Over the past three decades, as the founding dean of Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman U., Bob Bassett has continually pushed to innovate ways of giving students practical, hands-on experience, and to provide a curriculum largely unconstrained by more rigid, traditional ideas.
“Film education in universities is relatively new and doesn’t have the same traditions of law and business,” he says. “It’s been an interesting discovery of how to teach students the art of directing, producing and so on.”
To this end, Bassett has largely focused on project-based education, raising $52 million to build the 76,000-sq.-ft. Marion Knott Studios facility that rivals what the pros have access to just an hour north of campus, which is based a stone’s throw from Hollywood in Orange, Calif.
“Instead of teaching theory for a couple of years and then allowing students to make films, our philosophy was always to put a camera in their hands on day one and have them start making short films right away,” he says. “That in turn raises a lot of questions, and then the theory becomes far more interesting.”
Bassett and his faculty also approached film education with a far more hard-nosed view of the realities of the film business than the average film school.
“At university, filmmaking usually concentrates on documentary, experimental and narrative films, but we all felt that most of the students wanted to be in the entertainment business, and we were ideally located to help them make the transition into Hollywood,” he adds. “Our faculty is composed of people who’ve had successful careers in the industry, and have the desire to teach and mentor the next generation — and they didn’t learn it out of a book, but by doing.”
Over the past decade, Bassett and his faculty — who include producer Harry Ufland, Academy short films and feature animation governor Bill Kroyer and Variety film critic Peter Debruge — have stressed the business side of filmmaking.
“Students really need to know about distribution and marketing, as much as about a camera or a microphone,” he says. “You need an understanding of all the elements, and how to monetize projects, so you can have a viable career.”
Taking this philosophy to its logical conclusion, Bassett also formed Chapman Filmed Entertainment, the first-of-its kind film production company, run through the college and designed to produce four to six micro-budget pics per year in the $250,000 – $1.5 million range.
“The idea is to make commercially viable films,” says Bassett, who recently wrapped production on the company’s first project, “Trigger,” a thriller starring Scott Glenn and Stephen Tobolowsky, directed by Dodge alumnus Basel Owies from a script by Max Enscoe. “My worst fear was that Scott Glenn would think, ‘These guys don’t know what they’re doing,’ but it was the opposite, and he told me he’d do another film with Basel in a heartbeat. So we feel this is a great model for the future.”