Alumna Spotlight: Erica Benson

Erica BensonWhen Erica Benson (’94) started on her career path she literally found herself with nowhere to go but up. That’s because her first job was located in a basement.

Benson, who now works for Beverly Hills-headquartered Kaleidoscope Films as a producer of movie and TV promotional spots, landed her first media job working out of the basement at the PBS affiliate in Chicago.

“I sort of got into my career by accident,” she recalled. “I was in the promo department and soon I was on my way. One job led to another until I eventually took the plunge and moved out to L.A. I went to work at a promo house and got experience doing network stuff, including movies. Eventually that landed me my job here at Kaleidoscope.”

A communication major, her first experience in the promotion field came through the news side when she landed an internship at KARE-11 News in Minneapolis.

“While I was there I met this crazy young producer named Larry Watzman,” Benson said. “He was always going out on shoots and sending me to fetch Bowie and Devo CDs for his spots. He pointed out that the great thing about TV promos is you get to wear many hats–writing, directing, producing, and sometimes editing–versus work in advertising where you are forced to specialize in one area. I’d also have to give a nod to MTV in shaping my career. I’m a pretty ‘trendy’ gal, so the thought of basically doing ‘art’ in a hip way, in an exciting and ever-evolving medium, AND getting paid for it totally rocked.”

Benson said she sort of “grew up” at Augsburg, where her father, Tom Benson ’56 was the longtime director of Planned Giving, and not only helped raise money for the College’s scholarship funds but also for funding many of the newer Augsburg buildings, such as Lindell Library. With a tuition break because of her father’s employment, she decided to try a year or so to see if she would like being a student where her father worked.

“I stayed because I liked the small classes and individualized attention I got from my professors,” she noted. Her principal Augsburg mentors, she said, were communication studies professor Deb Redmond, who also served as her advisor, and English professor John Mitchell. Benson also has other Augsburg connections, including her uncle John Benson ’55, a professor emeritus of religion.

Since entering the promo field full time, she’s done work for almost all the major TV networks, including a short stint full time at FOX. She cut movie spots for a Star Wars campaign, Erin Brockovich and Runaway Bride , and has done promos for such TV shows as the CBS blockbuster mini-series Hitler . Other TV shows have included That ’70s Show, Dr. Phil, Spin City, and 3rd Rock From the Sun, to name just a few. The art of creating these spots is made even more complicated by the fact that they have to “fit” into 30 seconds.

Making the transition to the L.A. area from Chicago, she noted, wasn’t as hard as she thought it might be, “except everyone is so skinny out here, and I like to eat!” She makes her home in Toluca Lake, which is next door to Burbank, home of NBC’s The Tonight Show.

As for advice to those interested in the field, she says “definitely internships, and make all the contacts you can. Go on informational interviews, write thank you notes, and keep in touch. It’s all about who you know. As for actual skills, if you want to edit, learn programs like AVID, Final Cut Pro, and After Effects, which is a graphics program. More and more producer/editors are expected to make their own graphics these days, and this is especially true in television, which has become a very graphic sensitive medium.”

And for a final word of advice, she advocates long hours and hard work. “I know it sounds depressing, but be prepared to pay your dues and do grunt jobs for long hours at little pay. Then, if you hang in there and prove you are ambitious, it will all pay off.”