Following an in-person premiere of season four, part two of Netflix’s “You,” creator and executive producer Sera Gamble joined LMU alum Alex Ritter on stage in the Mayer Theater Wednesday evening for a Q&A session. There, she shared the production process of the psychological thriller and her experiences in the film industry.
Before it evolved into the hit television series that it is today, “You” was originally a novel written by Caroline Kepnes and published in 2014. What inspired Gamble to take on the show adaptation of the novel was her understanding of Kepnes’ point of view.
“I instinctively knew right away that Kepnes was kind of contending with the experience that women have when walking down the street – which is that we fear for our safety… And when we go on a first date with a nice boy, we fear that maybe they’re actually a serial killer, and we just can’t tell,” Gamble said. “I don’t care about serial killers particularly, but I was interested in putting on that point of view.”
Seasons one through three of “You” follow a similar storyline as the show’s protagonist Joe Goldberg – played by Penn Badgley – becomes infatuated with his love interests to the point of no return. Each episode thoroughly displays Joe’s thought process and emotions as he murders anyone who could potentially get in the way of him being with the woman he loves.
Despite him being a serial killer, there are some viewers that have found themselves attracted to Joe. Gamble elaborates on the part that production plays in the possible romanticization of his character.
“Part of the reason you feel you’re in love with him is because we’re meticulous in tracking every beat of his emotional journey, and we hold it to the same standard as if we were writing a show about ourselves,” Gamble shares.
Although we see that Joe flees to Paris in the finale of season three to follow his new obsession, Marienne Bellamy, season four is actually set in London. When asked about the sudden setting change, Gamble explained that although France has a beautiful film industry, her team felt that London had more of an independent style film essence.
“As soon as they were like, ‘What about London?’ I realized that if you’re going to tell a story about rich Europeans with titles like aristocrats, we think of British people,” she said. “I’m not writing this to tell you British people suck – actually, the people I’m making fun of the most are Americans – you have to hold onto that even tighter when you go to Europe. It was easier to conceptualize all of that in a system we understood a little better.”
As a character, Joe transforms throughout the first three seasons, resulting in a different approach to season four. Motivated to leave the life of being a killer behind and become a better person, Joe creates a new life in London and takes on his new identity as Jonathan Moore in hopes of starting on a clean slate. Shortly after settling into his new reality, he finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery, as his wealthy peers are mysteriously killed one by one by an unknown suspect who later earns the title of the ‘Eat the Rich Killer,’ – then introducing the theme of a whodunnit into season four.
Gamble shares the long and tricky process of creating the storyline surrounding a whodunnit plot alongside what it takes to execute it successfully.
“Whodunnits are so hard; I have never done one for more than one episode,” she said. “It’s so technical – we lean on what’s special about Joe, what we want to say with these characters, but the technical aspects of the whodunnit; you kind of have to break backwards.”
Her personal experience in writing these types of stories involves focusing on the broader storyline points first, then later incorporating meticulous details and jaw-dropping occurrences.
“You go back, and you realize you can make things bigger more often,” she said. “Let me now make sure that there are a couple more points in this script where people are like, oh my God, he wrote that – oh shit – in writing, you know?”
Gamble expresses that her love for the writer’s room stems from the creativity that forms as a story is in the process of development.
“I love the room. I love it. It’s like, we’re building something that’s never been built before,” she said. “It sounds daunting, and it can be at times, but it’s so much fun that sometimes I’m like, they’re going to come in and tell me this isn’t a job, and I have to give the money back.”
As for her advice for student filmmakers hoping to break into the industry, she shares that although many of the scripts she reads by first-time staff writers are good, recognition lies in the person’s attitude when she first meets them.
“The thing where you want to die to get it right – that’s what I actually respond to because you can learn really fast, but you have to really want it,” she said. “So I think more often than not, when you’re trying to get in, it’s about whoever you’re meeting to talk about a job – it’s about them being able to discern in you that you will work really hard.”
She explained that becoming a show writer is all about wanting to learn but humbling oneself to the process that it is.
“When you go to sell a show, you’re bringing them the planet of the show. There’s not a lot of detail about every individual little moving part,” she said. “Your job is to be like; this is the show. This is what it feels like, this is why it exists, and this is why I’m passionate to tell it.”
Season four, part two of “You” is now airing on Netflix.