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WGAw Tapping Bernstein Mirrors SAG Exec Choice

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The nation's entertainment unions continue to turn to executives with legal and studio experience in their attempt to meld their labor efforts with "solid and practical business models."

The Writers Guild of America west last week announced the appointment of Gregory Bernstein -- an attorney, former studio executive, and filmmaker -- as senior director of strategic planning. His background and mission, in a number of ways, mirror that of Robert Pisano, the Screen Actors Guild's national executive director-chief executive officer.

First, Bernstein's career commenced as an entertainment and litigation attorney with O'Melveny & Myers before moving on to become vice president of business affairs at Columbia Pictures in 1982, where he was associated with TriStar Pictures and Lorimar Telepictures until 1988.

Pisano specialized for more than 17 years in entertainment and litigation matters with O'Melveny & Myers. He also then moved into the studio system, serving as executive vice president and general counsel of Paramount from 1985-91. He joined MGM in 1993 as executive vice president, was named vice chairman in 1997, and was elected to MGM's eight-person board of directors in January 1998. By April 1999, Pisano had stepped down as part of a corporate shakeup by MGM's incoming chairman, Alex Yemenidjian. SAG hired him in the fall of 2001.

Pisano entered SAG with the guild's mandate for reorganization and streamlining, and he also increased efforts at updating technology.

Bernstein's mission, according to The Hollywood Reporter, is to conduct "a top-down review" of the WGAw's operations while also reviewing the industry's long-term trends, then make recommendations on how the guild might "better adjust internally and strategically."

In a press release issued last week by the WGAw, the guild's executive director, John McLean, said of Bernstein, "With his wide range of entertainment, legal, and business experience, Gregory is the ideal person to focus the guild's strategic planning efforts. His diverse background in the entertainment industry will ensure that the guild's long-range initiatives are based on solid and practical business models."

Both Corporate and Creative

Bernstein and Pisano also have been involved in the Internet side of the industry.

Pisano is on the board of Netflix, an online DVD rental firm involved in contracts with the major studios. The relationship has brought him some grief, with some SAG members accusing him of a conflict of interest.

Bernstein was co-founder of Verimar Communications Inc., an Internet-based company that webcasted events live to invited audiences. The California secretary of state's website presently lists the corporation as dissolved, and the WGAw verified that fact last week.

Meanwhile, Bernstein -- son of the late Academy Award-winning composer Elmer Bernstein -- possesses a bio including a creative segment that closely aligns him with the entertainment unions. During the late '80s, he enrolled in the American Film Institute, shooting several short films while earning his M.F.A. in directing. He then worked as both a screenwriter and director for several years, including co-writing with his wife Sara the 1997 film "Trial and Error," starring Michael Richards and Charlize Theron, and the 2001 TNT holiday telefilm "Call Me Claus," starring Whoopi Goldberg.

Bernstein has been a WGAw member since 1993. That experience as a screenwriter and guild member should aid him in his mission with the WGAw.

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