×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Variety’s 2016 Mentor of the Year: Pepperdine Professor Craig Detweiler

Students who attend classes taught by Craig Detweiler — Variety’s 2016 Mentor of the Year — are getting more than just an education in film.
Detweiler, professor of communication at Pepperdine U. and creative director of the school’s Institute for Entertainment, Media and Culture, provides a path through what he calls “the angst that is endemic to the (entertainment) industry” by encouraging his students to view the industry from an entrepreneurial standpoint.

“I’m trying to inspire long-term, sustainable creativity,” which can be achieved through an adherence to story, the ability to adapt to the “madness that we know as Hollywood,” and an understanding of all sides of the industry as a means of controlling one’s creative career.

That multi-disciplinary approach is at the heart of the institute, which prepares its students for the 21st-century media marketplace through an array of disciplines — arts and humanities, law, psychology, business — and collaboration among Pepperdine’s five schools to provide a unique understanding of the cultural and social landscape across degrees and programs. Detweiler follows a similar path: He provides traditional and hands-on education as well as an approximation of what he calls “the creative disruption” that is a key component to the industry.

“I try to disrupt people’s assumptions, and maybe force them to create out of their weakness, rather than their strengths,” he says. One of the most effective means of accomplishing this shift in focus is to require students to complete a creative project in a medium with which they have little to no experience. Though the first response is often “abject terror,” the experience encourages students to abandon perfectionist ideas and to adapt in order to express their goals.

“They learn what they’re doing, how to respond to what they’ve been given and what to do if it doesn’t go according to plan,” Detweiler says. “That’s every pitch session you’ll ever have. You have a good pitch, but unfortunately, that’s not the one they want, so now what do you do.”

“I try to disrupt people’s assumptions, and maybe force them to create out of their weakness, rather than their strengths.”
Craig Detweiler

This crash course in creativity on the fly has benefited countless graduates who now occupy top positions in the industry; among them are “Short Term 12” director Destin Daniel Cretton, whom Detweiler describes as a “tremendous risk-taking force,” and Apatow Productions executive Josh Church, who has served as co-producer on “Trainwreck” and “Talladega Nights,” among other films. “(Church) can deal with that chaos and not be overwhelmed by it,” Detweiler says.

Adaptation isn’t the only instinct Detweiler tries to hone in his classes. “I challenge my students to invest stories that matter,” he says. In production, “you have to live with stories for so long — it might be a year or two, it might be 10. So are you investing in something that you can sustain enough passion for over the long haul?”

And understanding how the industry works from the business and legal standpoint is crucial for 21st-century film and media majors. It’s a lesson Detweiler learned firsthand after graduating from USC with a master’s degree in cinema and television.

“I think we were given the false impression that you’re a genius and the phones will start ringing,” he says. “Neither of which turned out to be true.” The institute trains students to have a greater command over their careers by becoming “creative entrepreneurs” who understand how to read a balance sheet and a script.

Professor Detweiler interacts with aspiring filmmaker students on Pepperdine’s Malibu, Calif., campus.

Detweiler again cites a Pepperdine grad as a textbook example of the institute’s approach: “Keith Redmon, who was one of the producers for ‘Revenant,’ is a manager at Anonymous Content. He’s a dealmaker, but he’s a smart enough dealmaker to know that it was a story he wanted to invest in — even though it was a troubled, over-budget production. He believed in the power of the story of ‘Revenant.’ And he’s our first Golden Globe winner.”

Detweiler hopes to further broaden students’ understanding of the media industry through the school’s Australia Film Program, which will allow participants to produce an advanced film project in partnership with the Intl. Screen Academy in Sydney from July to August. Detweiler expects that “we’ll make excellent projects, but that it’ll also expand students’ minds to the global market of film and to understand that their ideas have to play not just in America, but also around the globe.”

That global element is perhaps the most significant aspect of Detweiler’s goal of teaching students the skills and understanding to unify audiences through the power of story. It’s best summed up by his former student Katie Taylor, who launched Film School Africa, a program that gives young people in South Africa’s townships training and equipment to tell their stories through media.

“If I have a legacy,” he says, “it might be Katie, who believes in these 21st-century storytellers, who may emerge from the most unlikely of places with the most powerful of stories.”

More Film

  • Mindy Kaling photographed by Victoria Stevens

    Mindy Kaling Created Her Own Opportunities (and Doesn't Plan on Stopping)

    Over the course of two hit sitcoms, a couple of best-selling books and some scene-stealing turns in Hollywood blockbusters such as “Ocean’s 8” and “Inside Out,” Mindy Kaling has cultivated an image as a kinder, gentler and more relatable star than most. On Instagram or Twitter, where she routinely shares parenting anecdotes and restaurant recommendations, [...]

  • Jimi Hendrix sound check Monterey Pop

    Film Constellation Adds ‘Show Me the Picture’ to Berlin Market Slate (EXCLUSIVE)

    London-based sales and financing house Film Constellation has added Alfred George Bailey’s feature documentary “Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall” to its Berlin market slate, ahead of the film’s SXSW premiere. Submarine Entertainment is handling distribution in North America. The film charts the life of American photographer James Joseph Marshall, whose work [...]

  • 'Sink or Swim,' 'Custody' Lead Race

    'Sink or Swim,' 'Custody' Lead Race for France's Cesar Awards

    French actor-turned-director Gilles Lellouche’s “Sink or Swim” and Xavier Legrand’s feature debut “Custody” lead the race for this year’s Cesar Awards, France’s equivalent of the Oscars, with 10 nominations each, including best picture and best director. “Sink or Swim” (“Le Grand Bain” in France), a star-driven dramedy about a men’s synchronized swimming team, world-premiered at [...]

  • Face to Face with German Films

    Face to Face with German Films Unveils the Six ‘Faces’ of 2019 (EXCLUSIVE)

    Teutonic promotional organization German Films has announced that its annual initiative supporting German filmmaking internationally, Face to Face With German Films, will focus on actors and actresses as the campaign enters its fourth year. Six of Germany’s leading thesps – Maria Dragus, Christian Friedel, Luise Heyer, Jonas Nay, Jördis Triebel and Fahri Yardim – will [...]

  • (L to R) VIGGO MORTENSEN and

    'Green Book' Lands Post-Oscars Theatrical Release in China

    Fresh off of Tuesday’s news that it had picked up five Academy Award nominations, best-picture nominee “Green Book” is set for more good luck. The film will hit Chinese theaters on March 1, the first weekend after the Oscars, which fall on Feb 24, Alibaba Pictures announced on its official social media account. The film [...]

  • Fan Bingbing

    Chinese Stars, Entertainment Companies Pay $1.7 Billion in Back Taxes

    Chinese film and TV stars and entertainment companies have forked over an additional $1.7 billion (RMB11.7 billion) in taxes in the wake of last summer’s scandal surrounding actress Fan Bingbing and a subsequent government crackdown. The figure was announced late Tuesday by China’s State Tax Administration. Chinese authorities launched a probe into the tax affairs [...]

  • Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf

    Film News Roundup: AMC, Regal to Leave 'Roma' Out of Best Picture Showcases

    In today’s film news roundup, “Roma” will not be in the best picture showcases at AMC and Regal, “Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church” gets a release and SAG-AFTRA’s David White has a new appointment. ‘ROMA’ SPURNED AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas are leaving Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” out of their upcoming annual showings of the contenders for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content