A sit-down with Brendan Kelly, executive producer of ‘The Art of More’
Jimmy Kemper | Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Editor’s Note: This week, Scene had the opportunity to sit down with Brendan Kelly, a Notre Dame alumnus who is an executive producer and writer for streaming network Crackle’s television series, “The Art of More,” a drama which explores the intense and frequently ruthless world of New York City auction houses. We talked to Brendan about the changes coming to Season Two, the art of putting together these episodes and his previous work as a writer on “Weeds.”
Scene: I just want to jump in and start talking about Season Two of “The Art of More.” Season One ended on a really dark note. Graham Connor (Christian Cooke) just witnessed the death of his girlfriend Elizabeth (Savannah Mason), he’s lost his job and he’s at this point where he almost killed himself in the final scene. So where do we go from here in terms of building this character back up? What’s his aim and objective for Season Two now?
Brendan Kelly: Looking at the last year, it was definitely a question of “Oh god, where do we go from here?” He was certainly in such a low place, [so it was a question of] how do we organically build him from here and have him in the world we need him in. What does a guy like Graham do to get out of that mess? And we wanted him to try to be a master of his own destiny this year. You’ll see in the first episode, we pick up more or less close to where we left off and — rather than wallowing in grief and cowering — he’s got to right the wrongs and avenge his past. He’s got, right off the bat, a few things he wants to take care of. He wants to find his girlfriend’s killer, he wants justice.
Really, this season is about finding justice and, in a sense, redemption for himself. Finding justice means not just bringing his girlfriend’s killer to light, but also himself, because he takes a lot of responsibility for what happened. So he starts on a path toward redemption for himself. He got caught up in a lot of things in Season One that spun out of control and now he’s taking back control. Of course, that is easier said than done and doesn’t exactly go the way he was hoping it would. He gets involved with problems much bigger than him — with the FBI and large-scale terrorism — all while just trying to get back to that life that he got into this for in the first place: to become successful in the art world. So he tries to keep afloat in the art world while also doing what he needs to do in the other world to get what he wants.
Scene: The other thing that really interests me was that in Season One, Graham and Roxana’s (Kate Bosworth’s) stories paralleled each other. But in the previews for Season Two, we see that Roxana is now the CEO of her auction house, so their stories are on very divergent paths now. So what’s the goal of her character now? She’s in a position of power, her father isn’t in the picture anymore. What should we be expecting out of her this season?
Brendan Kelly: For Roxana, a lot of things have changed but some things have stayed the same. She’s still fighting for power and control of the company — to take over her father’s place — fighting with her brother-in-law Miles. We see her win that battle early on in Season Two, but like a lot of wins, it’s short-lived. She finds that basically getting control of the crown is great, and that’s one thing, but keeping control of the crown is a lot harder. She has to deal with a number of things: for one, trying to keep the rest of her family at bay, especially Miles, who is not going to take the loss well and just let her have the company. Also, she’s in charge now, and she never necessarily planned for being in charge. She wanted to beat Miles and be in charge, but actually being in charge of a multimillion dollar international organization is difficult. There’s a lot of growing pains in learning to be a boss and — I think as you saw — she doesn’t come off as the friendliest, warmest people-person. She has to figure out a way to make her employees, her co-workers, her family and everybody else happy. That’s tough without alienating yourself even further and feeling all alone.
Scene: One of the other things that I thought was interesting was that Graham and Roxana descended into immorality very quickly over the course of Season One. They’re both very money-driven characters, which made them difficult to empathize with at times. What I’m wondering now is, with those two characters having reached absolute moral lows, are they both still going to be willing to do whatever it takes to succeed?
Brendan Kelly: With all of our characters, on the one hand, they’re power-driven, but when you peel back the layers, it’s about something else. We very much try to peel back those layers in Season Two and figure out what all that money and power is about. It itself isn’t the end here. It’s not exactly what they’re working for.
Sam Brukner (Dennis Quaid) is power-driven and that’s what he wants, but he’s really looking for a level of respect and establishment. He’s always seen himself as an outsider, and no matter how much money or power he’s got, he’s never fully accepted into the club. It’s like the old saying, he wants to be a part of the club that won’t have him. That’s it.
So we see that in very real terms in Season Two. Especially in the first episode, when he’s kicked off a museum board because he isn’t what the board wants. He’s too much of a ruckus. With Roxana, it’s not just about the power of the company, it’s about revenge for the wrongs her brother-in-law did to her years ago. It’s more about beating him.
Like I said earlier, she hasn’t really thought this far about what she’s going to do once she has power. It’s just been this constant struggle to get out from working under her brother-in-law. She has a very dark history with him.
For Graham, he’s sort of like Sam Brukner in that he’s been an outsider too, he’s trying to find his place in this world and he’s always struggled growing up. He was in the army; he’s always been kind of a misfit, like the island of misfit toys. He thinks that if he becomes a powerful art broker, that’s where he belongs. He’s trying on different hats and trying to find his own version of respect.
Scene: Your previous work was with “Weeds,” which was this scripted, dark comedy and a network television show. With that, you were writing for a week-to-week audience — while with Crackle and “The Art of More” — you’re writing for an audience that has access to all 10 of the episodes from the very beginning. Did you have a different approach to writing this because your audience would be more likely to binge watch this?
Brendan Kelly: Not really. We’re always trying to be mindful of where our audience is, honestly. Our first and foremost priority has been true to what the show is, what the world is and who our characters are. It’s always first been about who our characters are and what they would do. Then, we make them fit within the larger world of the show that we’ve set up and that our audience expects.
I think, now, on most serialized shows, you’re going for that feeling at the end of episode like at the end of a chapter where you want your reader to have to turn the page. We want them to just have to put on the next episode. When we were with “Weeds,” while we knew that people had to wait a week between episodes, we also knew that people would be watching on DVD several years after the fact. Whether they have to wait a week or whether they can watch the next episode with the push of a button 30 seconds later, you always to want to create that feeling and that need to find out what happens next.
Scene: This is a very different style of show from “Weeds.” How did you get involved with Season Two? What’s your specific goal with your work here now?
Brendan Kelly: I was very fortunate to come in for Season Two and to join coming off of “Weeds,” which is a half-hour show — nominally a comedy, but it’s more of a drama with comedy. So we thought of it as a drama first. I’ve always kind of written that way. As a writer, I like to write both half hour and one hour formats, both drama and comedy. Any drama that I write, I like to have a little bit of comedy and any comedy I write, I like to have a little bit of drama.
I had written a pilot and a script that Crackle had gotten hold of and very much responded to. They felt that there was totally something similar with the direction that they wanted to push Season Two in. We met, and I got a chance to watch Season One and give my thoughts on potential ideas for Season Two. Crackle was great, they responded very well and we’re excited about my thoughts and visions for Season Two. So we run from there.
Scene: Art is obviously one of the main focuses of the show with Season One, and I’m sure with Season Two of the show. What’s the thought process behind which pieces you focus on for the episode-to-episode content?
Brendan Kelly: We start with asking the question of what our characters are going through in the larger story arc in the episode. For example, in episode three, as we built things out, we felt like this is an episode where a lot of the characters are dealing with issues of pride and honor, to put it in broad terms. From that, we started talking about what pieces of art, item of history or era of history sort of matches with that and can speak to that. We landed upon the idea of the old Japanese samurai era and the concept of honor and pride. We ended up doing a large Japanese installation with an old samurai sword and the legend attached to it as our focal point. That was just one idea of how that kind of comes about.
Other times, we put together a list early on of different eras of history or items of art to ballpark the things that we think would be really cool and interesting to see and might have a cool story attached. We want them to cover a wide range too, to not just cover the old masters and art in gold leaf frames. We didn’t want it just be Van Gogh or Da Vinci. We wanted it to be comic books, samurai swords, collectibles, mint pieces of arts that were old and young, western and eastern — all of the above.
Scene: What’s been your favorite part of working on “The Art of More?”
Brendan Kelly: That’s a good question, a tough one. There’s a lot of favorite parts. It might be kind of to the point I talked about, since we got to explore all these different eras of art and history. I came in as a fan of art. I very much appreciate art, but I’m not an aficionado by any means. Getting to explore art and that world was really exciting. That’s what pulled me into the show. First and foremost, this was a cool world we haven’t seen. I get to write cool stories about new things in that arena that I’ve never done or learned about before.
On top of that, they were all great characters to start with, but they were also — in Season One — not fully explored. Season One set the table nicely. I felt very blessed to come into Season Two with so much territory left to mine and explore, and that was great. On a purely personal standpoint, we shot in Montreal. Montreal is a fantastic city and I would recommend anybody to go there for a summer.
All 10 episodes of Season Two of “The Art of More” are available starting Wednesday on Crackle.