Danielle Fishel Talks Directing Tubi Original Film 'Classmates' (Exclusive)

Danielle Fishel may best be known as Topanga on Boy Meets Worldbut the '90s icon has become a prolific director, having taken the helm of many popular television shows. Now she has lent her talents to the Tubi original film Classmates, a fun identity-switch comedy starring Anjelica Bette Fellini (The French Dispatch) and Kayden Muller-Janssen (The Villains of Valley View). Now, in an exclusive interview with PopCulture, Fishel talks about working on Classmates, her future aspirations as a director, and launching the "largest Boy Meets World reunion yet!" Read on for more.

Can you tell us what Classmates is about in your own words and why we should look forward to it? 

Yes, Classmates is about friendship and self-discovery, and it's very fun. I really wanted to do this project because, well, for one thing, I got to work with incredible female actors, and I was just very excited about women-led projects. And so that was one of the main things that drew me to it. 

This was a joint project with your husband, Jensen Karp, who wrote the film while you directed it. Who initially came up with the idea? 

It was a conversation between Jensen and I. Jensen always has really great ideas, so I think the original concept was his, and then we just talked it out a lot, and he then ended up writing the script. And, of course, it went through a million different changes. You come up with an original concept, and you start putting it down on paper, and then you find a great partner like Tubi, and then you send it to them, and they have notes. And so from where it was when we started to where it was when we ended, it went through a million different iterations, but Jensen was the primary idea guy.

And what was it like to work with the young stars of classmates Anjelica Bette Fellini and Kayden Muller-Janssen? 

It was absolutely phenomenal. I had already worked with Kayden on the show she's on called The Villains of Valley View. I was fortunate enough to direct multiple episodes in their first season and now again in their second season. And so I was very familiar with Kayden. I absolutely loved her. I actually really pushed for her to get the role in this movie because I knew that she was perfect for it. And Anjelica was just amazing. I had one meeting with her. I felt like she really understood the character. She right away wanted to talk to me about what kind of hair, what kind of haircut do you think this character has, and what do you think her style is. And she just, she got it, and working with them was amazing. We did this movie very quickly. We did the entire movie in 13 and a half days. And so they had to have pages and pages of dialogue memorized every single day. And they both always showed up ready to play, ready to work. And their dynamic was really fun to watch.

And did you have any guidance or any mentoring from anyone going into this major project, or were you just kind of going at it solo and on your own? 

I thankfully had Rider Strong, who was with me on Boy Meets World. He has directed multiple feature films before, and I trust him implicitly and knew he really knew what he was doing. And I felt very out of my element because while I have had a very fortunate career directing multi-camera sitcoms, I had never directed a single camera project before, and so I felt very over my head, and I felt like, oh my gosh, what if I fumble this? You know, I like to be good at the things that I do, and I was worried I wasn't going to be good at it. And so Rider, thankfully, took some time and sat down with me and walked me through things and looked over my shot list with me. And then I also had an amazing DP (Director of photography) on this project who was Christopher Gosch. I absolutely adored him, and he really helped me come up with the shot list and what we wanted to see from it and come up with some fun original ideas, so I had both of them.

Last year you received an Emmy nomination for directing an episode of Raven's Home. With that early success and now your work with Tubi and all the other directing you've been doing, what is the long-term goal you would like to pursue in the future regarding directing?

I'm so lucky that so many of my dreams are still really coming true in this world of directing. Like I just got to direct my first network television show. I got to direct for NBC on Lopez vs. Lopez. And up until that point, I had only directed Disney Channel multi-cams, and I love the multi-camera world. It's what I grew up doing. It feels very comfortable for me. I love working with actors in that medium. With that said, there aren't that many multi-cams out there, so I am absolutely open to the idea of doing another feature, but multi-cams are really where I just absolutely thrive. So I'd like to do more of those, and whether that's for Disney Channel, who's always been an amazing partner with me, or moving into the network side, I'm just happy to keep working. 

And is there any chance that you'll return to acting in the future? 

That's a good question. I think it would have to be the right project. There's a couple of things I would love to do. One, I loved being a mom on a multi-camera sitcom. It was great doing Girl Meets World. Playing Topanga as a mother was a real highlight for me as far as I just loved it. I'm very maternal. It's just, it's funny, and it's warm, and you get to be this character that I feel comfortable in. And then, of course, if there were some amazing character job that I got to do, I would be open to it too. But really, I feel like I'm really thriving in this second stage of my career as a director. Now to kind of pivot to Boy Meet's World. You and the rest of the cast will be reuniting at 90s Con to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the sitcom. How did that come about, and are there any surprises for the convention? 

 I don't know all of the details that have been released yet, so there may still be some surprises. Matt Lawrence, Rider Strong, Will Friedle, Trina McGee, and myself did 90s Con last year in Connecticut, in Hartford. And we had a great time there. It was so much fun. And then when this year came around, we weren't able to do Hartford this year, but they told us they were doing Tampa, and that was a little bit of a secret. And what they told us was they wanted to make this the largest Boy Meets World reunion yet. So I don't know everybody who's been announced, but I do know Lee Norris is joining us. So yes, there may still be some surprises, but it's going to be incredible. Betsy [Randle] and [William Russ] Rusty, who played Amy and Alan Matthews, are going to be there. So I'm really looking forward to that. That should be a truly incredible weekend to have all of us together again. That's great. 

What, for you, is the hardest part about being a director, and how is that compared to being an actor in that situation? 

I think the hardest part actually ties into the acting side is that I, so relate to the actors, and I know exactly what they're feeling, and I know some of the struggles of being an actor on, whether it's a film or a multicam where, you know, somebody has something in their mind. A writer or an executive has something in their mind the way that they want it, and they want the actor to give them that. But then it takes away some of the actor's agency, some of the actors thinking of like, "but I wanna say it this way. I think this is funniest." Or "I think this is smartest," or, "I think this is unique and different enough."

And you want to give them the opportunity to do that. But you also have to make your executive happy or the writer happy. And as the director, you're a little bit in between the two of them. You need to make this person happy, but as for me, I so can relate to what the actor is going through. And so, the hardest part is probably trying to find the happy medium between never wanting to take away the agency of the actor but also making sure your bosses and your writers are also happy with the performances that you're getting. But that's also the most fun part, like that collaboration, and that building of a character and the building of the deliveries is what makes it so fulfilling to me. It's like you see the product on day one, and then you see the product at the end, and you're like, wow, we did that. Like we did that.

Also, going back to you talking about there not being as many multi-cam shows on the air, why do you think that is? Do you think that there's a possibility that we could see a resurgence and that that kind of traditional sitcom coming back? We still have some of them on network television, but do you have any insight into why they've petered out a bit? 

I think people have gotten so used to... everything now is shot in a single camera way, and it makes it feel more real. The multi-camera performing, feeling like you're on a stage and it's like performing in theater, is just starting to become a little outdated. Which is unfortunate because I think it's very comforting, and honestly, If there isn't going to be a resurgence of multi-cams, there should be, I think there is an appetite for it now, maybe more than ever. And I think the multi-cams that are out there are really succeeding right now. And that should be a sign to people and to networks that people want more of this, and it feels good.

It feels comforting. And even if you think you want the drama and the intensity and the feeling like you're right there with the single cam, for a lot of people, what we're looking for when we turn to television is an escape. Because so much of what is actually going on in the world is also so heavy that when you go to tv, you're going to it for a sense of comfort and to laugh and to maybe shut your brain off for a little bit. And multi-cam gives you that ability more than anything else. 

And what do you have coming up next? 

Well, like I mentioned, I've been directing first, season two of The Villains of Valley View, which is just one of my favorite places to be, such a wonderful group of people. And I get to reunite with Kayden every time I'm there so that always makes me happy. And then I have directed the first season of another Disney Channel show called Pretty Freaking Scary. And that show premieres this summer. And I'm really excited for people to see that project as well. And then, obviously, we've got the premiere of Classmates, which I'm super excited about. So those are the big things.

Currently, Classmates is available to stream on Tubi now.