033: Overcoming your fears and building relationships with Erik Ljung

Erik Ljung is a freelance Producer and Director of Photography currently based in the Midwest. His debut feature length documentary The Blood is at the Doorstep is slated to have its world premiere at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival. He has produced content and short documentaries for the New York Times, VICE News, Al Jazeera, PBS and the Wall Street Journal. In 2016 he won a Midwest Emmy for his work on public television's Wisconsin Foodie. As a Director of Photography, he has worked with some of the world's largest brands and ad agencies to produce commercial content. He is a former Nohl Fellow, and a two-time Brico Forward Fund recipient for his documentary work.


What inspired you to produce documentaries?

·         “I kind of fell into it, I was born and raised in California and I jumped between 4 or 6 different colleges. I started in business then I went to graphic design but along the way, I was interested in a lot of different things. In the end, I realized that documentary filmmaking encompasses most of the things I was interested in.”


How did you decide Freelance was the path to take?

·         “I graduated in 2008 which was a great time to get in the job market (sarcasm) and I ended up following a girl to Milwaukee where I worked at the Pabst. While I was there I realized all I wanted to do was photo and video and there wasn’t really a job for that so I ended up working on a documentary for a week which changed everything.”

What goes into making a film?

·         “I just finished my first feature length documentary called ‘The Blood is at the Doorstep’ and I’ve learned a lot from that. Growing up I was an only child so I’ve always done a lot by myself so when I was making a film I kind of used that same ethos. Over time though, I’ve learned that filmmaking is a team effort.”


Share with us one of your best networking stories

·         “I was in New York shooting on a friend’s documentary and we were shooting at a really fancy restaurant where another crew was also shooting video. So, we’re fighting over the same space and finally, I stopped and told the other lady that we should just share equipment and help each other out to make things go faster. I come to find out later she’s a journalist for the New York Times so when I was working on my film, later on, she was able to help me get in touch with her producers who ended up picking up my story down the road.”


How do you stay in front of your network or community?

·         “A lot of my network really is my friends now so it’s really organic. I usually follow and interact with  my long distance connections, it’s not necessarily for the sake of networking though we just have similar interests and projects.”


What advice do you have for business professionals looking to grow their networks?

·         “If there are people you look up to and admire their work, reach out to them. You would be surprised by their response.”


Digital networking or traditional networking?

·         “Face to face is way better because people get a sense of who you are a lot more than online. Sometimes that’s impractical but I’ve started a lot of relationships via Twitter.”


If you could go back 20 years, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of regarding your career?

·         “I’m really happy with where I’m at now so it’s really hard to change anything. Just keep falling forward, let yourself make mistakes and learn from them.”


Who would you love to connect with and do you think you could do it within 6 degrees?

·         “I could probably do it within the second degree, the filmmaking community is pretty small! There’s a bunch of filmmakers I would love to meet but no one person comes to mind.”


What book are you reading right now?

·         “I just picked up a few James Baldwin books, I’m also constantly digesting blogs and newspapers about the filmmaking industry.”


Any final words of advice for our listeners?

·         “It never ends, you’ve always got to be on it and reaching out to those people. Just keep at it, it builds over time.”


You can get in contact with Erik at:


Find him on his website at ErikLjung.tv


Twitter @ErikLjungFilm


Instagram @Erik_Ljung