April 16, 2007

Rollercoaster Ride

Eric Anderson '01 Charts The Ups And Downs To Success

By James Tella

Entertainment industry lore is filled with scores of “overnight sensations,” but in reality success is often the culmination of years of persistent effort, as Eric Anderson ’01 is discovering with his animated short Horses on Mars.

Anderson (left) shooting motion capture
during his USC tenure.
The project, which tells the story of a microbe who is blasted into the solar system and misses the evolution process, took off like a shot when it premiered at First Look in 2001.

With its continued festival visibility as an official selection at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, Horses On Mars helped Anderson obtain an agent and went on to showcase at over 20 worldwide fests, collecting accolades from the 2001 HBO Student Film Award Grand Prize in Savannah and sweeping first place at that year’s college Emmys. The most surreal experience of all, said Anderson, was the phone conversation and meeting with a Pixar Animation development executive after First Look, which has led to an ongoing relationship with the studio.

As he forged ahead with industry meetings, the Kentucky native was introduced to a writing partner whose contacts eventually landed them both a deal with Columbia Pictures to write a sci-fi comedy screenplay about Earth-invading giants from another planet.

“I’m not just an animator,” said Anderson. “Telling a story that takes someone to another place is what really gets me excited about filmmaking. I’m always looking for ideas that go beyond gags and jokes. Ones that concentrate on the heart and philosophy of the characters.”

Unfortunately, audiences never experienced Anderson’s vision for his giant film—Columbia dropped the project, although the studio obtains the rights for another three years. Overnight success, seemingly disappeared overnight.

“Meetings around town were long, confusing, and sometimes very strange,” recalled Anderson. “There was a disconnect between me and those who didn’t see my work but had heard about it. For those who had seen Horses, I didn’t understand what it was in it that made them want to meet me. Because after we met, it was clear that I wasn’t what they wanted.”

Among his numerous pitches: a successful one to Sony that progressed and “then just disappeared,” and a memorable, although uncomfortable and surprising one to a television executive despite Anderson’s focus on features.

A breakdown of a shot from the award winning short.
“I guess my agent didn’t really know me very well,” he laughed, relaying how further surprised he was to discover he had lost his representation last summer. “I called one day to tell her I finished my script and she was gone.”

Despite the lows, Anderson isn’t one to dwell long on what’s happened along his journey. 

“Overall, I got to experience what it means to have a really successful short and everything that goes along with it. Even though it’s hard sometimes to keep your spirits up when things fall through, it’s just the nature of how this business works. The best stories are those who go through a tough time before they make it.”

He realizes, however, that without an agent, he faces another hurdle—submitting his work to Pixar hinges on being able to send materials through official representation. Utilizing his network of contacts through Horses and enlisting the help of Sandrine Cassidy in the school’s office of Student-Industry Relations, Anderson is hopeful that he’ll find a new rep “who just has to represent me to Pixar. That’s in my favor.”

In the meantime, Anderson keeps his skills fresh animating NASA technology at an aerospace company, and is “just going back to the basics and finishing another short.”

“I want to stay a filmmaker,” he said. “If people see my work then that’s even better. You have to realize that in this business, it’s about finding that one champion. You just need one person to say yes.”