By Jon Platt
For making waves in Hollywood, two Baylor graduates received the prestigious Alumni of the Year award Thursday evening.
At the Meritorious Achievement Awards dinner the Board of Regents and administration honored many alumni for their accomplishments, including Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, who received the Alumni of the Year award.
This annual award is given to a graduate who demonstrates remarkable achievement in the previous year, according to the event’s program. This year, Baylor presented it to both Brandt and Haas because of their continual screenwriting partnerships for movies and TV.
The duo has co-wrote five movies in the past 11 years, including “Wanted,” “3:10 to Yuma” and “2 Fast 2 Furious.”
While back on campus, Haas, an English major, and Brandt, a business school graduate, reflected on what they would do if they could be students again.
“I would make more films,” Brandt said. “We made a film in grad school, but it was nothing like what you can do today. I couldn’t use tape because the quality was so low, so I had to use film that had been in the refrigerator for 12 years and then pray it came out right. Technology is now your friend. You should use it to your advantage.”
As a student of English, Haas said he was assigned to read material that he would never have had in his hands otherwise.
And those readings made him a better writer.
“If you want to be a writer, read,” Haas said. “If I were a student right now, I’d read everything I could get my hands on. It’s so easy to access stuff. Every screenplay that’s ever been written is online, but all we had were the books in the library we could find.”
For students who are interested in pursuing a career in film, Haas said he would suggest the same thing: read.
Read and then read some more, he said.
“If you can imagine it, you can do it,” Haas said. “There’s a Robert Browning quote that says, ‘A man’s reach should always exceed his grasp.’ This is what Michael and I have always done in our career. Everybody can do that.”
Brandt said he would suggest that students who think they are interested in a film career should take a good look at the decision before they make it.
“If you can imagine smiling and doing something else, go do that,” Brandt said. “The path can be so difficult. It’s too easy to quit if you have a fall back in mind. Nothing else I did made me happy, so I’m doing this.”
The friends-turned-co-writers team met at Baylor over 20 years ago. They worked together in undergraduate studies.
They both said they recalled their partnership in the screenwriting class of Robert Darden, associate professor of journalism.
“All I know is story,” Darden said. “That’s all that I teach is story and that resonated with them both. They both arrived with the ability to tell stories and a drive to make art.”
Darden said shaping students like Haas and Brandt makes teaching worth it for him.
“At Baylor, we fling our green and gold far,” said Dr. David Garland, interim Provost. “Then you see alum making a difference in the world and you know the students you’re teaching now will one day do the same. When you realize that, you see your current students differently and it effects you as an educator.”
After graduating from Baylor in 1991, they both received M.A. degrees from Baylor in communication studies.
Brandt graduated from master’s work in 1994 and Haas in 1995, according to the events program.
Also mentioned at the award ceremony was a long-time, running gag for the two.
In all of Haas and Brandt’s previous projects, they have killed off a character named Darden.
“They wrote a film during their graduate work and couldn’t get a professor to die for them,” Darden said. “So I did. I died for them. I take it as a great tribute and compliment. I’m honored and humbled. I laugh every time my name comes up.”