Former Chicagoan Danny Bernardo brings 'Jerky' to Midwest premiere at Reeling

Tue. September 18, 2018 5:40 PM by Ross Forman

danny bernardo and padfoot

photo credit // danny bernardo

36th annual Reeling Film Festival runs Sept. 20 - 30

Danny Bernardo, who lived in Chicago for about 16 years before moving to Los Angeles in 2015, makes his film debut with Jerky, which he wrote, produced and acted in.

Jerky is rooted right here in the Windy City.

In the fall of 2014, there was a lot of loss for the Chicago theatre community. "It was so sporadic and random, we were literally losing artists every week due to illness or accident," Bernardo said. "Some of it was sudden, some of it was looming, but it all hurt.

"The morning of opening night for my last show in Chicago (Season on the Line at the House Theatre of Chicago), I found out my mentor in college, Sheldon Patinkin, had passed. I had to work through the grief and perform that night and that was happening in theatres all around Chicago."

Bernardo also cried then from the passing of his dear friend Matthew Gunnels, who had been diagnosed with cancer a few years prior and had rescued a dog, named, Beef.

"We didn't know how much time he had left, but Matt was a fighter and he kept giving us years. When he finally passed, it wasn't unexpected, but it still was a punch in the gut and we were all hurting," Bernardo said. "And because his death happened while we were experiencing so much loss in the community, it hurt even more.

"The entire Chicago theatre community really came together to help each other mourn the losses and celebrate their lives. We had each other. And I kept thinking in all that, while we were comforting each other, poor Beef never knew what happened to Matt.

"I started thinking about how our pets can feel our loss, but never fully understand it or work their way through it with others. I kept thinking of Beef's loss amidst our loss."

That sparked the idea for the Jerky script, "and writing it really helped me work through my own grief," Bernardo said.

But living in Los Angeles presented a logistic challenge for Bernardo.

"In Chicago, I had such close ties with the theatre community that I could organize and start projects within a week. I was basically starting over in LA, so getting a crew and a cast together was a little daunting, but I knew that the first project I produced had to be this piece," he said. "Thankfully, I'd just started to build my network here in L.A. as I was getting ready to make this piece. I really lucked out partnering with Tim J. Lim, the director, and his production company, Fluster Pictures. Tim is an absolute renaissance man and I absolutely love working with him. He's soulful and thoughtful with every frame he builds and he's a great collaborator. Our first meeting, he played what he'd come up with a nugget of a melodic line he'd composed for the score and it broke my heart. It was perfect and I knew it was going to be a great match. The cast is amazing. I mean, falling in love with Edwin Martinez as 'Martin' and baring it all with Dani Woodson as 'Charlotte' was so easy because they were so good. I really lucked out that I've started to find my tribe here in L.A. like I had in Chicago. And of course, my favorite costar was my dog, Padfoot, who played Jerky.

Jerky follows Gordon (Bernardo) who struggles to pick up the pieces of his life after the death of his husband Martin (Edwin Martinez). The biggest obstacle in his healing: Martin's dog, Jerky, whom Gordon never wanted. A stark and intimate portrait of the grieving process, Jerky deals with love, loss, and those left behind.

After screening at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner and 2018 OutFest Fusion Festival, Jerky will make its Midwest premiere at the 2018 Reeling Film Festival. Produced by Twelve 3 Productions in association with Fluster Pictures, Jerky will play as part of the "Pick Up The Pieces" program of Reeling on Saturday, Sept. 22 at 1 p.m., at the Landmark Century Cinema (2828 N. Clark).

"I hope people take away that even though losing a love one is hard, they're never gone forever. Their legacy lives on in us and those that loved them. Holding on to grief isn't the only answer; we need to reach out to each other to find comfort and healing. And dogs are awesome," Bernardo said.

"I think the most personal part was working with my dog as my co-star. We were working to get a trained animal actor for the project, but couldn't work out the scheduling and the budget. I had just adopted Padfoot a couple of months prior, had just built our bond and were still in the early phases of training. At the eleventh hour as Tim and I were [brainstorming] ideas of friends we knew with dogs, we asked ourselves if Padfoot could work. I reworked the script for Jerky to only do things that Padfoot could do and it worked out great. A lot of what you see on screen is my real relationship with Padfoot. There were parts where I had to get really emotional while wrangling him at the same time, which was a challenge but what Tim was able to capture on camera, and later edit, just really surpassed what I imagined the scenes to be when I wrote them.

"I'm very pleased with how everything turned out because my collaborators were so amazing. There were a lot of last-minute changes due to budget and logistics that ended up being happy accidents that made the piece better. Emotionally, it was kind of like opening an already-healed wound. I had really put a lot of my grief into this script and started to heal from that and then picked it up a couple of years later to produce it. So, it was like going through it all again in a lot of ways. But also, it was very cathartic to be able to move forward as my character does and honestly, as a tribute to all the losses our community had faced that September."

More From Danny Bernardo ...

On Matt Gunnels:

"Matt was an amazing musical theatre director. Seriously, one of the best. He had been an actor, so he really knew how to communicate with actors very well and get the best out of them. He was so dedicated to story and craft and he was a constant inspiration. We would sit together at company meetings for Bailiwick Chicago and whisper, dream cast shows together that we'd work on someday. He loved composer William Finn; his email address was an obscure William Finn musical. Whenever I need to remember Matt, I just have to put on a William Finn score and he's there with me. He was also a big geek like me, which is why I think we got along so well."

On Twelve 3 Productions:

"The biggest thing in the film/TV industry right now is making your own content. Ever since I moved back to L.A., that's what people kept saying to me. We live in a time now with the advent of social media and streaming platforms that people can come together on projects and share it with the world quicker than before. So instead of just sitting around while I send out scripts and take meetings, trying to get into a writers' room, I thought, 'Yeah, I'll make my own stuff, too.' So I started this company that's dedicated to diversity and inclusion, both in front of an audience and behind the scenes. I want the stories we tell to be full of compassion and empathy. Those are traits I actually really admire in my mother with whom I share a birthday, Dec. 3, which is known as the day of ingenuity. That's how I got the name Twelve 3, which encapsulates all the things I believe in: ingenuity, inspiration, and inclusion. And as an homage to my mom. I officially started producing under Twelve 3 Productions in January of 2017."

More on Diversity and Inclusion:

"Well obviously as an artist of color, diversity and inclusion are very important to me. It's all about making more opportunities for people of color and women in front of the camera and behind it. It's not about taking away from what's established, it's (about) adding, making sure voices that haven't been heard before are being heard. For a long time, the entertainment industry has pointed to box office numbers as reason for not having more diversity onscreen, but the success of movies like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians make it impossible to maintain that argument. The success of films like those prove that people of color want their stories told. So that's what this movement is about, making sure they get told and respectfully, presented by people of the communities the stories are about. On the theatre end, organizations like The Chicago Inclusion Project and Project Am I Right are doing a great job of making sure theatre companies are doing their due diligence with accurately serving underserved voices and holding theatre companies accountable."

On Screening in Chicago:

"Even though I grew up between L.A. and Las Vegas, I spent so much time in Chicago I consider it my second hometown. It'll be great to be back in the city I love and check out as much theatre as I can, visit Boystown and hang out with friends. It's been a couple of years. But the biggest reason it means so much is that I attended the Reeling Film Festival every year I lived in Chicago. It was so important to me to experience new queer cinema and two of my favorite queer films ever (Shelter and Private Romeo) I saw at Reeling. It never occurred to me that I could be a part of this festival that I loved so much because my career path was so firmly set on theatre. So, the fact my first film is bringing me back to Chicago to screen at Reeling, in a way that validates the decision I made to move back to L.A. and shift career goals. And to be able to share the film with the community of the man that inspired it, I mean that's priceless. It makes the journey leaving Chicago feel full circle and I'm really excited for the future."

On Chicago Bars:

"I lived above Roscoe's for most of my 20s, (so) it'll always have a special place in my heart as my adventures during that time inspired a lot of Boystown, my serial on Town Hall Pub is hands down my favorite Dive Bar and I spent a lot of time at Replay on Halsted in my last couple years in Chicago. But of course, my favorite bar nights in Boystown were always Musical Monday at Sidetrack."

Favorite Chicago Restaurant:

"Isla Pilipina in Lincoln Square was where I went to satiate my craving for authentic, home cooked Filipino food. So good. Orange was my favorite brunch place; Nookie's on Halsted was my favorite post-bar food; Lou Malnati's has my favorite deep dish pizza. My guilty pleasure was Crisp on Broadway for Korean fried chicken; my last apartment was around the corner from it and I was there a couple times a week. The best dinner I ever had in Chicago was at Girl and the Goat."

Favorite Chicago Theater:

"I love what Victory Gardens has been doing ever since Chay Yew took over the helm a few years back. It's really gone to fostering the playwright's voice and presenting new and exciting work. I'm really excited about the upcoming season for Firebrand, the female-run musical theatre company. Jackalope, Silk Road Rising, and House Theatre of Chicago have always produced work that is innovative, exciting, and relevant. And my former artistic homes, Porchlight Music Theatre and the late Bailiwick Chicago, will always have special places in my heart."

Favorite Chicago Theater Production:

"My favorite production to work on, hands down, was when Bailiwick Chicago produced my play Mahal, directed by Erica Weiss whose has a new series on CBS this season called The Red Line starring Noah Wylie and created with her artistic partner Caitlin Parrish. My favorite production I acted in was my last show in Chicago, Season on the Line, at House Theatre of Chicago, directed by Jess McLeod. It was an adaptation of Moby Dick that served as a love letter to theatre makers and it was the perfect last chapter in my time in Chicago. I'm very excited to see some shows when I'm back. Basically my time back will be spent either at Reeling, catching up with friends, or at the theatre. Currently on my docket are Firebrand's Caroline or Change, Vietgone at Writer's Theatre, and I'm really hoping I have time to see Avenue Q at the Mercury Theater."

Favorite Actor and Actress:

I'm going to keep this all about Chicago. Danni Smith and Matt Keffer's performances in Bailiwick Chicago's Wild Party still haunt me; they both have this ridiculous, raw energy when they embody roles as actors and it was electric to see them together. My favorite actress to write for is, Emjoy Gavino; she's so versatile and endearing. One of my favorite actors to work with is Garrett Lutz. I had the pleasure of working with him on Sketchbook at Collaboraction when he was just out of college and he helped me workshop of one of my plays at InFusion. It's been so great to see his star on the rise over the years. He's currently playing 'Sam' in Theater at the Center's Ghost the Musical and I'm so bummed I won't get a chance to see it when I'm there. Also, E. Faye Butler. Because...E. Faye Butler. I am gutted I can't see her as Mama Rose in Porchlight's Gypsy. And since no one ever asks, I'll volunteer this next bit: Lili-Anne Brown, Jess McLeod, Lavina Jadhwani, Brenda Didier, L. Walter Stearns, and Jonathan Berry are my favorite directors. Whenever I think Chicago theatre, I think of their work."

One Celebrity You'd Like To Meet:

Henry Golding – "Have you seen Crazy Rich Asians? Good God, he is handsome and talented. He's probably the only celebrity out there at the moment that I'd totally fanboy and gush over. Also, Andrew Garfield. It's a controversial statement, but he was my favorite Peter Parker and I'd love to shake his hand and tell him that."

Favorite Pig-Out Food:


(Complete the sentence) Even My Close Friends Will Be Surprised To Know ... "I deleted Grindr; it was time."

The 36th edition Reeling, the second-oldest LGBTQ film festival in the world, will present 31 features and 19 shorts programs, all of them Chicago premieres, during the run of the festival from September 20-30, 2018. The festival's opening night presentation will take place at the Davis Theater (4614 N. Lincoln Ave.) on Thursday, September 20, with an after-party at the adjoining Carbon Arc Bar. Reeling moves to Landmark's Century Centre Cinema (2828 N. Clark) from September 21-27, and then concludes September 28-30 at the newly restored firehouse headquarters of Chicago Filmmakers (5720 N. Ridge Ave.). Chicago Filmmakers is the presenting organization of Reeling. Visit for more information.