Born out of the 100-Day Writer’s Guild Strike of 2007-8, Berman’s DVD series The Write Environment is to the writer what Inside the Actors Studio is to the actor.
In each episode, screenwriter Jeffrey Berman takes viewers backstage into the here-to-fore unseen world of the writer’s room for intimate interviews that offer a rare look at these diverse writers and what inspires them. From that first idea to the finished script, the writers share their views and stories, examining their successes, failures, and everything in between.
Created as a series of 50-60 minute in-depth interviews, the DVDs provide a unique glimpse into the workings of the writing mind of some of the Industry’s most creative talents. But they didn’t start out that way as creator and host Berman tells us in an exclusive interview with Whedonopolis.
"They were very man-on-the-street interviews, " Berman explains, "[During the Strike] I was grabbing people as they were picketing, I was doing it for United Hollywood Live — so I would basically find — whether it was writers, talent, producers, fans, anyone who was on the line — if I had the opportunity to interview them live on the air. I would grab them and ask them questions. Others were some of the more staged interviews, where we could sit down and talk with people and then put them up virally on the web.
An amiable host and interviewer, Berman takes us through the writer’s workspace or office (and in the case of premiere episode guest, his writer’s house!) before sitting down to the meat of the disc, the interview with the man himself – Joss Whedon.
"Joss was actually the first person I thought to ask. [He] is clearly one of the more high-profile show-runners, and TV series creators, and was kind enough to work with me on the Pencils to Media Moguls campaign."
The "Pencils To Media Moguls" Campaign was a Guild reaction to the AMPTP’s intransigence and unwillingness to negotiate during the Strike. Fans could log into the UnitedHollywood.com website and buy pencils to show support for their favorite shows. When enough pencils had been purchased, the truckloads were delivered to the Studios gates (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GggokNW-4c).
"I tapped both Joss and (Battlestar Galactica creator) Ron Moore, and asked them if they would be sort of the front-runners/spokespersons when we delivered the pencils see (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3B5uDAZKwoc)."
"So having had that relationship with Joss at the time, he was an easy opportunity to tap him and ask if he would do the interview with me. He was kind enough to do so, and very generous with his time, as I think we were in his house — he has his own writing house, by the way — we have office, he has a house — but he was kind enough to let us in there for a couple hours, and we got to shoot everything."
While not going to in-depth into the actual interview, I can say that the freeform one-on-one conversation covers a wide-range of topics, from Whedon’s early work in TB and his early influencers, to his latest project, the FOX show Dollhouse (airing January 2009), and Whedon is uncharacteristically relaxed during the hour. For those accustomed to seeing him from the back of Ballroom 20 at Comic-Con, the change is both refreshing and surprisingly intimate.
As I bring up this observation, Berman is quick to elaborate: "Actually I think that’s one of the best things about the series, and that’s that you find that the people you’re interviewing are more relaxed, they’re in their own home, they’re in their own office. Their environment is safe and comfortable for them, so I find that they tend to open up a little more…"
"If you actually look at the video, you’ll see that Joss is sitting in a chair that is clearly very comfortable to him, and he’s got one leg up over the arm of the chair and he’s smiling and just couldn’t be more relaxed. So I think it made for a unique interview. And hopefully it gave me a perspective on Joss that a lot of people don’t get from him."
Berman is also honest about the series impact on his own work habits.
"I have learned so much about the craft of writing while conducting these interviews," says Berman about the series. "Each episode is like a master class with these A-List writers and I’m looking forward to sharing them with both the fans of their seminal shows, as well as students of screenwriting."
Other episodes of the THE WRITE ENVIRONMENT will feature one-on-one interviews with Damon Lindelof (Lost), Tim Kring (Heroes), Phil Rosenthal (Everybody Loves Raymond), Doug Ellin (Entourage), and Sam Simon (The Simpsons).