Award-Winning Producer Eric Schumacher Chats Running A Production Company
Eric Schumacher is a critically acclaimed, multi award-winning film, TV and multimedia actor, director and producer. Currently he serves as the president of Seelie Studios, a ground-breaking and award-winning multimedia production company. He sat down with us to chat about his career and casting advice.Tell us about you and your career. When & how did you get started?
My parents are magnificently talented actors and began exposing me to their art of choice pretty much out of the womb. I loved it and begged them to teach me more. I’ve been blessed to have been mentored or taught by some other brilliant and highly skilled pros, some fairly well-known and some not. As a an unabashed nerd, I attended a sci fi convention in my teenage years and was inspired by a lecture given by Nichelle Nichols (Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek the Original Series) about the influence that Star Trek had socially, and realized that if I learned about the entire production mechanism I might be do good things through filmmaking. I studied film production. I also studied marketing (which is important for an entertainer) while continuing to work and hone my skills as an actor. Eventually, I began crewing in a few different positions, then writing, producing and directing. I also devoted a good deal of time to the study of a very deeply philosophical approach to martial arts and was likewise mentored by some truly amazing people though that study. The self-knowledge and physical skills gained through martial arts study has helped me to be better at everything I do. I kept performing, and making media and kept meeting people, working with them and finding common ground. I guess you could call it networking. I think of it as finding my tribe. I moved to Arizona related to my martial arts studies and formed a couple of companies for specific projects like the streaming series, Zhon: The Alien Interviews. In Arizona, among many other great collaborators, I met Don Dehm, founder of Seelie Studios, when I did a voice over piece for the company. We hit it off and became great friends. When he was battling cancer years later, I had already become a partner in the company, and he asked me to take the mantle.
Tell us about your credits. What have you worked on?
I guess you can say that my career has been unusual. I’ve worked in most genres and mediums from live theater to film to voice over, television, radio, internal marketing videos, streaming series, music videos audio dramas and print ads as an actor and/or as a producer or director. I even managed a band for three years. I’m truly grateful for every opportunity and they’ve all been pretty diverse. Some favorite projects that have released include: the early web sitcom Crewing Up, in which I played self-centered Newsman Frank Mann; the sci fi streaming comedy series Zhon: the Alien Interviews which I co-produced and co-starred in; the Revenge of Zoe feature nerd culture comedy film series, which I’ve played a principal role in three of so far, the time slot winning Legends and Lies for Fox TV, in which I played Wyatt Earp, and the newly released mocumentary feature film Tombstone Rashomon in which I played Doc Holliday. Tombstone Rashomon was directed by the legendary (and terrific), Alex Cox (best known for films like Repo Man, Sid and Nancy, Walker, etc.). Another recent release was the short film Bequest by Ric Mel Films which won a ton of awards. I really enjoyed doing guest spots on the branded puppet series The Bob and Angus Show which was produced by Seelie Studios from long before I joined the company for the then large game company Mayfair Games. That series was produced and directed by Don Dehm. I played a Rod Serling like character in three twilight zone spoof episodes on that show.
Are you working on anything cool right now?
I can’t say anything publicly about more than half of the projects we’re working on yet but I’m working on a ton of cool things right now, mostly on the producing and directing side. Due to the pandemic we’re not on sets right now. I can say that we’re in production on several fantastic audio drama projects, in post-production on several streaming projects, in the build phase for an entertainment website and the film bearing the actual name the Revenge of Zoe is releasing in January (#2 in the series I’ve performed in). The Revenge of Zoe includes a bunch of terrific cameos from comic book and sci fi/fantasy creators. We don’t have exact release dates quite yet. We are in negotiations on some other, very exciting projects and in development on others with trusted producing partners in several states in the US and in several different countries. The super funny western streaming sit com Horse Camp, by Patrick Ball Media is in progress. I played the main villain for season one of that series so far. Also, the new film in The Revenge of Zoe film series called The Love Song of William H. Shaw is about 80% shot and on hold due to the pandemic. Reconfiguring what we can do because of the pandemic has been extremely challenging and has caused a lot of delays on things but we’re getting a lot of projects moving.
How do you feel about the casting process? Easy, hard? How did you first navigate it?
I’ve gone through the casting process frequently as an actor and I’ve run lots of castings from the production end also. There are things I love about it but its often a stressful, tedious process for everyone with occasional moments of elation. For the actor its usually nerve-wracking and often really depressing and for the casting team it requires an unbelievable amount of work and focus. Before remote auditions were a thing, actors had to travel all over the place, skipping out on income generating day jobs or missing other important things to spend potentially hours in traffic to have a 5 minute audition and do that over and over again for each role. You’re always in search mode since the jobs tend to be transitory. You may be on asset and have a deadline to submit a self-tape or can’t get to a live audition. The typical casting to audition ratio is very low, even for those who work pretty regularly. For casting folks, you receive piles of marketing materials and have to sit in a room seeing lots and lots of auditions with the same material. It’s quite a process. Of course, I’ve also met some close friends and colleagues by auditioning for them, gotten some fantastic roles and on the casting side met some wonderful actors who I’ve worked with over and over. Some people who’ve auditioned for me have also become good friends. You’d think the remote audition process would be more pleasant but I have to say as an actor often the requirements put on you for remote auditions just add more stress and decrease the odds of a strong audition. A lot of auditions are well configured and some are not. As an actor you just have to roll with it. I do much prefer the remote audition process when we’re in casting phase, however. We run things in a pretty user-friendly way for the performer and performers usually enjoy the process also.
I have loads of stories from both sides of the table and the screen.
To answer your other question about how I first navigated it is a challenge. I was a kid after all. I guess the easiest answer is that I listened very carefully to the instructions given me, asked my parents who, were pro actors what to expect, prepared fanatically and did my best. Learning how to handle the process emotionally as a kid is quite a thing, but at least you’re use to it by the time you’re performing as an adult.
What advice do you have for people about to go on their first audition?
Learn as much as you can about the casting process and prepare as much as you’re able to before auditioning. Follow directions carefully and make sure you’ve done whatever you can to provide your support materials (headshot, resume, reel etc.) in a way that paints you in a flattering light but is 100% truthful and makes things easier on the casting folks who have an amazing amount of work. Emotionally, rather than looking at an audition as a job interview for a specific role that you either gain or lose, try to think of it as an opportunity to meet new potential colleagues, demonstrate your skills and unique traits, and an opportunity to perform even for a few minutes and practice working with feedback. Regardless of whether you get the part, you’ll learn a lot about acting through that experiment and you’ll start to learn about the audition process. If it’s a remote audition it’s also practice in performing for a camera. If you do get the part, it's icing. Remember, the people reviewing your audition are artists like you are and they generally want you to succeed. They are just looking for the person who seems right for a specific role considering all the other factors they have to weigh and balance. Always be professional friendly, and grateful for the opportunity. Remember, not everyone is even asked to audition.
What’s the best/worst part about the casting process?
On the acting side, I think the worst part is how much of a grind it can be. When production is up to full speed, you can audition for a lot of roles without landing a single one. It can be really disheartening. Even those who work frequently can have period where you audition and don’t land anything. It’s scary. The best part, however, let’s face it, it’s giving an audition that you know felt fantastic, and you know everyone loved and then getting offered the role. Bonus points if you meet some of your tribe during the audition like I have so many times.
For casting people, the best part is finding that gem, that perfect fit for the role, championing them and being able to offer them the role. The best casting people get pretty emotionally involved in the process and they are very, very good at what they do. While I am part of the casting team for our projects and sometimes run castings, and I sometimes run them for others, professional casting directors, the folks who do that all the time and have made that their career, are usually pretty amazing people who often really care and feel for each actor even if they have to maintain objectivity. I have offered roles to actors and had them burst into tears of joy. That’s an awesome feeling. They get to do that all the time.
What’s your favorite TV show of 2020?
To be quite honest I’m far too busy to watch television right now. A good friend of mine bought me a subscription to a streaming service for my birthday, specifically so I would watch a television show made in Canada nearly 20 years ago and take an occasional break. The show is called Slings and Arrows and it’s about a Canadian theater company that exclusively does Shakespeare. It’s freaking brilliant and right up my alley. Aside from that, anything on television is background filler for me at the moment. I make media and I’m working with remote teams to get things done during a pandemic. I don’t have a lot of time for breaks and I’m not following anything new right now, unless I’m in it or produced it.
Can we follow you online?