Eric Fleming Teaches Students the Art of
the Reel—in the Real World
To teach dreamers hoping to break into one of the world’s most exclusive professions, you have to be honest.
And Eric Fleming, chair of Valencia’s film production technology program, has plenty of stories to share. A 20-year Hollywood veteran who maintains his Writers Guild of America membership, he currently has four projects in development, including a TV series he’s working on with actor Michael Keaton called “Turnpike Gypsies” that’s in pre-production.
“Turnpike Gypsies has been six years in development—SIX YEARS,” Fleming marvels. “I tell the students, ‘This is the life of a creative project in Hollywood.’ I show them six-year-old notes from Keaton about it, the many rewrites… all of it.”
For students in Valencia’s film program, working with Fleming gives them a chance to work on the many types of projects that he’s involved in. “All of these things I try to involve the school in,” says Fleming. “That’s part of the excitement and makes it more fulfilling—it gives the students teaching moments.”
A Florida State film school alumnus, Fleming went to Hollywood with a seven-minute, comic “mockumentary” called “Fallen Arches,” (now on Youtube) about a boozy, washed-up Ronald McDonald. The short film earned him Hollywood attention and a front-page story on the pages of “Variety.”
What followed next was six years of working in a variety of industry jobs, doing rewrites for Paramount, creating TV shows for networks, and working on original screenplays. In 2004, Fleming made his first feature film, “The Almost Guys.”
The demand for content—in films, on TV, streaming—is soaring. There’s a greater chance for diverse voices to be heard.”
“Funny characters, funny dialogue and funny situations,” the Minneapolis Star-Tribune enthused about Fleming’s repo man kidnapping comedy, which premiered at HBO’s U.S. Comedy Festival in Aspen.
Along the way, he learned many lessons about life and work in Hollywood.
“I’m really honest with the students because I think it helps them,” says Fleming. “I tell them about script changes I had to make, ones I shouldn’t have agreed to. I tell them, ‘You have to be hopeful and positive, but realistic at the same time.’”
Valencia’s 65 film students—up from 41 when Fleming took over for the program’s founder, the late Ralph Clemente, in 2015—learn screenwriting and the technical trades associated with film production. They work on independent movies and TV shows in which Valencia provides gear and student labor, producers provide financing, script, talent and hire Hollywood pros who mentor students, who experience “crazy hours” and absorb the vibe of a working film set. Over the years, they’ve been exposed to directors both calm and manic, and mastered how to handle legends (Ruby Dee, Julie Harris), rising stars (Kat Dennings) and divas (Corey Feldman).
That isn’t changing. Indeed, this summer, the film students and the iconic Valencia Film trucks will travel to Oklahoma to help shoot a feature film (tentatively titled “Rancher”) being financed by the Chickasaw Nation. “This may be the biggest project we’ve ever worked on,” says Fleming, who notes that the big-budget film will feature a wide variety of opportunities for students and will include great Western scenes, including a cattle stampede.
But the emphasis of Valencia’s film program is evolving, just as the TV and film industry are evolving.
“We’ve got to meet the needs of a shifting industry, so we’re going to put more emphasis in training people in the post-production trades. Every movie, or ABC, HBO, Netflix or Apple series needs post-production colorists, sound mixers, et cetera,’’ says Fleming. Films also need production managers, another career avenue for a Valencia graduate.
Then there’s the salesmanship it takes to land financing to get what you’ve had a hand in creating filmed—“pitching.”
“You’ve got to get in a room and tell your story in a way that gets someone to buy it,” Fleming says. “I’ve done a LOT of that over the years.” Learning to pitch “empowers students and lets them be the architect of their own careers.”
After working for more than two decades in Hollywood, the 40-something Fleming was drawn to Valencia’s unique program, which operates “like a small independent film studio” and the opportunities that the changing entertainment business offers for filmmakers from all backgrounds.
“You don’t need to be a ‘trust fund kid’ to get your movie or TV show made anymore,” he says, “You don’t need to go through a studio or network. The demand for content—in films, on TV, streaming—is soaring. There’s a greater chance for diverse voices to be heard.”
And with the new Film, Sound and Music Technology Building opening this summer, “We’ll be set up to shoot movies, mix music and soundtracks” all in one place. Fleming is currently arranging for the film students to shoot a TV pilot—with plans to shoot an entire TV series using the student program.
The new building’s sound stage and the Dolby certified mixing stage will also attract more industry partners who want to bring their productions to Valencia.
The Dolby certified mixing stage is one of the primary reasons. “I think we’re one of the only educational institutions in the country with that kind of facility,” he says, noting that “it allows us to create a project from start-to-finish in house. We can offer the chance for an industry partner to
do an entire film with us, all the way through post-production, in our building with our students.
“It’s a very exciting time—and we’re excited about all the possibilities.”