80 percent of people with Down Syndrome are unemployed because employers fear they could be a risk.
“That statistic was staggering to me,” says Derek Helwig (BFA ’05). Helwig, currently an adjunct faculty member at Dodge, is a producer for Xpedition Media, a creative production and consulting agency founded by Chapman alum Hunter Johnson (BFA/FTV ’07). He learned about the challenges facing the Down Syndrome community while working with John’s Crazy Socks, a small business run by a young man with Down Syndrome and his father. Helwig was both impressed and saddened by the experience of telling this story.
“When we interviewed Matt, one of John’s employees who has autism, it really became emotional. He told us about how being rejected from various jobs was taking a psychological toll on him,” says Helwig. Through the Crazy Socks story Helwig saw firsthand how the actions of a leader can create meaning and value for another person – in particular, allowing individuals like Matt to create an identity through work.
Building on his experiences as a producer for CBS, HBO, the History Channel, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and Google, among others, Johnson founded Xpedition Media to help individuals and communities tell stories that might otherwise go untold.
For Helwig, who has known Johnson since college, it was a no-brainer when Johnson invited him to join the new venture. “It was a chance to be at the start of something new and tell stories in a new fashion,” says Helwig. Among the many projects the company has produced are a trio of stories for Transgender Awareness Week and #ThisIsFamily, a celebration of LGBTQ+ families, both in partnership with Google.
“We’ve become the shop that’s known for sharing great stories and I believe that will continue to grow each year,” says Johnson. The company’s work is founded on the philosophy that reaching consumers today depends on telling a story instead of selling a product.
“It is important to share stories of success in a way that is both inspiring and humanizing,” says associate producer Yael Egnal (BFA/TWP ’17). And in so doing, these Chapman alumni have also found part of their identities through work.
This article was originally published in our Fall 2018 In Production Magazine. This issue focuses on exploring identity through filmmaking, alumni honing their skills on the latest CFE production, Chapman’s third Student Academy Award-win, and a spotlight on our Screenwriting program. Check out the full magazine on issuu.