“Heading Home” – An Interview with Executive Producer Michael Berns

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Michael Berns, Executive Producer            PC: IMDB

At the recommendation of a friend, I binge-watched the first season of Hallmark Channel’s Chesapeake Shores just in time to catch Season Two last fall, and I was hooked. As summer winds down, the production team of Chesapeake Shores is gearing up for the new season, which premieres this weekend. In between flights to Vancouver, BC to edit future episodes, Show Runner Michael Berns set aside some time to share a few insights with us about what it means to be a part of this dynamic series.

ATG: Thank you again for this opportunity. I have to say, I found most of the the story lines for Season Two very intriguing. They took the characters in new directions and really developed the backstories of the main players. I’m excited to see how dynamics shift this season.

As you entered filming of Season Two of Chesapeake Shores, you mentioned in another interview that “This is the first time I’ve worked with any of the actors or members of the crew, all of whom were very generous and welcoming since I was the “new kid” for the second season.” You aren’t the “new kid” this time around. Did having a very successful season of the show under your belt affect your approach to the new season?

Michael: Absolutely, it was great not being the “new kid”!  With some time under my belt and with Season Two’s story lines already in place, it was easier to develop larger, more complex arcs and really delve into some of the more personal O’Brien moments.  With a full season behind all of us, I think it allowed both cast, crew and myself to take some more chances. I think all of us are really proud of the new season.

ATG: I know fans are extremely excited to be back with the O’Brien family this Sunday. While I know you enjoy developing the O’Briens’ stories for us, I also know your own family is a priority in your life. How has your relationship with your family impacted how you balance your personal time with your work?

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PC: Michael Berns

One of the favorite parts of the O’Brien family is that regardless of personal issues, they’re always there for one another.  Certainly, it’s hard to not see my family (and my dog) for close to four months, but my wife and children understand the difficulties and sacrifices involved in my profession.  When we’re in production on Chesapeake Shores, sadly, there is no balancing between personal time and family time for me, but my family and I try to remain close through billions of phone calls and texts.  With all three of my children in college (two will be seniors this year, one a junior), we’re accustomed to staying in touch electronically, but I do miss our summers together.  Since production ended July 16th, I’m now on my second trip back to Vancouver, so, in between work trips, I squeezed a quick trip to Washington DC and the real Chesapeake Bay to visit my daughter who has a summer internship in the city.  

ATG: I remember you mentioning in Season Two of Chesapeake Shores that David’s story about sending a girl a love letter and having it returned to him was founded in reality. Can you elaborate on that?

Michael: Yes, the love letter was loosely based on a real incident.  My first year in college was at Claremont McKenna College, a small school in Southern California.  Midway through the year, I decided to “take the plunge” and transfer to UCLA with the hope of entering film school as a junior.  In my excitement, I wrote a letter (yes, an actual letter) to an old high school girlfriend, describing my decision. A month later, I received it back, fully graded, with spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes noted.  It was pretty brutal. While it wasn’t a love letter, and we were no longer going out, I was pretty devastated and spent the next two days blasting the Eagles song, “Already Gone” in my dorm room as loud as I could. It was my version of a purge (which we also did last season on the show).  Honestly, I don’t know if it helped, and I have no idea where the woman is now, but every time I hear that song, I’m transported back to a small dorm room with very big speakers singing at the top of my lungs.

ATG: Isn’t it incredible how music can spark such emotional memories for us? As I re-watched Season Two, I found myself grinning while the theme song played. Already, some very special personal moments for me are associated with that opening sequence. In what other ways have your personal life experiences influenced the story lines of the show?

Michael: From friendships to relationships to family, you write what you know.  From moments as silly as a nautical quote (my dad still raises his glass at family gatherings to belt out, “To the ship, to the crew, to the blue lady of the skies”), to how O’Brien sisters and brothers interact, it’s all based on moments in life that you remember or moments you wish happened.  A personal favorite of mine is some of the sailing stories that are threaded through this season. Midway through Season Two, Treat Williams and I sat down and started to talk about our misspent youths, and we realized that both of us had spent a good deal of time on the water. One thing led to another, and so this season… well…  

ATG: It must be incredible to see memories like those replayed on screen. You know, many creative thinkers like to say that “art imitates life,” but we also know that we can learn from what we see on screen. What do you hope viewers learn from the upcoming season?

Michael: Considering your eloquently written posts, I’m hoping that they read your blog since you do a beautiful job finding meaning in our episodes.  Short of that, as simple as it sounds, the O’Briens are poster children for the idea that love can conquer all. Regardless of how much the O’Briens fight, they love one another enough to always find a way to forgive.

ATG: Wow! Thank you so much for your kind words. I’ll certainly keep tuning in, as I hope others do, to watch the O’Briens put love and kindness first, no matter their differences. One reason that theme comes through is because of the way the individuals of Chesapeake Shores work as an ensemble: each role adds a significant layer to the depth of the story, delving into more complex emotions. Off all the characters, which intrigue you the most? Why?

Michael: I know this sounds like a cop out, but I’m not sure if one character really stands out as either a favorite or as most intriguing.  When I’m writing or working in an editing room, the storyline or the character that matters is the one that’s in front of me. Since you insert yourself in every character, there’s a part of Jess in me, a part of Bree, a part of Mick, a part of Trace.   So, short of a decent answer to your question, let’s just say I’m still intrigued by Axel, Trace’s dog, who started life as a golden retriever and magically transformed into a German Shepherd.

ATG: That’s hilarious! I haven’t caught that – I suppose that means I have another excuse to binge-watch.

Season Two ended with many relationships “up in the air,” so to speak, and the Season Three premiere airs on Sunday, August 5. Can you describe a little about what viewers can expect? How will the premiere pick up where Season Two left off?

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PC: Michael Berns

Without giving anything away, many people (Trace, David and Simon) left at the end of the season and, no surprise here, it’s pretty likely we’ll see all of them again.  The biggest loose thread from last season is Bree’s manuscript and that will play a huge role in the coming season. If it’s any help, the new seasons begins a number of months after Season Two ended.

ATG: That is good for viewers to know, especially as they take to social media this weekend. With the Chessies hashtag and interaction with fans on social media over the past two seasons growing significantly, those little clues are important to keep us on track. You seem to enjoy interacting with fans and responding to as many as you can. What do you like most about interacting with Chessies?

I love the interactions on social media!  Besides getting to meet people from all over the world, I truly enjoy the back and forth of getting to know our fans.  As a writer, it certainly helps getting to know your audience better, and it’s wonderful chatting online with people that I’m sure I’d enjoy chatting with in real life.

ATG: Many devoted fans have taken to social media to express their desire for a “Chessies Reunion.” After Season Two ended, there was discussion of hosting a fan convention for Chesapeake Shores on beautiful Vancouver Island, where the show is filmed. Is this still in the works?

Michael: I hope we can do it… maybe for Season Three?  I’m really not the person to contact, but the idea sounds like fun!

ATG: It would be fun! We will have to keep it in mind as we watch this season. If you had to give fans one word to hold onto throughout Season Two what would it be?

Michael: Hope.

Chessies, head home to Chesapeake Shores this Sunday, August 5 at 9/8 Central on Hallmark Channel to discover just what Michael means by “hope.” If you haven’t followed Michael on social media, you are missing out. His kindness, sense of humor, and graciousness in sharing with fans has already been a blessing to many who interact with him online, myself included. You can follow him at @michaelbernsTV on Twitter, @michaelbernstv on Instagram, and @michaelberns on Facebook. Hope to see you all at the Shores!

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