The Netflix limited series Keep Breathing, starring Melissa Barrera, debuted on Netflix July 28, 2022. Ahead of the premiere, we spoke with executive producers and co-showrunners Brendan Gall and Martin Gero about bringing the show to life. Read our full conversation below.
One thing that stood out to me is that Liv confronting her past is probably the most harrowing part of the story, even more so than what she’s going through after the plane crash. Was emphasizing that aspect of this story always the intention?
Brendan: No, the original intention was to keep it very much rooted in the present, and Liv’s present set of obstacles and circumstances. Then what we realized was that with the scope of six episodes, we were craving a deeper understanding of who this person was, and what brought them to this forest. So we started to figure out who this person was, what made her interesting, and why she was the most interesting person to drop here.
Martin: The reality, too, is most of us are not dealing with our shit. We live in a world where it’s very easy not to deal with your shit. There’s your phone, there’s television, there’s work. As we started breaking the forest story, we realized that in the solitude there, you can’t hide from who you are anymore. It’s going to bubble up. The show starts as quick, little, impressionistic flashes of her past, and then the longer she’s there, the more elaborate those scenes start to be. And then she starts interacting with her past in a way. It’s funny that it was not the intent originally, but it immediately grew to what the show is about.
Brendan: It’s nice to hear you say that it was, in some ways, the most harrowing part, because what was important for us was that this character has been kind of on a full-time mission to avoid her past. For the character, in some ways, her past and dealing with it is the most dangerous. It feels the most dangerous emotionally to her to have to reconcile these things that she’s gone through and not dealt with fully.
What sets this apart from other stories of survival is that element of Liv being forced to confront her past because she’s in a place where she can’t avoid it any longer. What can you share about your process of striking that balance between the action following the plane crash and Liv’s flashbacks?
Martin: That backstory changes what the show is in a slow and imperceivable way. When it starts, the balance is heavy on survival. In the first couple of episodes, that’s the most immediate thing. Once Liv starts to get her legs under herself, it allowed us to take what would otherwise be a very linear story. It’s hard to surprise an audience in a story like that, whereas suddenly, who she was and what she’s dealing with becomes the mystery of the show. Those emotional reveals start to have more and more weight as you get deeper into it.
What would you say some of the advantages are of working in a shorter format, both with the number of episodes and the length of the episodes?
Brendan: The ability to let the story and the material dictate what it wants to be in terms of length and number of episodes, Netflix is incredibly generous in their willingness to listen to creators. As opposed to being at the mercy of a 42-minute format with 22 episodes a season, we got to figure out what this container needed to be to hold the story we wanted to tell. We got to do it on the page, and then we got to do it again in the editing suite as we found out how long we wanted to watch someone build a fire, hold their breath underwater and all of the procedural elements.
Martin: Yeah, we all thought the episodes were going to be longer. Originally it was going to be an eight-episode idea, and then as we were writing it, we were like, “We think it’s six.” Episodes were supposed to be in the 40-50 minute range but as were editing it, we realized it didn’t want to be that. Netflix was flexible and supportive in finding the show. Also, when you’re working on almost any other project, there’s a firm deadline, whereas we’ve been in post-production on this show for over a year, which is unheard of. I hope it shows in the final product. It’s so much more polished and feels purposeful.
I absolutely love the way this series ended. Are you prepared for the questions that viewers are going to have after they finish that last episode?
Brendan: Absolutely. We want them to have those questions. I think that’s the fun. Those are my favorite shows, the ones you argue about the next day with people about what something meant, why something happened the way it happened, and what was real and what wasn’t.
Did you have any final thoughts you wanted to share about bringing this series to life?
Martin: I don’t think we can leave any interview without talking about how incredibly badass Melissa Barrera is. This show lives and dies on her incredible talent and determination. Aside from being an acting challenge, this was a severe physical challenge. She not only met it, but she also rose above what we thought we were going to be able to pull off. She’s basically in every frame of the show. There’s no green screen. We did this all out in the wilderness for real. You can tell there’s a texture to it. That’s really her under the water in a lake swimming towards a plane. It’s pretty incredible.
Brendan: Your best collaborators elevate you and Melissa, with her sheer force of will, elevated everyone around her to bring the very best they had as humans and artists. It was such a phenomenal experience to be a part of and to witness.
Image courtesy of Netflix