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The last thing my mom ever sent me was a text message. Something's wrong.

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Your dad is your father did many great things in his life. But I've been looking at some other things, and I'm offering you a chance to help me tell the truth about him. Let's just assume we know everything about everything, OK? We need to tell. From one theory, this is a special behind the scenes look at blood ties. I'm Lindsey Graham, the host of Wonderings American Scandal and executive producer of 1865. Today, though, I'm here to talk about blood ties and bring you some good news.

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Although season one has come to an end. Season two will be out later this year on this episode. We'll be talking to some of the people who made blood ties.

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The writer Benjamin Gray and the series director Marshall Louis. But first, my name is Gillian Jacobs and I play Eleanor Richler, Josh Gad, and I'm playing Michael in blood ties.

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It's something that I'm excited to be a part of because I obsessively listen to podcasts and we hope you'll obsessively listen to this one as we talk to the two lead actors of blood ties.

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When Gillion and Josh started recording blood ties, they didn't realize that their paths had already crossed a few years back.

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Jillian and I were in the booth yesterday and we were talking and. And she said that she was from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And I said, oh, yeah, I went to Carnegie Mellon drama.

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And my acting teacher in high school was an acting teacher at Carnegie Mellon. So she would very graciously let me come and sit in on her acting classes. And so I was this much younger, you know, awkward high school student hanging around these cool college students.

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And I totally flashed back and remembered this young blonde Kearl, who's a few years younger than us, sitting in our classes observing.

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And I was the weirdo in the corner who is probably too nervous to talk to them. So there are a lot of alums of Carnegie Mellon that I have re met over the years and said we actually met when I was that weirdo in the back of your freshman acting class. And I got. Oh, my God. That was you.

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And here we are now professionally working with each other for the first time. So that that was wild.

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Josh, I think, has incredible charm about him, which is very useful when you're playing a character like Michael who needs to sort of fool people and cross some ethical lines but remain endearing to the audience. Throughout it all and I think he has, you know, dramatic chops that are called upon in this as well.

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Gillion is so wonderful because she's so beautifully emotive without doing much.

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Eleanor and Michael have very different approaches to life problems and everything else. They do have a bond because they are siblings and they sort of had the same trauma from their father. And they're part of a very small club of people who know what it's like to be the children of Dr. Peter Richland, but they really diverge as people.

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Eleanor is somebody who wants to pursue certain truths to their bitter end, put emphasis on bitter and somebody who very much relies on her brother's opinion but is not afraid to go her own way if that's what's required. Michael tries to protect her not only from the world, but from herself. You know, they have a a relationship that I think is reflected in a lot of siblings who will listen to this. I can relate to the way Michael handles pressure to certain extent when ever dealing with, you know, a big issue or or something involving loss or where something that is critical.

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I always go to my family to discuss it, specifically my two brothers.

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And I think that that was one of the things that really attracted me to the script is that, you know, Michael's relationship with his sister, Ellas, is pivotal to the story. Gillian Jacobs and Josh Gad are, of course, accomplished actors, having played many roles on TV and in film. So how did they think about working on a podcast? I am a big podcast listener. You know, I he was late to the party.

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I remember listening to Dirty Jon. About two years ago. And I was like, this is crazy. Have you guys heard this story and found out that I was like the last person who had listened to it. But, you know, the podcast that I sort of find myself addicted to are historical nonfiction podcasts. I'm obsessed right now. It's a podcast called 1865, which is so good and so cool, especially for a history buff like myself. It relives the events immediately after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

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And it does it in such a visceral, such an exciting, in such a compelling way.

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I think people have really figured out how to tell stories in a way that engages you week to week. A lot of times with the non-fiction ones, these incredibly compelling stories that reveal something about our world, these kind of outlandish characters that live among us. And then I think that also has sort of made people realize like, oh, yeah, radio plays were popular for a reason. TV kind of count the radio play, but they engaged thousands and millions of people for decades for a good.

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Reason. You know, I think it's really exciting to have every other tool usually at your disposal as an actor stripped away from you. You know, when when you're forced to tell a story with just your voice, it Rahul, he makes you vulnerable because you can't hide behind anything. You're naked to a certain extent. And so the emotion that needs to be conveyed, the attitude that needs to be conveyed. The suspense that needs to be conveyed.

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The comedy that needs to be conveyed. All of it simply comes down to a range of notes and an emotional wherewithal that that, you know, you have to just be willing to be as honest and truthful about as possible.

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I think Blood Ties has all the elements of your favorite wondering shows. But this time, it's a scripted drama. And I think it's crafted beautifully to keep you wanting more.

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Episode after episode, Blood Ties, it kind of mixes everything I love. Nic, great story.

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You really don't know what exactly is going on. You don't know what anyone's agenda really is. You don't know if everything that you're being presented is fact or fiction.

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I think that's. People are very fascinated by the world of the ultra rich and how their power and privilege means that they move through the world, through the legal system, through business, their dealings with government. You know, there are many ways in which having wealth and power and privilege grease the wheels in our world. And I think that this piece addresses a lot of those. And what does it mean to have grown up in that world and to maybe have your eyes open for the first time about the ramifications and the consequences of that and what happens if you try to make a change?

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A scripted audio drama like Blood Ties has a lot of moving parts actors, casting directors, sound designers and, of course, writers. I spoke with Marshall Louie, the director of Blood Ties and Wonder is chief content officer and Benjamin Great, the writer and cocreator the series to learn a little more about what went into creating blood ties. Ben Marshall, thanks for talking to me today. Thanks, Lindsey. Thanks for having me.

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So first off, it's fabulous to see an all your drama get so much attention. But I imagine for for many people, an audio drama might be new for them. How did this how did this project come about?

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The story you started with with Marshall?

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I think in February of last year, Marshall sent me short idea he had for a dramatic series, just the basics of the story, that some adult son and daughter of a prominent man who's just passed away suddenly and what they learned about him and about themselves after his his death. And then we kind of we went back and forth and flesh it out from ah. From from there. Yeah.

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And Ben has contributed a lot to it. I had probably two pages or something that we had worked out. One of the things that wonder he was looking for and making this sort of reentry into audio drama was something that would touch on what a lot of people love about. A lot of the nonfiction reported shows that we've done like a Dr Death or over my dead body. And we felt like the things that people get excited about in those stories besides the mystery and the thrilling aspect of them, is a lot of family ties and the family relationships.

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So that the genesis of this story, the seed of it, was really this idea of a brother and a sister and this family that is put under immense stress and they have to deal with it without it being something that could never be replicated the way that something like Dirty John tells a true story that is stranger than anything you could ever come up with in fiction.

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You know, this is a this is a story that resembles, you know, headlines that we've seen in the past couple years. And Marshall, I remember you saying you felt like a fictional me two story was was long overdue. But the point of entry here was it was an emotional one. And we weren't telling the story of, you know, just of the of the reporter or of the of the police. But we were actually telling the story of these children who are basically innocent bystanders in this.

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And so from the get go, we're not working from ethically kind of pristine. Point of point of view. And so we have to watch these these are grown children be in a state of conflict from the very start. And whether they're innocent of all this or or guilty or complicit is is unclear and and complicated in a way that I thought was really compelling.

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And I think when it comes to audio drama, a lot of them have been focused on a kind of almost like the equivalent of a found footage movie where it's found tapes or it's a reporter who's trying to uncover a mystery. And we really want to stay away from that. It's something that Lindsay actually I really appreciate and the audio dramas that you've done like in 1865, where you don't make a an excuse for why we're listening to it. We are just experiencing it with the characters.

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One of the advantages of audio drama podcast in general is that they are so intimate, there's very little between the creators and the listener. So much is necessarily stripped away and just left up to the imagination. But blood ties also tackle some very sensitive topics and audios. Intimacy might have been perilous for a story like this.

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I think that this this story was actually was perfect to tell in a in a fictional setting, because this is a this is a topic that has a lot of a lot of political angles and a lot of a lot of ethical angles. And I think that just the ability to put the audience in the shoes of a family that is experiencing this is so powerful. And just to be able to ask the audience, what would you do if you heard if you heard things like this about about your own your own father?

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I think it's a I think it's a really fascinating approach. From the feedback that we've gotten, the portrayal of how Dr. Richland used his authority and the ways in which that was covered up or obviously ripped from the headlines and feel true, there are amazing, true books and now podcasts out there about it, whether it's she said in the episodes that The Daily have done or the Catch and Kill podcast and book that Ronan Farrow wrote the tell the story about around Harvey Weinstein and some other people who we draw inspiration from for Dr.

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Richland. And so we wanted to make sure that we we were this felt true. And and Eleanor's reaction to experiencing this felt true. But as Ben said earlier, you know, the main focus of the narrative is around power and how Eleanor and Michael are reacting to a piece of news like this happening about somebody that's close to them and has both emotional implications and then also real, you know, financial social implications for what it means if you're going to expose somebody like that.

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But, you know, it's it's it's obviously a really sensitive territory. And we wanted to be mindful of it. Take a moment and visualize your closet. You've got your basics. Your favorites, work clothes, your play clothes. See some things, though, that you never wear. Wouldn't it be nice to swap those pieces with something fresh, something you'll actually put on? You can with thread up the easy way to sell what you don't wear and replace it all with amazing clothes for a fraction of the price all at once and thread up.

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What is it like to produce or direct an audio drama like this martial?

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Well, it's been interesting to see the feedback. There are certain number of people who listen to it, and I think they weren't sure whether it was true or not. And that speaks to the kind of immersive way that we tell some of our stories in general, even when they are true. So we certainly weren't trying to deceive anybody with this with this audio drama. We wanted people to understand right from the beginning that these were actors and this was a fictional story.

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It definitely pulls from the headlines things that have come up around the Metoo movement and reassessing people, and particularly men who had a lot of power, have a lot of power and how they use it. And we use the character that Gillian Jacobs plays, Eleanor, as our main conduit for that and seeing her having kind of one image of her father that no one ever challenged because she was the daughter. Right. She was like the daughter of this famous guy.

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And no one ever told her the truth. So now, right on the heels of of of her father's disappearance or death, she gets thrown this massive curveball of what her father was really like. And, you know, that, as Ben said, is kind of puts you in the shoes of somebody in a way that I think audio is a really great way to put somebody emotionally at the center of a story.

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Well, and I'd also say just from the from the perspective of of writing this, unlike in film and television, you know, when you write a story and audio, you're just giving the audience the bare minimum. You know, you're giving them a couple of voices and you're giving them a few sound effects. And the rest is up to the listeners own imagination. You know what these people actually look like? What kind of car do they drive? What kind of clothes do they wear?

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Even how they're feeling in a particular moment? Because you can't see their faces. That's all supplied by the listener. And so what's really exciting for me is to think about, you know, if the millions of people who have listened to blood ties are a million different Michaels and a million different Eleanore's in a million different worlds that this story takes place in.

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This was the first audio drama that I had directed, though I've been involved in a lot of our non-fiction series and I've directed film films, but there were definitely many challenges along the way. When you start to realize how little you have to work with, you have just sound. You can't rely on somebody knowing that one character patted another on the back or one character made a sarcastic face in response to a comment. So you either have a choice where you have to be super literal and make sure they say a line that conveys that kind of sarcasm, or you have to let it go and let the listener imagine.

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Oh, I think absolutely. And you know what? What passes as a pregnant tense pause in film is just dead space in audio. And so the pacing and everything has to. Has to take that into into account. I mean, I think the flip side of that wonderful immersive thing about about audio is real challenge, which is that, you know, your audience is so open to to distraction. You know, they're on the subway or they're they're in their car.

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They're, you know, yelling at their fellow motorists and in traffic and your phone rings and, you know, you're you're fighting all of these all of these distractions. And so you have to you have to tell a story that people aren't just gonna want to start listening to, but they don't want to keep diving back into. Over and over and over again. And I, I at least I was very cognizant of that as we were writing this in terms of in terms of pacing and and the story.

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Yeah. You did quite a few things well in blood ties that I found difficult in audio trauma. For instance, you have a very small constrained cast. You have really two main characters and everyone else is important. But Auxillary now keeps the audience focused. There isn't much of a B or a C storyline to confuse or distract the audience. So I was wondering, what else in the writing and storytelling process did you find challenging to make this the best it could be in audio?

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I think you're right. We kept it very contained for a reason. One reason was budget, frankly. You know, we only had so much time to record this series and we wanted to keep it to a small, relatively small cast of characters in a small timeline.

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Yeah, I can imagine an alternate world there or looking into the future where you were inside Ritschl on health services or or you were with Connie in the NEWSROOM. But we we decided to convey a lot of that off screen, essentially. And, you know, that was that was a challenge. But we wanted to keep the story streamlined and tight and moving forward and not. Habit to sprawling. One thing, Ben, I'd like to ask you is it from a writing standpoint, is how you handled scene transitions in TV and film were accustomed to fade outs and wipes and establishing shots.

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What did you do in your writing that gave us the same feeling that we're moving on?

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That's a great question. I think some were written in and some were were weren't were decided by the sound designer Jeff Schmidt in the after the fact.

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We definitely did a lot of playing with the transitions in post some. You know, we started with a dissolve and went to a to a hard cut with some, you know, signposting sound effects. I know one plot element from season one that we we used a lot was the grandfather clock.

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And it has that has emotional meaning for for Eleanor. But it also is very helpful just in terms of telling the audience when they're in the Richland home. But that was something we played with a lot.

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And it's interesting, we had a whole storyline about a guy who was following Eleanor around, who Ben had written and that he wore a windbreaker and he was windbreaker man.

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And that was this idea that if you could hear the swish Swiss swish that that a like a vinyl windbreaker makes, then that would be identifiable. But we ended up cutting that.

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And part of it was like, is that something that people recognize about a character that that their win when that their windbreaker makes it sound?

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But yeah, the grandfather clock was an example where that actually worked, where when you hear that grandfather clock, you know you're in the Richlands house.

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Well, the difference there between the windbreaker man and the grandfather clock is the grandfather clock is actually emotionally evocative in a way that the wind a windbreaker is not. And I think that that's why it feels organic to the story, because we know what it means to Eleanor. And it's kind of a reminder of life before she knew all of this. And so because it has an emotional place in the world of the story, it doesn't feel expository every time you hear the grandfather clock.

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Let's talk about the cast. How did you arrive on Gillian Jacobs and Josh Gad?

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Gillian signed on first, and I've been a big fan of hers. I love the show Love on Netflix. She was in an independent film that came out a couple of years called Don't Think Twice. I just think she's really talented and the process of making this only made me have more respect for her. She really feels into the into this character and into these moments so quickly and effectively. And, you know, one of the things with this series that we wanted was to make sure that it was very clear and accessible to people who have never listen to an audio drama before.

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So she really invested in making sure that the emotions were true. But the things got across to the audience. Josh Gad is, you know, arguably one of the most successful voice actors of our generation. Is. He's Olaf from Frozen. But you know, the idea of Olaf, you know, the voice that, you know, as the snow man from frozen being this sort of morally ambiguous, drug addicted brother was just too great.

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I also, just as a writer, my favorite part of the of the process is when you actually get to see what the actors do with the writing and what rings true for them and what doesn't and what and what they choose to tweak. Because at the end of the day, you know, we write these scripts and you can make all these plans, but they're the only ones who are actually diving down in there and seeing what's inside. And what does it feel like to be inside these these scenes.

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And so it's always a wonderful moment when they come back out and kind of report back, like what's going on in there, what worked, what didn't. And they were they're both, you know, very, very, very sensitive, great readers and and great critics. And I felt like they brought a lot to the to the story and into the script in the studio.

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I know from working with actors on audio dramas that they often express that this is one of the purest forms of acting that they've experienced. They get to forget blocking in camera angles and wardrobe and makeup and just really embody the character. I was wondering what two things did your cast express? Any opinions about acting in an audio drama that it was different for them? And and how did they embody the character? Did they themselves bring any improvisation to the to the roles?

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We recorded for about a week in Los Angeles and they both did say that, you know, they felt like a lot of the tools that they usually have were taken away from them in this case.

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So, you know, if you can rely on a on a look or a gesture. When you're acting for tips for television or film that's unavailable to you. I think any actor would love that there's no hair and makeup required. You just roll into the studio. That's just anybody's dream. But on top of that, I think that they both had to figure out how to play the intention of a moment with just their voice. As far as improvisation, yeah, they did a lot, especially in the scenes that was them talking.

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They were really active participants in figuring out, starting with the script. What what would make it work. In fact, we have a big twist at the end, which if for some reason you're listening to this and you haven't listened to all six episodes, we find out at the very end that Peter Richling, the father, is actually still alive. That was Josh's idea. He said you got to have him come back at the very last minute.

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And so we recorded a couple of different ideas for endings. And that was the one that we went with. And so that was a contribution right there from Josh.

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I find that incredible. It seems like the big T up for season two was an improvisation. It feels completely built into the story arc. It was something that Ben and I had considered. But we to be honest, we we tossed it off as too soap opera ish like he's actually still alive.

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But over the course of making it, we kind of came around. And then when we listened to it, we were like, yeah, I think this works. I mean, this obviously sets up a big train running to go into season two that we have to address.

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Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, this happens a lot with collaboration's where it's like, you know, we we had discussed and eliminated that as a possibility for the act for the end of the series. And yet Josh was pointing out that we actually kind of wrote it in. I mean, like you said, Lindsay, like it's in it's in there. It was still in the in the writing. And but I'm just I'm so happy that he that he recognized it and and pointed it out.

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Well, now that you've got your new improvised key to see in season two, what do you think is coming for us? What what can we expect from me?

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Season one, like like what Marshall said is about is about two people who find themselves caught in a situation that's much, much larger than anything they've ever had to deal with. And they have to decide how to react. And they each choose a different course. And by the end of season one, they've they've made their choices. And season two. For me, they're going to have to confront the consequences. Intentional or unintended? Of those choices and those consequences, there are not anything like what they're expecting.

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They're very surprising. Very challenging. Very, very intense. I'd also say that, you know, as for that that final that final twist. I think that even as adults, we kind of behave one way when we think that our parents might be watching us and a little differently when we know they aren't. And there's definitely a gap between the two. And I think that season two is going to live in that gap. And Michael and Eleanor are going to have to confront that gap.

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Yeah, I think the arc of the first season was really this idea that Michael and Ellen are on an inevitable path to breaking between each each other, that their reaction to this big moment at the beginning when their parents die is that they are not going to be on speaking terms. When when season two starts.

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And I think that that is definitely going to be the jumping off point on top of everything else, that they sort of both have a large share in this company, that there's still questions around what happens with Santino. There's still obviously questions about what's going to happen now that we know that Dr. Richland is back or who who is going to know that information. And we are going to start from there as we dive into this season, too. Well, I'm excited for season two and looking forward to it later this year.

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Ben Marshall, thanks for talking with me. Thanks, Lindsey. Great talking with you. Thanks for having me.

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That was my conversation with Benjamin Gray and Marshall Louis, the writer and director of Blood Ties. Blood Ties. Season two will premiere July 2020. Be sure to subscribe to get all the updates and be the first to hear the Season two trailer from wandering. This was a special behind the scenes look at the making of blood ties. If you'd like to help us spread the word, please give blood ties a five star review. Tell your friends to subscribe quandary.

[00:30:50]

Podcasts are available on Apple podcast, Spotify and Cash Box and every major listening app as well as wondering. If you're listening on a smartphone tap or swipe over the cover out of this podcast. You'll find the EPSO notes and offers from our sponsors. When you support our sponsors, you help us bring shows like Blood Ties to you for free. Another way you can support the show is by filling out a quick survey and wondering dot com slash survey. Thank you.

[00:31:16]

This episode of Blood Ties was hosted by me, Lindsey Graham, produced by Lee Hernandez. Executive producers are Meghan Monaco, Marcia Lui and her non Lopez for Wonderboy. I'm Lindsey Graham, host of Wanderers Show American Scandal. We bring to life some of the biggest controversies in U.S. history presidential lies, environmental disasters, corporate fraud. In our new series. We head back to the 1990s when Big Tobacco faced a day of reckoning. Whistleblowers came forward, exposed countless lies about cigarettes, addiction and cancer.

[00:31:52]

But the tobacco industry fought back and soon found itself at the center of a legal battle that would change history. Subscribe to American scandal on Apple podcasts. Spotify or listen ad free in the Wonder Yapp.