I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Schumacher.
Eric is an actor and filmmaker, best known so far as one of only a handful of actors to have played both Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday in nationally publicized productions, respectively: Legends and Lies: The Real West-Fox TV (https://youtu.be/v87eojCIRJ8) and Alex Cox’s Tombstone Rashomon (https://youtu.be/6w_cd94noGA ).
Eric has also gained some notoriety from roles in various sci fi/fantasy and fan culture projects and often speaks at fan conventions such as Comicons, sci fi conventions and film festivals. He is the creative director for Seelie Studios LLC, a multiple award-winning production company that’s done some really innovative things.
Thank you so much for joining us! Let’s show everyone you’re a normal human being. What are your hobbies, favorite places to visit, pet peeves? Tell us about YOU when you’re not at the office.
“Well, I don’t really have hobbies. I’m completely obsessed with filmmaking. My wife and I do take the occasional vacation, however. I’m not very good at taking time off. She has to remind me to put the phone away and stop answering email or, in some cases, to be me instead of whatever character I’m preparing for. I usually get a limit of an hour a day to walk around in public in character when we’re on vacation.
“Favorite place to visit: I love renaissance fairs, uniformly. Can’t get enough of them. I love the San Francisco bay area (where I partially grew up). San Francisco itself is full of overflowing cultures and beautiful scenery. I also love Marin County California, about 30 miles north of San Francisco proper, particularly Fairfax California, a small town in Marin County. It has a lot of character. The Napa wine country is a favorite, although I don’t drink. Go figure.
“Another of my favorite places is the amazing Bisbee, Arizona which was once the most populated town in Arizona and now is a wonderful, quiet town full of artisans and amazing restaurants and terrific bed and breakfasts. My very favorite place to stay there is the School House Inn, which was once an old school house and has themed rooms (the library, the music room, the principal’s office, etc). The current proprietors, John and Paula, have become good friends over time. They make a breakfast I’ll think happy thoughts about for weeks after and there’s an occasional spot of live music from John, who’s also a really amazing musician. He cut a couple of widely released albums many moons ago. I once learned a leading role in a 3 ½ hour play in a week-long stay in the Library Room at the Schoolhouse Inn, in between raiding the eclectic selection of books in there.”
Can you tell us something about you that few people know?
“Close friends tease me for being a germaphobe. There are a lot of in jokes on film sets about my ever-present hand sanitizer bottles. In fact, in Zhon: The Alien Interviews (a sci fi web-series I co-produced and co-starred in with actor/wrestler/fight choreographer Robert Linden and a bunch of other wonderful people) series directors Alan Williams and Tyrel Good insisted that a goofy security guard character (played by the very funny Steve McKee) pull out a big bottle of hand sanitizer and furiously pour it into his hands. That was actually my bottle of hand sanitizer. Also, I have the direction sense of a wet moth. I can get lost anywhere. It’s like my X-Men super power”.
Do you have any exciting projects going on right now?
“I’m very grateful to say that I do. Alex Cox’s Tombstone Rashomon recently launched to the public. A really beautiful feature film I played a principal role in called The Irish Goodbye is recently out to festivals. A narco drama series El Patron (the Master) is soon to launch to the public after a successful festival run. A really intense short I performed in called Bequest is about to go to festivals. We’re about mid-way through post production on a 26-episode sci fi web series I directed called My Stolen Time Machine starring fantastic newcomer Sara Mirasola.
‘The fan culture feature film Revenge of Zoe is in the last stages of post-production, co-produced with Pondo Enterprises double Emmy award winning science celebrity Geoffrey Notkin’s (http://www.geoffnotkin.com/) Desert Owl productions and Seelie Studios in collaboration with ArcLight Pictures. The film has a great energetic cast and includes a ton of really neat cameos from folks in the comic book and sci fi/fantasy world and as an added bonus, another film company (Dauphine Productions, LLC) making a documentary about indie filmmaking, heard about the production and decided to base the majority of the feature-length documentary on the making of Revenge of Zoe.
“We’re in development on a ton of projects on the producing side right now. That being said, I’m good at producing but it’s not my favorite part of the filmmaking process. I’d much rather perform or, as a second choice, direct. I’m always looking for the next role that lights my fire, provided I can schedule it.”
Many people say success correlates with the people you meet in your life. Can you describe two that most impacted your success and why.
“Oh wow. It’s such a long list. I’ve had so many incredible mentors and teachers. I guess I’ll pick out my parents, Joan and Paul Schumacher (who are kind of a set, so I hope that counts as one). They started teaching me about acting when I was about six years old and really shared their passion for it. I got the bug, as we say, pretty early.
“I’ll also call out my primary Kung Fu teacher Robert Firestine. He really taught me about discipline, focus, and how to be kind and compassionate yet true to yourself from a place of strength rather than a place of fear. Most people live entirely in fear of each other all the time. He also taught me how to mentor others effectively, and of course a lot of nifty martial arts stuff. :)”
Leaders always seem to find ways to overcome their weaknesses. Can you share one or two examples of how you work outside of your comfort zone to achieve success?
“I think any truly dedicated actor or filmmaker is constantly going outside their comfort zone. It’s part of the job and actually part of the value in the art. You always reach past what you think you can do emotionally and you’ll even quickly learn new skills to play a role.
“I play a lot of characters that make me go beyond my comfort zone; very edgy characters with intense moments who make me stretch my level of compassion and go beyond. If you’re smart you can use all of this to grow as a person as well as in your career. It’s kind of like being a spy except no one is really trying to kill you.
“There’s also a lot of stretching as a filmmaker. Imagine that you’re starting an entire new business every time you start a project. That’s what being a filmmaker is like: raising money, gathering a new team, creating a brand, legal work. Everything’s on the line at all times, including your career and, of course, you still have a responsibility to lead with grace and compassion.
“Fortunately, I love people. I especially find artists to be really fascinating. Loving and appreciating the diversity in your cast and crew is an important place to start in leadership. That goes for any business or organized venture.”
The concept of mind over matter has been around for years. A contemporary description of this is having mental toughness. Can you give us an example (or two) of obstacles you’ve overcome by getting your mind in the right place (some might call this reframing the situation)?
“After an injury sustained during a spectacularly klutzy moment when trying to remove a road hazard, I was cast in my first western. I had a week to get a muscle injury in my leg healed to the point where I could ride a horse. I had a ton of lines to learn in a short period of time and I had never really ridden a horse. The lines and healing were of primary importance and there was no longer any time to learn horsemanship.
“I had about 15 minutes before shooting six hours of riding scenes to get what I could into body memory and then cameras were rolling. I was playing an expert horseman. I have to admit that Elvis, the wonderful and highly trained movie horse and his awesome wranglers, saved my bacon and made me look good. Nonetheless, I not only could not show my nerves to the camera, but I couldn’t demonstrate fear or indecision in front of Elvis. Remembering some advice a friend, who was a horse expert, gave me, I made friends with Elvis first, then did a meditation and worked on softening any fear Elvis might sense. I focused on the character I was playing and his iron will and just played the role.
“It got a little hairy when we had to gallop and I had only one hand on the reigns and the other on a very real gun (empty of course), but by focusing on the task at hand, being the character and not the nervous Eric, maintaining the friendship with Elvis, and listening to the wranglers when they gave me advice, it looked great on screen. The rest was really Elvis and those exceptional wranglers.
“Another example was much earlier in my career when I was in a play and had a horrible and (I later learned) life-threatening case of Bronchitis during closing weekend. It was a small theater. I had a leading role but there were no understudies. It was going to be a full house both days and the theater didn’t have the financial wherewithal to cancel a show.
“I couldn’t stand up for more than a few minutes at a time and my voice sounded awful. I was playing an energetic young man in a period piece who, among other things has a spectacular argument with the female lead character at the end of the play. Again, I went deep into character and focused on who Joe was and how he felt. Much to my surprise, I found that whenever I crossed the threshold, although my voice still sounded grainy, I suddenly had energy in abundance and my voice was strong. After all, Joe wasn’t sick.
“Every time I stepped backstage I involuntarily dropped to the floor and had to literally crawl to the dressing room. After I changed (which was a challenge too), I’d crawl to the threshold and pull myself up against the wall and wait. Once my foot touched the other side of the threshold Joe was there again and I was full of energy.
“I did this for two days and even figured out how to borrow some of Joe’s energy to stumble to my car and drive home, being too stubborn to let someone drive me home (not something I’d advise others to emulate). After closing night, I was essentially immobile for two weeks and was on a nebulizer, so I could breathe.
“Since then, I’ve often found that when I get into character I have abilities I didn’t know I had, strength I don’t normally have, whatever is called for. It sounds woo woo, but it’s true. I think this speaks to the true power of the spirit and the mind. We are more than we think we are. We just have to let it happen.”
What are your “3 Lessons I Learned from My Most Memorable Failure”
“I was wooing a woman I was madly in love with who had recently been through a horrible divorce. Out of respect for her I was being cautious not to overwhelm her with the true depth of my feelings until one night, she said something about her ex and his feelings and I lost it. I told her exactly how I felt and that I thought he was never worthy of her. I bared my soul. She was very quiet.
“I dropped her off and drove home, sure I had blown any chance I might have had with her. I got a voicemail from her later telling me that I had ‘done my cause a lot of good’. We were married about one and a half years later and still are. Apparently that night was when she realized she could really trust me.
“The message is this: 1. To thine own self be true. Be honest with others about your feelings whenever you can (don’t be stupid about it of course). They will either reciprocate or not, like you or not, hate you or love you, but your relationship with them will be truthful. 2. Be honest with yourself. Stop trying to be what others think you should. 3. Your unique voice and self are needed. If you give of yourself to others honestly, the right people will give right back.”
What unfiltered advice can you give aspiring stars regarding how to avoid common mis-fires in starting their career?
“WOW. A lot. First off, learn your craft. Do you have raw talent? Great. Be the best you possibly can. Learn from others and pursue the knowledge doggedly. Everyone else who’s sincerely working to make it is doing that. Don’t be a fool and think you can just ‘out talent’ them without honing your skills.
“Learn about how the industry works. Take classes about the industry but also see if you can get someone who’s been around the block and had some success to mentor you. Learn about the process of making a film in general in fact and try to understand what the people making the decisions want and need to make a successful project.
“Don’t be an egotistical jerk. Maybe an A-lister can get away with that, but anyone below that level is just asking never to work again. Be the person you wish you could work with.
“Innovate. Just because a million people followed the same path to get into the industry doesn’t mean that’s the most effective path. In fact, most of that million didn’t make it and ended up leaving the industry. Be aware of expectations and necessary processes, of course. Don’t just spit all over the rules and insult people who have needed processes but, that being said, many of the most successful people went through a rather circuitous route. All of our stories are different. Write yours.
“If you are blessed enough to have fans, never let them forget for a second how truly grateful you are that they appreciate your work. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about so and so being rude to their fans, once and forever being branded as a jerk amongst fan communities. After all, the whole point here is to create art that others find meaningful. If someone does find your work to be meaningful to them, that’s one of the most beautiful things in the world. When someone tells you what your work means to them, it’s a true gift. It’s a symbiotic relationship between artist and audience. Even if you’re ‘all that’ you aren’t really ‘all that’ without your fans, your audience.”
What is the best lesson you learned from your worst boss?
“I worked with a director once who was so unbelievably cruel to me personally that I nearly walked from a project I had signed on for. I can’t think of many things that would make me even think about that. This director seemed to think that a great way to keep all of their actors in line was to scapegoat someone at random and emotionally beat the hell out of them through constant emotional abuse. Everyone else walked on egg shells during the production and I guess the director got what they wanted.
“I was a wreck however and it was affecting my ability to do my best work and to remain emotionally open to the other actors. I was a lead and others depended on my emotional cues. My feelings were hurt, my ego was bruised, and I was furious that this director would insult me so frequently when I came with good intentions and a professional attitude.
“My ego desire was to make a big stink, tell the director where to go in front of cast and crew and storm out. Maybe tell the newspapers about what a horrible working environment it was. That wouldn’t have served my fellow cast and crew or the project however. My wonderful, now retired manager at the time, gave me a compassionate kick in the ass and told me to stand up for myself while staying professional. Without in any way refusing legitimate direction or even directly verbally challenging the director, I changed my demeanor and made it abundantly clear through the way I answered questions, and not the words I used in answering them that I would not take random emotional abuse but would always to the job well.
“The director no longer saw someone who was taking the punches and backed off and the project was well reviewed. We even sort of ended up respecting each other, ish.
“The lesson was that sometimes you have to resist the urge to make a big stink and defend your bruised ego. Rather than lashing out, control yourself, calm yourself and talk to friends to get some perspective. Think about the situation and the real intended outcome and who’s involved and find a way to get the same result without making it worse. You serve the project and everyone else involved in it even if someone else doesn’t do that very well.”
What is one “efficiency hack” you use consistently in your life to keep your time and mind free to focus on your strengths and passions?
“Well I’m learning one actually. It’s called NO. If you’re so fortunate to start being a little bit in demand, there’s a temptation to just accept everything thrown your way, to make up for all of those dry periods when no one seemed to be interested in casting you or asking you to produce or direct. You’ve got to resist that urge and take only the projects you know you can serve well so that you can really focus.”
All actors or musicians have sleepless nights. We have a term we use with our clients called the “2 a.m. moment.” It’s when you’re wide awake and thinking not-so-positive thoughts about your business choices and future. Can you describe a 2 a.m. moment (or moments) you’ve had and how you overcame the challenges?
“This is the other side of the question about efficiency hacks. As an actor or a filmmaker, you have 2 a.m. moments constantly. These are really really difficult careers to be successful in and that success can be fleeting. There are times when as an actor, the phone just isn’t ringing, and the filmmaking projects are harder than usual to get off the ground and you wonder, ‘oh my God, was that it? Does no one want me anymore?’
“This is when that fear takes over because these aren’t just careers, they’re your life’s work, your passion, your breath. The thought of not being wanted is horrifying. In those moments, I just try to think about what I can control and what I can do personally to keep things going in the right direction. Making sure you’re adapting your plan when you feel insecurity gives you something to focus on and is empowering. For example, during the last dry period with offers for acting work, I just focused on revising pitch packages for some of our film projects. If it won’t come to me, I’ll make it myself. During the last dry period for directing or producing work I focused on improving the marketing for the last projects and on revising my acting marketing package.”
Nobody likes to fail, and we sure don’t like to admit we failed. Can you describe a moment when you confided your most closely-held business issues/problems to someone close to you, and how the conversation(s) helped you work through the issue?
“I can’t think of just one occurrence. I have some very close friends and, as I’ve said a couple of times, this business is incredibly challenging. It’s a daily occurrence to reach out to my inner circle and ask for support and course corrections. I highly recommend it.”
What’s on the drawing board for your next venture?
“Well on the acting side I’m in negotiations on some things I can’t talk about right now. I’m excited for the possibilities but mum’s the word for now.
“On the filmmaking side, I’m working on building a new business model which, if it’s successful, will dramatically increase the amount of media we are already producing and give us a much bigger reach, including a new slate of films. It’s a strategic partnership with several other great organizations in various states and countries. That’s in addition to the stuff I mentioned in an earlier part of this interview.”
What did we miss? Feel free to share any other thoughts or advice on overcoming failure, initiatives you’re currently supporting, any other relevant information you would like to share with the readers.
“I would like to mention my involvement in a couple of important charities. Several years ago, my good friend, record-holding cross country runner and phenomenal Reggae/Afro-Pop musician K-Bass (www.kbassmusic.com) introduced me to El Ndoye, the brilliant and dedicated founder of The Forgotten Children (https://www.theforgottenchildren.org/) .
“El was raised in Senegal, Africa and was able to immigrate to the United States. He’s now a manager at a bank in Arizona (where Seelie Studios has been based for several years). El always wanted to do something for the more than 100,000 homeless children who live on the streets of Senegal. He founded The Forgotten Children and has been working diligently to build a boarding school for as many of those kids as possible, to give them a safe place to grow up and learn skills. The school is almost complete and in less than a year, provided that donations keep coming as they have been, 50–100 kids can move in and will have a new lease on life. I joined the board of directors and am honored to be a part of it. We hope to further expand the school over time.”
“Also, I’m a supporter of the American Cancer Society. Cancer has taken several close friends and family members and one of my closest friends and colleagues is fighting it as I write this. I’m the MC for a large event in Tucson, Arizona on September 22nd, 2018. Tucson is a national technology hub and It so happens that the University of Arizona is working in partnership with the American Cancer Society on some ground-breaking research which is really making a difference.”
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
“I love connecting with fans and fellow artists alike on social media.
I can be found on:”
Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/eschumacherfilm/
Also, here’s my website address where folks can join my email mailing list, message me directly or just catch up on things going on with me and the wonderful folks I work with. https://ericschumacherfilm.com/
As of this writing the Seelie Studios website is being completely revamped for our new business model but, when done, it will remain at: http://www.seeliestudios.com/
This was really awesome! Thank you so much for joining us!
The pleasure was absolutely mine. Thanks for having me.
Originally published at medium.com