Alums Share Insider Stories

Alums Share Insider Stories

Film director John Lee Hancock, BA ’79, JD ’82, and screenwriter/developer Derek Haas, BA ’91, MA ’95, returned to campus in late January to participate in a question-and-answer session for students, hosted by Baylor’s film and digital media department.

The two Baylor alumni joined J. Brian Elliott, BA ’84, MA ’90, senior lecturer of film and digital media, for the wide-ranging discussion.

Hancock has directed seven feature films, including The Rookie, The Alamo, The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks. He also has writing credits for eight films, including Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, The Alamo, The Blind Side and Snow White and the Huntsman.

Haas has developed four television series: Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., Chicago Med, and Chicago Justice (with the first three recently receiving renewal notices). He has authored five novels and six short stories and owns screenplay credits for feature films 2 Fast 2 Furious, 3:10 to Yuma and Wanted

Both Hancock and Haas began writing at a young age while growing up in Texas. They received different advice about writing careers. 

Hancock was born in Longview but was raised in Texas City, near NASA. A friend’s astronaut father said he believed it was more feasible to go to the moon than to become a professional writer because, well, he knew someone who had been to the moon.

“But I was always writing,” Hancock said. “From fourth grade on, I would write all the time, non-stop, and then I didn’t know what to do with that. I didn’t think of it as a viable career alternative.”

Hancock began as a pre-med major at Baylor before changing to English. He completed law school and entered the legal field as his profession, yet he was not happy.

“I was still writing,” he said. “So, I moved out, starved to death and then thankfully got off on the right foot.”

Haas, who was born in Austin, asked for a typewriter for Christmas when he was 10 and soon thereafter produced an 80-page story called The Gnome because he had read The Hobbit that year.

“I wanted to be a writer,” Haas said. “And I had a very supportive teacher in sixth grade, Mr. Colona, who let me go into a little room and work on my book while the other kids were doing other stuff.”

Both said the industry is undergoing rapid changes on multiple levels and that it probably is more difficult to enter the field now than at their entry time. 

However, one constant remains. 

“The Hollywood rollercoaster — that’s what we always call it because you can definitely be at the highest high one minute and then kicked to the curb the next and it’s always painful,” Haas said. “You get a lot of rejections to get that one good result. But it’s all worth it because at the end of the day you’re sitting in a movie theater or you’re watching at home and up comes some actors saying things that you wrote — that didn’t exist before you put it on the page — and that makes all the rejections go away.”