Devin Hawker

Looking behind the curtain

When I was growing up, going to the movies was a big deal. It seems hard to believe there was a time before Netflix and Apple TV, but I remember traveling nearly an hour to the nearest movie theater as a kid and submitting to this kind of grand vision that was so much more immense than anything I could see in the quote-unquote “real” world. I grew up in absolute awe of movies and, in many ways, I’ve stayed that way ever since.

My parents owned a local newspaper; my father was the publisher, my mother was the feature writer and I was the photographer. It was not until many years later that I understood how the conflation of these disciplines helped to shape my own way of thinking. I absorbed the information I gathered from the paper – an act that eventually began to meld with my own creative instincts and ambitions. Again, this is not something I could wrap my brain around until many years later, but hey, that’s just life, I guess.

All the while, I continued to fall in love with movies. I loved mysteries, comedies, war films, love stories – I loved it all. Simply put, I was seduced by the magic of cinema.

When a person is as young as I was, any kind of art that really moves you can seem a bit like a magic trick. You don’t get to see behind the curtain (certainly not from a small town in Iowa). When I was young, the movies enchanted me to such a degree that I simply wasn’t thinking about why the director shot a scene a certain way, or the techniques employed by the actors. For all intents and purposes, there were no actors: there were just these people, larger than life, towering on the great screen in front of me. It was a world I wanted to get lost in, but I wasn’t aware that there was somebody behind the curtain: pulling strings, making sure I paid attention to certain elements, orchestrating this grand, cohesive symphony of image and sound that had possessed my imagination.

Before I ended up at ArtCenter, I found myself at the University of Iowa for a year. As soon as I worked on my first Super 8 movie, I was hooked. The funny thing of it was, though I was only acting in the film, I ended up working with a guy I knew from my hometown. My friend had an additional level of knowledge about the craft of moviemaking that he was generous enough to bestow to me, even though we were just idealistic, unprepared kids making one of our first movies together.

That same collaborative spirit went on to inform what I did during my time at ArtCenter. Unlike, say, Graphic Design, film is not a major where one can afford to be solitary. Film, like opera, is a union of mediums. Acting, writing, sound, light, music and an assured directorial touch all play a role. All the while, we shouldered the weight for each other. Sometimes the guy who handled the camerawork in one movie had an acting part in another. We all had our own vision. It bred a kind of healthy competition: we were all looking forward to seeing each other’s films every couple of weeks because we all acted as each other’s inspiration.

Now, the work I do is a little more solitary. I’ve written on over six hundred and fifty motion picture advertising campaigns and don’t really have the luxury to judge a movie I work on. Because I’ve been allowed behind the curtain, my job is to see the picture in its best light – to help find that spark that will captivate millions of people across the world.

Am I the same wide-eyed kid for whom movies were a form of escape and release? Not really. These days, I work behind the curtain. But often, when I’m reading a new screenplay – or watching an early edit – the rough edges fade away and I remember what drew me to this art form long ago. My job now is to help create the magic – the magic that only appears seamless. Maybe there’s another kid out there who’s as awed by the movies as I was. Maybe one day she’ll get to see behind the curtain too.

Devin Hawker
BFA 1984 Film
Faculty, ArtCenter at Night

For all intents and purposes, there were no actors: there were just these people, larger than life, towering on the great screen before me.

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