Amy Berg has earned her vacation. After her friend John Scalzi's years of attempts to get her on the JoCo Cruise, this was the first year she had the time to do so, finding herself between projects. She recently left Starz's Counterpart at the end of its first season, but with big prospects on the horizon (which she indicated she'll be able to talk about soon).
With changes both underway and on the way—in her career, Hollywood and the entire world alike—that cruise was just what she needed.
"As soon as I walked on the boat, within an hour I was like, 'Oh, not only am I in a safe place, I am with my people,'" Berg said. "And it feels so wonderful. It’s been pretty amazing. I want to come back every year now."
Berg seen here winning a game of Action Cats! against fellow JoCo 2018 cruisemates Bonnie Burton, Chelsea Cain, and Travis McElroy. Photo by Natalie Schnelle.
A safe space with her people was necessary this year more than others. In multiple panels, Berg addressed how being a woman in a male-dominated, along with living in a post-Trump world and now in the throes of the MeToo and Time's Up movement, have had an impact on her work and motivation. For Berg and women everywhere, there has been at least one good outcome: As she said in a panel on Modes of Storytelling with Scalzi, Open Mike Eagle, and Wil Wheaton, "Taking the sh*t is over." I talked with Berg about just how "over" that really is.
Earlier this week in the Modes of Storytelling panel, you talked about your experience with firm deadlines versus the more nebulous, self-directed kind, how it’s actually easier to get things done with that set date.
For TV, it’s a constant state of acceleration because you have to shoot it in three days. So you really have no choice.
One thing you talk about is the need for “the puke draft,” the draft you just pour out of yourself just to get it out of your head and onto the page. Does your TV schedule give you the chance to do that? Does the puke draft just become the draft?
A lot of the times, yes, unfortunately, but I try to build it into my schedule when I know when the hard deadline is, usually the start of prep. But when you’re working in broadcast network television, basically the first hour you shoot is the only deadline, and it’s up to the actors to memorize on the spot. The puke draft is something that I’ve come to love. Because the world is on fire, like John [Scalzi said], it’s been a lot harder to motivate myself. So I’ve gone back to handwriting on a yellow pad a first draft of stuff. And then I use the inputting of that as my first real draft. Because it’s just really hard to sit there and stare at a screen and know everything else is just burning around you.
And the screen seems so much emptier because of that.
Yes, it does. It really does.
How have you adapted yourself and your work as you’ve changed and the world around us changes?
I just grow tired of the old model, and I try to reach out and figure out what’s next. If it’s something that scares me, that’s what I say yes to. If it scares me, I run toward it. Especially if I’ve never done it before. I wrote my first short story for an anthology for charity and I wrote a western, because I’d never written a short story before and I’d never written a western before. So why not do both? But also when I created my digital series Caper, I wanted to get out ahead of what I knew was going to be the streaming future. And so my show was one of the first original things on Hulu. That was a sort of reaction to a lot of, for lack of a better word, non-success—I don’t want to use failure—at making pilots and the frustration that comes with the thing you write not being the thing that it ends up being because of the process it goes through and how everything gets stripped away through notes and drafts and all that. I wanted to finally make something that felt like mine, from start to finish, and Caper was born out of that.
Is that the same kind of thinking that led to you leaving Counterpart?
Yeah. Counterpart was two and a half years for one season. I thought two years, two seasons. I made a contract for two seasons thinking it would be two years, so I didn’t want to go four years for two seasons. It was time for me to move on. Justin Marks created the show. You know, it wasn’t my baby; it was his baby. I was there to help shepherd it along and help him birth it, essentially. So I really want to work on my own original material, or at least something that will have my sort of voice in it.
You mentioned this week that you went on a retreat with other female showrunners. What was that experience like?
It was something put together by Melissa Rosenberg, who runs Jessica Jones. There’s never been a function or opportunity for all of us to sort of combine forces and see where we’re at as an industry, but it was really mostly an opportunity for us to all meet each other so when something does come up, and we feel like we need to reach out to each other, now we know who everyone is. And it was great. I think there was probably 80 of us there, and those who couldn’t make it we’ve all reached out to separately, and it was a really great opportunity I think now more than ever given our current culture in Hollywood.
Was it pre- or post-MeToo?
It was pre-MeToo but post-election. Which was also another reason we all wanted to get together. I think the strength of all of us together is also what allowed MeToo to exist and continue. It wasn’t just a one-off with Harvey Weinstein; it became a sustained movement because it had the backing of the most powerful women in film and TV.
Does the shift feel like it’s going to hold? When men issue their apologies or statements, they always reference “this sensitive time” as though it’s a trend.
No, it’s not. We’ve pretty much had enough. Especially within the entertainment industry, it’s not going anywhere. I think it’s gonna continue to build and to call it a temporary shift is completely incorrect.