From Wright State to Hollywood

Emmy Award–winning screenwriter Erik Bork (’89) reflects on his days as a motion pictures student and working with Tom Hanks

Even though he’s collaborated with such Hollywood A-listers as Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Brian Grazer, and Ron Howard, Erik Bork didn’t always dream of making movies.

“When I was in high school, I started gravitating toward the creative arts of some kind, but I wasn’t exactly sure what that would look like,” he explained. “Certainly writing, movies, and screenwriting were among the contenders.”

After graduating from Beavercreek High School in 1983, Bork enrolled in Miami University’s Western Program, an interdisciplinary program with a broad-based liberal arts foundation.

After a year at Miami, Bork decided to transfer to Wright State. While he was becoming more interested in film, Bork was initially an English major. He did, however, enroll in a film production class taught by Chuck Derry, who headed the motion pictures program.

When Bork told Derry he was thinking about becoming a film major, Derry advised him to take a film appreciation class so he would know for sure. That course, with its in-depth look at the films of Alfred Hitchcock, became a turning point for Bork.

“Chuck deconstructed the visual symbolism in these films in this super fascinating and passionate way,” Bork recalled. “I was kind of hooked by that and decided to become a film major.”

Bork’s first year as a motion picture production major was also renowned documentary filmmakers Jim Klein and Julia Reichert’s first year as full-time faculty.

“That was the other thing that drew me,” said Bork. “I had heard about them and their prestigious credits.”

Bork quickly formed special bonds with Derry, Klein, and Reichert.

“Chuck was a really demanding but very stimulating professor on the academic side of film, but I ate it up. He took a sabbatical for a year while I was here, which killed me. I really loved his classes,” said Bork.

“Jim and Julia were unbelievable. You really felt like you were learning from masters,” he explained. “They were incredibly generous people. When you were their students, you were at their house. You were having dinners with them. They were referring you for summer internships with friends they knew in the big city.”

Bork spent his summers interning in New York City and San Francisco with independent filmmakers. He also worked as an apprentice reporter at a public radio station. All of these opportunities were made possible because of Klein and Reichert and their connections.

When he graduated in 1989, Bork left Wright State with a solid foundation in the basics of filmmaking.

“It was an incredible education in film,” he recalled. “I felt very grateful that in my hometown there was that level of passion and brilliance to study under.”

As a recent college graduate, Bork tried to work on local productions in Cincinnati and Dayton, primarily commercials and industrial films. But his passion was screenwriting, and he quickly figured out that to make a living as a screenwriter, Los Angeles was the place to be.

He managed a Blockbuster video store for a couple years to save up enough money to make the move to LA. Upon arriving in California, Bork’s goal was to get work as an assistant—basically a secretary in the film industry—and write during his free time.

He wrote a script on spec for the television series Frasier—a project that helped Bork land an agent. His next big break would come from none other than Academy Award–winning actor, producer, and director Tom Hanks.

Bork was working as an assistant in Tom Hanks’ office when Hanks read Bork’s spec scripts for the TV series Frasier and Friends.

“He read those and offered me this incredible, life-changing promotion,” said Bork.

Bork would have his own assistant and help Hanks develop projects, including the miniseries, From the Earth to the Moon. 

“That really launched me into what became a three-year project of ultimately writing some of the scripts and being involved in every aspect of the production at a pretty high level,” said Bork. “I learned producing and got a co-producer credit in the end.”

He also scored an Emmy.

Bork was one of 10 producers to be honored at the 1998 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Miniseries.

“I didn’t really think of it as my Emmy, because it was the group winning the Emmy. It was certainly exciting and validating and thrilling. It made other people think that I’d made it,” he explained. “For me, the more significant thing was actually the work. The whole process of what I was learning, who I was working with, and what I was doing. The Emmy was just icing on the cake, but really cool icing.”

That success was repeated four years later when many of the same writers, producers, and directors—with Hanks and Steven Spielberg as executive producers—received another Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries for Band of Brothers. Bork was once again one of the producers and wrote on multiple episodes.

While he no longer works with Hanks, Bork will always be grateful for his experiences with the legendary artist and humanitarian.

“I am in awe of the generosity that he has repeatedly shown to me and to Wright State,” said Bork. “He’s incredibly funny, incredibly smart. He’s dedicated to and loves the creative process.”

As a sign of respect and admiration for his former boss, Bork returned to Wright State in April 2016 for the dedication of the Tom Hanks Center for Motion Pictures. During his visit, Bork also spoke informally with current students in the motion pictures program.

Whenever he meets students, Bork encourages them to persevere in a craft that can be filled with disappointment, rejection, and heartbreak.

“It’s easy to become bitter or discouraged in the industry. Try to have that same curious, eager, hungry mind. Keep working on your craft without being too concerned about the outcome,” he advised. “Your own attitude is a huge part of it. Believing that it’s possible.”

As for Bork, more writing—and even directing—is on the horizon. He is currently working on his own original screenplays and about to embark on fundraising to make a short film.

“I never really pursued the directing thing, because I was so obsessed with how to make it as a writer and that was not always an easy thing,” said Bork, who prefers to create comedies with heart.

“That wasn’t what I ever did professionally or got known for doing, so you kind of have to do that on your own, start over, and show your ability at that. So I still feel like I’m a student of the craft.”

As he moves into the next phase of his career, Bork is no longer worried about selling to Hollywood. He’s willing to work independently and low budget to make a project that he loves.

“There have been a million experiences of rejection in one form or another that make you feel destroyed or disappointed or frustrated,” he said. “But there’s nothing else that I would do.”

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