Interview with Erik Bork
We were lucky to be able to interview screenwriter Erik Bork, who is best known for his work on BAND OF BROTHERS and FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON.
BlueCat: Tell us your story. Where did you grow up, where’d you go to school, where have you worked since graduating?
EB: I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, where I attended a small but high quality film school at Wright State University. I got a BFA there in “motion picture production,” which included some screenwriting. Then I moved to L.A. and began “temping” at various secretarial jobs at Fox Studios, eventually working as a writer’s assistant on the series PICKET FENCES, and then as an assistant at Tom Hanks’s production company. Tom eventually read some sitcom spec scripts I’d written (which had gotten me my first agent), and gave me my “big break” to help him with the miniseries he had sold to HBO called FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON – which I ended up becoming a writer/producer on. This started my professional writing career, and I later worked on a number of other projects with him, most notably BAND OF BROTHERS (in a similar role). Since then, I’ve worked on a couple of other drama series, written pilots for shows I pitched and sold to various networks, and wrote some features for places like HBO, TNT and Univsersal, which have not been produced. Nowadays, I also teach screenwriting at UCLA Extension, National University and The Writers Store, and blog about it (and offer one-on-one consulting) through my website www.FlyingWrestler.com.
BlueCat: Have you always had an interest in writing?
EB: In high school I started to really become interested in the arts, especially music, and was impacted by certain books and movies that made me start to think about writing as a vocation. I was briefly an English major, but thought making movies sounded more fun (in its collaborative nature) than writing novels. I think I was right about that, but having never written a novel, I can’t be sure…|
BlueCat: How do you combat writer’s block?
EB: Write through it. Write about it. Talk through whatever the problem is, either in writing or out loud while driving, walking, etc. Every day requires fresh ideas, and every day requires battling “resistance”, as THE WAR OF ART calls it. There are always notes and critiques, from others and oneself, that can become crippling if you let them. (And it’s that fear of writing something that isn’t good that seems to create so-called ‘blocks”.) One just has to keep moving forward, asking “what might happen next?” or “what might be good here?” Writing is a lot about finding ways to get into a receptive, relaxed, positive state, where you’re not worried about the results, or being too self-critical. It’s kind of a psychological game.
BlueCat: What’s your experience with screenwriting competitions?
EB: I don’t think I’ve ever entered one. Not because I’m against them – it’s just not the path my career took. (I might have tried the Nicholl once when I first started out, and failed to do well in it.) But I can see how they can be valuable to writers, for a variety of reasons. Doing well in the better known and respected ones can certainly be a feather in one’s cap, and I think they can be a good barometer of one’s progress.
BlueCat: How can aspiring screenwriters get their start today?
EB: The answer is always the same – yesterday, today or tomorrow. It’s about the writing itself, and not so much the attempts at marketing or networking – which are typically fruitless until the work is at a point where the industry professionals one hopes to impress would like it when they read it. For most writers, that’s a longer and more complicated journey than it seems like it should be, involving lots of study, practice and feedback along the way. Not to say there aren’t obvious things one can do to get one’s work out there – but the key thing is not the techniques to get people to read one’s script; rather, it’s understanding and undertaking the often circuitous path to achieving marketable work.
BlueCat: What project have you worked on that you’re the most proud of?
EB: Like many writers, I have written countless unproduced scripts for every one or two that has been produced, and I’m always most interested in, and often proudest of, the one I’m working on at any given moment. And I’ve written certain scripts in the past that were breakthroughs for me in some way, showed I could do something, or achieved something in my career, but didn’t end up getting produced. But certainly Band of Brothers has inspired a reaction from the public that is very gratifying, and I am privileged and proud about the contributions I was able to make to something that has been so well-received.
BlueCat: Tell us about your experience with “Band of Brothers.” How did that opportunity present itself to you, and what have you learned on that show?
EB: I was part of a nucleus of people who had produced the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon before that – including Executive Producer Tom Hanks and Co-Executive Producer Tony To. I also had an ongoing role at Tom’s production company, and had worked on other projects with him, when he and Steven Spielberg decided to do Band of Brothers. Tom asked me to be a part of it, which was the beginning of a several-year process where I was involved from the initial development through the eventual release. I learned a lot on the project, which continued an education that had started on the prior miniseries – about writing in a genre that was foreign to me (and required a lot of research), and about how to work with lots of talented other people with strong creative opinions. I spent more time in the editing room on Band of Brothers, as well, and learned how to make contributions to the final cut of an episode, when there are lots of options and not necessarily a clear path to making it all work.
BlueCat: Do you outline your scripts? Tell us a little bit about your writing process.
EB: I do a lot of pre-planning and outlining, such that the words on the page of a script are really only the final, visible part of a process that mostly happens outside those confines. I think the SAVE THE CAT book has good advice about how important it is to work on multiple concepts and really spend the time at the concept stage, making sure you have something that can work, before committing to writing it. (And most concepts really don’t work, I’ve learned – and it’s worth it to figure that out upfront.) Then, there’s a broad structuring phase, followed by a scene-by-scene outline, and finally a draft. But along the way of each step, there are typically many re-thinks and re-tries, and one often has to go to back to an earlier stage in the process, when something isn’t quite working.
BlueCat: Tell us one thing about you that most people would be surprised to know.
EB: I have the same insecurities and doubts on every script and every project I write, that I had when I first started out. Although certain things have become second nature about the process, the sense of not knowing if something is really going to work – and feeling lost in the middle of it – never seems to change. Another thing that might be surprising is that, despite my well-known dramatic credits, I’ve always thought of myself as more of a “smart comedy with heart” person – both in terms of what I like to watch, and write.
BlueCat: Why are you a writer?
EB: I have been (and still am) greatly inspired and entertained by certain movies, series, and stories in general – and decided at one point, long ago, that it would be a worthy endeavor to try to create more such things for the world.
BlueCat: What’s in the pipeline for you? Tell us what projects you’re working on and what the next ten years might hold for you.
EB: I’m writing a feature that I plan to find financing for and direct independently, which will be a first for me (other than student films). I’ve reached a point in my career where I’m more interested in figuring out exactly what I can uniquely contribute, creatively, versus chasing how and where I can be employed as a writer (which I did for quite a few years). I’d like to say in the next ten years I will successfully write and direct multiple projects like this one, but of course, we never know how things will turn out – so let me say that I will keep pursuing this approach, while being open to what else might come…
ABOUT ERIK BORK
Erik Bork is best known for his Emmy and Golden-Globe winning work as a writer-producer on the HBO miniseries BAND OF BROTHERS and FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON. He’s also served on the writing staff of two primetime drama series, sold multiple original pitches for series and features, and written scripts for producers such as Imagine Entertainment, The Littlefield Company, Original Film, Bruckheimer Television, and The Playtone Company. He is represented by CAA. He also teaches screenwriting for UCLA Extension, National University and The Writers Store, and blogs about it at www.flyingwrestler.com, where you will find his free “Ten Key Principles Successful Writers Understand.”