Cowell Alumni Spotlight: Eric Thiermann

Eric Thiermann

Major: Literature and Visual Arts

Current City: Santa Cruz

What have you been doing with your life since you graduated from UC Santa Cruz?

I was told to do the intelligent thing and specialize, but I was only ever capable of following my interests which were wildly diverse and ever-changing. On the upside, life would rarely be boring.  Acquiring knowledge and understanding that stuck around for any length of time usually came by volunteering to do things I wasn’t qualified to do in the first place. The beauty in the act of volunteering assures that the price is right, so who can complain that you aren’t an expert yet?  Photography, which found me at Cowell by the total fluke of taking a random snapshot for the first yearbook, led to volunteering to take zany photos of first year students and the inaugural faculty who had signed up to try to teach us something. Then, a volunteer short film about a student poet’s angst (aptly titled “Blood of a Poet”) led to an MFA in Motion Pictures at UCLA, teaching filmmaking at the Art Center College of Design and short stints as a Screenwriter, and an Art Director in Hollywood. And finally the Big Break: a grant from the American Film Institute allowed me to buy the first “portable” Sony color video camera, and more importantly, doubled as the coveted ticket back to Santa Cruz after eight years away.  Nothing else about the future mattered to me except raising three wonderful children. And I still believe that.

As soon as I returned to the Monterey Bay, Eloise Smith (Provost Page Smith’s better half) asked what it would cost to take the video camera on a tour of the maximum security prisons in California interviewing frustrated artists. I volunteered (the only time I ever went to prison for it). Since then, I’ve said yes to just about everything I thought was worth documenting. Numerous projects about issues: women, children, art, environmental, birth, voting, racial, health, nuclear war (there were seven of those, one of which even got nominated for an Oscar), etc.  Most projects I volunteered to shoot for free, but I always ended up a little more knowledgeable about something I didn’t have a clue about previously.  That’s what movie making has always been for me. The key is to participate and learn about hundreds of diverse subjects. The world of commerce would knock on my door from time to time as well which allowed me pay the rent and to travel to over 40 countries exploring culture and technology. Currently, our indefatigable Santa Cruz-based media production agency, Impact Creative, does creative work for a number of Fortune 500 companies. We create videos and motion graphics for Google to display on their phones, notebooks, watches, and computers in stores where they’re sold and on the web. And of course we still volunteer to do the social issues. But what I’m really excited about right now is that I got offered a class to teach at Cowell in the Spring!  It’ll be an issue advocacy video production class.  After that?  I’d actually like nothing better than to return to being a UCSC student again. I’ll keep you posted on achieving that goal.  Hey, Alumni, did we have it good then, or what!

What is the most important thing you learned during your time at Cowell? Does it relate to what you do now? If so, how?

I learned that you can do anything you want to do by just making yourself useful to any process that strikes your fancy. The inflated expectation of compensation is usually the deal breaker. Follow your interests. Sign up to help. Help some more. Don’t expect anything back but your own speedy evolution. What’s more valuable that that?

How do you stay involved at Cowell and why is doing so important to you?

What’s happening at Cowell now is just as cool as 50 years ago when I was a student. There are so many wild things at UCSC to learn and see and experience - far more than when I was there.  Don’t look at it as an academic degree factory, but a multi-faceted petri dish playground.  All those fascinating elements, chemicals and compounds in one idyllic environment. Just add STUDENT.

What has been the best thing about staying connected to your alma mater?

Staying connected to UCSC reminds me of some of the best experiences and friendships of my life.  Even now, I’m making new best friends at UCSC and having new best experiences. I think the original pioneer students who made the trek back to the 50th anniversary got a great taste of it. The culture was there in the beginning, and it’s still very much present. Why wait for the next 50th? Get involved in your own way by following your interests.