FDM professors, students support one another in industry

San Antonio senior film and digital media student Breanna Villani practices her steadicam operation on Henderson sophomore Teila Washington. (Jackie Fernandez | Contributor)

San Antonio senior film and digital media student Breanna Villani practices her steadicam operation on Henderson sophomore Teila Washington. (Jackie Fernandez | Contributor)
San Antonio senior film and digital media student Breanna Villani practices her steadicam operation on Henderson sophomore Teila Washington. (Jackie Fernandez | Contributor)
By Jackie Fernandez

Every story has a beginning, and for many aspiring students of film and digital media, the journey starts when they enter the classrooms of the Castellaw Communications Center.

Each professor has his specialty; for senior lecturer Brian Elliott, it is television and screenwriting. Elliott said his desire is to guide those who are trying to achieve their dreams of making it in the entertainment industry.

“My greatest joy is to sit down with people who kind of go, ‘I think I want to do this but that seems kind of crazy. Who does this?’ and I go, ‘There is sort of a path. It’s not necessarily an easy path, but there’s a path and I can help you think it through,’” Elliott said.

Elliott, who has been teaching at Baylor for 22 years, said he loves to watch students thrive in the classroom through collaborative work and projects.

“I enjoy being in creative environments with students who have some creative ideas and trying to help them figure out how to shape those ideas into something that actually tells a story,” Elliott said.

One way some of the professors in the film and digital media department relate to students is that their own journeys also began at Baylor. Dr. Jim Kendrick, associate professor, started off his freshman year at Baylor as an English major but soon realized he had a passion for something more.

“I started doing film criticism for The Lariat when I was an undergrad, and I really enjoyed doing it,” Kendrick said. “I did a master’s degree here in journalism, but literally every paper that I wrote, I wrote about film somehow or another.”

As a film critic, Kendrick appreciates the intimate settings of his classes because not only do the students get to learn from him, but he also gets to have different outlooks on films he may have seen multiple times before.

“The classes I enjoy teaching the most are my smaller, seminar-style classes where there is a lot of back and forth between me and the students, where it’s not so much as me lecturing but us discussing the films,” Kendrick said. “I learn amazing things from them because they always come at it with a different perspective than I do.”

The experiences of the professors go beyond teaching within the classroom. Chris Hansen, associate professor and director of film and digital media, is not only a professor but also a filmmaker.

“I love the fact that I get to do what I am passionate about and that is make films and write films, while also working with students to improve their ability to do what they want to do,” Hansen said.

Hansen began his journey at Baylor after receiving his Masters of Fine Arts in Script and Screenwriting at Regent University. With three independent feature films to his credit as writer and as producer, Hansen can relate to student experiences in the process of making films.

“I have the same successes and failures that our students have creatively as I’m trying to get my work out there,” Hansen said. “I know they appreciated knowing that I have those moments, too, where it is just so hard and you want to give up.”

It is these experiences that professors have gone through that help encourage students in knowing they are not alone. Although they are still learning, students may find assurance in knowing they do not have to know everything because they are still honing their skills.

“I have so much respect for my professors because they didn’t just read a book and then come and teach it. They went out in the real world and did it,” Farmers Branch junior Brittney DeVine said. “They know what they are talking about and they know how to get you ready to go out into the real world.”

The film and digital media program offers a variety of classes such as television writing, HD studio, field production and media and society. By having a variety of choices, students can choose which classes best suit their interest in the field of television or film.

“Whatever you want to do in the film world, Baylor gives you the options to get there,” St. Louis, Mo., senior Jake Brown said. “They cover everything you need to know, at least the basics.”

The film and digital media department has produced well-known alumni such as John Lee Hancock, director of “The Blind Side”, and Derek Haas and Michael Brandt, creators of NBC’s hit show “Chicago Fire.” Haas and Brandt have also written screenplays for several hit movies, including “Wanted” and “3:10 to Yuma.” Although some names are not as recognizable as others, it does not mean their work goes unnoticed. Success is defined by hard work.

“Being a working filmmaker who is certainly not a Steven Spielberg or not somebody who is a household name makes me connected to the students and connected to the industry,” Hansen said. “I’m doing this work that I want to do, but it also helps me to better understand and relate to the students who are having the same challenges and frustrations.”

In order to train students to achieve their end goal of creating what they love, they need some support along the way. Elliott relates being a professor to being a hitting coach of a baseball team as an encourager — and to leading the students on the course to where they desire to go.

“I know one of my strengths is being the hitting coach, knowing that I can hopefully hear what you want to do, listen to your questions, listen to your fears, listen to your concerns and try to help you see a little farther down the road,” Elliott said. “I get equal pleasure out of doing that as I do finishing a project because that investment is going to have a life after me sitting in a room with that person.”

One piece of advice Kendrick said he feels is most important for students is that they should be passionate about what they are doing and going into.

“They have to be willing to dive in completely and swim against the tide,” Kendrick said. “Do what you love. It’s much better to get a small paycheck and doing what you love than to make bank but hate going to work every day.”

Through the courses students are taking and the guidance of their professors, students feel prepared for any adventure or opportunity that may come their way, including the connections they make at Baylor.

“The most exciting opportunity is the Baylor in New York program, which I will be participating in this fall,” Seattle junior Nina Cates said. “I will be living in New York from August to December, working at an internship and being a full time student. It is going to be the experience of a lifetime and it would not be possible if I wasn’t at Baylor.”

Students say they understand that their journey is only beginning once they graduate from Baylor. None of what they have done means anything unless they are willing to take what they learn from class and take that beyond the Baylor community.

“Nobody wants a 22-year-old to come on set and think that they know everything.” DeVine said. “They want somebody that is eager to learn, wants to learn and is ready to learn. Baylor teaches the film students to just thrive and be ready to take opportunities as they come and always be purposeful with what you do.”