Let Fear be a Tailwind
As a freelance producer with credits on dozens of films and television series such as Legion, Training Day, and Lucifer, Erik Holmberg '86 is an expert at navigating the many highs and lows that come with a career in the entertainment industry.
“Failure is great: it’s how you learn your strengths and weaknesses and get better as a person and a professional. I’ve always learned more through failure than success,” said Holmberg.
In Fall 2018, he shared his expertise with current Bennington College students interested in drama, film, and television during a return visit made with film director SJ Chiro ’87. Holmberg and Chiro also presented screenings of their own work and hosted a forum spanning “From Indie Film to the Golden Age of Television.”
“Bennington has an amazing group of students. They were incredibly diverse, energetic, and excited to be around each other,” reflected Holmberg on his visit. “SJ and I had lunch one day in the cafeteria, and every table around us was full of students who seemed really excited about what they were talking about."
There was a positive energy around the campus in how the students interacted with each other and with us.
Erik Holmberg '86
Holmberg, who grew up in New England, always aspired to work in film and television. When it came time for college, he originally attended University of California, Berkeley. However, soon into his freshman year, he realized a large university was not his best fit.
“I was looking for a small, intimate art school setting, so Bennington was perfect,” said Holmberg.
At Bennington, Holmberg focused his drama studies in directing and lighting design. The hands-on experience he gained both in and out of the classroom was invaluable.
“At larger universities, you sit in a room with hundreds of people and listen to a professor lecturing, which has nothing to do with the world of work,” said Holmberg. “You may learn interesting facts and information, but you don’t learn how to work together with people to make something creative. Since that's what I wanted to do with my life, Bennington was a great start.”
Throughout his time at Bennington, Holmberg worked extensively in the drama department. In addition to his studies in lighting and directing, he also worked in the scene shop building sets for shows. In doing so, Holmberg was able to test different types of jobs by “jumping in and learning.”
“It was also invaluable to learn how to work with other people, which is a critical part of this particular art form,” said Holmberg. “You can’t make film and TV without collaborating with a group of artists, which means you need to work with creative people with strong points of view and be able to create an environment that brings out the best in everybody.”
During this learning process, Holmberg discovered that challenging experiences often taught him more than smooth, successful ones.
“At Bennington, you’re able to direct and stage shows yourself, which means you learn early on that it’s okay to fail or make mistakes because that’s how you learn to do better,” said Holmberg. “Some people never learn that it’s okay to fail; they think you must present to the world that everything you do is a success. But Bennington taught me the opposite: the plays I directed that didn’t go as well made me a better producer and collaborator because I learned how to work together as a creative team.”
Holmberg’s Field Work Term experiences also taught him how to nimbly produce work as part of a small team. During his senior year, he spent Field Work Term in Boston interning at Rampion Visual Productions, a production agency that shoots documentary-style footage for their clients’ videos.
“Rampion was a great experience because they welcomed me as part of their little production team. They were hands-on, low-budget, and lean, and it was a great way to learn all the different parts of a small team,” said Holmberg. “That experience helped me and gave me confidence to get in my car and drive to California to look for a job.”
For young hopefuls, the television and film industries can be notoriously daunting. Holmberg’s advice to Bennington students who aspire to these creative careers is to “be incredibly persistent and fearless.”
“There’s this fantastic quote by Jimmy Iovine: ‘Make fear a tailwind instead of a headwind,’” said Holmberg. “That’s how you’ve got to approach a creative and challenging industry like show business. People are going to say no, and it’s going to be hard to break in if you’re not related to somebody, but you have to let fear be your tailwind and not let it stop you. You have to be persistent and bold: don’t let anybody keep you from moving forward.”
Holmberg also advises developing an honest self-awareness around personal strengths and weaknesses.
“Part of long-term success is being able to honestly assess what you are or aren’t good at,” said Holmberg. “As you go through your career, don’t be afraid to change directions and go toward something different. You may find that’s what you’re meant to do.”
By Natalie Redmond, Associate Writer