The 2010 Streamy Award for Best Writing for a Drama Series went to Bernie Su, the creator and writer of Compulsions, an independently produced Web series thriller surrounding “an admitted Sadist with a dull desk job.” The series itself is dark, gripping, and, as you might guess, expertly written.
Script asked Bernie a few questions about his writing background, his take on online media, and where he’s going from here:
SCRIPT: How did you come to create Compulsions?
Bernie Su: My writing training comes from TV drama so when I entered the Web space I naturally wanted to make a great drama series that felt like a high quality TV show. My inspiration was the premium cable shows like Dexter, The Sopranos, The Wire and such... shows with intensity, sophistication, and rich characters.
The actual idea came from my friend Joe Neuburger, who suggested I do a series based around interrogation. The concept was automatically Web-friendly since you'd have one central location with only two to three people. From there, I gave the story more layers, its mythology, and its psychological base, which is what you see today.
SCRIPT: How does a seemingly nice guy like you write such dark stuff?
BS: It's weird huh? A lot of people ask me about that and a lot of my friends were a bit shocked to see the material come from me. I like to think of writing as my escapism. I'm generally a very optimistic person, and thus very cheerful and "happy go lucky." Thus my escapism from that is to go dark and gritty in my writing. I feel that as a person, I have a high level of empathy and thus a tragic story resonates with me more - and impacts me greater than, say, comedies. The darkness in my writing keeps me cheerful because I appreciate my life that much more. It's very yin and yang.
I do make it a point to not write dark material just to write dark. It's very important that when you present darkness or horrific acts in your stories that it come from a true and genuine place. I feel that humans are naturally selfish creatures, which leads to violence, greed, envy, and deception. That is humanity at its unfortunate roots so that’s what I try to present on screen.
SCRIPT: If you were to make a food truck that travels around LA (a la Kogi BBQ), what would it serve?
BS: Ha! I think I'd go with fusion style wraps. They'd be healthy yet tasty. I think we have enough greasy (yet amazingly good) food trucks in LA. I'd like to see a healthy (yet amazingly good) food truck.
SCRIPT: Are you an online media writer hoping to jump to film and television, or are you Internet-only all the way? Is that even a relevant question?
BS: It is very relevant. There is still way more money, recognition, and audiences in those other mediums so I feel that anyone working in Web would eagerly jump to film or TV if given the opportunity.
Personally, I will go where the river takes me. I'd happily stay in the Internet if the funds can keep me fed and provide a roof over my head, but it remains to be seen if those funds are readily available in the current market. My original writing training is in episodic television, so naturally there's a strong interest there but I do love working on the Web. I really enjoy writing in the short form—I feel it's very challenging yet freeing.
One of the reasons I wanted to do Compulsions was to help elevate the level of drama on the Web, so if the online community will have me keep working in it, I'd be happy to stick around and continue to bring quality content forward.
SCRIPT: Did you forget to thank anyone from the stage? Now's your chance.
BS: Oh man, this could go forever cause I was so excited on stage I couldn't even read the note card that I had written with all the names.
First off, thanks to everyone that was part of that thunderous applause I received when I was announced and I hit that stage. I think that's the closest I'll ever get to literally blowing the roof off a place. Unforgettable, and the greatest moment of my life to date. My writer friends and teachers who all helped shape me into the storyteller I am today. My Cast - Craig Frank, Janna Bossier, Annemarie Pazmino, Seth Caskey, Taryn O'Neill, Sean Spence, R.C. Ormond, Andrew Clemons, Elizabeth Tsing, Ping Wu, David Nett, and Nick D'Avirro. An amazing ensemble cast that stands up to any on the Web.
My Production Team - Michael Tohl, Nathan Atkinson, Bob Grand, Jason Raswant, Michael Darrow, Rachel Payne, Tom Boykin and Sally Chou. Projects like these are always collaborative. Each and every one of them sacrificed something to work on this project. It was important to us that our series execute on every level of the production, so that credit solely goes out to each and every team member doing their parts to an exceptional level of quality. Yes, they say it starts with the script, but with out these people, Compulsions would just be words on a page.
Finally I really need to throw out thanks to The AFI, and the families of Michael Tohl and my own. We got a lot of extra help from them that really made this all possible. We wouldn't have gotten it done without them.
SCRIPT: If you had one suggestion for up-and-coming writers, what would it be?
BS: Stay focused and keep your eyes on the prize. You're probably spending 30-50 hours a week just making enough money to keep a roof over your head, so between that and sleep there isn't that much time left to write. I know everyone needs to have a break and take care of life, but between video games, TV, movies, partying, hanging out with friends, or any other activity you do for fun you have that much less time to better your craft. I'm not saying that you need to become a hermit or to give up everything else in your life, I'm just suggesting that you really watch where you spend your free time and set your priorities.
Bernie Su’s Compulsions can be seen at Compulsions.tv.
Alec McNayr and Robert Gustafson are writers and producers for Space Shank Media. Alec McNayr’s humor book Historical Tweets: The Completely Unabridged and Ridiculously Brief History of the World is available in stores everywhere.
[Full Disclosure: Alec McNayr is a member of the International Academy of Web Television, the voting body for the Streamy Awards.]
Photo Credit: The Bui Brothers