By Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times

Last August, at a high-end hilltop Orange County restaurant, Bob Bassett told his fellow faculty members how he intends to make Chapman University's scrappy Dodge College of Film and Media Arts into what he calls "the film school of the future."

A major strategic component, said Dodge's longtime dean, would be spring's launch of Chapman Entertainment, a for-profit movie company that will make and distribute five to 10 feature films each year in commercially popular genres such as comedies and thrillers. Bassett said that the venture, which Bassett formally announced last month and over which he will preside as president and CEO, is aimed at boosting the careers of participating Dodge alums and raise the school's national profile to the level of its more glamorous rivals.

"I'm absolutely convinced this is the thing that's going to push us past NYU and USC," Bassett told the faculty that day.

To those unfamiliar with Dodge's aggressive growth spurt over the last five years, Bassett's boast might sound like the coach of a small-college football team talking about whipping the Trojans at the Coliseum.

But since 2006, when Dodge unveiled a $42-million, 76,000-square-foot studio and teaching complex amid the picturesque bungalows of the city of Orange it has become one of a handful of U.S. film schools that are challenging the historic supremacy of USC, UCLA and New York University. Dodge, with a total enrollment of 1,589 undergraduate and graduate students in its classes, lacks those schools' brand-name recognition, nor has it produced a star alumnus on par with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas of USC or UCLA trophy pupil Francis Ford Coppola.

But with its state-of-the-art facility, a slew of well-connected Hollywood faculty and resident filmmakers (including John Badham, William Friedkin and Randal Kleiser) and a Singapore satellite campus that provides a foothold in Asia's burgeoning film marke, Dodge is primed to compete in an academic environment that's changing as fast as the movie business itself.

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