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‘Keep Breathing’ showrunners on the ‘extreme sport’ of shooting survival series in B.C.

“Keep Breathing” starts streaming on Netflix on Thursday
Actor Melissa Barrera as Liv in a scene from an episode of “Keep Breathing.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Ricardo Hubbs/Netflix

Canadian showrunners Brendan Gall and Martin Gero say they’ve spent much of their careers shooting Canada as a stand-in for other places as far off as Los Angeles or a distant planet.

But in their new Netflix survival show, “Keep Breathing,” Gall and Gero say they wanted to transport viewers to a part of the country that’s just as otherworldly, if less often seen onscreen.

“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.”

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

A couple of locations 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 warning could shut down a shoot weeks into filming.

“That was 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.”

The showrunners didn’t want to alter the natural beauty of the sets by with lots of visual effects, Gero said. But they made an exception for many of the computer-generated campfires seen on the show, he said, suggesting a controlled open flame would pose too much of a 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 spate of survival shows that have been released during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Gero said he thinks the timing is no coincidence.

“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.”

While other series in this genre, such as “Yellowjackets” and “The Wilds,” revolve around the group dynamics of survival, the protagonist of “Keep Breathing” is alone, so her central conflict is with herself, said Gero.

It’s an internal struggle that might resonate with viewers who are venturing back into the world after the extended isolation of COVID-19 lockdown, Gall added.

“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, 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.

– Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press