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WesternSFA
TusCon 39 Interview with Eric Schumacher
by Chris R. Paige
Mercurial is the word that best describes Eric Schumacher. He seems the very embodiment of a person whose patron deity is Hermes, who, according to D’Aulaires’ Greek Myths, is the god of “travelers, merchants… and all others who live by their wits.” In a convention setting, where most attendees wear tee-shirts that indicate their favorite shows or philosophies, Eric – trim and dapper – wears a three piece tailored suit and a black fedora hat, not the new-fangled style but a classic, wide brimmed black fedora. He moves quietly and gracefully, so I immediately wondered what martial arts he has studied;  nor I did not rule out a background in dance.  Eric was at TusCon to promote his locally produced series, Zhon: The Alien Interviews, now in its third season, available online.

Q: Where were you born?

A: San Francisco , California . I spent most of my childhood between the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles California while my dad pursued his acting career.

Q: How did you wind up in Tucson ?

A: Well, our martial arts instructor announced one day that he was moving to Tucson to start a new branch of the Kung-Fu school and he had a beautiful vision for the school. I meditated and prayed on it while my very practical wife took a trip to the area to check it out, and we decided to give it a shot and help to open the school (the Shaolin Kung Fu Academy http://www.kungfuacademytucson.com/). We worked with him for several years until I got the spiritual pull so to speak (to simplify it) to go back into acting with everything I have.

Q: I knew there was martial arts somewhere! Your family name is a variation of shoe maker, right?

A: My dad's side of the family are the Schumachers, and I'm sure someone was a shoemaker somewhere down the line but I don't have any specific stories. Curiously, one of my wife's relatives was the royal shoemaker for the queen of Hawaii at one point. She had a club foot and he was the only one who was able to make sure that fit her.

Q: I love that you had this shared heritage, and then you met and now you are married! Serendipity is often at the heart of the true romances.

  Where did you go to college, and what did you study?

A: I didn't actually complete college. I have a less formal education then you might think.  I went to the Community College of Marin – famous for its theater program which birthed, among others, Robin Williams) and studied acting and video production. Most of my true education has come from learning directly from master teachers.  Whenever I've needed to learn something, a master appears, so to speak.  My parents started my training as an actor at around the age of 6, by my request.  I have studied with a number of other acting teachers but my parents have been my primary teachers. Over the years some other incredible teachers have taken me under their wings and taught me sales and marketing, business ethics, leadership, film-making, contract drafting and all of the philosophies I could soak up.

I was actually in the middle of college when I was offered some gigs in the video production field and I simply left. Unfortunately those gigs didn’t last, but right around that time I also discovered kung fu and decided to dedicate myself to that as the equivalent of a university.  It was worth every minute of it. Through that training I learned the essence of leadership and grew as a person and spiritually, in ways that are hard to explain but are fundamental to who I am and what I do. It also gave me the endurance to be able to do my part in pulling off some projects that were close to impossible such as Zhon.

Q: How did you get involved in fannish activities like conventions?

A: I am an unabashed and utterly proud GEEK.  I've been a huge sci fi/fantasy fan for as long as I can remember. That's my favorite genre of film to produce and to perform in. I went to my first con when I was a wee lad with my dad in the San Francisco bay area and had a BLAST.  How cool to meet some of your favorite actors and to see people in fully functional Dalek Costumes! 

One of my mentors and one of my dad's closest friends incidentally is actor and published author Paul Mantee, who among the many, many, many films he performed in, starred in the 1960s cult classic film Robinson Crusoe on Mars with Victor Lundin and Adam West (yes, that Adam West). Despite some very dated and probably low budget special effects even by the day's standards, the performances were nothing short of genius and I was a rabid fan. I had a little bit of hero worship going on for Paul.  One day I was in a comic book store owned by a dear friend of mine in California (since closed I'm sorry to say, it was an awesome store) and saw a photo of Paul at a sci fi con. How cool was that?!  I have wanted to be on the other side of the table as a guest speaker at cons ever since, and, well, thanks to our recent work it's going that way, which is what I have the honor of doing here at TusCon 39.

I've been blessed with a number of speaking engagements in fact, over the past several years, both on the film and acting side and on the sci fi side, and it seems that more are on the way. I LOVE connecting with my fellow fans this way, and signing the occasional autograph is icing on the cake. I'm quite honored every time a fan says they dig our work and that it's meaningful to them. I've always veered towards sci fi/fantasy films where possible, but it's more difficult to get those roles then you might think.

Q: That hat you wear certainly catches the eye and commands attention – it almost has the status of a Warehouse 13 artifact, to my trained eye. When did you come by it, and under what circumstances?

A: I'd like to say it gives me super powers. Which is almost true. Several women have made passes at my hat...not me, mind you, just the hat.  I almost had to chase one gal down to get my hat back when she grabbed it off of my head. I shudder to think of the condition it might have come back in.  [Smiles.] Anyway, I was in a play several years ago, a production of The Seven year Itch. I played the sleazy Tom McKenzie. When I got into rehearsal I knew that core to Tom was his style and confidence. So I asked the director and stage manager if Tom could have a hat. They said yes, and from the very first rehearsal that hat stayed with me, whether it was a dress rehearsal or not. Immediately I started to work out Tom's “hat thing.”  There's a certain scene in the play where Tom is making a pass at the lead character's wife as he's leaving a dinner party, and I realized that Tom needed to do something special with the hat before he left. So Tom leaned on the door-frame and did this flippy thing [demonstrates], and the audience went nuts every time I did it. They wouldn’t let me keep the hat after our run was over on that show, so I'd been looking for the right kind of fedora, one that fit just right and had a wide brim like Tom's hat, for years. Without the brim, you can’t do the hat flippy thing, and those narrow brimmed things that R and B stars and Justin Timberlake have made popular are NOT fedoras. I'm not sure what they are, but they are not fedoras.  Bogie had a fedora. They have, I don't know, weeny hats. Anyway, after many years of looking, I finally found it at a major retailer, amazingly enough, and grabbed it. I've lost count of how many hats I'd tried on; and suddenly, when I wasn’t looking for it, bam, there it was.

Q: In the series Zhon, which you write and direct, you play an inspector. You seem to enjoy performing. Is directing a way to indulge a passion for acting, or is directing a passion in and of itself?

A: To be very accurate, I am co-executive producer on Zhon with fellow actor Robert Linden, who plays Zhon on the show. Award winning directors Alan Williams and Tyrel Good were the primary series directors. I was a second unit director on a few of the historical flashbacks and other scenes. I was also quite honored and surprised that I managed to convince my dad, Paul Schumacher, to be second unit director for a couple of days when I was performing and Alan and Tyrel were both unavailable. I loved directing some of the show, but my duties as executive producer and my very large role in the series would have made it impossible for me to have directed too. We went with two excellent directors and a great technical.

Rob and I came up with the series concept and the basic plot line and handed most of the writing duties off to Marty Ketola and Clif Campbell of Pondo Enterprises.  Of course we worked with them for months on the scripts, but they did the majority of the writing.  That being said, I do frequently perform writing duties for productions, and direct whenever I can. I also produce, which means that I'm there when the project is conceived, kind of oversee everyone, and make sure that everyone is on the right page and has what he or she needs. I'm often there until the project is completed and long after, since marketing is another specialty of mine.

Directing is almost as fulfilling as acting. I really love helping another actor to find that performance that comes out from their gut. Given the choice, I'd rather be acting and giving that performance that comes out from my gut. But whenever I get the opportunity to direct a quality project it's exciting; especially when I get to work with really excellent actors. I think if you do it right, both you and the actors come out of it feeling like you've bared your souls a little bit.

It's also quite interesting to be able to see the big picture during the implementation of a project and take that vision that's in your head and directly make it happen, working with the assistant director, director of photography, audio people etc. to capture that scene just so.

Q: The website for Zhon is not only professional, it is remarkably generous – you give background and credit to everyone involved in the project. Has working on this show lead to national attention for any of these local actors? Do they have twitter followers?

A: Well, first of all, thank you. The site was designed by our wonderful graphic designer Kaleb Badger, who you may recognize as a Roman guard in season one, episode five, and our friends at Ackerley Advertising, particularly Bill Ackerley. Rob Linden also worked with them on some of the design aspects.  I wouldn't call the site generous however. We're just doing what we think is right with the site. We believe the people involved in making the show deserve as much attention and recognition as possible.

Much of the reason for the creation of the show was to help the careers of some really wonderful artists. There's a lot of amazing artists out there who no one knows about, and we figured in the creation of this fairly big show we would have the opportunity to help fix that a little. We wanted to make sure that when watching the show it was impossible to miss who was involved in creating it.

We reached out to some wonderful independent musicians from across the United States and invited select musicians to contribute music to the show. And we invited some wonderful filmmakers who weren't involved in the show to post their profiles on our website. We support several charities, both with publicity and with financial donations based on some of our profits. Our launch event, in which we publicly screened the first four episodes of the series, was a 100% benefit for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tucson and we're pretty proud of that. At the end of the day those of us in the arts have the power to communicate to a wide audience. We feel that's a responsibility and we have to do the most good we can with our publicity. As for the fame aspect, as far as I know none of our actors have hit it big as of yet, but the publicity from Zhon sure doesn't hurt; and as more and more people find out about the show it will do a lot more than not hurt. I truly believe that the show is going to be a fame builder for much of the cast and crew and it has opened some doors for some of our people already.  I have to say it's also quite lovely to get notes from people all over the world who Love Zhon. Please keep ‘em coming.

Q: What was the initial inspiration for the show?

A: We actually built the show starting with our target market, science fiction fans of similar sensibilities to Rob and myself. Once we decided WHO we wanted to make a show for, we knew what box we were in, fan wise.  After brainstorming for a while, Rob came up with this concept. It was originally kind of like Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner's 2000 Year-Old Man series. Originally we had intended for there to be an alien and an interviewer in a series of short, simple interviews about 5 minutes apiece on the Internet.  As we brainstormed further the plot line grew and grew until we ended up with something along the lines of what you see on screen. Of course a lot of wonderfully creative people contributed to the plot lines, such as our writing team, our series directors, and even our cast as they gave input on their characters and worked with our directors.

Q: How do you and your collaborators brainstorm ideas for the show? Will you give an example?

A: It's rather hard to describe the exact process but it is systematic. Once you know who your characters are and what they're facing a script almost writes itself. Sometimes we delegate certain responsibilities to others and then see if they work. Other times we have a group brainstorm session using a whiteboard or large piece of paper to help us vet ideas. Often when I'm brainstorming things with Robert Linden he gets this weird look in his eyes and his head cocks to one side. Whenever he gets that look in his eyes it's a very good time to listen to whatever it is he says. It's often genius. That was the look he got in his eyes when he spouted out the basic idea for Zhon.  It works a little differently with each team, but those are the basics. Everything is informed by your basic plot and especially the characters.

Q: Who have been major influences in your life?

A: I hope I don't forget some people, but in terms of direct influences it's safe to say that my parents, brilliant actors John and Paul Schumacher, have been major influences in my life. They, after all, introduced me to acting, and after I caught the acting bug trained me tirelessly for years. My mom is also an excellent speech teacher for the actor and dialect coaches and has helped me to really expand my ability to nail complicated characters.

Certainly Paul Mantee, having advised me generously for many years.  My amazing wife Ginger has taught me a great deal about how to be a better human being and how to truly love someone.  My kung fu teacher Si Gong (Master) Robert Firestine had incredible patience with me during the 11 years I studied with him and taught me more than I can possibly explain in just this article.

Ed Curtis in the San Francisco Bay Area taught me most of what I know about salesmanship and being an ethical marketer. Through one of my non-entertainment related jobs I've learned a tremendous amount from attorney John Friend, entrepreneur Charles Horn, Lori Bryant, Marcus Sredzinsky, Mark Chamness,  Maria Lopez, Cyndi Sparks, and Alice Jordan. Great business people all, and brilliant in their respective areas. Bill Ackerley of Ackerley advertising really enhanced my knowledge of the daily ins and outs of helping business to grow. My dear friend, international business consultant Francisco Melero of Melero  International, and our mutual friend David Ortega have been a huge influence on me, again in relation to building ethical and effective business. 

My current business partners Alan Williams and Randy Jacob have taught me the true meaning of camaraderie, and how to truly make an entertainment business run well. Don Dehm of Pulp Gamer Media has been an excellent example of building a productive community and has taught me a lot about marketing in this media environment. Others who have had a major influence in my life are director Marco Cabriolu from Italy , one of the most brilliant entertainment entrepreneurs I've ever met, and our mutual friend Emilio Puggioni, an actor and model also from Italy .

I really learn something from everyone. Bassirima Soro, aka K-Bass, (www.kbassmusic.com) an amazingly talented and dedicated human being who has overcome obstacles most Americans can barely understand, is an up-and-coming musician who I have the great pleasure of managing. Talk about drive. My acting manager Phyllis Boyd stuck with me through thick and thin. My brother from another mother, Robert Linden, has been through hell and back and just won't give up. Series co-director Tyrel Good has demonstrated the true meaning of loyalty and, I guarantee you, is going to win big-time as a result. Another person not at all involved in the entertainment industry is someone else who's like a brother to me, Fred Chasse in California . He's someone who makes absolutely sure to keep in touch no matter what, something I'm not very good at. He keeps the people who he considers his family together at all costs.

My list is actually quite huge. There are a lot of people I deeply respect. People I haven't worked with yet, but whose work has influenced me, are Sir Ian McKellen, one of the best actors in the world, in my opinion; Viggo Mortenson; Ed Harris; Denzel Washington; George Lucas; Joss Wheden; and Steven Spielberg, to name a few.

Q: Here is the inevitable question: who are your favorite authors, and what books do you have on your shelves? Or perhaps it makes more sense to ask, what are your favorite movies?

A: Ha ha ha ha.  Well, all of that makes sense to ask.  Let's start with authors. Beyond a shadow of a doubt my favorite author is Robert A. Heinlein, the Grand Master of science fiction. I've read everything he's written that I could possibly get my hands on. The very best is still Stranger in a Strange Land. Eventually, realizing it was selfish to hang onto all those awesome books; I've released most of them out to used bookstores so that others can enjoy them. I'm a huge fan of Jim Butcher of the Dresden Files, Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series, S.M. Stirling's epic post-apocalyptic novels and some of his collaborations, Mercedes Lackey, Spider Robinson – who is is one of my all-time favorites (Callahan's Cross time Saloon, and basically everything else he's ever written, including some incredible collaborations with his wife), A.C. Crispin, Anne McCaffrey. I'm just discovering the work of Weston Ochse (who actually scripted a project I directed for Pulp Gamer Media recently), Jeffrey J. Mariotte, and David Lee Summers, etc. I also really like some of Joseph J. O’Donnell's work, another friend of mine who's work can be found exclusively online at the moment. I am a HUGE fan of Harry Potter, I mean who isn't? J.K Rowling is bloody brilliant.

I think a better question is which authors have I read whose books I desperately want to adapt into film. It's a long list. I'm also a big fan of Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert E. Howard, and Dashiell Hammett.

In terms of nonfiction I really love the works of Stephen Covey. Ed McMahon, surprisingly enough, wrote a brilliant book on sales. And if you are interested in acting and have not read Acting on Film by Michael Caine you need to read it.

Of course the Tao De Ching, and I do read the Bible. I also love books of zen teaching stories and Sufi tales.

 In regards to film, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are heroes of mine, as is Joss Whedon.  My favorite film is still probably A Bronx Tale, which was Robert DeNiro's directorial debut starring Chas Pomerantz. It's simply brilliant and beautifully emotional. I love The Last Samurai, Joss Whedon's Serenity, the Star Wars series, with preference to the first series, ET the Extraterrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark , Empire of the Sun, Barry Gordy's The Last Dragon, everything ever made by Jackie Chan and Samo Hung, and the absolutely brilliant The Fifth Element. Also Ultra Violet, all the big movies released by Lucas and Spielberg. The Lord of the Rings series, of course. V for Vendetta, everything ever made by Mel Brooks, and When Harry Met Sally. I'm a sucker for chick flicks, by the way, but it would take too long to list them all. I really love Stallone's Demolition Man, and frankly I liked his Judge Dredd a lot to. Some people tease me for this but I actually like a lot of the work by Uwe Boll. I think he's done a wonderful job adapting some video game concepts into actually enjoyable films. I've watched his Dungeon Siege adaptation, In the Name of the King about 1 million times. Another favorite is an amazing Japanese live-action film called Returner. Also Lady Hawke, The 13th Warrior, and The Gamers is hysterical and completely accurate when it comes to role playing gamers (take it from one who knows). Joshua – a brilliant film based on the work of Joseph Girzone about a modern day return of Jesus, Cowboy Bebop, everything made by Bruce Lee, Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail. All through the Night starring Humphrey Bogart, and everything Jimmy Stewart ever did. Many many others.

There are some lesser-known films that I absolutely adore.  West Ender was a brilliant independent film released about 10 or 15 years ago in the fantasy genre. They did some amazing things with no budget. I really love Alan William's short films: The Human Condition and On a Clear Day are some of the reasons that I was so excited about working with him. Troy McGatlin's Broken Fences is another standout for a low-budget film, as is Angelo Bell's The Broken Hearts Club. The original Road Warrior, which while not lesser known was made on a very low budget, is inspirational.  Priscilla Queen of the Desert is awesome. A little known fantasy film called Lord Protector, which was just wonderful.

Of course there all of those films that I'm in and I dig them – Writing Fren-Zee, Crewing Up, Darklands, and Forward, to name a few. But I thought it would be unfair if I went on a tirade about the movies I've been in. 

Q: You are married; how did you meet your wife?

A: I was selling shoes at an upscale retailer women's shoes department. Ginger, my wife, was stocking the shoes in back. I was singing the smurf theme song from the old NBC cartoon, in the voices of the smurfs and she didn’t think I was a total nut. I'm still amazed she married me. I chased her for 2 years and 11 months until, she says, she caught me.

Q: How does she contribute to the show’s production?

A: Ginger is a professional pastry chef, working for a 4 star resort. At the time we were shooting Zhon, she was a full-time student. She provided catering and craft services for the entire cast and crew for a year, built most of the costumes used in the series, and provided some support in the props department. She also kept me from losing my mind.

Q: Besides the Zhon series, what films have you made to date?

A: Well Zhon was my first turn at producing something on this scale.  I've done some small producing, casting, scripting and directing on a number of other projects from shorts to commercials to special video projects in the industrial market and the consumer market. My IMDB page is the best source for somewhat complete info. But new projects are coming out all the time. Stay tuned to my facebook page and my IMDB page for regular updates. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Eric-Schumacher/54210757834

Q: Are there other projects you’d especially love to bring to film?

A: I would love to make film versions of some of my favorite sci fi and fantasy novels.  I really shouldn't mention which ones here as it may affect my chances of eventually getting a license to make them, which I do intend to do.  I'm working on several of my dream projects right now as a part of Picture Arizona 's first slate of films.

Find out more here:  www.picarizona.com

Q: Are there any specific skill sets you are recruiting these days?

A: Right at this moment, I need marketing assistants, and we need good solid scripts that meet our criteria for inclusion in the next Picture Arizona slate. As soon as this next slate of films is green-lit, we will be recruiting for every role in a film production.  I'll be looking for voice actors soon too. I regularly help with casting and crewing for other people's projects. Folks should submit headshots and resumes to www.picarizona.com follow the link that says “cast and crew calls” and follow the instructions. There's a scripts submissions page also.  Unfortunately I can't publicly say much about any of the immediate projects quite at the moment. Folks are welcomed to contact me at eric@picarizona.com for more info, however.

Q: What else do you hope to accomplish in life?

A: Ultimately I hope to be an excellent servant to God, and a good friend and a good husband. I want to do as much good as I can while on this world and leave it a significantly better place. I want to make a difference in getting kids fed, inspiring compassion, and creating prosperity for a lot of people who are struggling right now.

Q: What has making this series, Zhon, meant to you and to the rest of the cast and production team? What central ideas did you set out to explore, and besides amusing audiences with humor, what did you hope to accomplish? 

A: An excellent question.  In the beginning, Zhon represented hope for a lot of artists – hope that we could make a show that was considered by most to be completely impossible, considering our available resources and the scope of the project. We hoped that we could utilize that project to build better careers, and ultimately help to stimulate our local economy a bit. Over time, the show became about more than even those worthy goals.

It became about the characters and about giving a gift to our fans. Not for one second on the set did we forget that we were making a show for our fans, who love this kind of character driven fiction.

The characters, Zhon and Amanda and Mindy and David and the others, go on this journey about truth and friendship and building bridges between people who are nothing alike, or at least think they're nothing alike. They share their pain and their best attributes, and a weird but wonderful friendship is formed amidst all the dramas and the goofiness.

So truly, this show is about giving a gift that’s the product of our literal blood and sweat and tears and the telling of a quirky, wonderful, dramatic, action packed, funny tale about the truth.  We may not be entirely sure throughout most of the series that Zhon is telling the truth, but the quest for truth is the underlying consistency throughout the show. 

We're pretty proud of it. The final two episodes should really be a ride for fans.

Q: Wait, do I understand correctly - is Zhon finished completely? Is there (gasp!) resolution and closure!?!?!? That's big news!

A: Yes, it is. The entire series has been shot. A week from today we launch season 3 episode 4. Then we take a two week midseason break, and when we come back to launch episodes 5 and 6, the final episode. Then we work on getting the dvds and special features prepared. And we are DEEP in planning on some really groundbreaking new shows.

*****

Well, that’s good news, and I hope some of our readers are inspired by this to investigate the show Zhon, and maybe to get involved in film-making. And be sure to look up TusCon 40 on line: the plan is to invite back as many former GoHs as can come, so if you missed Jim Butcher or S. M. Stirling or Patricia Briggs and would like a second chance, chances are they are invited back, and just may be in Tucson next November. And I am reasonably confident Eric Schumacher will be in attendance too.

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