Location Laguna: A Textbook for Film Students

By Sally Eastwood, Special to the Independent


Students interview theater impresario Bree Burgess Rosen about her career.

Students interview theater impresario Bree Burgess Rosen about her career.

Film director Oliver Stone relied on Main Beach as his set, shooting scenes for “Savages,” but this year newer, younger filmmakers infiltrated the town.

Laguna Beach played host this month to a group of students from Chapman University Singapore, studying for a bachelor in fine arts in creative producing. The Singapore program is the only international offshoot of Chapman’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, for top students who have already completed a diploma in film and media studies at Singapore’s Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

One of the course’s pre-requisites is to join with their student counterparts from Chapman’s Orange campus to produce short documentary films, which is why these students were in Laguna: to script, direct, shoot and produce their movies.

Led by Laguna resident and Chapman Professor Christine Fugate, this cross-cultural experience is one they’ve all been looking forward to.  I caught up with them at No Square Theater where they were shooting a character portrait of Bree Burgess Rosen.

“I don’t know. They just showed up!” guffawed Rosen when I asked her how she got involved.  A force of nature to be reckoned with, Rosen is celebrating 20 years of her signature “Lagunatics” annual parody and regaled the budding film-makers with stories of past productions and how she got started in show business.

Primed by Prof. Fugate, the students roved the streets and beaches of Laguna: one group focusing on filming “Old and New;” one on “Love;” another on “Rich and Poor.”

“Rich is kind of easy here,” smiled student Austin Vuz.  Originally from Dallas, he admits that most of Orange County isn’t exactly his style, but that Laguna is a cool and creative place to spend time.  “Less fake,” he notes.  Now in his final year, Vuz hopes to land a gig in television after graduating. Having already worked with Joan Rivers on Bravo TV’s “Fashion Police,” his goal is to join her once again on the red carpet.

“Laguna Beach is like Singapore: affluent, comfortable, with a focus on arts and culture, but I was surprised how many homeless people there are here,” observed Hirzi Zulkiflie. 2 movies

With a streak of pink in his shaggy Mohawk, Zulkiflie is already a breakout star in his native country.  “Munah and Hirzi: Action!” is a fictional TV drama based on the lives of Hirzi and his close friend, Munah Bagharib, who met in 2006 and became the most subscribed You Tube channel in Singapore. Zulkiflie applied to Chapman before the TV show started, knowing that he’s reached a ceiling. To get further, Hollywood is the place to be and the Chapman course is the way to get there.

Singapore is still a very conservative country, but while the older generation adheres strongly to traditions, younger people are much more open and willing to do new things.

“I told my mother I wanted to be a racecar driver,” admitted Farhan Zulkifli.  When his mother told him to embark upon something more realistic, he chose film-making as a way to express himself and his parents were supportive.  Zulkifli has already spent five years as an assistant director and his goal is to set up a company either in Singapore or Indonesia, or, find work in Los Angeles. He too enjoyed his time in Laguna. “It’s really peaceful and I love walking on the beach in the morning with a cup of coffee.”

“Laguna has such great visuals; so different from Orange with great places to film,” added St. Louis native and Chapman freshman Chloe Hales.

She enrolled in the class to meet the students from Singapore and hear about their culture and background.  “There’s been so much great learning and interaction.”

“Education is so different in Singapore,” echoed Jamie Ang, who is on her first visit outside Asia.  “It’s very quiet in the classroom. In the U.S. it’s much more interactive and the students can discuss and argue with the teachers.  No one is shy.” Her goal is to apply what she’s learning to shake up Singapore’s film industry. She and a friend started a production company, which they hope to expand.

Next, the students head to San Francisco to film another short documentary they’ve planned and laid out during their time here. Naturally they’re excited to see firsthand what they’ve only seen on TV and in pictures. The itinerary includes the Castro, Haight-Ashbury and Alcatraz.

They’re a talented bunch and their work will no doubt surface soon in a movie theater near you. In the meantime, their documentaries made in Laguna Beach will be posted as soon as they’re finished.


Sally Eastwood is a writer and editor living in Laguna Beach.

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