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Lights, Camera, Action! Center for Entertainment, Media, and Culture Steps Into the Spotlight

By Nate Ethell ('08)


You won't have to look far to find the next generation of storytellers and media executives in Hollywood. They're already in Malibu at Pepperdine University's new Center for Entertainment, Media, and Culture. Launched in 2009, the center is a $10 million priority for the Campaign for Pepperdine with one big aspiration: to be recognized as one of the top 25 cinema and media arts programs in the world.

To achieve this vision, the center seeks to become an independently funded institute that focuses on the power of story and business strategy in the entertainment industry. In the years since the center's launch, founding director Craig Detweiler, associate professor of communication at Seaver College, has successfully built upon the strengths of Pepperdine's existing graduate and undergraduate programs, including its master of fine arts degree in screen and television writing, as well as a new master of arts in media production.

"When Pepperdine moved to Malibu in 1972, we moved to the most inordinately influential community in the world," said Craig. "With our neighbors and friends in such significant positions of influence across major networks and studios, we have a unique ability to tap into the multiplying power of media."


More than 600 students currently major in some form of media at Pepperdine. Of those, nearly 100 undergraduate students are majoring in film and media production, and 20 graduate students are pursuing one of the center's master's degrees. "Our goal for the center is to empower the next wave of entertainment and media entrepreneurs through technology, creativity, and business acumen," Craig noted. "In doing so, we will equip students to launch brand new companies and ideas—creating entertainment and sparking social change for what we like to call the (un)common good."

Cue 2009 Seaver alumnae Lauren Parsekian and Molly (Stroud) Thompson, who founded the Kind Campaign their senior year. Turning an award-winning documentary into a thriving nonprofit organization, the Kind Campaign has become a social movement that advocates for kindness rather than bullying among teenage girls across America. The young women recently began their fourth national tour, sharing their message and changing lives in hundreds ofschools and communities nationwide.

The center has begun building strategic partnerships within the entertainment industry, including those with four-time Emmy winner Joe Sargent and director, producer, and screen writer Tom Shadyac, who were named the center's first "filmmakers in residence." The center is also sharing its aspirations through high-level alumni like director and producer George Schlatter ('49), creator of Laugh-In, who was featured in the recent "Next Wave in Entertainment" event at Waves Weekend in October. This spring, Pepperdine friends Mark Burnett and Roma Downey will be previewing at Pepperdine their 10-hour series for the History Channel on the Bible.

Philanthropist Johnny Brenden and the Brenden Mann Foundation have become faithful allies with the center. The foundation once again sponsored the center's State of the Industry conversation with Chris Aronson, president of Fox Distribution, and it recently pledged $100,000 for the Jewish Moguls, Jewish Characters, and American Reality Initiative. Set to launch in early 2013, the initiative explores how 20th century American culture was shaped by Hollywood's film industry, whose studios were largely controlled by Jewish moguls. Using film screenings, panel discussions, and a photographic exhibition, the initiative will investigate the place of Jews in American life and their relationship with Christians and secular society.

Universal Studios

Behind the scenes, the center is assembling a board of industry leaders whose insights, access, and expertise will help navigate the center through its key fundraising and programming benchmarks. The board currently includes distinguished Hollywood luminaries such as alumnus Rob Moore ('84), vice chair of Paramount Pictures, and David Weil, CEO for Anschutz Film Group of Walden Media (Chronicles of Narnia). Chairing the advisory board is alumnus Brad Cummings ('88), cofounder and CEO of Windblown Media, the independent publishing company created to launch the best-selling Christian fiction novel The Shack.

"When I came to Pepperdine, it was the first time in my life I felt like I was supposed to be some place," Brad reflected. "Pepperdine encouraged me to dream big as a student, and now the University has the opportunity tocome on to the world stage and achieve its own dream—shaping culture with the power tools of our day."

As Brad and Craig began developing the new center, they were surprised to learn how many Pepperdine alumni work in entertainment, incorporating leadership ethics learned in the classroom into their positions as feature film directors, television producers, and studio executives. "Alumni are not only in front of the camera, but also behind, and very few—if any—really came out of formal training from Pepperdine," noted Brad. "But it was at Pepperdine that their passion, like mine, was fueled."

In 2010 Brad made an instrumental decision to provide pacesetting support to the center with a gift that has grown in value to nearly $1 million. "Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would have the capacity to write a check like that. I felt like the Lord said, 'Do you want to be a filmmaker, or do you want to raise an army of them?' We need professionals who are training and dreaming alongside our students, giving them a shot to do what is possible nowhere else."

As the center's board grows, campaign fundraising efforts are raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for critical student and program support. Key priorities include funds for student scholarships, internships, and educational trips, as well as programing resources for faculty, infusions of new equipment and production facilities, and a variety of special events like the Reel Stories Film Festival.

"By giving to the center, Pepperdine can leave its most lasting impact, training students alongside professionals with a foundation of faith and creativity," said Brad. "A gift that empowers storytellers will change a generation."