Marlo Bernier is not your average everyday gal. Up until about seven years ago, she was known as Mark. She’s transgender, and having completed her transition from male to female, is now the extraordinary woman she was always meant to be. And she has stories to tell.
Bernier is the creator and co-writer of a new dramedy series in development, Myrna. The story, mirroring Bernier’s real life, follows the journey of an actor, who after a successful career on stage and screen, is willing to sacrifice everything when he finally confronts his true gender identity and transitions from male to female.
The series follows Myrna as she struggles to find work as an actress, wrestles with a manager who still wants to send her out as her formerly-famous self, Michael, and deals with the drama of her friends’ reactions as they make an effort to come to terms with Myrna and her life-altering transition.
Myrna isn’t just about a boy who’s a girl–it’s about the human connection and striving to live life as who you really are.
I was honored to interview Marlo and gain some insight into the story behind the story of Myrna.
Rebecca: What inspired Myrna? Would you consider it autobiographical in nature, and if so, which parts of the story resonate with you the most?
Marlo: At its simplest, Myrna is based on my life from mid-transition on. But I should first clarify by saying that in the pilot episode, You’re Not Done Yet, we see Myrna as an actor who is struggling to get her “old” career back, but she can’t even “get arrested.” So her manager tells her that he’s got a (Done-Deal) reality show for her. She refuses and tells him she’s done; she’s finally retiring from the business. But toward the end of the pilot, he makes her an offer she can’t refuse. And thus, a brand new Reality Show Star is born. She hates herself for caving, but she was left with no alternative. And as Season One progresses, Myrna goes about her life, but with the ever-present reality show crew following her around. She’ll continue to resist them, which causes drama, and the more drama, the more the reality show producers love it. So in effect, Myrna is her own worst enemy.
Did this happen to me? Sort of, but I never went all the way with the reality show thing. It had been volleyed around a few times over the years, but nothing ever materialized from it. May I say, “Thank God?”
What has happened to me, after beginning to transition from male-to-female, is that the auditions all but ceased. And at the end of the day, all I want is to be able to “come back into the room.” And not specifically as “Marlo Bernier,” trans-actress, but rather simply, Marlo Bernier, actress/filmmaker, et al. And I want to be clear about this, that I’m not in any way saying that I am some sort of victim. I know this business very well, and I know it’s tough out there for everyone, regardless. But I also believe that we, as filmmakers, narrative storytellers, have the opportunity to create our own work. And no one can stop anyone from delivering good work. No one.
Rebecca: Speaking of creating your own work, you staged a one-woman show, At Least I’ll Own A Dress, based on your life experiences. How did that come about, and how has the material you wrote for theater crossed over into your teleplay for Myrna?
Marlo: I had been writing this sort of blog at the urging of my therapist, and when I’d gotten all the entries to a certain place where I felt that I’d told all the things I’d wanted to say, I thought this could be a vehicle for me to work again. So I put it up in a theatre in North Hollywood about three years ago. And it was, to say the least, cathartic. But my life has grown so much more since then, and I know, or at least I believe that all of that, my history, my background, will provide much in the way of foundational material for Myrna. Having stretched myself in ways I’d never dreamed possible, I know that we will deliver on so many more levels and through so many more layers in our television series.
Rebecca: Tell us about the writing process for Myrna. Did you write the pilot yourself or did you have a writing partner? How long did it take to write the script and how many drafts did you go through?
Marlo: Where do I begin? HA! Let’s start with how many drafts; I believe we are up to revision number thirty-something – (and really none of them have been page one rewrites, but we’ve come close on more than one occasion). I’m laughing (at myself), now thinking back to two plus years ago… yes, it was over two years ago since we hit the first stroke on the keyboard. And let me be very clear on the writing process, we are still shaping certain moments within the pilot, and I’ve/we’ve learned from past pictures, that one is (or should be, perhaps) writing (pressing) right up against “picture-lock.” You get my drift.
Do I have a writing partner on the pilot? Yes, and I am forever in his debt. He is an amazing writer and his name is Ted Campbell (he’ll also be at the helm on the pilot, as well). He and I began co-writing the Myrna pilot when I’d asked him what he thought about the “soft-offer” I’d just been given regarding my life as a possible vehicle for an actual reality show. So shortly after we took a shot at that (the reality show thing – at which we did not fare very well), he and I began to write a narrative called Myrna. And yes, there is this sort of a “play with a play” kind of feel to it, of which we only get a glimpse of during the pilot. I did the first draft and then it went back and forth from there. And as I’d previously stated, we’re still molding certain moments.
Truth be told, we could have shot what we had a couple years ago, but (and I know I don’t speak for only myself on this) I couldn’t be happier that we didn’t find the financing back then. Would it have been good? Yes. Would it have been great? No. Is it a killer show now? Yes.
Rebecca: How did you go about attaching talent and collaborators for the project?
Marlo: It began with bringing in my decades-long producing/writing partner, Jennifer Fontaine, also an amazing writer. She and I and Ted have worked together on features and shorts many times over (in various roles, both behind and in front of the lens). And once she was on board, we began attaching both above and below the line. And we couldn’t be happier at the response we’ve received by everyone we’ve asked. They have all, every single one of them, been very jazzed by this project’s prospect of having a real shot at getting picked up.
Rebecca: What is your funding strategy for the pilot? What avenues did you research and what made you decide to go with Fanbacked [a new crowdfunding vehicle from producer Brad Wyman, designed solely for entertainment industry-related projects]?
Marlo: Our strategy at its core was to stretch our outreach in a larger way than we ever had before and truly we only had one company in mind and that was Fanbacked, run by Brad Wyman & Co. We’ve known Brad for many years, especially Jennifer Fontaine’s connection with him is years long. He produced Adam Rifkin’s film Look in which Fontaine had a leading role. Wyman also produced Monster and Trees Lounge, to name a couple more of his forty-three plus motion picture producer credits.
And as we were approaching the time when we’d be ready to launch, we were looking at what he had to say on the matter of “fan-financing.” And the bottom-line that got me for certain is that he said this: “They’ve closed “Detroit” on the Independent Producer.”
Well, what else does one need to hear? The writing is on the wall. So we reached out to him and asked him for his counsel on Myrna and coincidentally he was moments away from launching his brand new company, Fanbacked.
So our decision was a foregone conclusion. And fortunately it was an honor for us to be among their first couple of projects. He’s taught us a lot in a very short amount of time. And for this, as well as his friendship, we are very grateful.
Rebecca: Please tell us how people can support your project on Fanbacked.com.
Marlo: You can find us directly at the following link http://greenlight.myrnatvshow.com
I am glad to report that within the first ten days of our fan-financing campaign, we were 100% funded for greenlight. And we couldn’t be happier, if we tried.
A word from Fanbacked.com COO Brad Wyman: “Nothing is more fulfilling than to see a unique and groundbreaking project like Myrna financed in ten days. The show is a gamechanger and so is the method they employed to greenlight their pilot. One hundred percent fan funded on Fanbacked.com.”
That “greenlight” money allows us to begin pre-production this week. We are now moving into Phase II of our campaign, with a stretch goal of $15,000, which will lead us through post-production and enable us to deliver the pilot to network.
Rebecca: Have you produced before? If so, can you tell us a bit about your prior projects and what lessons you learned as a self-producer?
Marlo: Jennifer and I co-exec produced our first picture, on Super16, a short-sub narrative called The Last Time We Were… back in 2004 (we even played opposite one another – and for me, it was “pre-Marlo”). And then in the Spring of 2009 she and I produced our second short called Stealth, a picture I co-wrote with her and on which I had my directorial debut. Shortly after that picture wrapped, she was contacted by a company out of Iowa who asked her if she and I would be interested in co-writing a feature called Finding John Smith, to which we said yes, and it was also my first time directing and co-producing a full-length feature, as well. And then of course there exists this body of work from all of us collectively, Jennifer, Ted and I, where we’ve all worked with one another on a variety of other pictures where we’ve held other roles for each other.
So happily, and I will state this emphatically, this is not my, or our, first time “at the table.”
And as to the “what lessons have I/we learned?” – Well, we’re still learning. But we hope that we will not repeat the mistakes we’d made on our prior pictures. Do you like how I’ve included my co-producers in the “mistakes” bit? (HA!) At the end of the day I’ll give you the following: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare.
Rebecca: What do you hope viewers will connect to in the series, and what message do you hope to send out with your work on Myrna?
Marlo: It is my/our hope that Myrna will have a far, deep, and wide reach in its appeal. The show’s message is simply to Be Yourself. (Though it may take some time to get there, own your presence in the world and effect the change you would like to see – with humor, kindness and love.) Because… “Sometimes it takes a long time to be able to play like yourself” (Miles Davis).
Rebecca: Please share any lessons you’ve learned so far in your development process, and any advice you’d like to share for others embarking on writing a piece based on their own life experience.
Marlo: The lessons I’ve learned, at least during the development process on Myrna, is that one has to be able to acquiesce, and not “just because,” either, but for the good of the project. I’m a firm believer in the the proverb Steel Sharpens Steel.
And then this is certainly something of which I have been certain and fully convinced of for decades: Write what you know. Write from your truth. And from beginning to end: Deny Nothing. Invent Nothing. Tell the Truth.
Support Myrna on Fanbacked HERE!
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