Eric Dean Seaton has directed a variety of television shows. His list of credits are endless. Here are just a few: That’s So Raven, Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Dog with a Blog, Austin & Ally, and the adult show Undateable. Eric has under his belt, 38 different shows, 200 episodes, and 18 music videos. He’s been nominated twice in the category for Best Comedy Director at the NAACP Image Awards. Recently, Eric completed his first graphic novel series “The Legend of the Mantamaji”. He provides great insight into the world of directing and how to establish your own path in the entertainment industry.
When did you know you wanted to direct?
EDS: Early on, I wanted to be a great storyteller. While attending college, I met a friend who loved creating worlds like me. When movies ended, I was always reading the credits; imagining how many people were involved in the process. The credits tells you who does what and then points towards the building blocks that shape these tremendous projects.
Who were you inspired by?
EDS: Spike Lee’s movies and Do the Right Thing, Steven Spielberg films, Tim Burton films (especially Edward Scissorhands). Burton has his own unique style that is distinguishable among the rest. His movies tell a story from a dark-surreal perspective.
Where did you get your training?
EDS: I got my training at Ohio State University and on the job. I was always looking at the DVD extras footage. You can learn a lot about what takes make it and which ones don’t. Also, you can get inside the mind of the director to see how he guided the project. Extra scenes gives one a glimpse into filmmaking that a person might not normally get to see. It shows you not only the what, but the how and why. With Universal Studios, The Mummy (2009) and Van Helsing (2004) had amazing graphics and some of the first CGI characters on the silver screen. I also took down detailed notes to see what the project entailed and how I could make my directing better.
What was your first directing debut?
EDS: It is extremely difficult to get into the industry. I started working with Living Single, then Smart Guy, which eventually got cancelled. I got an internship with Cosby and then worked my way into kids programming. My break out show directing majority of a series was Sonny with a Chance (2009).
My first experience directing was a “do or die” situation. I got on set to direct That’s So Raven (2004-2006). We were shooting with 4 cameras and the camera angles were all wrong. The scene involved the characters for Raven and Chelsea. The associate producer stated that there was a problem. I called for a short break and went back to my dressing room. I took a good look at myself in the mirror. What was I waiting for? This moment was a defining point of my career. I wasn’t going to let a small glitch shake me. I said to myself, “You only got one chance at this. Shut up and do this!” I composed myself, went back out on set, and took charge. From that point on, I never looked back, realizing that I had everything that I needed to be successful. I just needed to walk into it.
How do you go about the process of directing for your actors?
EDS: When directing, (for me) it starts when the script is obtained. The process can be unpredictable at times, because there are no two projects that are exactly the same. You have to be willing to see people in their characters and know how to get them to their zone if need be. Great actors use their skills to morph into something phenomenal, leaving a lasting impression with our souls.
There are always variables that cannot be controlled. You just have to figure out a way to get it done. Solid planning is key, but nothing is ever cemented down. Things are always changing and you have to be flexible; thinking quick on your feet; determined to learn in the process and get better every time. In the end, you have to be comfortable with the outcome and lock down your last scene/take. The project ends with the final cut.
What is the difference between television and the silver screen?
EDS: They are different mediums. In TV land, the writers get to control what happens. In movies, the director is king. But most people want to work with TV directors because the industry thinks they’re easier to work with. More people want to invest in TV directors because they can transition them from TV to film, but not necessarily the other way around. TV has a much lower budget. Movies are much larger and on a grander scale, but I like both.
Tell us about kids programming and your experience with Disney television.
EDS: Truth be told adult shows are much easier to direct. With kid’s shows, they are 22 minutes with commercials; it comes to about ½ hour. Today’s kids are different from 15-20 years ago. For example with, “Family Matters” and TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) shows, the parents became involved with teens lives and helped them solve the problems. Now, the problem starts with the kids and ends with solutions that they have come up with. The parents are just in the background for support. In children’s programming, there are context references that kids wouldn’t understand if an adult was conveying a message. There are things that kids just wouldn’t do or think. Making adult scriptwriters understand the “lingo” and the “mind of a teen or child” can be difficult. Some things just may not be appropriate either. Because I understand kids programming and have experience, sometimes I feel as though I am the interpreter between the “kid world” and the “adult world”.
What would you like to see change in Hollywood characters?
EDS: There are not many well- known black characters under 40. The ones that are established have paid their dues. They all had to build their careers and put in the time and sacrifice. People of color rarely get star roles. And if they do, they are action films or comedic films (again with well-known actors). There are so many talented actors, screenwriters, etc, out there. They never get the chance because the opportunity isn’t afforded them. Hollywood is waking up, but it still isn’t enough. It’s accountability time. The talent is there.
Spike Lee spent his grandmother’s money to fund his first project, She’s Gotta Have It (1986). Tyler Perry began with this plays and developed a niche audience, also. He used his own money and resources to make it happen. If the roles aren’t there, then how does it happen? We make it happen. People of color don’t have to always be the sidekick, or the observer of the main character…
The movie “Creed”, which comes out in November (2015), is an important role for Michael B. Jordan. It’s helping establish the under 40 African-American male and the Millennial people of color on the silver screen. He’s really the only male of color in the forefront right now (under 40 Millennial)…making memorable waves for these types of roles. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great actor, but there are still many actors out there that deserve a chance to shine in the limelight, in addition.
EDS: I wanted to see my dream realized….. for me and for my children. To leave a legacy of empowerment and to show them that you can achieve your dreams. In my series, an African American is the superhero. He doesn’t have to take a back seat to anyone. He’s a man with issues like everyone else and his charge is to save the world in some capacity. The main character becomes, “The Legend of Mantamaji”. Initially, he’s a shallow conceited lawyer, who is the last person who can defeat an evil powerful sorcerer. He discovers his powers and uses that to complete his mission.
It took me many years to complete the series. 6 years to illustrate and write 3 books. I’ve been touring and getting the story out there. I’m getting a warm reception from the fans of Mantamaji.
What advice would you give teens that want to direct or write superhero-type characters?
EDS: Directing is easy. Anyone can study the craft. People can now make movies on their cell phone. Look at your favorite shows and study them. NCIS, Blackish, Empire, etc. When does the director do close-ups or wide-shots? This is your school right in front of you. Invest in yourself, put in the time to do your own research on the how-to, the what, and the why. Spend your own money to make your dream a reality if you have to. Make your mark! Dream Big and Go for it!
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