“A pretty different scene than Toyes Hill for sure!” says Marilee Devries
By Kelsey Smith
Nation Valley News
Former Seaway honours graduate and farm girl Marilee left Dundas County eight years ago for Toronto and recently found herself on the red carpet at the Grammys for the fourth consecutive year.
After graduating from Seaway District High School (SDHS) in 2010, Devries headed to Ryerson University in Toronto to fulfil her dreams of becoming a journalist.
During her four years of university Marilee immersed herself in everything journalism. In her second year of university she landed herself an internship with the then-entertainment reporter for CityNews, Mary Kitchen.
Through Kitchen she “was able to get an internship with CityNews in the summer of 2012” working as an entertainment intern for Entertainment City.
After the three-month internship Devries’s hard work paid off when CityNews hired her as a news writer.
“I did that part-time during the last two years of journalism school, working almost every weekend and taking Breakfast Television (BT) writing shifts — 3 a.m. to noon — on weekdays when I had later classes and sometimes working CityNews shifts weeknights — 3 p.m. to midnight,” she explained.
In response to how she got from that job to her current position she responded, “Well, in one of those funny cases of perfect timing, the position for the Entertainment City segment producer on Breakfast Television opened up just as I was about to graduate from j-school and I got the job!”
Her abnormal work schedule continued, “My shift for three plus years was midnight to 9 a.m. — BT is of course a morning show — so I remember on graduation day I went to work at midnight, left early, and went to graduation.” She then admitted she may have “snoozed through … partly because it was rather dull but also because I was tired!” she laughed.
It was “fair to say my social life took a hit during those years!” she added.
She graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2014.
Devries is very happy with how her life has turned out so far.
“I’ve definitely been lucky, especially in terms of timing, but I also worked my butt off to get where I am — I like to think it’s that farm girl work ethic I brought with me to the city,” she explained.
The Toyes Hills native is still with Breakfast Television and has worked as their Segment Producer for the past four years.
One of the many benefits to her job is that over the past few years she has had the opportunity to meet and interview many ‘A’ listers.
Between Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and the Grammys she has met celebrities while working as a producer on the red carpet. The list included: Celine Dion, Alicia Keys, James Corden, Priyanka Chopra, Angelina Jolie, Stevie Nicks, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Stevie Wonder, Laverne Cox, Matt Damon, Tom Cruise, and Kate Winslet.
She has also had the chance to interview: Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City), Tony Goldwyn (Fitz from Scandal), Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama), and “geeked out” when she got to interview Nicholas Hoult and Dominic Monaghan from Lord of the Rings.
There have been times where she admitted to being ‘starstruck’ — this year at the Grammys, for instance. “Lady Gaga walked by me on the red carpet and I got pretty star struck, but she didn’t stop for interviews, otherwise she’d probably be on the list.”
So what does a segment producer for Entertainment City on BT do?
“I produce an entertainment-focused segment for the show every day, which airs around 8:10 a.m. on BT Toronto. We have local Breakfast Televisions across the country — Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver, which I feed my segment out to and they air it on their programs as well. I also oversee an entertainment-focused package for CityNews National: I assign the stories to include to our entertainment reporter, vet their scripts, and when needed help source visuals and procure interviews,” she explained.
Although this was her fourth year working at the Grammys, each year’s work description was a little different.
Her first year — Los Angeles (LA), 2015 — she “helped with research and field producing pre-Grammy shoots. That year, we’d built a special set in LA for our live red carpet broadcast. So we had hosts on the red carpet and also hosts in this studio with guest experts, and the show would bounce between red carpet interviews and expert panels back in the studio. So I was in the studio, helping to keep things running smoothly there.”
In 2016, LA, she researched and field-produced for pre-Grammy events. On Grammy day she was “not on the red carpet, but in the ‘truck farm’ in our live truck — an on-location control room — where I worked with the live feeds of the red carpet interviews, logging the essential details (who was interviewed, duration of interview, and out-cue) for the show’s producer for them to be inserted into the show.”
Devries said her time at the Grammy’s that year was ‘crazy’. “Those six hours in the truck felt like 20 minutes.”
Her third year, 2017, at the Grammy’s, once again in LA, she had similar responsibilities to the previous year. The difference this year was that she actually got to stand on the red carpet.
“This was the first year the Recording Academy did a ‘red carpet rollout’ for the actual Awards, so a few days before the show James Corden came and did that. It’s basically a photo op/media availability but it was pretty fun to see Corden up close and personal.”
On Grammy day she was set up on the red carpet as producer for position 1 — the main red carpet position. For this position she wore a headset that allowed her to be in constant contact with the control room back in Toronto.
“I communicated with them what interviews we’ve done or are about to do, I give cues to the host who’s doing the interviews (that year it was Adam Wylde) and provide him with editorial support,” Devries further elaborated.
One of the most memorable interviews conducted that year, ending their live broadcast, was with Canadian legend singer Celine Dion.
“I remember we had only a few minutes until the show ended, and our amazing wrangler had already convinced her rep to skip a bunch of outlets and bring her over to us. But here’s the thing: she was moving so slow! So we’re holding our breaths just hoping she’ll make it in time to make it onto our broadcast. And you can’t yell at Celine Dion to hurry up, right? So I have our show’s producer asking me very urgently if she’s going to make it, and it’s so hard to say because she’s so close. And then she stops to take a drink of water, and I swear it’s the slowest sip anyone has ever taken (in Celine’s defense, it probably only seemed that way because our timing was so tight). But then, finally, she arrives at our position and Adam has a great interview with her and we end the show with a bang!” she recalled with great detail.
This year was the 60th anniversary of the Grammys and in light of that, the show was hosted at Madison Square Garden in New York City (NYC).
Given the fact that the Grammys were in NYC, in January, the temperatures were a little different from the previous years she had spent in LA.
“I love New York but I definitely missed the warmth of LA. We spent a lot of time shivering this year.”
This year Devries continued producing the pre-Grammy events’ coverage as well as produced live hits on BT Toronto and BT Montreal. On Grammy day she was in charge of social media from the red carpet and produced all of the post-coverage. This is when, as previously mentioned, she was ‘starstruck’ by Lady Gaga and admittedly “almost forgot to record it to post on Instagram.”
Although she has “zero desire to be on camera,” she looks forward to continuing her job as producer.
“I love what I do behind the scenes. I get to write, which is one of my favourite things in the world. My role also allows me to do so much storytelling. I love taking the content and shaping it into interesting stories for people to consume.” She added that she could never be on camera because she is “super awkward and … blotchy when I know there’s attention on me,” she laughed.
As for long-term goals she’s not quite sure what her next steps are.
“I feel like it’s always changing. If I stay in television it’s definitely to continue producing. I think it would be amazing to work on a lifestyle show someday. Being immersed in the entertainment world is pretty exciting because you get to rub shoulders with celebrities and experience cool things like the Grammys and red carpets. But I’m pretty interested in telling the stories of real people, or creating content that’s more applicable to everyday life.”
Although working on the red carpet is super exciting and extravagant she exclaimed that, “It’s not always as glamourous as it seems!”
“Often the media is all squished into a very small area, and you sometimes wait hours for the big stars to arrive… and then they walk right by without giving an interview,” she added.
At times her job can be physically tough. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been whacked in the head with a camera on a red carpet,” she said.
She then continued, “All of that is not to sound ungrateful — it’s still a really fun, exciting aspect of my job. I just like to pull back the curtain a little bit on what it’s really like out there!”
One thing’s for sure, her life in Toronto and her trips to the Grammys are far different from her life on the family farm. With all the experiences she’s had and all of the celebrities she has met, she is still the same farm girl from Toyes Hill as she was eight years ago. As they say, “You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl!”