British Columbia

Filming survival series in B.C. was an 'extreme sport,' producers say

Two Canadian writers and producers say they're excited to have the opportunity to shoot a television series in Canada without passing the landscape off as somewhere else.

Brendan Gall and Martin Gero excited to bring B.C. wilderness to Netflix in new series Keep Breathing

Melissa Barrera stars in the survival drama Keep Breathing on Netflix. (Netflix)

Showrunners Brendan Gall and Martin Gero say they've spent much of their film careers shooting Canada as a stand-in for other parts of the world or even a distant planet. 

But with their new Netflix survival series Keep Breathing, the pair hope to bring TV viewers from across the globe into the heart of the Canadian wilderness.

"We really wanted to, as Canadians, bring the world to Canada as Canada, and not have it be a substitution for something else,'' Gero said in a recent interview.

"We started to come on this idea of trying to figure out how to get all of the world to the Canadian wilderness in a way that could also be thrilling.''

The six-episode limited series follows New York lawyer Liv, played by In the Heights star Melissa Barrera, as she struggles against the elements after a plane crash leaves her stranded in the far reaches of Canada.

The B.C. production also had to contend with the forces of nature to capture the severity and serenity of the show's setting, said co-creators Gall and Gero, whose previous collaborations include the sci-fi TV thriller Blindspot.

Gero said last summer's shooting schedule was often dictated by conditions on the ground, with four-wheelers hauling heavy filming equipment through forests and up mountainsides to reach remote locations.

A couple of sites had to be nixed because the province placed them under fire watch, Gall added, and the crew was on a "razor's edge'' that a fire warning could shut down a shoot weeks into filming.

"The sort of extreme sport for us of making the show was taking these kinds of risks,'' said Gall, who was raised in
Halifax and lives in Toronto. "We just had to jump in, and we just were so lucky with what we got and what we were able to accomplish.''

Melissa Barrera plays the lead character, Liv, an attorney who is stranded in the middle of nowhere following a plane crash. (Netflix)

The showrunners didn't want to alter the natural beauty of the sets with too many visual effects. But they made an exception with many of the campfires seen on the show, using computer graphics instead of controlled open flames to avoid posing any risk to the environment. 

"We wanted to be stewards of the land,'' said Gero. "It was important for us to leave it as we found it.

''Keep Breathing is the latest in a slew of survival shows released during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It feels like there's a survivalist instinct that has been activated in all of us,'' said Gero. "I think watching the most extreme version of that onscreen can be deeply, deeply cathartic.''

Unlike other series in this genre, such as "Yellowjackets'' and "The Wilds" — which revolve around the group dynamics of survival — Keep Breathing's protagonist is alone, and her central conflict is with herself.

Gall says the lead character's internal struggle might resonate with viewers who are venturing back into the world after the extended isolation of COVID-19 lockdowns.

"She's incredibly competent as a lawyer. She's incredibly confident as a human in New York City. But she's been on sort of a full-time mission to keep herself from herself," he said.

"Along with having to survive, get enough to eat, and not die of the elements, she also is forced to sit with herself out there and sit in silence. She doesn't have anywhere to hide.''

"She's forced to kind of reconcile her past in order to move forward through this landscape and into her future hopefully.''

Keep Breathing starts streaming on Netflix on Thursday.

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