Eric Althoff, Master of Humanities in Film Studies
Current occupation: Freelance writer and editor – Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Screen Comment, Napa Valley Register
What made you decide to pursue your degree as an adult?
For several years I’ve been covering the entertainment world, first for the Washington Times and now at Screen Comment. That has enabled me great access to filmmakers, actors and various other creatives, as well as to attend film festivals, the Oscars and other events as a member of the press. The thing is, from a 20-minute interview I might only use about 30 percent of what I had in any given story—and thus my initial thought was “perhaps the rest could be utilized for scholarly inquiry down the line.”
I’ve also always been a decent public speaker and an unapologetic ham, so my train of thought to return to grad school was that down the line perhaps I could marry my innate need to perform with my enthusiasm for film. Because I’m severely ADD, I find it difficult to pay attention sometimes, and thus I’d like to be the kind of teacher that I myself would gravitate towards; plus, I’ve always believed if you can marry a laugh to an interesting fact, it will sink in better.
I’d toyed for years with the notion of returning to school again, and after a failed attempt to apply to grad school in 2013, I finally made the push in 2021 to get back into higher education after finishing my undergrad at the University of Southern California in 2000. It was time, and thus far I haven’t regretted the decision for even a moment.
Why did you choose to study at Tiffin University?
I freely admit I had never heard of Tiffin before discovering their online grad program in film studies. At this point in my career I was only interested in an online grad program, so Tiffin already fit that bill (I live in Virginia with my wife, Victoria). I liked what I read online about Tiffin, and entry counselor Zachary Ball and I had a wonderful phone chat about my applying. Somewhat to my surprise, I was accepted into the program.
Furthermore, Tiffin appealed to me as a smaller liberal arts college because I had only heretofore studied at a very large university in a big city, and I was anxious to get that more one-on-one instruction I’d heard so much about that were afforded at smaller programs rather than being one of hundreds of faces in a lecture hall.
What has been your experience with the program so far?
Thus far, all of my professors have been extremely reachable, friendly and responsive to my (sometimes multiple) questions. Also, my adviser Erin Conti has been fantastic at answering any and all questions I’ve had about the program and what have you. She even reached out to congratulate me when my documentary partner and I picked up a regional Emmy last fall in October, which I was not expecting.
Erin has also been available for phone chats when an email simply won’t cover what we need to. I’m extremely grateful for her.
I’ve found Moodle and the other online tools rather easy to figure out. Sometimes I’ve had to ask a professor for help on something, but to reiterate, they always respond.
How are you juggling work, life and going back to school? Any tips?
My advice if you’re feeling overwhelmed by it all is to take a break and step back. Stand up from that computer and take a walk. For longer breaks, exercise or meditate. Have a cup of tea or, if it’s that special time of the day, a beer. Study and work hard, yes, but make sure to allow yourself ample downtime for family, friends, travel, the outdoors, binging Netflix and spending quality time with your partner. Laugh loudly and often, especially with others.
What keeps you motivated to stay in the program?
A good job is its own reward, but I really want to do well in my grad program, whether I go on to pursue my PhD or not. I have no interest in just “getting by.”
I admit freely that I went into Tiffin with a bit of arrogance having not only worked in the film industry but having won several awards for my documentaries. I’ve written professionally for 20 years and thought “what new can I learn?” As it turns out, a great deal! So what keeps me motivated now is not only getting good grades (for the first time ever in my life, I’m pulling straight A’s!) but also learning as much as I can—and exposing myself to new and different ways of thinking about not just film, but any and all disciplines.
What advice would you give to a prospective student who is thinking about going back to school?
Do yourself a favor and just apply. You might surprise yourself at how qualified you are for an advanced degree. Also, once you reach a certain age it’s difficult to meet new people, especially who share the same interests, and the beauty of grad study is it provides you with both—particularly people who might think differently than you, and thus from whom you can learn as much, if not more, than your professors.
Also, if you get rejected from one school, try another. I got turned down by two other grad programs before landing at Tiffin, and frankly I’m the better for it. I think back to what one of the talking heads said in the recent documentary “Operation Varsity Blues,” which was about the college admissions scandal. I’m paraphrasing the fellow, but he said something to the effect that there are thousands of wonderful colleges in America; try not to only focus on “those 10” whose names inspire such quiet awe (and who shall remain nameless here).
TU’s motto is: Without risk there is no gain. Can you tell us about a time when you took a risk and what you gained from it?
Recently, in one of my classes, I felt a professor’s instruction was unclear. I discussed with a classmate as to what their understanding was, and this person was equally confused…but the classmate was nervous about emailing the instructor. My motto—in life, in journalism, or securing an interview with a famous actor—is you never know until you ask. The worst that will happen is no response; at best, sometimes Russell Crowe or William Shatner says yes.
Bringing it back to this instance, I bit the bullet and messaged the instructor…though admittedly somewhat fearful of asking “stupid questions” and sweating a bit when the instructor at first didn’t respond—triggering my natural anxiety at having asked a lame question. Of course, the instructor thanked me for asking for clarification, and I promptly passed the info along to a classmate who had the same question.
I’ve made peace with the fact that I’m often “that guy” who will take the reins. People hate rejection, I get it, but life is all about enduring rejection, whether in school, professional situations, dating (boy howdy did I pick up many, many, many painful rejections before my wife came along!) or entering a singing contest. Each failure provides a learning opportunity; I think if more people looked at failing that way, our culture wouldn’t be so obsessed with being “number one” all the time. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.