Erik Bork

“Don`t withhold; Reveal and Complicate.”

That is advice, direct from two-time Emmy winning writer and producer, Erik Bork. He recommends showing your cards, revealing your hand. With that advice firmly planted in my mind, I plan to do just that.

Thank you for your time, Erik Bork. 

Who is Erik Bork?

I`m a screenwriter, originally from Ohio. I moved to L.A. in the early 90’s,  and was lucky to end up working as an office temp at Tom Hanks’s production company.  At the same time, I was pursuing writing on the side. Eventually Tom read some of my scripts and offered me a big promotion which led to me helping to write and produce the HBO miniseries ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ and then ‘Band of Brothers’.

This launched a professional screenwriting career for me, where I worked on many other projects with Tom and elsewhere. Eventually,  I started teaching screenwriting, and helping other writers through my website ( I also wrote a book called “The Idea.”

Have you always wanted to write? When did that realisation hit for you?

I started to have an inkling toward it around high school I suppose. The film ‘The World According to Garp’ was a big influence. So were the Woody Allen films of the 70’s and early 80’s, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ , and the Beatles. 

Where did you study film? Has that always been a passion?

I got my BFA in Motion Picture Production at Wright State University, in my home city of Dayton, Ohio. I considered being an English or music major, with an eye toward other kinds of writing, but ultimately film seemed more fun and collaborative. I would say it was about storytelling and the arts for me including film and TV, as opposed to me being a hardcore film buff at a young age.

From my research, I know you worked as an “assistants assistant”. Was it sheer luck and good timing that you were with Tom Hanks?

Mostly, yes. I’d temped at Fox for two years in various jobs. The temp supervisor in the HR department said she liked that I’d lasted longer than most as a temp assistant to some TV writers I’d worked for , which was one reason she gave me the opportunity to work for Tom Hanks’s company. The job with Tom Hanks, was originally just a temp assignment to help his assistant get his offices set up (where I maybe wouldn’t even meet Tom). Later it became more of a permanent ongoing job.

Was this how you got into film? How you got those doors to fully open for you?

I began “temping” at Fox studios and eventually got assigned to Tom Hanks’s production company. Prior to that I worked a year as a writer’s assistant on a drama series produced there, called Picket Fences.

In my own writing efforts on the side (evenings/weekends, etc), I switched from writing feature film screenplays that nobody was interested in,  to taking a class in sitcom writing at UCLA Extension. That change in writing led to me writing a Frasier spec script which one of my fellow assistants at Picket Fences helped me get an agent with.

Tom Hanks later read that script, and decided I had some talent. He had sold the idea of From the Earth to the Moon to HBO and gave me a promotion where I would help him develop that project (figure out the shape of the episodes, help find writers, be his representative in certain ways with the production) which eventually led to me writing some of it myself and getting a co-producer credit, and a great mentoring from Co-Executive Producer Tony To on the project from start to finish.

How did it feel handing over your own work,  and waiting for feedback on your writing from Tom Hanks?

It wasn’t my idea but his assistant offered that I should show him something, after having worked there for some time. (I knew it shouldn’t come from me, such a request.) I’m sure I was totally nervous but don’t honestly remember. I mainly remember how great it was that he responded positively, and later offered me a promotion.

How does it feel when you get feedback? Do you take it personally or have you steeled yourself to think outside that box in that respect?

Its terrible to get feedback,  and yes I take it personally, even though more often than not, I’m the one giving it,  and I tell writers not to do that. It’s definitely an ongoing challenge to quiet the ego and the inherent sense of wanting people to love it.  There is always that feeling too of wanting to be done with it, when the realities of the process are that there’s always more to do and everyone always has “notes.” 

‘From the Earth to the Moon’ is stunning television. Writing, direction and cinematography are sublime. How did it feel to be hired as a writer for this?

I started off on it as a kind of junior exec for Tom at his production company. I was helping some other producers who were part of it, to find and hire writers.  One of these other producers suggested maybe I should write one myself, and broached it with Tom and HBO. They said yes and I was thrilled. But also intimidated by the challenge and the opportunity. I’d never written this sort of material before. I was a comedy guy!

Then, Band of Brothers. How did it feel to be charged with bringing this story to life?

Having worked with Tom for years at that point, he asked me to be a part of BOB as well, along with some other returning people from From the Earth to the Moon, such as Tony To, Graham Yost, Ivan Schwarz and later, director David Frankel. Again it felt like a challenging and  big responsibility, but also I had more confidence at that point. It was still intimidating though, but something I hoped I’d be able to contribute to in a positive way. 

What research did you do yourself for this project?

Reading of the Ambrose book, and other WW2 books, including some specific to the paratroopers. I read transcripts of Easy Company veteran interviews, and spoke to some of them myself. Watching WW2 movies. Immersing myself in the history…I really did a bit of everything. 

Episodes 8 and 10 were co-written by yourself. Where did you start with them? 

I chose Episode 8 at the outset because I liked the contained story it had with a clear beginning, middle and end. I was the original writer on that one and really wanted to focus on Hank Jones, the new West Point lieutenant who Colin Hanks ended up playing.

I wrote a draft from his perspective that people seemed to like, but it was determined ultimately that it needed to be told more from the point-of-view of one of the ongoing Easy Company guys, and we switched it over to Webster for that. At some point we (the producers) asked Bruce McKenna to do some work on it when I was busy with other episodes, as I recall. (I did some rewriting on various scripts as we got close to production, often not changing them enough to end up with a share of the official writing credit.) 
Episode 10 was an episode I came on after Erik Jendresen had written some drafts, and I suppose I had some ideas for additional scenes and moving things around. I don’t remember too many specifics but I know that episode was a challenge to keep it really dramatic and not just feel like a wrap-up after all the fighting had ended.

While all episodes were amazing, episode 10 had a poignancy to it as we heard the post-war information in the Damian Lewis narrative over the imagery. When you are writing such a speech for a ‘real person’, did the actor have a say in how that speech was portrayed and did Major Winters have his input?

I don’t honestly remember how the specific speech there got written, and by which of us, but I don’t think Major Winters was reading and guiding the dialogue super specifically as we were doing it. It was more that we had an idea of what happened and the kinds of things he might have said from interviews with him,  including those Ambrose had done.

Major Winters might have seen some scripts before we started shooting, and if he had strong opinions that we got something wrong,  we might have gone to make changes based on that. But I don’t recall that happening on this. Generally the veterans or the actors wouldn’t be directly involved in the writing process. Although at times actors might have questions or thoughts that would lead to some adjustments. And also we might write with the actor in mind if it was after they were cast, which could influence the writing somewhat.

Do you have a favourite Band of Brothers episode and why?

Probably Episode 7 which to me is the most dramatic and compelling from end to end. I had little to do with that one as I recall, although writer Graham Yost told me once that it might have been me who suggested to him that it be from Lipton’s point-of-view. I’ll take his word for it.

There have been riotous stories of Bill and Babe on set when they visited. Having read their book, it is easy to imagine what that may have been like. Were you there for their visit?

I don’t think I was, although I met them on multiple occasions. Unforgettable!

What were your ‘take home memories/feelings’ from Band of Brothers after the momentous shoot?

So many. It was a several-year process for me including before and after the shooting. Traveling to England and also Switzerland for the shooting was wonderful on a personal level. I was so impressed by the tremendous work so many people did that I wasn’t a part of at all — such as production design, special effects, wardrobe, makeup, etc.

I was more a writer/producer visiting this vast operation when we were shooting, I would say I was  probably  in awe of it all, as anyone else would be who got invited to set. 

There were challenging things about the experience overall including trying to get it “right” creatively and the myriad decisions that I had some hand in, and negotiated with others over, but in the end I was super proud of what we all accomplished and thrilled with the reaction to it from the world.

Of course the biggest thing, is wanting to pay tribute to the veterans in an accurate and responsible way that has a positive impact on the world,  which it seems we were able to hopefully do.

Erik’s book “The Idea’ is out now at all good retailers. 

Erik Bork Website

Thank you your writing Erik, and also for your time. It is very much appreciated.