Eric Forsberg was born at Illinois Masonic Hospital on the opening night of The Second City, where his mother worked as the female understudy for the mainstage show. Of course, she missed the performance. After that, Eric was essentially raised at The Second City as a stage urchin. He grew up in Lincoln Park as a scrapper in the public school system until he had the good fortune to be accepted on a scholarship into 9th grade at Francis W. Parker School. It was the right school at the right time, and Eric fell in with the right crowd, with whom he did all the wrong things. But somehow he managed to survive (and graduate). After college, Eric worked in Chicago for a decade and a half writing and directing for the stage before throwing everything in his car and driving out to California to focus on film. He wrote and directed his first feature, Alien Abduction, in 2004. His other films include Snakes on a Train, Night of the Dead, Monster, 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Torture Room, War of the Worlds 2 and the comedy Sex Pot. Eric’s 2010 release, Mega Piranha starring Barry Williams (The Brady Bunch) and ’80s pop star Tiffany, has become SyFy’s number one show of the year. Eric is married to Chicago stage director Karen (Goodman) Forsberg. They have a daughter, Lola, who is a child actress with many roles to her credit. They live in Los Angeles where Eric continues to write and direct movies.
Tell us about your newest film, Mega Piranha. What inspired it?
I’ve been writing for a company called The Asylum for a few years now, and they are famous for making movies that the press has called “Mockbusters.” The idea is that, when a big budget studio picture is about to come out, like Transformers, The Asylum will quickly produce a film—Transfomorphs, let’s say—and release it a few weeks before the studio film. Many of their films are similar to their targets in ways other than the titles, but when I write a Mockbuster I always try to make it as original as possible. The producers come to me with a title and tell me to “have at.” And so it was with Mega Piranha, only this time I got to direct, which is a good thing because it is my most successful film yet, and it is unlikely anyone else that directs for them would have made it as fun as I did. Syfy seemed to like it and that’s a boon for me.
What do you enjoy most about being a film professional?
Every project is a new set of challenges that I can focus on 110 percent. I couldn’t sustain the level of intensity that I reach on a shoot if it were, say, 40 years long. Ever since the time when I worked in theatre, I have learned to work within the long periods of prep and short bursts of production. Also, when I was at Parker, I played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, but I was always the DM (Dungeon Master)—that is, I created the worlds, the maps, the challenges and the cosmology—and then I invited my friends to make up characters and journey into my creation. Some of these adventures went on for years. Back at Parker, Jordy Weisman [’79] and I were the two DMs. Jordy had more rules than I did. That’s kind of the way I make movies: I create a world and let my characters adventure in it. I love making movies—it’s like the grand French opera of the 21st century. I can’t wait to see what’s next after films are obsolete.
What was it like growing up as part of what would become one of Chicago’s most famous “exports,” The Second City?
I used to work there, but I always felt like a tourist, until now; now I feel like one of the gang. It’s actually one of my proudest accomplishments—to have been born on opening night of Second City’s very first show. And because my mother worked as their improv teacher in the ’60s and ’70s, I was essentially raised there, watching all the performances from the rail since I was a toddler. I ate cherries out of the big jar behind the bar, Sheldon Patinkin babysat me more than once, Bill Murray painted my kitchen, and no one ever knew where their props were because I played with them while my mother taught class. Cheryl Sloane [’77] was right there next to me many days. Later, when I was old enough, I began working as a light man and a house manager for the children’s theatre, then as an actor and director for the kids’ shows, then as an improv instructor and a director for the Second City Training Center. In fact, when I was a junior and senior at Parker, I worked nights doing lights at numerous comedy clubs, 10 bucks a gig.
When I came out to California, I missed The Second City so much that I became a founding member of the Los Angeles branch, where I taught until 2005. And The Second City honored me greatly by flying me, my wife and my daughter—on a chartered plane filled with Second City alums—to Chicago last December where we celebrated the 50th anniversary for three days. I got to see and visit with many of the people I directed back in the day, like Steve Carell, David Pasquesi and Stephen Colbert. It was a blast, and it made me feel like I was part of history. Now if they’ll only put my name up on the list of people who worked there, my life will be complete (seriously, it will—that joint’s got a hold on me).
Did you do theatre at Parker?
When I first arrived at Parker, I was all about doing improv comedy, which, back in my day, was not the type of thing the Drama Department was looking for. I did try out for Oklahoma!: I sang “Poor Judd is Dead” but I got smoked by the competition. Daryl Hannah [’78] was in that production, and the night I saw it, she had a 102 fever. Still, she put her heart and soul into it, and I wasn’t surprised when she made it to stardom—that proved to me that she had the juice. [Editor’s note: Jill Chukerman Test ’77, who interviewed Eric for this article, also appeared in that production.]
Anyway, back at Parker I was a fringe figure. I made a lot of super 8mm movies with Charles Schneider [’78], Neil Giuntoli [’78], Harrison Fried [’79], Ralph Saunders [’79] and some other good pals, and that’s where I did most of my acting—and some professional gigs outside of school, usually at nightclubs where I’d play the misfit teen in some improv revue. But I wrote my very first play in Mr. Duffy’s class—And So They Fell—which was later produced. During senior year, I co-wrote an epic poetry cycle with classmates Charles Schneider and Ken Saunders [’78] called A Dozen Idiots, which we performed at Morning Ex and was later produced at a theatre. It described the creation, history and destruction of a world (ah, there’s that D&D again). To this day I work with people that I met at Parker: Peter Saltzman [’79] scored my first feature film; Schneider was my Second Unit Director on two films as well as an actor (no one dies on screen like him); Neil brought me on as a PA for my first real Hollywood movie; and even now I have a meeting with Peter Green [’81] coming up. I need his advice and he said he would help. Parker is with me every day and it had a profound effect on my life—more than I realized at the time.
Were there teachers or others at Parker who influenced the direction of your life after you graduated?
That is what makes Parker a great school—it stays with you, forever. While I was there, Jim Mesple was very important to me (my advisor), as were Mr. Leary and Mr. Duffy. I also had some wonderful moments with Mr. Markwell, although I didn’t get to know him as well as I would have liked. And I owe a debt of gratitude to Marie Stone, who stood by me in 12th grade when I needed someone to believe in me—there was a problem with one of my Spanish credits and she went to the committee and proclaimed that I was an especially creative person and the issue should be overlooked. It was, thanks to her and others. To this day I still hold my pals from Parker as some of my dearest friends. My daughter wants to go to Parker more than anything, but we’d have to move to Chicago, and I am hesitant to consider that at this point in my career. But I can’t think of a better or more influential school.
What are some of your favorite Parker memories?
Getting accepted. Graduating. Attending my 20th reunion with my wife Karen. And back in the day—–wow—so many memories: hanging out downstairs with Rebecca Lieb [’77], Gabby Foreman [’78], Deborah Futorian [’78], Neil, Chris Henry [’78], Russell Game [’79], Sari Mintz [’78], Kate Barsy [’78] and a handful of others—we were so young and wild. I loved the book fairs—oh the treasures I still have on my shelves. I also remember Charles and I having a film festival in the lunchroom. Mr. Leary was impressed with some of the imagery, but we were kids and most of the films were gory. I still make gory films—go figure.
What's next for you?
Mega Sea Urchin is my usual answer these days, but in truth I have just been green-lighted for a comedy (my second) called MILFs. It is supposed to go to Comedy Central. Other than that the waters have really been swirling since Mega Piranha became such a big hit. I am meeting with producers and studios that want to talk—and just about anyone will take a meeting with me these days. What’s really curious about it is that I don’t have an agent; I want one—I need one—but I don’t have one. So if anybody out there knows a good agent, send a referral. :-)
What’s it like to watch your daughter follow in your theatrical footsteps?
Everybody in my world is a theatre person. It’s just like some crazy universal coincidence or some master plan, or maybe I just like people with one foot in fantasyland. My wife was a top director in Chicago for years. Her father was a film actor and her sister is a comedian. My father was an indie filmmaker and my sister is a theatre professor at a college. Of course my mother is a Chicago theatre icon, and I’m just lucky as heck to be surrounded by them all. So is my little girl Lola. Next year, she will be attending Milikan School for the Performing Arts, one of the top-rated middle schools in LA. So I am encouraged, although after some of the ups and downs that I have had in this business I might want her to rethink the career choice and go into international investments… Nah!
Anything else you'd like to add?
Anyone going to Parker is lucky. Not only is it a great school where the leaders of tomorrow are being educated, but it is also a creative school where people like me can get the training to have a shot at the top schools and the top jobs in the world. You want to be the President of the United States? Go to Parker. You want to be a novelist? Go to Parker. You want to be a movie star? Go to Parker. It prepares you for a wide spectrum of possibilities. I don’t know where I’d