervous at the potential reactions to the movie. By the time a decision could be made, Selena aged out of the role, and the studios gave up the idea. However, Selena had fallen in love with the story and insisted it be done. She and her mom brought the story to Netflix and pitched the series, and the project got started. By the time the ball was really rolling, all Selena could really hope for was a role as a producer, but the cast was very happy to have her around on set (on rare occasions).
8. Jay Asher’s Hope Was to Identify With Teens Who Can’t Communicate
This series was very controversial because people thought it was encouraging teens to commit suicide because “Gee, Hannah really got her revenge on them, didn’t she?” But that’s not at all what author Jay Asher had set out intending to do. Jay decided to undertake the project after a close family member of his had attempted to commit suicide. He decided to write the book in efforts to reach out to more teens like her, teenagers who felt victimized, abused, alone, and depressed, but either didn’t know how to reach out for help or were too embarrassed or afraid to admit that they needed help. He wasn’t trying to make suicide an empowering act or to glorify it as a great escape; he was trying to encourage people to seek out help before they feel it’s out of reach. And honestly, in many cases, the book has done its job! Many young adults and teens have admitted their need for help more willingly since a character as likable and “average” as Hannah Baker is in the same boat.
7. No One’s Supposed to Think Hannah Is Perfect
One of the major criticisms against 13 Reasons Why is that adults and professionals thought that the book and series would encourage young teens going through hard times to commit suicide since Hannah Baker seems like such a relatable and cool character. However, that’s not at all what Jay Asher intended. He himself told interviewers that Hannah is far from perfect and that no one should think that she’s a hero or ideal in this story. Asher told interviewers about the last episode, saying that “[Hannah] pushes people away, people that we know would have been there for her. She could have been more open, but, in a way, she kind of sets up [her counselor] to fail. And I think it’s okay to recognize that, that she wasn’t perfect. She didn’t do everything she could have.” While we’re sure Asher didn’t intend to blame a victim suffering from mental health, he has a good point in saying that Hannah surely kept all those who could help her at an arm’s length.
6. Producer Brian Yorkey Can’t Deal With Crying in the Shower
Remember the scene where Clay kind of breaks down in the shower? Producer Brian Yorkey just could not deal with this. While on set, he was crying just watching Dylan cry. Yorkey, who is fairly new to the writing and producing game with this series, really connects with Clay in this particular scene because he believes we all can. “This scene rings so true for me when I was a teenager,” he confessed in an interview. “When you have so much going on inside of you and so little ability to share it with anybody.” We believe that Brian is certainly on to something here, something that we likely all can connect to. Even though looking back on our teenage years, some of our problems likely feel smaller and sillier, they were everything to us at the time — and we often felt shunned, ignored, or belittled. 13 Reasons Why acted to reveal and combat that treatment.
5. Bryce and His Popularity
Bryce was not at all a good guy. Bryce raped Hannah a while back, and she listed it as one of her reasons that propelled herself to taking her life. Bryce also raped Jessica, and viewers are waiting to see just what will happen in the wake of all that’s happened to her. But Bryce doesn’t look like a bad guy. Bryce is actually highly successful: he’s a star athlete with friends, teachers like him, and he makes decent grades. It was important for writers to show that Bryce was a successful guy because many guys like him end up acting on violent tendencies such as rape — and their success then deters their victims from thinking that anyone would believe them if they came forward with what happened. In fact, most cases of rape are not committed by low lives or convicts; most are committed by friends, people women are close to, and people who’ve built a certain level of false trust with their victims.
4. Katherine Langford Believes Hannah Didn’t Need To Die
Katherine Langford played the role of Hannah Baker. Actors that work hard on their roles can tell you that they spend a lot of time with their characters. By this, they mean that they spend a lot of their time analyzing their characters, trying to understand them, trying to predict their behaviors, and giving them the benefit of the doubt. But even after all that time spent with her character, Katherine believes that Hannah’s death wasn’t justified and that it could’ve been avoided. Katherine spent a lot of time talking to psychologists, particularly child and adolescent psychologists. She came to believe that Hannah wasn’t mature enough to understand all of her complicated and muddled feelings and that if she had been able to understand them, she might have been able to vocalize them and gotten the help that she needed. If she had recognized why she was feeling suicidal, she might have been able to control those feelings.
3. Alisha Boe Wants Everyone to Realize the Impact of Rape
Alisha Boe played Jessica Davis in 13 Reasons Why, a character who goes to a party and is drugged, then raped by someone she’d considered a friend. The character goes on to suffer the implications of what the event does to her. The actress struggled with the role, mostly because it was so true to the lives of many young women, and she was depicting something that many women have been through and still struggle with today. She vocalized that she hoped the show would shed some light on just what rape does to a person and how, even if it seems harmless to someone, it will forever alter and harm someone’s life. She specifies that she hopes young boys watching understand just what they’re doing when they’re considering the act of rape and just how heinous and terrible it truly is. No one deserves this to happen to them, and no one should bring this horror upon someone else.
2. The Importance of Lighting
When watching the series, you may have noticed that there were two different forms of lighting used throughout the show. Rewind and go back to flashback times when Hannah Baker was still alive: you’ll notice that the show was then shot in warmer tones, showing the life and vibrancy of all that was around Hannah. However, after her death, when scenes are shown depicting the rest of the students that were left behind, everything is shown in a grim wash, with cool grays, blacks, and blues. This was done to depict how the world has lost something since Hannah is gone, and how the students left in her wake feel an emptiness, guilt, and loss without her. If you hadn’t noticed it in the series before, we encourage you to go back and watch some of it again because the lighting scheme throughout the series was just as purposeful as the writing.
1. Suicide Experts Warned Netflix Not To Air the Show
Once the show was finished with shooting and post-production, they still had some more work to do. Producers and Netflix insisted that they shop the series around and get some opinions before it was even released — not necessarily to critics, but to average viewers and to health professionals that may have important input. One particular health professional, a suicide expert, watched the series and warned the company not to air the show. Dan Reidenberg feared just how teens would react to the show and guaranteed the company that they would see and be partially responsible for a wake of copy-cat suicides among teen groups after the show released. While Netflix got some nerves, they decided instead to put warnings before graphic episodes and air it anyway. The goal was to create a conversation about teenagers and suicide, and they decided that the end goal was lofty enough to take such a risk as the one Dan outlined.