An Interview with Eric Greenberg
Film Studies Department intern Leah Demers sat down with recent UMass Film Certificate graduate Eric Greenberg to discuss his interest in documentary filmmaking, the importance of supportive professors, and the benefits of an online certificate program.
Leah Demers: Today I’m speaking today with Eric Greenberg, who has recently completed their online certificate in film studies. Congratulations, Eric, and thank you so much for being here.
Eric Greenberg: Thank you.
LD: First off, I would really like to know what initially sparked your interest in film. Did you have any childhood experiences that really spoke to you? How did you get into film in the first place?
EG: It's weird. I kind of always liked TV first. You can tell I'm a little older. I grew up with all of the classic TV shows, like Family Ties, The Wonder Years, Seinfeld, and I loved all of that. I've been working in TV for about 20 years in news and I got really fascinated by documentaries. There were just sort of these niche topics that I was really interested in. With so many documentaries streaming on Netflix, all of these films cater to individual tastes that probably wouldn't have been accounted for a long time ago. I decided that I wanted to explore documentary filmmaking and try to transition into that. That's when I started kind of looking into some of these programs that I might be able to do while I was still working full time.
LD: That's great. Did you have any specific documentaries that inspired you to pursue this?
EG: I love Searching for Sugar Man. I don't know if you've seen that one, but I'm a big music guy and I like quirky underdog stories. That film kind of has it all and it's beautifully shot. I mean, there's a ton of films out there that I love.
LD: You mentioned that you worked in television for 20 years prior to this. Did you end up going to school studying television production?
EG: I always knew I wanted to do TV, but I wasn't a TV major. I was an English major, but I did internships in television with local affiliates. Then when I got out of college, I got a job at Court TV (now TruTV) as a production assistant, which was famous for broadcasting the OJ Simpson trial at the time. Now I've been at MSNBC for a long time working a lot of different roles. I'm still working there today, so finding a program I could do while still working full-time and raising two young kids was key.
LD: There are probably multiple options for film certificates offered across the country. What made the UMass certificate program stand out to you and what made you ultimately decide to choose UMass for your program?
EG: Well, there are a lot of options out there. There aren't as many as you think that have the kind of flexibility that UMass has in terms of the option to do it asynchronously. I didn't want to do a program with an institution that you've never heard of that didn't necessarily have credibility. I wanted something with the legitimacy of a film program from a school like NYU and combine that with asynchronous flexibility. I grew up in Massachusetts and got in when I was applying out of high school but didn't end up going there. I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea that there was this incredibly well-kept secret in the film department and how just amazing and life-changing it was going to be.
LD: Awesome. What kind of classes did you have the opportunity to take with the program and what were some of your favorites? Were there any professors that stood out to you in any way?
EG: Yeah. I mean, it's hard to, I just would say nothing if I didn't love all the professors. There's not like a bad one in the group, in my experience. It's weird because you're doing this whole remote thing where in theory, you shouldn't know your professors as well as if they're in person. But in truth, I feel like I know these professors and have a closer relationship with them than I ever had while in undergrad. They're so accessible and it's the kind of thing where, you know, the more you put into something, the more you can get out of it. And I think the more you dive in and the more you want to do, the more they'll teach you.
I was able to take two documentary classes with David Casals-Roma, who is currently located in Spain. You meet all these people from teaching around the world. He’s actually making what seems like it's going to be an incredible film about the first female director in Spain [Elena Jordi], who's sort of been forgotten. Having the chance to work with someone who's a working director is incredible.
Nefeli [Forni] is also fantastic. She is one of my favorite people in the world. I took a film class with her last summer. She is just so passionate. The thing about UMass that I have found is that no one's looking to cut you down. I'm sure there are plenty of professors out there who are arrogant and want to one-up you and tell you everything you're doing wrong and that's just not their M.O. here. Their approach is to support and guide you to be able to do what you want to do. I obviously want criticism, but I want constructive criticism. I've been able to learn so much. In terms of the work, they'll guide you in a positive way.
I saved Barry [Spence] for last because everyone told me, “Oh you have to take a class of Barry.” And I thought, well can't be that great. Then you take a class with Barry and he was that great. I took a Classic Hollywood Cinema course with him, which isn't something that like I went in to do. It was sort of a requirement. And then I loved it. For anyone that doesn't know him, he is just the best and most generous guy. Being part of all of the live discussions for the class was great. There were people in the class who are 20 years younger, but that doesn't mean they know less than me. I'd watch a film and see one thing, and they'd say something and I'd be like, “Oh, wow, you're operating on another level there.” I learned a lot from the people in the class. I'm rambling, but I could talk all day about how amazing every professor I've had here is. Each one wants to be more helpful than the next.
LD: I find that too. As you said, the professors first and foremost are there because they care about the students' success and they want to help you and give you constructive criticism, but they also want to see you succeed. I think having that support as a student, regardless of whether you choose to do the online certificate or if you are enrolled for in-person courses, is really crucial to one's success overall. So I'm really glad that you were able to have such good experiences important. What were some of the other benefits of being able to work online?
EG: The asynchronous was great in terms of convenience. I have a full-time job that has weird hours. I have two young kids. And so I could watch those lectures at 3 AM if I needed to. But even in those asynchronous classes, I was still able to set up a Zoom call with my professors. You know, I mentioned Nefeli, I still zoomed with Nefeli maybe an hour a week, every week, sometimes longer. And so they did it in a way that these asynchronous classes were still really personal. And it wasn't a situation where you felt you were getting lost behind a computer screen. If you put the effort in, the professors are there. So yeah, it just shows the versatility of the program. I really do think it's a sort of hidden gem that people aren't aware of maybe. And it's there are plenty of people out there that, whether you're trying to make a total career change or you're just trying to kind of learn more, there are plenty of people like me that I think could really benefit from it. And it's totally doable.
LD: I think that versatility is also really important because then you can tailor it to your own needs and what you want to get out of it. And then ultimately that will help prepare you best for what you want to do in the future and allow you to receive the most personal fulfillment. At the end of the day, as students we should want to learn, that's why we're here.
EG: Yeah. Yeah. And I think that's something I didn't appreciate the first time around in undergrad, maybe so much. But now I definitely appreciate it more, especially when it's something that I know I want to do.
LD: Do you have any advice that you would give to anyone who was potentially interested in completing the online certificate program?
EG: Wow. I mean, I would just, honestly, if you have any questions, connect. I started reaching out to professors and staff before I even started the program. Feel free to reach out to Barbara Zecchi, the Head of the Film Studies Department, or any professor who is teaching a course you might be interested in and find out if it's right for you. So just give it a try and I'm sure there's like an add/drop period, but I can pretty much guarantee you, if you start to do it, you're going to want to keep going.
LD: That’s fantastic advice! Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to speak with me. I hope anyone watching this would be able to get a lot out of the film studies experience as much as you did.
EG: Thanks for thinking about me. I just feel so positively about the whole experience is really one of the best things I've ever done. You're welcome.