Eric Sherman is my mentor and consultant and guru and… well, he’s just like Yoda.  Only real.  I first met Eric when I was a student at CalArts in the mid 90s.  Eric taught Film Directing and on the first day of class, as he arrived, I handed him my business card.  My attendance was spotty, but I thoroughly enjoyed learning what he had to share.

At the end of the semester, I left CalArts for a few weeks to direct a feature version of Anne Rice’s novel THE VAMPIRE LESTAT.  See, for another class, we were given an assignment to direct something with texture (or something about composition in general).  The assignment was supposed to be a short film, but I never thought in short-storytelling format, so I instantly thought I’d adapt and direct LESTAT since I’d just finished reading the book and was really inspired.  Anyway, I had to leave CalArts in order to get back to Kansas to make the movie.

When I returned, most of my instructors asked where in the world had I been and I replied, “I was doing the assignment!”  Then I handed them a double VHS set of the finished and edited movie.  (Yes, this was before DVDs were invented and the movie was longer than 2 hours, so I had to use a second VHS tape to hold the last part).

Eric gave me an INCOMPLETE on my report card.  I didn’t know what that meant, so I went to see him.  Evidently if a student doesn’t attend the class, there’s no way for him or her to learn what is being taught in the class.  Of course he was right.  But, no matter my plea, I still received an incomplete, and was forced to re-take the class in order to pass it.  So I did.

In my memory, it’s hard to tell exactly how many times I re-took Eric’s FILM DIRECTING class.  I’m pretty sure I only repeated it once, but it might have been three times.  After my stint at CalArts, I set off to direct my debut feature film.  To understand filmmaking as both a business and creative endeavor, I hired Eric as a film consultant to help me with my business plan and pre-production management.  He taught me how important it is to be ultra-prepared.

Eric’s father was Vincent Sherman, the last of the great Golden Age Hollywood directors.  Eric himself worked with everybody, including Orson Welles.  I knew he had the knowledge I needed to learn.  I was right.  Later on, as my first film became a real project, I asked him to come on board as a co-producer.  That film is PEP SQUAD.  It would be the first film to predict the soon-to-be onslaught of American School Violence.  Furthermore, it’s is a dark comedy and a subversive satire—an entertaining combination.

At one point, I decided against casting the actor I’d auditioned to play the sleazy principal who gets killed.  Instantly I turned to Eric to see if he’d consider it.  He eventually agreed to do it, and he’s just great portraying the wonderfully demented and evil character.  On the day we were to kill off the character, I recalled getting an INCOMPLETE in his class, and I couldn’t recall if I ever did, in fact, pass it.  Clearly, at this point, I didn’t need to worry about it.

Eric and I continue to work together and today I consider him more than a mentor and friend.  He’s family.  If any of you are in need of hiring someone with Yoda-like know-how on filmmaking, or in need of a mentor, or consultant, I’d be happy to put you in touch with Eric.  He’s the best!

6 thoughts on “ERIC SHERMAN

  1. I took Eric’s film making class at UCLA and within six months a workshop at his home in Malibu. I thought and still think that he is the most beautiful teacher I’ve ever had. His knowledge is immense, for sure, but the delivery, Ah! It amused me that he gave you and incomplete–so Eric–and so right in that are we ever complete in our understanding of the craft? Thanks for this tribute. I know what you mean. Susan

  2. We are always delighted to read Erics eMail. We were overjoyed to see he wrote about Steve Balderson. You are right Steve, he is a form of Yoda except that we have another nickname for him, Iceberg. Meaning he is like an ice berg only 10% floating above the water. He is much more deeper inside, 90% under the sea. His always smiling demeanour can be misunderstood. Like the Titanic underestimated the ice berg it met. We always enjoyed serving him and his family in our restaurant along with you. We are proud to call you both our friend …Chef Saad

  3. Pingback: Interview with Steve Balderson

  4. I knew Eric as Prof.Sherman. Took his Film Producing class at CalArts. I was the anomaly – the MFA Theater Producing student who did more film work than theater. I can honestly say that Sherman IS yoda. His “Cuban-Cigar” lesson has been the most valuable tool of my career.

    What is the Cuban Cigar lesson? Well on the second class of the semester, he walked in and told the students he liked cuban cigars, then he walked out. Class lasted about 3 minutes. Everyone was confused. I left thinking “the man wants a Cuban Cigar, how hard can it be to get one”? Needless to say, they are illegal in the U.S.

    I went on google and searched for cigar shops near me. To my surprise there was one across the freeway and within walking distance. I headed there and asked to speak to the owner. A man came out and asked what I wanted. I told him I had a crazy request, explained I was a CalArts MFA student and that I needed a Cuban Cigar…but that it wasn’t for me, but for my Professor. He laughed and said “you know that is not going to happen”.

    I then told him I believed this to be a great lesson in film producing and that I was hoping he would have one in his private stash. He smiled and said “you might be right about that. You’re one of Sherman’s students right”? He left me for a few minutes and came back with a box. He took a Cuban cigar out and handed it to me. I asked how much, to which he replied “for you, it’s free”.

    The next class, I walked up to Sherman and handed him the cigar. He looked at me and said I had just received an “HP” (High Pass), smiled and told me not to come back to class for the rest of the semester. He then looked at the class and said “the most important thing in Film Producing is knowing what everyone’s Cuabn Cigar is”.

    I thought he was joking. Even made an attempt to come back to class the following week. He looked at me and said “I wasn’t joking, get out of here, you’re the only one that passed the test”.

    The life lesson of that has impacted my entire career. Life is about finding out what everyone wants and being able to find the means to get it or negotiate it.

    Sherman IS Yoda!

  5. Great story, wonderfully told, Steve! It made my day and I’ll tell you why. Yes, Eric is Yoda. And to others, many things–all of them magic producing. I took his film class in 1980, yes, that long ago. Seems like yesterday, makes me smile. His wife Genie is a sort of genius too!

    Back to Your Yoda and”Find everyone’s Cuban Cigar.” Brilliant is too mild and overused a word, so I’ll try “exceptional” “Of Worldly Perfection.” The fact remains, he is a beautiful, powerful teacher. He’s the Vin Scully of Film, yet more…Eric saw the artist, dreamer, actor, cinematographer, director, editor and writer in me–that’s it, he didn’t use superlatives, he just saw the best of me–the artist! His perception and guidance contributed to the fact that I have thrived whenever I put my hand to any of it. I teach as well as write now: memoir. And though my style is very different from Eric’s, I aspire to being able to come up with those impactful, simple, surprising strategies. “I like Cuban Cigars” he said, and you learned the lesson of a lifetime! Congratulations to you and all my admiration, forever, to Eric.

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