Eric Haywood Photo by Brooks Ayola, all other photos (c) Copyright 2013 Mill Road Media
Writer/director Eric Haywood has worked on many well-known television shows including Private Practice (ABC) Soul Food: The Series (Showtime), and Hawaii (NBC). But before establishing himself as a character-driven television writer, he decided that he would one day write and direct a feature film. In 2011, Haywood’s dream became a reality with his debut feature FOUR OF HEARTS, which chronicles the lives of two swinging couples. Haywood talked to PrideIndex about his journey to becoming a filmmaker, his creative style, and what advice he’d offer to aspiring artists.
PRIDEINDEX (PI): Tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey to become a filmmaker.
ERIC HAYWOOD (EH): Let me see if I can give you the short version. I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I attended the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, where I got a bachelors degree in film production. While still enrolled in college, I began producing and directing music videos because I’d already set for myself the goal of writing and directing feature films. But I needed to build up the production experience. So music videos for artists like Too Short, Goodie Mob, Mystikal, and New Edition became a full-time job after I graduated. In the meantime, I was writing feature screen plays in my spare time. I was living in Atlanta in the mid 1990’s, and one of those screen plays got some attention out here in Los Angeles, where I live now. I moved from Atlanta to Los Angeles because that script was starting to get some traction and was going to be produced; that ended up taking a number of years. But along way that script got me my first job writing for television. I wrote for a television show on Showtime TV called Soul Food. After that, I wrote for a cop drama on NBC- TV called Hawaii. Then after all of that the feature script that I wrote and had me to move to Los Angeles ended up being purchased by The Hallmark Channel and became one of their original television movies a few years ago. It was called Relative Stranger. Then long after Relative Stranger happened, I started writing for another show called Private Practice on ABC-TV. Before Private Practice, I realized I was establishing myself as a television writer when my original goal was writing and directing features. I do not want to look by one day and say that I wished that I had done the thing I always wanted to do. So I said to myself, “Life is just too short.” At that point, I decided I would write and direct a low-budget feature, finance it myself, and shoot it all in Los Angeles rather than sit and wait for all the stars to line up. That script ended up being FOUR OF HEARTS, which we shot in the fall of 2011. I spent almost all of 2012 doing the post production then; in 2013, we entered the film festival circuit.
PI: That’s great to see that you are not exactly a starving artist which is the perception or some folk’s reality of independent film producing.
EH: Yes. I totally agree.
PI: Where did you initially get the idea for the film FOUR OF HEARTS? Where did you find your creative muse? If someone were to approach you about making this into a television series, would you be open to it?
EH: I would definitely be open to it and entertain that conversation. To answer the first part of your question, the idea of FOUR OF HEARTS was an idea that I had for a number of years. Back when I was directing music videos, my goal was to write and direct features. Many years ago, I just sort of asked myself, “If I do not have access to a lot of money, what’s a project that I can do relatively inexpensively and make a nice character driven drama? So I came up with the idea about these two couples living in a duplex building with one couple living upstairs and one living downstairs and the guy from one of the couples end up getting involved with the girl from the other couple. That Idea sat in the back of my mind for a long time and a few years ago when I said it is finally time for me get off my butt and make my first feature I went back to that idea. Logistically, it was easy to shoot it because it was primarily in one location, there were four primary characters and it was an easy script to write and I knew I could make this film with a low budget.
PI: How is script writing for a television series different from scripting writing for a feature film?
EH: First of all, the formats are different. Script writing for television could be up to 60 minutes of finished product versus script writing for a feature film which could be 90 minutes on up. The process of the story telling is different. When you are writing for television, you’re writing for someone else; you have the Executive Producer of the show; the network to answer to, and in many cases, there’s a television studio that’s also involved in making a lot of the final decisions. When you are writing for an independent feature, it all rests on you. There is a lot of creative freedom that comes with along with embarking on your own independent feature project as opposed to having to deal with some of the restrictions of having to work in television.
PI: In terms of some of the television series that you have worked on, they are well known series. If giving the chance to work on a television show again, would you do it?
EH: Absolutely. There is no reason one could not both.
PI: Is it possible to do both (write for television and an independent feature) at the same time and be successful at both?
EH: No, not at the same time. Once you’re working on a television series, you’re working on that show for the better part of a year. When the show goes on hiatus, which could be 3 to 4 months or so, then you are free to go off and do some of your own passion projects.
PI: What are some of the projects that you are working on right now?
EH: Right now, I am working on a pilot and I am traveling the film festival circuit with FOUR OF HEARTS. I’m also taking meetings for my next television writing job.
PI: I am proud, excited and wish you the best of luck in you endeavors. Now that I’ve heard about what you have worked on, I cannot wait to see FOUR OF HEARTS. Are you going to be here in Chicago at the Black Harvest Film Fest for one of those screens?
EH: Thank you. Yes, I’m going to be Chicago for one of those screenings. There’s a screening on Friday, August 23rd and Saturday August 24th. I am going to be there for the Saturday, August 24th.
PI: How was it to work with your colleagues and crew on FOUR OF HEARTS, specifically Darrin DeWitt Henson?
EH: Working with Darrin was great. In fact I wrote the part with Darrin in mind because we had worked together on Soul Food. We really had not been in touch in recent years, but I honestly felt like I was not going to be able to get Darrin for the part. He was probably going to be busy; he probably gets paid much more than I could afford. I said to myself I at least owe it to myself to take a change and ask him if he were interested. So if he then says NO I would know that I did everything that I could to try and get him. But fortunately he read the scripts and he really dug it and immediately came on board. In addition to him coming on board as an actor, he was interested to start making a name for himself as a film producer so he came on board as the role of Derrick, but he also helped to get some interesting actors to come through to audition. Having him involved helped to raise the profile of the project a lot.
PI: When did you know that you had the right actors?
EH: Once Darrin came on board, the next thing that I did was to bring on a casting director. A gentleman by the name of Kevin Scott, who is an Emmy Award winning casting director who has worked on shows like The West Wing, and ER, is very well known among the actors circle here in Los Angeles. Once he read the script and came aboard, it elevated the profile of the movie because all of these actors who’d never heard of me definitely heard the name of Kevin Scott. He brought in a ton of great actors, so it really just came down to chemistry. I knew that this story was a story of four people, friends. So I knew if the chemistry of those four people did not work, the whole movie does not work. I gave a lot of thought to many actors that came through and I could not imagine a better cast for the film.
PI: What actors would you love to work with?
EH: I would honestly say that I don’t have a short list in mind inside my head because it always depends on the role and project. There are a lot actors and actress I would love to work with if given the opportunity. And there could be a few names I do have in mind for a script that I may have, but I am not going to name names because I do not want them to misinterpret anything.
PI: If your filmmaking style were a tropical island, which tropical island would it be?
EH: I haven’t visited too many tropical islands, but if I had to name one, I’d say the Big Island of Hawaii. I say that because it is beautifully, it’s quiet, very tranquil but it’s also a very large spread bustling major American city. There is traffic and all these other things that come with a big city and you do not realize it until you go there. I think that my directing style seems to be very laid back. I like to give my cast and crew enough leeway to bring their best to the table, but also I am always thinking and watching and calculating a couple of moves ahead so that production can move an efficiently as possible. There is always some busyness going on underneath the calm and seriousness.
PI: Who are some of your mentors and influences?
EH: It is sort of a blessing and a curse that I have not had too many mentors. On the one hand, it would have been nice to have always had someone there to guide me on the do’s and don’ts, but on the other hand, there are people who sort of get stuck almost imitating their mentors and it takes them that much longer to find their own personal style. I hate making mistakes, but I love the process of learning from my own mistakes. Once I got into music videos or once I got into television, then shorts and then feature films, I had to make tons of mistakes, learn from them, and then improve in that respect. It does not matter if it were many years ago.
PI: Where else will FOUR OF HEARTS screen other than the Black Harvest film Festival?
EH: We have already played the San Francisco Black Film Festival, the Roxbury Film Festival in Boston, and the Urban Suburban Film Festival in Philadelphia. Coming up in August, we have the Central Florida Film Festival on August 30th, and the Peachtree Village International Film Festival on August 23rd in Atlanta. In September, we have the Montreal International Black Film Festival, which is our first international festival. And there are others I would like to get into, but I have not heard back from, so hopefully there will be many other film festivals to come.
PI: What advice would you give to an aspiring filmmaker, director or script writer?
EH: The advice would vary based on which one of those folks I was talking to. I feel like if you are a writer then you’re in the very best possible position of all because you can always generate your own material. You do not have to wait for someone to just come along with a budget. Even if you have a day job or if you’re in school you can always find time to just write. My advice to aspiring writers would be to constantly create your own material.
My advice to a filmmaker would be that you’re in the right time to be a filmmaker because the technology has advanced to where you can get really good professional equipment for little to no money these days rather than going to a really big expensive post production facility you can learn the principles of editing and get the software and edit the film yourself. And if you want to do short films or a web series to earn your keep, then you also have avenues to get those sorts of projects in front of the public via the internet. So everything is pretty much in your favor; you just have to put one foot in front of the other and begin generating projects.
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For information on the Central Florida Film Festival click here
For information on the Peachtree Village International Film Festival click here