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Chapman Film School Eyes the Big Time

The O.C. university plans a studio complex that it hopes will attract the top aspiring movie makers.

October 23, 2003|Jeff Gottlieb | Times Staff Writer

A framed poster on Chapman University President James Doti's wall represents his dream. "Chapman Studios," it says, with the university's black-and-gold panther mascot staring out like a sphinx.

This little-known university near Old Towne Orange, he hopes, someday will breathe the same rarefied air shared by the best film schools in the country. Like UCLA, USC, Columbia, New York University and the American Film Institute, Chapman, he hopes, will attract the smartest aspiring movie makers in the country.

Doti's dream is not an idle one. Chapman is preparing to construct a $31-million studio complex that people in the field say will be among the most advanced facilities at any film school.

The 4.5-acre complex will include four sound stages, two back lots -- one replicating Paris and the other New York -- digital post-production facilities, a 500-seat theater, classrooms and screening rooms. Most of the film school will operate in a three-story, 80,000-square-foot building.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday October 31, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Chapman University -- An article in the California section Oct. 23 about expansion plans for Chapman University's film school incorrectly reported that Arnold Schwarzenegger attended two film premieres on campus. One of those premieres, for "Terminator 3," was held at the Irvine Spectrum.

"It's too wild for words," said Barbara Boyle, chairwoman of the department of film, TV and digital media at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. "I'm just green with envy."

The boost to Chapman's School of Film and Television is a key part of the university's campaign to increase its profile. The university's law and business schools, Doti contends, someday will be among the top 50 in their fields.

The film school, he believes, can do even better -- and turn Chapman into a brand name.

"To be in the top five is something truly special and could lift the tide of the entire university," Doti said.

"That suggests it will be one of our crown jewels."

Chapman's film school already has shown extraordinary growth. It started as part of the communications department, became a department a decade ago and a school in 1996.

Today it enrolls about 800 students in graduate and undergraduate programs -- as many as UCLA.

Film school Dean Bob Bassett expects construction to begin late next year and the ministudio to open in 2006.

The Orange Planning Commission is expected to discuss the expansion late next month or in early December.

A fund-raising campaign led by Orange County philanthropist Paul Folino, chief executive of the high-tech firm Emulex, has raised $12 million so far and expects to take in the remaining $19 million by the end of 2004. If you've got a spare $20 million, a donation to the film school can put your name out front.

But building a film school depends on attracting quality faculty and students, especially developing well-known filmmakers.

"Students hear those names and think there's some magic that happens at those places," said Bassett.

"That's what attracts students. It's the No. 1 thing. It's a self-perpetuating circle."

NYU has Spike Lee, Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese. UCLA has Francis Ford Coppola and Tim Robbins. USC has George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis and Ron Howard.

Chapman has no one with that sort of fame.

With fewer than 5,000 students, Chapman is much different from other top film schools. They are all tied to huge research universities with national reputations. Those film schools are also nearly impossible to get into. UCLA's film school, for example, has 600 to 700 applicants annually for its 21 director-training slots.

Chapman's students -- including two who were denied admission to other film schools -- say they are looking forward to what is unfolding.

"This will put us on the map," said John Balkhi, who is completing his master's degree in fine arts in film.

Balkhi and Phillip Daniel, a senior, said the strength of Chapman's program is the experience students gain making films, as opposed to the more theoretical programs at better-known schools.

"It seems to me [film school administrators] are trying to identify where the weaknesses are and strengthen those without losing the hands-on experience," Daniel said.

To improve its program, Chapman recently hired Dezso Magyar away from AFI, where he had served as chair of the film school.

Magyar serves as associate dean and is charged with revamping the graduate program.

"I'm a huge fan of Dezso and regret he felt he had to move," said AFI director Jean Picker Firstenberg. "Chapman is very fortunate."

Magyar, who also helped build the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto, said he came to Chapman for the same reason, the challenge of growing another top-ranked school. "Film school is simple, like good cooking," said Magyar, a director himself of such well-respected films as "No Secrets," a 1991 drama. "You need the know-how, but you also need the ingredients."

The plans for the film school amazed him. "This particular facility ... if it is pulled off, it will be the best in the country," he said. "I've never seen anything like it."

Magyar is the first of several big names within the industry that Bassett says he expects to appoint soon to the faculty.

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