Crafting Storytellers: An Interview With Craig Detweiler

September 9, 2015

Brehm: Tell us a lesson or two you’ve learned about teaching/mentoring students in their craft. Do any of the lessons come with a story you could share?

Craig Detweiler: Developing creative gifts and getting noticed in Hollywood takes a long time.  I’ve been honored to teach some outstanding students over the past fifteen years.   It takes at least a decade to break through in Hollywood.   In the past couple of years, I’ve been thrilled to see former students from a decade ago produce The Butler, earn rave reviews with Short Term 12, and become members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.   I’m equally jazzed when they’re directing acclaimed indie projects like GMO/OMG and Kidnapped for Christ and creating new film festivals like New Urbanism and Level Ground.

While each of these students was obviously talented, they also demonstrated a resilience to carry through on their projects.   Creativity must be combined with a relentless commitment to finish what you started, to never give up.   That is tough to teach.   The entertainment industry offers rigorous tests of patience, endurance, and resolve but no one can really guess or predict who has the mettle to go the distance.

Brehm: How does crafting the next generation of filmmakers influence your own craft of filmmaking?

CD: I have always tried to bring sharp students and recent grads into my creative projects.   They’ve worked as camera operators, as editors, as graphic designers.   It is a natural extension of the classroom where I’m always spotting talent, polishing skills, and offering opportunities.   I’m always glad when they become so busy with professional gigs afterwards that we’re never quite able to sync up our schedules again.  As a film professor, that is a satisfying feeling.

With technology constantly shifting, I find that the next generation of filmmakers know more about the latest gear and editing programs.  They may not have the background or resources necessary to take on feature length projects though.  We end up complementing each others’ strengths and weaknesses in mutually beneficial ways.

Brehm: What are highlights of mentoring for you, the big moments, the small moments, the challenging ones, etc.?

CD: For his new book, View From the Top, sociologist (and Gordon College president), D. Michael Lindsay interviewed hundreds of leaders to see what factors incubated success. (Read an interview here.)

Dr. Lindsay finds that the key ingredient is nurturing by a mentor; but those mentors have to emerge in an informal or natural way.  Programs are helpful, but relationships and bonds are forged through many intangibles.  While I endeavor to help and serve every student, I do keep in touch with some more than others (or perhaps some students choose to stay in touch more than others).

I never know when those key breakthroughs or toughest tests will arise.   I love being invited into those celebratory premieres as well as those painful setbacks (which sometimes occur in close proximity).   I also want to help students avoid some of the more painful or costly mistakes I’ve made.   Mentorship is about being available at key crossroads, providing a bit of perspective when the stakes rise.

I’m also just starting to see another wave of professors emerge from amongst those I’ve mentored.   They’re running film programs at Houston Baptist and Mt. Saint Mary’s and investing in the next generation of storytellers.   How cool to see the craft handed on with such creativity and care.

CRAIG DETWEILER directs the Center for Entertainment, Media and Culture at Pepperdine University. His newest book is Halos and Avatars:Playing Video Game with God. His previous book, Into the Dark, searches for the sacred amidst the top-ranked films on the Internet Movie Database. Craig's cultural commentary has been featured on ABC’s Nightline, CNN, Fox News, Al Jazeera, NPR, and in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

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