Balance, Talent Steer Spirit of Adventure
By Bernard Timberg
What first comes to mind when you meet Erick Green--and he’s hard to miss with his silver hair, beard and youthful countenance, not to mention the black beatnik/artist beret perched at a rakish angle on his head—is, well, this guy is tall! He rises to his full six feet seven inches as he stands to greet you and as you talk to him a second word comes to mind: centered.
The impression you get of Erick Green is one of balance, a sense of being aware and taking it in, whatever is in front of him. And there’s also a certain kind of patience that accompanies the warmth, the humor, the listening curiosity, a deeper presence lurking behind what you see and hear. He is not someone who will leap to anything quickly.
Yet, as you get to know him, you find that he is surprisingly fast when he needs to be. Teaching a class, in the heat of the moment at a shoot…it’s just that it’s all so fluid, smooth, he makes it seem so effortless.
That’s the first contradiction—speed and deliberate action.
Another is the contrast between the arty, even mannered artistic sensibility, the guy who wears the beret and calls himself Erick with a “k”—not just any ordinary Eric — and the guy who is actually rather selfless, a collaborator rather than a competitor, someone who wants to dissolve himself in the creative moment that others create around and with him. Individualist versus teamplayer. That’s a part of this strange but intriguing balance.
As I came to know him as a colleague in the School of Communication at ECU, and interviewed the people who knew him best, I found out that this balance is maintained at all times, even in the midst of the ranting and raving, ego-battles and turbulent struggles that characterize the jungle some call Hollywood.
This is what his colleagues in the filmmaking trenches tell me when I assign myself a 750-word profile, paralleling the efforts of my students in basic reporting.
The story begins 48 years ago in Bangladesh, where his parents – traveling journalists – gave birth to their third child. After spending his first years in a series of foreign countries, Green returned with his family to Durham, N.C. for most of his growing up.
Green was a basketball star in high school and the captain of his team. He went through several colleges trying to figure out what he was going to do with his life, including a semester at Georgia Tech, a year at Duke, and then, to all extents starting over, the four-year program in architecture at the College of Art and Communication at North Carolina State University.
He became a prize student working 70 and 80 hour weeks in the architecture and design studio, when as a rising junior everything was apparently going just as it should – something happened. A crisis in confidence, some profound movement of inner compass that told him the isolation of designing buildings, alone and in the abstract, was not for him.
That’s when he applied for a job as an archeological architect and photographer. He got it. It was a Roman dig that involved people, and space, finding and digging things up to imagine a previous world.
That evolved into five summers in archeological digs in the area of the world that has been variously called the Holy Land, Israel and Palestine. This too opened up a new world to the former on-the-track architect. He dealt with Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, had both Israeli and Arab friends. He picked up street Arabic and a smattering of Hebrew. He was becoming – he was in some sense driven to be—a bridge between worlds.
Back in the U.S., Green taught himself video production and arrived at his next turning point – the decision to go to the West Coast, to USC film school, and break into the film industry.
Despite the towering odds that worked against that goal, he mastered the craft and was earning well into six figures as a director of photography and teacher of film production at several Los Angeles area universities. But again, that wasn’t it.
There are not that many leaders, as Ted Turner once pointed out. And leadership emerges in different ways. There are those who lead from above and those who lead from behind, but there are some, not many, who have the intuitive talent to lead from the very center, the very heart of whatever they are doing.
Erick Green, I found out, was one of those people.
In my interview with producer Opender Singh, with whom Erick had worked on two films in Los Angeles, I learned that it was Erick who calmed everyone down during a financially plagued shoot. That included the producer himself. “You have to take care of yourself too, you know,” Green told Opender at one critical point, and the producer has never forgotten it.
Singh’s testimony paralleled that of playwright and first-time feature director Octavio Solis. Green taught him about film, he said. “He never made me feel stupid or naïve.”
He echoed Singh: Green was the central force who kept the production on keel. From working grueling 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. days, shooting only at night in the same house, often going on three to four hours of sleep a night, the crew and performers were becoming exhausted, harried, making mistakes repeatedly. Green’s sense of humor and perspective transcended these conditions. At one point he began booming out “bon chance” before every take. This became the motto of the show. “Good luck.” They needed it.
Green also worked with Solis to revise the storyboard and shooting schedule, combining what were originally individual shots, each with their own set-ups and rack-downs, into a series of fluid, long takes. It changed the style of the film, said the director, but enabled it to finish on time and on schedule—something that was crucial as principal actors had fixed schedules to leave for other projects. This could never have happened, Solis said, if Green had not “fully and entirely” absorbed the aesthetic of the film, working with him daily (and nightly) to make it happen.
Family members reinforced this picture. The gyroscope that centers Erick Green seems to “sail out” with equanimity on adventures, sometimes ones that seem inadvisable on first glance. Was it prudent to buy a house in a town you just discovered (Washington, N.C.), a good half hour from your new teaching job? Or take up sail boating, without ever having had a lesson, just as you were launching your first lessons at a new university? Most people wouldn’t. But though Green would launch what might seem like wild adventures, there was actually much thought put into these ventures. Eddies and swirls and circles of thought wove a rather solid fabric around what turned out to be, as he found new points of balance, a very sensible, moral and practical gyroscopic reality. Green was someone who had learned in his 48 years, by trial and error, to make adventures work.
And he has already begun to make his mark at ECU. In the tradition of “bon chance” he wrote a perfect-pitch “good news” email to fellow faculty members after a particularly heated debate at a crucial school meeting. It was a call to argue and work together to forge a new program despite the multiple, and simultaneous, growing pains of the new program.
What are Erick Green’s priorities at this point? Family, filmmaking that is decidedly not commercial Hollywood but from a regional base; documentaries; a home-grown feature perhaps; and the creation of a home and repertory group in “little Washington” that lives and breathes its work.
I would hazard a guess that whatever Erick Green undertakes, whatever he is at the center of, will happen, on schedule, its own schedule, and in its own time.