with Kam Williams
A Meetin' with Seaton!
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Eric Dean Seaton was studying television and movies with the dream of one day becoming a director while most of his friends were running the streets. After graduating from Ohio State University, he moved to Hollywood where he proceeded to climb the showbiz ladder as an Assistant Director [AD] on such television series as Living Single and The Jamie Kennedy Experiment.
In 2004, Eric made his directorial debut on the Disney Channel's top-rated sitcom, That's So Raven. The two-time, NAACP Image Award-nominee in the Best Comedy Director category went on to direct over 210 episodes of 38 different television shows and 18 music videos. He also has shot a couple of pilots for Nickelodeon, and a couple of others for Disney XD.
Here, he talks about directing Legend of the Manatamaji, a short feature film adapted from his trilogy of graphic novels of the same name.
Kam Williams: Hi Eric, thanks for the interview.
Eric Dean Seaton: Thank you, Kam.
KW: You're very well known for directing TV shows. What interested you in comic books?
EDS: Growing up, my dad worked out of town and used to come home on the weekends and take me to a coffee shop that had comic books. I would binge-read them in one day. Years later, when I moved to California, I lived down the street from a comic book shop. Later, one of my first jobs was on the sitcom Living Single. The director was married to the president of Marvel Comics. So, every Tuesday, tape day, I would drill him about all things Marvel. Finally, he invited me down to a company they bought called, Malibu Comics. After a tour, the editor asked me if I wanted to write a Spider-Man, Stop the Violence special. I did, but Marvel went into bankruptcy, so I never received a copy. After that, I knew I had to do my own.
KW: Where did you come up with the idea for Legend of the Manatamaji?
EDS: It was just a mind meld of everything I wanted to see done in a story. I took real things like the Ankh and blended them into a totally imaginative story.
KW: How would you describe your characters?
EDS: All of them are flawed individuals, because that makes for the most interesting stories. I made sure, however, to include strong female characters and a multi-cultural cast; because this reflects the world we live in today.
KW: What message do you think people will take away from the film?
EDS: Heroes come in every race and gender, and that independent books can offer even greater and more imaginative stories than some of the mainstream companies can.
KW: This series of graphic novels certainly seems timely, given how there's suddenly a profusion of black superheroes onscreen.
EDS: I would agree. There is a profusion of superhero sidekicks and co-stars on screen, but there haven't been many lead superheroes onscreen anywhere, with the exception of Fantastic Four and Michael B. Jordan's role, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens with John Boyega. There won't be a leading role for African-American actors in theaters until Black Panther in 2018. And even then, he will be introduced as a story point for other non-black heroes. The opinion, here, is that we still have long ways to go, but, hopefully, Legend of the Mantamaji is opening doors for other main heroes and reaffirming that the story is just as good, if not better.
KW: What was the biggest challenge in adapting Legend of the Manatamaji to the screen as a live-action as opposed to an animated short?
EDS: Adjusting the look and tone of the books to match a real world. I think we proved that the tone of the books lends well to other media. The suit is exactly the same except the arms, and that is because we ran out of time making it. We had to shoot it in January on a certain weekend because of the equipment we got. But only I, as a creator, notice the arm difference. In making more down the line, we will actually do the arms just like the books.
KW: What are your future plans in terms of this series?
EDS: We are currently working on Book 4 which will be titled Legend of the Mantamaji: Bloodlines. It continues the story of the characters that survived the original series and introduces a few new ones that may change the history of the series as we currently know it to be
KW: What else do you have on tap?
EDS: We are also looking to shoot more shorts where we can introduce more of the characters. People are always asking if we are going to make a movie. We would love to but in 2015, with the exception of Michael B. Jordan, there isn't a black actor under the age of 40 that can open a movie. Kevin Hart can, but he's a comedian. So, we are looking to find a company willing to invest in the adventure knowing it fills a niche demographic, African-Americans, in an underserved market, while it is also multi-cultural with a universal appeal
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
EDS: What my dream cast would be.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
EDS: Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. He's right when he says it's the last screenwriting book you'll ever need. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1932907009/ref=nosim/thslfofire-20
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
EDS: Because my three-year-old son loves superheroes, we have to play the theme songs to a few of the movies every day. The Iron Man 3 theme "Can You Dig It" by Brian Taylor is his favorite. It is a catchy song, but I guess anything is when you hear it every single day. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00CEFI6PA/ref=nosim/thslfofire-20 KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
EDS: Sadly, I'm not much of a cook. Luckily, my wife is a wonderful cook. But, I can do scrambled eggs well.
KW: Was there a meaningful spiritual component to your childhood?
EDS: Church. I still go every Sunday and like to give at least one hour a week of my time. It's the least I can do. So, I don't miss a Sunday, unless we are out of town.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
EDS: We had a fireplace and, as I was going to bed on Christmas Eve, I asked my mom what that smell was. She said dad had a fire going. I panicked and ran down stairs begging him to turn it off. I told him Santa could not come down the chimney because he would catch on fire and I would not get any toys. My dad assured me that would not happen and put the fire out.
KW: The Viola Davis question: What's the biggest difference between who you are at home as opposed to the person we see on the red carpet?
EDS: I'm much quieter at home. I don't talk on the phone much at all. I actually have gone days without talking on the phone. I love going to work and having the opportunity to interact with different people from different walks of life.
KW: What was your very first job?
EDS: Delivering papers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I lived in a predominately-Jewish neighborhood filled with concentration camp survivors. Imagine a little black boy with a big German shepherd coming to your door every morning. Everyone was super nice, but I learned at a very young age a lot about the atrocities of World War II and how lucky I was to be young and free, even though racism was alive and strong.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
EDS: A big dreamer and proud father.
KW: What's the craziest thing you've ever done?
EDS: Back in 2000, I was not working and my career seemed dead before it even got started. My dad wanted me to come back home and become a teacher. I got so mad I told him I was going to get the first AD job on That's So Raven and that in two years they were going to let me direct and I would go on to become a full-time director. Not only did I not have the job, but also I didn't even have the interview. I was pissed he was giving up on me and my dreams. Yet, everything I said in that conversation came true. And years later, after buying my first townhouse, I flew my father out to Los Angeles First Class and, in the car ride home from the airport, he said, "You did good." That was his way of saying he approved. KW: Who loved you unconditionally during your formative years?
EDS: My mom. She still does, although I think she thinks I'm still her little boy, because I left home right after high school.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
EDS: To find a cure for cancer. One of the bridesmaids in our wedding died from cancer and the disease takes too many lives.
KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
EDS: Movie trailers. That anticipation of seeing two minutes of what could be an amazing experience always gets me going.
KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
EDS: Anything on the CW network. I watch pretty much all of their shows and will download the sad or motivational music they play at the end of every episode.
KW: The "Realtor to the Stars" Jimmy Bayan's question: What's your dream locale in Los Angeles to live?
EDS: I think I'm already in it! I found it on a whim and I love it now. I'm a dozen minutes away from every studio except Sony and Fox.
KW: The Harriet Pakula-Teweles question: With so many classic films being redone, is there one you'd like to remake?
EDS: I don't want to say, because a few of my favorites have been done already. So, if they have not thought of it yet, I don't want to give them any ideas before I get the chance to do it.
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
EDS: It has to be the drive, because being only nice doesn't cut it. It has to be that single vision that burns and burns inside of you where you just do it, more than you talk about it.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
EDS: If it's directing, you have a video camera on your phone, go shoot something. If it's graphic novels and comic books, be prepared for the glass ceiling. People will always say, "It's great for an independent." That is telling you right there that they think it can only go so far. But break that glass! It's the only way to really make a difference in the comic side of the business.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
EDS: As a great father and husband who created his own entertainment empire.
KW: Finally, what's in your wallet?
EDS: A small amount of cash, free movie tickets and gift cards. KW: Thanks again for the time, Eric, and best of luck with Legend of the Manatamaji.
EDS: Thanks, Kam. This was awesome! I'm honored that you took the time to ask so many great questions.
Check out the film version of Legend of the Mantamaji at http://legendofthemantamaji.com/portfolio/liveactionshort/
To purchase copies of Legend of the Mantamaji: Book 1, 2 and 3, the graphic novels the short was adapted from, visit: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=legend+of+the+Mantamaji
You can find Eric at: Twitter at: @Mantamaji and @EricDeanSeaton