In the middle of a forsaken, graying labyrinth shines a single orb of light. It floats still in the quiet vastness. Suddenly, it is coaxed from its idleness by an approaching creature. A chase ensues as two organisms compete for the single source of light in the vast maze of gray.
While this might sound Salvador Dali-esque, it actually describes a film created by Chapman University student Daniel Drummond.
Drummond’s film, “Chiaroscuro,” won the 2015 Student Academy Award in September, the most sought-after prize for a student filmmaker. This also marks the first time a student from Chapman University, in Orange, has claimed the award.
According to its website, the Academy established the Student Academy Awards in 1972 “to support and encourage excellence in filmmaking at the collegiate level.” Past Student Academy Award winners include filmmaker and screenwriter Robert Zemeckis and actor and director Spike Lee.
“It was unbelievable, then surreal,” said Drummond. “It was a huge honor and couldn’t be a better way to wrap up this film’s festival circuit before moving on to the next one.”
Chapman’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts has steadily become one of the most respected programs in the country. Over the last several years, the Hollywood Reporter has listed the college as seventh in its rankings of the top 25 film schools in the U.S.
“There are about 600-plus film programs around the country,” said Robert Bassett, dean of the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. “A really strong film school needs to be located where the business is, Hollywood or New York, so we have a great advantage that we are in Southern California.
“Young people are going to get jobs and they need to learn the rest of the business. They need to know how things get financed. How things get distributed. They have to know what agents and managers do.”
Chapman’s film school has managed to compete with some of the best colleges around, even though it began only 20 years ago, in 1996. Besides its youth, Dodge doesn’t yet have the advantage, as schools such as USC and New York University do, of working with huge endowments. Bassett’s philosophy in competing with these schools is simple — get the kids working.
“We have 1,500 students,” said Bassett. “They get 650 internships all over Hollywood, and that is what translates into jobs. Once they graduate, they already understand what it’s like to work in the business.”
Bassett believes that providing hands-on experiences and connections with people who work in the market are necessary for the students’ success.
Bassett recently organized a student trip to Sony Pictures to hear the views of Hollywood veterans. Students heard from Steve Mosko, then the president of Sony Pictures Television who has since been promoted to chairman, and Ted Sarandos, the chief content officer at Netflix. Ed Carroll, the chief operating officer of AMC also made an appearance.
Since then, Bassett has also brought showrunners — the people responsible for daily facets of a television show — to the classrooms. Students, like Drummond, appreciate the program’s approach and aspirations.
“Every film school likes to say they are ‘the storytelling school,’” said Drummond. “Now I can’t talk about other film schools, but in Chapman’s case it was true. The emphasis really was on the storytelling, whether we were studying production design or cinematography. That’s fundamental to any school that claims to breed filmmakers.”
Since winning his award, Drummond has returned to his home in Sao Paolo, Brazil.
“Daniel’s film is the first film that has won a Student Academy Award for us,” said Bassett. “It announces the fact that the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts has really arrived on the scene.”