An exchange of perspectives: Todd A Kessler and Eric Rochant
by Aurore Engelen
- At the Série Series Festival, Todd A Kessler (Damages, Bloodline) and Eric Rochant (Le Bureau des Légendes) exchange their points of view on showrunners
Todd A Kessler contributed to the resurgence of American TV series. A writer, director and producer, his work on the cult series The Sopranos, and the two series he created, Damages and then Bloodline, established him as a television great all over the world. Eric Rochant, for his part, made a name for himself in film, with Love Without Pity, The Patriots, and more recently Möbius. After working on the series Mafiosa, he created Le Bureau des Légendes, which was aired this year on Canal Plus. The two writers, who have already crossed paths at writing workshops in New York, exchange their points of view as two writers from opposing shores of the Atlantic at the Série Series Festival.
Although I don’t look it, I’m the youngest showrunner between us, Todd is a veteran, he was even a sort of mentor for me. I went to see him in New York, I wanted to be this guy, have his job, and that gave me new perspectives on how to make TV series in France.
I made 8 feature films before taking the plunge into TV series. It’s a new world for me, although I have no intention of abandoning film. I wrote for Mafiosa, I directed, but I just tried to make the project my own, it wasn’t my creation. Obviously, I wanted to make my own series, so I came up with the concept for Bureau des Légendes.
Todd A Kessler
I started working in television at the age of 24, 18 years ago. I learnt on the job, watching other showrunners work. I started out as what we call a staff writer, and then slowly but surely, climbed the ranks. I most notably worked on The Sopranos, and then went on to create my own series, Damages, with my brother and a childhood friend. We made 5 seasons, then launched Bloodlines, which Netflix has just broadcast the first season of.
In Bloodlines there are very long one-on-one meetings between the characters, which we’re not used to seeing in American series. It takes a bit of nerve to take the time to place the characters. It reminds me of Bergmann’s films. In France, a family drama would be based essentially on the way the different members of the family behave and interact with one another. In the United States, a family drama is more often based on an initial shared moment of trauma that explains the behaviour of the characters. We talk about the “primitive scene”. This type makes for a better story. You can say what you like, but at the end of the day, there has to be an element of spectacle there.
I find that these days, stylistic borders are becoming more and more porous, and we draw inspiration from one another, all the more so now that we have direct and almost instant access to the work of writers all over the world. What we have in common, is that we have both made genre series in our time, throwing the rulebook out the window. Eric made a spy series. We made a family drama, in which the characters dominate the story. We introduce them to the viewer, and the viewer is invited to form his own opinion. The thriller aspect only comes into play very late on in the season, four episodes before the end. Bloodlines is about family, and more specifically, about the roles we play or are given within the family unit. And clearly, about what happens when a person suddenly decides to change their role.
(Translated from French)