Update (June 3, 2020): Since this interview Eric Haywood has been a mentor at the ScreenCraft Writers Summit and he has written on For Life, an American legal drama television series created by Hank Steinberg, premiered on ABC in February 2020. The series executive produced by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and is partially based on the true story of Isaac Wright Jr., who was imprisoned for a crime that he did not commit.
Meet Eric Haywood. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he began his career as a music video director while still enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Filmmaking. After relocating to Atlanta, Eric went on to direct and produce videos featuring such artists as Usher, Cee-Lo Green, Outkast, New Edition, Ice-T, Tupac Shakur, and legendary Parliament-Funkadelic bassist Bootsy Collins. His video for Bay Area rapper E-40’s song “Sprinkle Me” was selected by MTV and XXL Magazine as the #10 Greatest West Coast Rap Video of All Time.
Eric then turned his focus to writing and moved to Los Angeles, where he landed work as a writer on such shows as ABC’s Private Practice and Showtime’s Soul Food: The Series. Along the way, he has periodically returned to his filmmaking roots, writing and directing three short films (Nick of Time, Intersection, and Staring at the Sun), each of which screened at various film festivals around the country.
Eric went on to write the Hallmark Channel original movie Relative Stranger, starring Eriq LaSalle (E.R.) and directed by Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep). After premiering in 2009, the film garnered three NAACP Image Award nominations and a Best Supporting Actress Emmy nomination for Cicely Tyson. In 2013, Eric wrote and directed the independent feature film Four of Hearts, and is currently a co-executive producer for the hit FOX drama Empire, starring Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. He recently co-wrote and directed an episode of the
show’s fourth season.
If you’re lucky enough to be going to the sold out 2018 ScreenCraft Writers Summit in Atlanta, make sure you check out the panels he’ll be on, including Hollywood TED’s: “The Best Lesson I Ever Learned”, Diversity in Leadership in the Entertainment Industry and The Writers’ Room: How it Works and How to Run One.
Let’s dive into the interview with Eric Haywood:
What’s it like to go from making music videos to writing and producing shows, shorts and features?
Writing and directing features was always my original career goal. I started out making music videos in order to develop enough hands-on production experience to be able to handle a feature. But along the way, an opportunity to write for television came my way, and I decided to follow that path for several years before circling back to features. The main thing I learned is that the basic principles of production are almost always the same, you just have to scale things up or down according to the budget. Beyond that, having a vision for what you’re trying to create is essential.
What was it like to write on Private Practice?
Working for Shonda was amazing. Once you get over feeling a little intimidated working for someone so brilliant, it frees you up to swing for the fences creatively. It was one of my favorite work experiences.
How did Relative Stranger come to be and how was that whole experience?
Relative Stranger was a spec script that I wrote back during my music video days. The idea then was to write a low-budget, character-driven feature that I would shoot independently. I was living in Atlanta at the time, and planned to use all local actors and crew. Long story short, the script began circulating around Los Angeles, got me lots of meetings, and was eventually bought and produced by the Hallmark Channel. By that point the project had grown considerably, another director had come on board, and I got to be heavily involved during production. It was a dream come true.
What are you currently working on?
Right now I’m on hiatus from Empire. We return to work in May.
What’s a movie or show we need right now that hasn’t been made yet?
As soon as I think of it, I’ll try to get it made!
What sort of stories excite you?
Stories that take me places I haven’t been, and unfold in ways I don’t expect.
Where do you find inspiration?
In my experience, discipline is a far more important tool for a writer than inspiration. Inspiration is fleeting and unpredictable. Discipline is what gets the work done. If anything, I find inspiration in the challenge of conveying an idea from my mind onto the page.
What are you looking forward to the most about the ScreenCraft Writers Summit in Atlanta?
I’m really looking forward to meeting other writers and hearing their stories.
What’s your advice for screenwriters or producers just starting out?
If there’s anything you think you might want to do with your life besides be a writer, then you should absolutely do that instead. It’s a career with endless ups and downs, and honestly, not everyone’s able to commit themselves to something that offers no guarantees of success. Having said that, for anyone who’s committed to writing whether career stability comes or not, my advice is to write as much as possible and not count on any one piece of material to be the thing that “makes” your career.
Finally, what is one surprising (non-industry) related fact about you?
I’m fascinated by Antarctica and visiting there one day is on my “bucket list.”
Look out for Eric at the 2018 ScreenCraft Writers Summit happening from April 13 – 16.