Welcome! This week I’d like to introduce you to a TV and DC comic book writer who exemplifies the glass-half-full attitude, Eric Wallace.
Eric Wallace has been with the Syfy show “Eureka” since its first season. He started as a writers assistant and worked his way up. In the past six years, he’s written numerous episodes of “Eureka” while also writing for DC comics. He wrote the eight-issue arc for DC Comics’ “Mister Terrific,” which is now available in trade paperback.
Eric is contributing a short story to Brian Buccellato’s (“The Flash”) upcoming “Foster Anthology” with other heavy hitting DC comic book writers, including Mike Johnson (“Supergirl”) and Kyle Higgins (“Nightwing”).
Eric also contributed to the “Dark Shadows” audio drama based on the 1960s TV series of the same name. “Dark Shadows” purists definitely take note: The audio drama remains faithful to the original series and picks up where the show ended in 1971 – with the original cast!
Eric Wallace seems unstoppable. As clichéd as it sounds, his greatest asset may be his passion. This guy just digs what he does, and he does it well. He also dreams big.
“I think it’s important to set outrageous goals,” he said during a recent conversation over Thai food. “Ridiculously outrageous goals. I’m a writer. For me, I want to shoot for an Oscar. I want an Emmy. I wouldn’t mind writing a Pulitzer Prize winning play. I want to write that novel that changes people’s lives. I may never achieve these things. I have a job. I have a family. But those goals motivate me. When I finish a project, there is always something else to do. And the variety spices things up.”
The variety of Eric’s projects also makes him more marketable. It broadens his brand. Yet he tends to stay within his sci-fi/horror genre so all of his choices make sense. A studio, network, showrunner, or producer can look at his body of work and understand what Eric loves to write. He is smart for diversifying his portfolio while staying within a genre.
“As TV writers, we get so focused on TV writing because that’s what the industry is telling you,” he said. “It doesn’t teach you to write for yourself. What do you want to write? Writing what you love will not only keep you healthy and happy, but that’s where your biggest success will come from because you’re writing something you’re excited about.”
Excited, energized, passionate, and positive – they all apply to Eric – but he also has his bummer moments, just like the rest of us. He’s not immune to the sine wave ride of Hollywood. He just finds a way to roll with it.
“Man, waiting around, not being on a particular show – nothing can get you down on yourself faster. You may think, ‘Why is that person staffed and I’m not?’ or ‘Why’d that guy sell a pitch?’ or ‘Why did that gal get a two-year deal at insert-studio-here and I didn’t?’ You can’t look at it that way. It’s much more positive to say, ‘I have some free time. Oooh, I can work on that dream project!’ And because no one is paying you to do anything else, why not write exactly what you want to write? You stay fresh that way.”
Eric has had this ultra-positive view the entire time I’ve known him. When we first met, he was a writers assistant on “Eureka” in season one. He is a classic writers assistant success story. I believe his rise on the show had everything to do with his attitude.
“During that first season, I focused on learning everything, soaking it all up like a sponge, AND making the best coffee ever served,” Eric said. “You laugh, but I took pride in it. I made copies. I took notes. I got laundry. I filled cars up with gas. And I made coffee. I focused on being the best assistant on the planet.
“What I didn’t focus on was telling my bosses every five minutes I wanted to be a writer. They got it. They didn’t need to be reminded. It was obvious I wanted to be a writer because I was in a writers office,” he said.
Yes, the showrunner and other writers totally got that Eric wanted to be a writer. They also got from his complete dedication and enthusiasm that he wanted to be on “Eureka.” Eric was rewarded with a promotion to staff writer after two years as a writers assistant. From there, he progressed up the ranks, contributing creatively to the story arcs as well as writing several episodes. The show’s now in its fifth and final season. Eric said he learned quite a bit by observing the show from its beginning through its finale, which has yet to air.
“If you’re lucky enough to have a show that runs more than three seasons, I’ve learned, that is not the time to play it safe,” he said. “It’s the time to definitely go in the opposite direction and evolve. Embrace the new. Scare yourself a bit creatively. For me, watching this last season – what I think is our best season – I laugh because I know what the ending is. Nobody is going to see it coming. I can’t wait to see fans’ reactions. The ending is so much fun and so unexpected. In our series finale, you get some real closure.”
That’s all Eric would tell me about the “Eureka” series finale, except that he believes fans will be pleased with the way “Eureka” goes out.
With “Eureka” ending, Eric is looking for his next TV gig. Staffing on shows is a mercurial business. It’s highly competitive and subjective. Often writers get little or no feedback on why they didn’t get staffed on a particular show. Usually, how you click with the showrunner determines whether you land the job.
“Let’s say the showrunner is a huge sports fan,” Eric said. “I’m a big sports nut. We’ll end up talking sports the whole time. If someone else who goes into that room doesn’t like sports, he’s not going to get hired. It has nothing to do with the writing. It has to do with their personality. And you have to be okay with that aspect of the business.”
The showrunners consider other elements when hiring for their shows. They evaluate the strengths of the other writers he or she has already hired as well as their personality quirks. And with writers, there can be a lot of personality quirks.
Being the right person on the right project at the right time is the fundamental nature of hiring in Hollywood for all jobs – writing, acting, producing, agenting, managing, directing, editing, etc.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s a ‘no.’ There’s a lot of rejection for TV writers,” Eric said.
There is a lot of rejection in Hollywood. Period. For the record, every single person I’ve interviewed has said that 99% of the time you get passed on. Everyone. Elia Petridis, Jeff Penalty, Joey Chavez, Carole Kirschner, Jeff Stewart, Gary Lennon, everyone. It is a fact in this town you will hear ‘no’ – early and often. How you handle it determines how you fare. Eric offered his method of dealing with rejection: “I have the 24-hour rule. When I get the call from my agent or manager and it’s bad news, I’ll mope. I’ll say to myself, ‘I was perfect for this show. Why dammit, why?’ I may even allow myself to go into full histrionic mode: ‘I’m never going to work again!’ I allow myself to feel the negative feelings for the rest of the day. Then I’ll go to bed. The next day I shake it off. Once the new day starts, I forget that meeting ever existed. I can’t obsess over this stuff. I go do other things. Take guitar lessons. Go to the beach.”
Now, Eric doesn’t have a crisis of faith every time there’s a bump in the road. And I don’t know any writer who hasn’t had these reactions at some point. It’s a natural part of our Hollywood process. We’re passionate about our projects. We put a lot of prep work into our meetings, so a ‘no’ can be the end of weeks or even months of work on a project we love. A ‘no’ can mean starting over at the bottom of the mountain as we try to push a boulder to the top. So even though 99 percent of the time we get rejection, we’re always, always hoping for the ‘yes.’
“If I feel myself backsliding into a bad mood, I’ll physically either say out loud or write, ‘This wasn’t your show. Move on.’ I’ll call my fellow writers, who have been through rejection, and say, ‘I’m sliding.’ They might joke and say, ‘Don’t start cutting, man. Remember when you cut yourself.’ ‘Yeah, cutting is bad.’ Suddenly, we’re laughing and I’m out of the funk,” Eric said, with a smile.
Eric said he believes it’s important to feel the feelings and feel them strongly. I agree. As artists, we should feel these emotions. In fact, we can use them in our work. However, it’s important to have a way to change your mood so you can get back to being productive. And Eric’s emotion changing method is pretty terrific.
As I mentioned earlier, Eric’s “Mister Terrific” eight-issue arc is now available in trade paperback. “Foster Anthology” will be out later this year. The “Dark Shadows” series three audio drama will be released in early 2013. And don’t miss the final season of “Eureka.” New episodes air Mondays at 9PM/8PM Central on Syfy.