Derek Helwig, B.F.A. Film Production ‘05

Current Occupation: Producer on The Amazing Race

Derek Helwig, alumnus, Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.What was your most memorable moment while at Dodge College?

The general experience of being a film student is unique. I remember shooting my roommate Mark Marquez’ production film in our apartment. On one weekend our entire living room was filled with c-stands, apple boxes, lights and cameras. Despite not being able to move, I remember thinking, “yeah this seems normal. 

Were there any faculty members who served as a mentor to you?

My advisor, Mark Parry, was a great inspiration. He was always there to talk to and lay out the realities of the industry without sugarcoating anything. 

What is one thing you would do again, and one thing you would change about your Chapman experience?

If I could repeat any college experience, it would be studying abroad in England. Taking the skills I learned at Dodge abroad enabled me embark on the career I have now. If we stay within the “Hollywood Bubble,” our work gets very narrow-minded, and we forget that our audience also consists of the other 7 billion people around the globe. I wish I would have interned earlier to get broader experience within the industry.  Relationships you make within the industry are valuable for getting jobs in the future, and you have to nurture each of them. Getting an early jump on those professional relationships is key. 

What advice would you give to current students?

Be persistent yet realistic about joining this industry, which is a lifestyle choice just as much as it is a career choice. Once you have made the decision that this for you, be determined. If you know of a project you want to work on, find creative ways to make sure your resume gets seen. If you just fax or email your resume, I can almost guarantee it is headed straight into the trash.

What is a typical day like for you at your job?

In the office, my day is the standard 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in front of the computer, on the phone making deals, etc.  However, out in the field, everyday is different. One day I could be waking up before dawn to film in the middle of nowhere with an indigenous people, the next I could be laying on an airport floor waiting for a flight that runs once a week. Experiencing different cultures, playing charades with local people to communicate since neither of you speak the same language: it’s a blast. I feel very blessed by what I get to do. 

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

One moment that stands out in my mind was when we were filming at the Matterhorn in Switzerland.  We got to fly in there by helicopter and a storm had just passed through.  The wind was kicking up snow into our face and we could barely see. Filming with the Matterhorn in the background was so majestic.  Another time that stands out in my mind was when I got to work with school children in Malawi.  We built little toy trucks out of milk cartons for the shoot.  At the end of the day, we let the kids take them home, and when I was driving back to the hotel I saw a little six-year old boy walking down the street towing one of the toy trucks.  It really touched my heart. 

Now that you’ve graduated, what have you taken from the classroom and applied to your career?

Being able to think critically and on your feet is a major part of my job. Student filmmaking is the same way when your budget is your own bank account. Doing my projects at Chapman gave the ability to practice that skill and do it in a calm way. The second you start freaking out on set, you will get a negative stigma about you.

Have your career aspirations changed since you graduated?

I always knew I wanted to combine traveling with my film degree. Like any job, the more I do, the higher my aspirations are. Right now, I am working on getting my own ideas on the air and making my own films.