Friday, February 1, 2008

Interview With Edward Allen Bernero by Keith Justice

Interview With Ed Bernero by Keith Justice

TV and screenwriter Ed Bernero is the co-creator of the new NBC series THIRD WATCH.

Can you tell us about your background?

I was born and raised on the North side of Chicago. My beautiful wife and I were married at seventeen, and spent the first three years of that marriage as an Air Force family in the Philippines (two of our three children were born there). I became a Chicago Police officer in 1986, and worked mostly in the 020th District (Foster Avenue) for ten years. My last day on the street was August 15, 1996. I worked mainly midnights and wrote during the day.

How did you get your start in Hollywood?

The very beginning of my career will be covered in question #7. After moving here (L.A.) in October of 1996, my first job (November) was an episode of "FX: The Series". When I turned that in, I received another assignment from the producer and, while doing that, I met with Steven Bochco and David Milch and was given an episode of "NYPD Blue" to write. Upon turning that in, I was hired to the staff of "Brooklyn South". When BS was cancelled, I was hired by John Wells as Story Editor on "Trinity". When that show was cancelled, John asked if I would like to create a show with him. The result of that collaboration is "Third Watch".

Can you tell us a little bit about "Third Watch?"

It is a drama about cops, paramedics and firefighters working the third watch (3-11) in New York City. We can be seen Sundays at 7PM on NBC. I'm very excited about and proud of the show. It fairly accurately portrays how difficult it is to work and live in that world.

Does a pre-pro writer need to make a choice between writing for television and writing for the big screen?

I'm not sure what a "pre-pro" writer is. For me, a writer is a writer. As far as a choice, that distinction is getting smaller and smaller all the time. Feature writers are getting big television deals and television writers are getting feature deals. I have a couple of features in negotiations right now. Good writing is good writing, and this town lives and dies on writing. It's the engine from which everything else moves. If you can write, Hollywood will notice. They simply have to. As far as choosing, I don't think one can make a choice like that. I think you have to write what makes you happy. If there's a television show you really admire, really watch, spec an episode. A great spec television episode will get you as much attention as a great spec feature. It's the writing that matters.

How important is it for a writer to live in the greater Los Angeles area?

An interesting question. As Ken Mader could tell you, I was greatly averse to moving here. I was adamant that I was going to make Chicago "Hollywood East." We laugh about it now. We love it here. As for importance, in television, you absolutely need to live where the show is written. That doesn't always mean L.A. For example, "Homicide" was written and produced in Baltimore. Writers' meetings are an important part of the process, as well as the synergy involved with the staff. In features, it's less important, but you'd better be prepared to travel a lot. The producers want to be in a room with you before giving you the job. It's called a "sniff" meeting, the focus of which will be their determination of whether they feel they want to work with you. Once you get the job, you could write in Alaska if that's what you prefer.

Where do you see yourself in the future? What do you hope to accomplish?

My next project will hopefully be a creation of my own. While I have thoroughly enjoyed creating this show with John, it will always be considered a John Wells show. I can't thank him enough for the opportunity he's given me, but I feel like I want to get out there and rise or fall on my own merits. I guess it isn't unlike a father/son relationship. I've been able to experiment and learn under the wing of a giant in the television business, and next I need to get out there on my own. I'm also ramping up a feature career. Movies are something I've always wanted to try, though I think television will always be my first love. There is a 'specialness' to the way writers are treated in television that doesn't currently exist in features. I also believe the best writing in the industry right now is happening in television.

How did CSN help you and what can a screenwriting group offer to a struggling writer?

A struggling writer? There are only undiscovered talents. If you're "struggling," find another way to express yourself. Writing is too difficult an undertaking if you're not having fun. Do it because you love it. There. I'm off the soap-box. CSN is responsible for me being where I am today. One of my fellow co-founders of the group, Christie Miller, gave a feature script I wrote to Geoff Harris, who was then Vice President of NBC. He called me and asked if I'd ever tried television and suggested doing a spec. I speced a "Homicide" and the rest, as they say, is history. Groups are important, not only for the networking they offer, but I think most importantly for the fraternity and support. A writer working so far from this town can easily start to feel like they're tilting at windmills. They sometimes feel that there must be something wrong with them to want to write movies. Who the hell does that in Chicago? A group like CSN gives them the reassurance that there are other people out there working on the same dream. They're not alone.

What advice can you give to a writer trying to make their mark in Hollywood?

Write. Forget seminars and books, forget that next great screenwriting program, forget every way there is to put off the actual act of writing and WRITE. When you finish a script, WRITE ANOTHER ONE. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write everyday. Write when you're hot, burning to get to the keyboard, and write when the last thing in the world you want to do is face that blank screen with the damned blinking cursor. Hollywood is an engine completely driven by writing. The markets for that writing are getting wider and more diverse everyday. Cable/Satellite now brings hundreds of channels into homes. All of these channels need content. That content starts with writing. They will find you. Have faith in yourself and believe in your ability and you voice. Above all, in case I haven't mentioned it - WRITE.