Creator Todd A. Kessler talks about Emmy-nominated series Bloodline and Netflix

Creator Todd A. Kessler on how working with SVOD platform Netflix enhanced the creativity of Emmy-nominated Bloodline

By James Manning

When Netflix launched in Australia earlier this year they brought in a planeload of executives and talent to talk about the SVOD service. Under the new model they are rolling out around the world, Netflix is making complete series available on the same day. One of their 2015 original series is Bloodline starring Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn.

Both Kyle Chandler (John Rayburn) and Ben Mendelsohn (Danny Rayburn) have been nominated for Emmy Awards. Mediaweek recently spoke with one of Bloodlines’ creators, Todd A. Kessler.

“I created Bloodlines with my brother Glenn and our long-term writing and producing partner Daniel Zelman,” Todd told Mediaweek. Prior to Bloodline the three creative partners created Damages with Glenn Close and Rose Byrne.

“We did five seasons of Damages and when we finished we were searching for our next idea. We realised that family was a topic of conversation between us for at least the 25 years that we have known Daniel. We come from very similarly structured families – both of our families have three sons and each set of parents has been married over 50 years. As we started to think about that and the dynamics within the families, one of the topics that was that we can be trapped within the roles in families.

“We realised we wanted to tackle the family drama genre. It felt like we would have to add something to it to give it cut through. We decided to merge it with a thriller. Bloodline is the story of a family of four adult siblings who all live in the Florida Keys. The parents are played by Sam Shepherd and Sissy Spacek and they run an inn.

“The eldest sibling, played by Ben Mendleson whose character name is Danny, is the black sheep of the family. The story starts with Danny deciding he wants to come home and rejoin the family. Life would be easier if he just didn’t show up…Life would be much easier if he didn’t come to Christmas. He tends to bring problems with him.

“It is storytelling very much inspired by Body Heat and Cape Fear. Also Fatal Attraction and the granddaddy of them all – Crime and Punishment.”

Kessler said the series was developed independently of where they would sell it. “We eventually pitched the show to a number of outlets. We ended up going to seven or eight cable outlets including HBO, Showtime, FX, AMC and Netflix. We were very lucky in that all eight places we went to wanted the show. Netflix was very enthusiastic and from just our pitch ordered a first series of 13 episodes. After making a decision we tailored the series to the Netflix experience.

We were able to approach our storytelling as a 13-hour movie. Knowing the episodes would all be available at once changed the writing style and the audience experience. You can try that with a show rolled out once a week, but you lose that nuance.”

Kessler said at the pitch meetings they talked about the lead actors who they ended up getting. “Some people go into pitches with 10-minute versions or 20-minute versions. We have had meetings cancelled because we said there is no 10-minute version. We said if you want to hear it, it is over an hour.”

Kessler said pitching a story about families touched on a universal theme that anybody could identify with. As to how his own family relationships handle working together, Todd said of working with brother Glenn: “We do everything together and we trust each other implicitly. We trust each other creatively and in business, in some ways we are almost interchangeable although we do have very different tastes. The storytelling is more nuanced because it is not just one person’s version.”

When making a series for Netflix, Kessler said they could approach it more as making a movie. “Some episodes had hooks, others didn’t. In some the hook comes three scenes before the final scene. It is a much more immersive, cohesive experience for an audience.

Production started in February 2014 on the series and they finished shooting in November that year. “When you work in network TV episodes often start airing before you are finished filming. With Netflix we had to finish all the episodes beforehand which gave us the ability to add something to an earlier episode or to move something around. It really enabled us to tailor a unique experience for the audience. That’s a big advantage for storytelling.”

Todd said he and his partners will be working together on a second season of Bloodline to screen on Netflix in 2016.

[blockquote style=”3″] TODD KESSLER noted that not many productions actually shoot in the Florida Quays because it is a very challenging location. “When we went to pitch the show we said we wanted to shoot in Florida. Netflix supported our decision to go and film there.”[/blockquote]

Photo: Kyle Chandler (John Rayburn) and Ben Mendelsohn (Danny Rayburn) in the Netflix original series Bloodline

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