Expert Interview: Eric Forsberg
This article was originally part of the Insider Cinema guide to Hollywood, a website from the mid-2000s. We are reposting it here as both a writing sample and a guide for those seeking to get their foot in the door in Hollywood.
Eric Forsberg grew up in a theatre family, with a filmmaker father and an improv-comedy mother. He spent his developing years at Chicago’s Second City and got his first movie camera at the age of nine. He wrote his first produced play at 17, his second at 18, and his first musical with an original score at 20. After college Eric worked in Chicago in some of the top theaters as a writer and a director. He finally came to California in the late 1990s. His feature films include, ‘Alien Abduction’, ‘Snakes on a Train’, ‘Night of the Dead’, ‘Monster’, ’30,000 Leagues Under the Sea’, ‘Pledge of Allegiance’, and ‘War of the Worlds 2’.
I.C. Why did you get into the entertainment industry?
I come from an industry family, my father was an indie filmmaker (art shorts) and my mother taught improv at The Second City, so if I really wanted to rebel I would have become a lawyer.
I.C. What was the first project you worked on?
I was an actor in a film in Chicago when I was six, then again when I was nine, ten, and twelve. I began working with my father as a PA when I was a teen. My first big movie was in my early teens – The Late Great Planet Earth (with Orson Welles). I did special make-up for the film.
I.C. Did you go to film school?
Yes, I went to Tufts and the School for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for film and music. The degree was through Tufts University on a special BFA program in cooperation with the Museum School. I did graduate work in film at The School of the Art Institute in Chicago. I chose these schools as much as they chose me.
I.C. Do you feel that you got the education you wanted from your time in school?
- USC would have been nice. My school was very much about fine art and not about practical film making.
I.C. What advice would you give to a prospective student who is applying to film school?
Make lots of movies outside of the classroom.
I.C. What are the biggest mistakes a film school student can make while in school?
Not making enough movies and focusing on one screenplay for too long.
I.C. What difficulties did you encounter in Hollywood?
No matter how many great connections I have I must work so hard for so little money for every little inch up the ladder. I really thought that someone from my past, some star that I worked with (like Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, and many others) would give me a hand. But I have done almost everything on my own. Not even my father has been able to help me. It has been a tough slog.
I.C. When did you decide to stop working for free?
I still work for free – all the time – everybody wants free work, even the big producers – nobody wants to pay until you have them over a barrel – so I work for free until they can’t do it without me, then I get paid. But I always keep in mind that there are hundreds of people out there willing to work for less than me. It is daunting.
I.C. How do you choose when to work on those terms?
Only for companies that have a track record of selling my script and paying me – and now I also make sure that I am attached as the director.
I.C. What are the biggest mistakes a person can make when they first start working in the industry?
Wasting time and not following up on contacts or requests. Another big mistake is overvaluing oneself too early – asking for huge sums of money – playing hard to get. There’s a ton of competition out there.
I.C. What’s the biggest thing you depend on, on set?
I love my wife and daughter to visit – that brightens my day – having a great first AD is important – someone that I trust and that makes me feel good about my work. Luckily, I have Nikki, my designated first: Also having people on your team that you know and trust. Other than that – TIME – having enough time is crucial, and not always the case.
I.C. Did your short “It Took Guts” help you get work?
Not really – but it was fun – that was one of my really early movies (an in-my-teens project) – I made it with my friend Charles Schneider – and it toured the world with a rock group called The Mad. It also played CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City in New York as well as punk clubs in Boston (the Rat) and Chicago (Exit). When it first started showing I was too young to get into the places it was at. But people screamed “guts, guts, guts, guts…) every Wed. night at Max’s until it came on. It was a bit of a punk cult film.
- I.C. Did you have an agent at this point, and did they help you significantly?
I had just gotten an agent at Writers and Artists and then six months later it was taken over by Paradigm and my agent didn’t go with it. I dabbled with a boutique agency for a year and a half but the agent wasn’t totally there for me and I got all of my work on my own. I’ll go with the old adage. But – now that I am more established maybe it’s time to try again.
- I.C. How did “Andy” come about?
I was a freshman in college and I wanted to make my first feature. To this day Andy is one of my best films – an honest look inside what I was feeling coming to a new town, alone, with the expectation of growing up – of finding my strength. And the soundtrack that I picked for it (all needle drops) was awesome.
- I.C. What is “Knat Scatt Private Eye”?
It’s a 1930s style musical comedy thriller: it had some really great people in it including Steve Carell. It was his first big project in Chicago before going onto Second City and then becoming a star.
- I.C. What has been your favorite film to work on and why?
Sex Pot. Actually, it was Sex Pot in 3 DDD. That was an easy-going set and a really fun film to make. Of course, it was a comedy – which harkened back to my Second City days – and it was a movie about two teenage boys smoking pot and trying to get laid – which pretty much sums up my junior year of high school. The drawback is some ways about the film is that we needed it to be a 3DDD boob movie too, so there are a lot of Russ Myer-style hoochy mamas in it taking off their shirts. It makes it hard to show my mother.
- I.C. How did you come up with “Snakes On A Train”?
My producer called me and said, “I need a movie called Snakes on a Train – write it – you have two weeks”. That was it. So I researched Snakes on a Plane which was coming out in five months and I made sure to write a script that had nothing to do with it other than it was about snakes and people being trapped in a tubular transportation vehicle. My film is about Mayan magic and a young Shaman trying to rescue the woman he loves from a curse.
- I.C. Did you ever meet someone casually at a club that wound up leading to a great job, or a major step in your career?
I did meet a former cast member of mine at a Christmas party about five years ago and ever since then, she has been my main editor. Other than that, sure, I meet people all of the time – one of the best places is at some of these pitch fests and expos: Also I and a great believer in Flash Forward. You have to meet people to know them, and you have to know them for them to hire you. So any event like that is great.
- I.C. Did you ever foster a relationship or a business partnership with someone that turned out to be incredibly beneficial for you?
I focused a lot of attention on David Latt and the folks at the Asylum. They have hired me many times. Early on I focused attention on Christopher Coppola and his team including Alain Silver and Paolo Durazzo, and they have hired me for multiple things. Right now I am working with Jeff Katz on something – so hopefully that will pay off with a movie. Some relationships turn out to lead to work, others don’t. But it is all a good excuse to drink.
- I.C. Which do you enjoy more, television or feature directing?
Television directing is like Pizza and feature directing is like steak. I’d rather have a steak most of the time, but every once in a while pizza is refreshing.
- I.C. What are you currently working on, and how did you arrive here?
I just finished my biggest feature to date – Mega Piranha for Syfy. I am writing and developing other projects including another comedy – MILF – for Comedy Central. I’ve had quite a few high points – my last Chicago Symphony directing gig was great, stepping onto the stage at orchestra hall and being honored by the orchestra, the conductor, and thousands of people – all following a wonderful show. Also just last Dec. 16th, my birthday, there was a huge event at The Second City (the 50th anniversary) with a red carpet and a lot of press – tons of stars – with brunches and dinners and shows honoring us all, even me, it was great. And I feel good now – about Mega Piranha – it was the toughest shoot of my life, a huge action film with helicopter chases and car chases and underwater battles – tons of VFX plates and blue screen FX, and some stars – Barry Williams, Tiffany, and Paul Logan. We shot in LA and Belize – it was a monster – but fun – so that one feels good. But the best thing in life is being married and having my little girl by me (Lola, 11).
- I.C. How would you advise people to network?
Parties, Schmoozefest, pitchfest, groups, organizations, classes, do it all. But the best place to network is at the job that you already have.
- I.C. What are your future goals?
Keep on going, bigger and better and more and more. I want to get a big movie, one big movie per year, so I can support my family in some style, reach a level of accomplishment that is meaningful, and create some movies that leave a good impression. And for that, I need a film that has money and time on its side. That’s my goal – to pull money off a tree and time out of a melon. VIOLA!
- I.C. What motto do you try to live your life by?
“There is no other case, this is the case.” – Paul Newman says it in the Verdict (David Mamet) when he is in the bathroom and he knows that he is going to lose – suddenly he knows it – and Charlotte Rampling shouts through the door that there will be other cases in the future – she tries to soothe him – but the knows that if he loses this one there will be nothing else – so he starts whispering “there is no other case, this is the case” over and over. He can’t lose it – he can’t. He has to figure out a way to push through and win.
So – that’s my motto. Just looking at it almost gives me a heart attack. It is a lot of pressure, but it is true – our lives are hallways filled with doors that are closed, and when one opens up a crack we have to take advantage of it because it may close again at any second and it may never open again. There are always other doors, and we can just keep walking and hope for the best of course – but we need to push ourselves to become the best we can be – because this may be the case that we should not let slip away.
- I.C. Did someone ever try to take advantage of your inexperience in Hollywood?
- I.C. Did you ever pay for a program that promised big results to help further your career, but it never delivered?
Ummm – You bet
- I.C. Did you ever come across a project or a person that looked promising, and then the whole thing blew up in your face?
Quite a few
- I.C. Were there any telling signs?
Big talkers who keep telling you about how great they are and how Bobby DeNiro loves them and how they’re only living in a studio apartment until their million-dollar check clears from the big movie deal.
- I.C. What did you do?
I play it out or walk away – today’s lying prick, tomorrow’s studio exec.