“Serial Killer Has A Baby” Henry Jacobson & Avra Fox-Lerner On ‘Bloodline’
The Blumhouse-produced film Bloodline has an obvious family-friendly feel to it. A father who would do anything to protect his family from harm, is the stuff of a Lifetime movie, right? But what if daddy was a serial killer who just had his first child? The tone of the movie suddenly changes a bit. And what if the daddy was called Evan (Sean William Scott of American Pie fame), and he had serious daddy issues of his own? (see picture above) Wait a minute. This doesn’t sound like a heart-warming indie drama of a family battling adversity at all.
Blumhouse already had Bloodline on their slate by screenwriter Will Honley. It was pitched by director Henry Jacobson as “A serial killer has a baby, and hilarity ensues.” Is it a family comedy about a killer dad? Serial killer doesn’t really scream traditional family values… does it? Bloodline is a horror film, with lots of blood and all.
Jacobson reached out to his long-time screenwriter friend Avra Fox-Lerner who helped him to breathe new life into Bloodline.
“The original script had the core idea of a serial killer having a baby,” said Henry. Although we started a new screenplay from scratch, we never strayed from this core idea. “We kept original characters and took them in different directions,” added Avra Fox-Lerner.
After they settled on a new draft they showed it to the Blumhouse development team and Sean William Scott for feedback. Jacobson and Fox-Lerner initially wanted to make Bloodline darker, gorier and bloodier, but dialed it back to dive into the thematic elements of family relationships.
Henry Jacobson’s wife was pregnant at the time, so Bloodline was a timely outlet for him to express his fears of impending fatherhood and fear of messing up his son. Avra Fox-Lerner’s approach was more family-centric, while Jacobson’s was much darker. “It’s a story about a nuclear family and the United States American dream. But the only way they can exist in their middle-class dream is by killing other people,” said Fox-Lerner who has a daughter. She also understands that family is beautiful, but it can also be terrifying and brutal. Henry went darker and more sinister.
“I think it has a misanthropic approach and all the evil that comes from the nuclear family,” said Jacobson. “We learn how to love and ‘take care of things’ that threaten our families.” We took a quick break to check on Henry and Avra’s kids. Both were fine so we continued our interview.
“Bloodline shows the two-sided personality of Evan,” declared Jacobson. “The pleasant side we show our families and the secrets we keep. Who we are in our darkest times?” he elaborated. “As a child, you are who you are, but also the projection of your parents. As you grow up, your parents aren’t who you think you are. They are not your heroes anymore. For me, it’s the dichotomy of relationships of who we are and who we pretend to be.” This really gets into the crux of Evan’s psychopathy.
After another quick check on their kids and extended families, we asked Henry Jacobson and Avra Fox-Lerner about their film inspirations. They went to school together and enjoy similar kinds of horror movies. “Our favorite horror movies are funny, tongue in cheek, and campy,” declared Henry. He cites Sam Raimi and Wes Craven as major influencers.
But comedy can’t be used just for the sake of comedy. “We use comedy to break up the dread in horror and that can be used as a screenwriting tool,” added Avra. “The great thing about humor is that it falsely puts you at ease and when the killer sneaks in, it gets you a little bit deeper because you’ve opened yourself up in a way,” she continued.
A Sense Of Style
The filmmakers were asked what makes Bloodline unique and different from other horror films.
“The visual style,” they both answered in unison. “The punchy, editorial elements of the film were written that way.” The filmmakers wanted their film to be based in L.A. and blend the noir elements of the 30s and 40s with elements of the 80s. There were even current references.
“I wanted saturated colors, odd angles, and split diopter shots,” announced Henry. “In some ways, it alienated the viewer and in others, it forced them to look up and experience the style as they were watching the story unfold.”
“Some heightened, detective dialogue was almost pulled from B-grade noir movies from the 40s,” said Henry. “It was highly stylized. It wasn’t true to life.”
From the outset of their writing collaboration, they had a very clear vision of the type of movie they wanted to make. “We wanted to make something that we wanted to watch that wasn’t’ one hundred percent the thriller-horror genre,” said Avra. ” The type of influences. When we were writing it, we had already talked about the tiny stuff. We talked about shading and tone.”
Their writing process speaks to the importance of outlining. “Building as much of the cinematic vision into the script allows the reader to see the world we created more clearly,” said Henry. “Even the editorial timing was in the screenplay.”
A strong screenplay ensures the reader has the experience the screenwriters intended. “I didn’t feel like I was giving away the baby as many screenwriters often do,” said Ava.
The writing process all started with long conversations about what the movie might be. “Then we started sending each other movies, books, and even interviews,” recalled Fox-Lerner. “Then we hash out the outline together. I wrote a draft of Bloodline and gave it Henry. Then he wrote another draft and gave it to me.” The process of relay writing continued over a few months.
We asked Henry Jacobson and Avra Fox-Lerner what they wanted the audience to take away from the film given its unclear conclusion. “We don’t want the audience to take away anything specific,” mused Jacobson. “I like endings that ask the questions. I don’t want to wrap it up in a bow and tell you how to feel. I like movies that I keep thinking about and ask questions about long after I’ve seen them.”
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