Successful Baylor alumni in film industry discuss careers, share advice with students

Baylor graduates John Lee Hancock, director of “The Blind Side” and Derek Haas, creator of “Chicago P.D.,” visited campus Friday afternoon to speak with students and faculty about their successful careers in the film industry. Shae Koharski | Multimedia Journalist

By Thomas Moran | Arts & Life Editor

Two Baylor graduates involved in film and television, Derek Haas, ’91, and John Lee Hancock, ’79, visited campus Friday afternoon to share their experiences in the film industry and offer advice to student seeking to pursue careers in the field. Haas, writer and producer of hit television series “Chicago Fire,” spoke alongside Hancock, a writer and director who earned fame through blockbusters like “The Blind Side” and “Saving Mr. Banks.” The duo discussed everything from their beginnings as creatives to the more nuanced elements of working in film.

Haas, an Austin native, reflected on his desire to create, which started from a very young age. Despite their more conservative values and parenting techniques, his parents noted his aptitude for reading and writing and allowed him to read more mature novels from around that age.

“When I was 10 years old, I asked for typewriter for Christmas,” Haas said. “I was reading Stephen King books by 9 and 10 years old.”

Fortunately, Haas also had teachers supporting his creative side. His English teacher would allow him to use class time to work on his book, rather than participating in class activities.

“I wrote an 80-page story called ‘The Gnome’ because I had read ‘The Hobbit’ that year,” Haas said.

Quickly, his passion for writing expanded into amateur filmmaking. Haas recollected one of his earliest film projects. After being asked to produce a video for the Students Against Drunk Driving club at his high school, Haas visited the local Sears and borrowed some mannequins, which, along with plenty of fake blood, were used as fake carnage in the video.

Soon after completing his graduate degree from Baylor in ’95, Haas set off to Los Angeles in pursuit of his dream to become a writer and director, following in the footsteps of Hancock who had already gained celebrity, particularly among Baylor students. “Chicago Fire” premiered in 2012 and the show is now in its seventh season.

Day to day, Haas is involved with everything from casting to filming. However, his real passion has stayed the same all these years.

“I really really love writing more than any other part of the business,” Haas said. “There will always be something magical about sitting on a set, but the blank page is still awesome.”

If his day doesn’t allow any time for writing, Haas makes time by waking up earlier to work on his projects.

After his time working as a lawyer, Hancock finally gave into his deeper desire and moved to L.A. in hopes of making it in the film industry. He described how the business has changed since he was a young ambitious writer, new to the industry.

“It was very much about getting face to face with people and handing a script,” Hancock said. “I think it’s harder to break into the industry today than it was then when I broke in.”

After an agent picked him up as a pocket client, Hancock submitted a script to her which she sent out to a few producers. A few days later, he had five producers calling to set up meeting to talk about his script. Since then, Hancock has written, produced and directed countless project across a variety of genres.

Having earned renown, Hancock and Haas shared the bits of advice they wish they’d known as Baylor students, soon to enter the industry.

“What I would tell myself when I was freshman at Baylor would be follow your bliss,” Hancock said. “The thing that fills you up and gives you joy. Follow that. Relax and keep your eyes open. The rest will either work out or it won’t.”