When Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger moved into their new office at the start of the second season of NBC’s “This Is Us,” they brought in furniture conducive to their individual work styles. “I love sitting at a desk and Elizabeth almost never does,” says Aptaker. “She’s always on the couch with her laptop, and I sit at this massive desk by myself.” They also filled the space with mementos to “make it [somewhere] we want to be,” Berger adds. After all, working on the 18-episode family drama has them spending as much, if not more, time there than in their respective homes.
Aptaker and Berger met in a dramatic writing class during their freshman year at NYU and quickly bonded over each other’s work, Berger says. They received a grant to make a pilot, which they shot at the East Village walk-up they also shared. “We were like, ‘Oh we’re going to make one thing for $10,000 and we’re going to sell it and it’s going to be the crazy next Lena Dunham story,’” says Aptaker. “That didn’t happen, but it was how we learned to work together as partners.” They keep a photo from that pilot close by even today.
But Her Email!
The first studio meeting the duo got was “through a connection of Isaac’s,” Berger recalls. She was in charge of labeling the pilot DVD they were going to leave behind, but put the label on both sides of the disc, leaving it “unwatchable.” Convinced she ruined their careers, she emailed Aptaker’s mother “begging forgiveness and trying to reassure her that one day I would do something for Isaac that would buy back this moment.” They framed and hung the email because they believe it reflects the intensity with which they approached their careers, and acts as a reminder that when one thing doesn’t work out, something else is around the corner.
Aptaker and Berger met “This Is Us” creator Dan Fogelman a decade ago but first worked with him on “The Neighbors” in 2013. That’s where they met actor Tim Jo, who made them a custom Barbie and Ken set of their likenesses. “It was so cool and thoughtful; they’re always on display wherever we go,” Aptaker says. The dolls also remind Aptaker and Berger of a “very happy, joyous time” in their careers, and their personal lives: Berger met her husband on set of “The Neighbors.”
Immortalized on Screen
Fogelman has been splitting his time between TV and film, including directing “Danny Collins.” In his co-showrunners’ honor, he named the movie’s pivotal cancer center after them, calling it the Aptaker-Berger Cancer Center. That came as a surprise to the duo, who learned of it when Fogelman showed up in their office with the sign from production. “It’s meaningful that he knew making that movie, that would live on forever,” Berger says, admitting they have to find a way to repay him.
Dad on Display
While Fogelman has the infamous slow cooker that ultimately led to Jack Pearson’s (Milo Ventimiglia) death on “This Is Us,” Aptaker and Berger have one of the urns that hold his ashes. “For all of our props that get carried through time, there’s different aged versions of it, so there’s actually multiple urns. We have an older one,” Aptaker says. “It’s one of those objects that has so much meaning and is both sad but has this hope, too.” Theirs is empty, though Aptaker says they should “ask Milo to write something” that they can keep in it.
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