By Randi Altman
Looks are deceiving, and that familiar saying is at the heart of Netflix’s dramatic series Bloodline. The show focuses on the Rayburns, a respected family that runs a popular and long-standing beachfront hotel in the Florida Keys.
On the surface, they are pillars of the community and a perfect family, but when you dig below the surface they are a mess — long-standing family secrets, a black sheep with a criminal record, drug use, alcoholism. It’s all there.
Josh Beal at his stand-up desk.
So, if you are into intrigue, drug cartels, paranoia, gorgeous scenery and damn-good acting (Kyle Chandler was just nominated for a Lead Actor Emmy for his role as John, and Ben Mendelsohn got a nod for Supporting Actor for his role as Danny), the show’s first two seasons are available now for streaming.
Josh Beal joined the editing team of Bloodline around Episode 7 of Season 1 as the show’s only LA-based editor. The other three were in New York — Aaron Kuhn, Deborah Moran and Naomi Geraghty — working with East Coast-based show producers Daniel Zelman and Todd Kessler. Beal, at the time based at the Sony lot in Culver City, worked closely with producer Glenn Kessler, who was headquartered in Los Angeles.
Coming into Season 2, Glenn Kessler was the one who was going to be driving the episodes through editorial, so they moved the whole thing to LA. While Beal hesitates to be called the show’s main editor, he was the first one on and did cut the majority of episodes for Season 2, which is shot on a Sony F55 camera in 4K by DP Jaime Reynoso.
I reached out to editing veteran Beal, who uses the Avid Media Composer, to find out more about his process and the show’s workflow.
How many episodes would you say you cut for the second season?
I’m credited with four, but Bloodline is a unique show in that all of the editors — Lynne Willingham, Louise Innes, Sue Blainey and Michelle Tesoro — may end up working to some extent on episodes where they don’t get final credit. I’m credited as the primary editor on the second season’s last episode, but the other editors helped me out with it. That’s usually due to issues surrounding scheduling and the workload.
When did you start getting footage?
We received footage as soon as they started shooting. If they were shooting today I would be getting footage tomorrow morning, and it would just go like that through the production.
Camera files were uploaded to Sony’s 24p Dailies Lab from the shoot in Florida. The Avid media was then copied to a portable hard drive and delivered to our assistant editors each morning by our post assistant. Our assistant editors would then load the media onto our Avid ISIS and prep scenes for the editors.
Can you talk us through your workflow?
It followed a pretty typical workflow for episodic television. I would try to stay close to camera with the dailies and cut scenes as they were shot. Then I had a couple of days to put together my cut of the episode, which I would present to the director. The director would then get four days for the director’s cut, which would then be shown to producers. The producers then shared their cut with Sony and Netflix.
Often, in my case, the distinction between what was director cut and producer cut would start to break down because the majority of the episodes that I worked on for Season 2 were directed by one of the producers, with the exception of one. The typical division between those phases of the edit ceased to really apply and it all sort of became a long director’s cut, which was actually really great creatively to have that continuity.
The direction and feel of the show was established during season one. Can you talk about that?
One of the defining characteristics of the mood in Bloodline is a voyeuristic feel to the way a scene might be covered, and therefore the way a scene would be put together.
Sometimes there are behind-the-bushes kind of a shots that might pop up of in the middle of the scene in a way that is a little atypical. It gives the viewer a sense that they are always being watched, which is especially applicable thematically for Season 2. It heightens the sense of paranoia and unease. So editing-wise, it’s about finding a way to use that material and maximize that feeling while at the same time keeping the audience in the character’s perspective, keeping them in the scene.
As Season 2 progresses, John Rayburn’s world starts falling apart — you could feel his desperation. How did you handle that from an editing perspective?
At that stage, it’s trying to stay rooted in a character’s perspective and leaning into it and finding performance. Any decisions that you are making in terms of shot selection begin and end in large part with performance.
For example, with Kyle Chandler (John), I thought he was doing incredible work. Sometimes it was just about getting out of his way; it’s about watching the performance and trying to make that work first. It’s not so much a visual thing.
You edited the show on Media Composer. Do you use the script tool to help pick different takes?
I did for the first season, but I’ve never felt 100% comfortable with that tool. I did something else to help me with me with the sorts of problems that ScriptSync is intended to solve.
Can you talk about that a bit?
One of the challenges with it is you’ll have exceptionally long dialogue scenes. For example, two people sitting in an interrogation room speaking to one another. That kind of scene offers very few visual cues as to where you are within the text of the scene, and this is often what an editor might be going off of when looking for a specific line. If you want to audition line readings, especially when you are working with the producer in the room, you are frequently going off of these visual cues, but you don’t have many when it’s just people at a table.
My solution was every time someone spoke in the script, I’d put a number next to that chunk of dialogue. If a character’s name was mentioned for dialogue within the script it got a number. Then I would put a locator in my clip at that point — “L01, L02, L03 — all the way through the script. Then I would throw all the clips into a KEM roll in the Avid and sort that by the marker name in the marker window. I can also make notes as to whether or not I like a given reading over another. I can just see it listed in my description of it.
In fact, KZK (producers Glenn, Daniel and Todd) do something that I don’t often run into on other shows. They will write alternative lines into the script, and they’ll shoot it both ways. Then the decision gets made later as to which way it’s going to go in editorial.
Season 2 has a ton of flashback sequences. Did you have to tackle that in a different way?
One of the things that I appreciate about the way that flashbacks are handled on Bloodline is that they don’t talk down to the audience. We aren’t throwing some sepia tone effect on the flashbacks. There aren’t any flashy visual transitions in and out of the flashbacks. We are assuming that the audience will know pretty quickly where they are at within the timeline based on context.
In watching Bloodline, it almost seems sweat and alcohol play characters on the show.
Yes, it’s deeply threaded throughout the world created for the show. The sweat, I suspect, is simply unavoidable when it comes to shooting in the Keys. It is an element, however, that really helps sell the sense of place. It feels real because it is. It’s part of the atmosphere and is also something that perfectly dovetails into John and his siblings’ growing feelings of stress and dread.
The drinking was something that came up in conversation with producers and directors when we were chatting in the cutting room. All reports I heard are that indeed there’s a real drinking culture down there. It’s just another detail I think that adds to the strong sense of place the show excels at presenting.
Is there a particular scene that stands out to you as more challenging than others?
In Season 2, there is an episode where (Rayburn siblings) Kevin and Meg were being interrogated again by (police officer) Marco. They are very long scenes, just back and forth between Kevin and Marco and then between Meg and Marco.
The audience thinks that Kevin is going to blow it and that Meg has her shit together, but she is the one that steps in it and puts everything at risk. I really liked those sequences, but they are hard to cut because it’s just two people in a room talking and yet the scenes had to have a shape. They had to twist and turn based on subtleties of performance. I often find those to be among the more challenging scenes because they can begin in a very unruly state and it’ll take time to carve them out just right.
When Glenn first saw those scenes he wanted to put a slightly different emphasis and rhythm to some of the performance — a slightly different intent to come across in the interaction between the characters. These were scenes that we worked on and modified quite a bit for the better as we went along.
Do you have a general philosophy about editing?
I guess my philosophy is not to get lost in the weeds, and try to keep perspective on the story. Try to always keep the big picture in mind, because there is all the minutia of editing. How can I get this cut to match? Or, how can I cut out this section that I’m being asked to remove without making the whole thing seem clunky? That type of thing is important but it can’t be the only way you look at the cut.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new show starring Pierce Brosnan based on a novel called The Son. It’ll air on AMC next year. It’s like a great American history lesson that follows a South Texas family over the course of multiple generations. It begins with the story of the family patriarch who builds a financial empire first in the cattle industry and later in oil. The storyline goes all the way up to the present.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I would like to emphasize how collaborative Bloodline was. Lynne and Louise and the other editors on the show are phenomenally talented. I was honored to be among them. I learned a lot working with them. That collaboration, for me, is one of the high points of working on the series. I’ve worked on shows where I hardly ever talked to the other editors, but we got to talk shop and bounce ideas off each other a bit. That was a really fun part of the show for me.