Video lecturer Derrick Sims admits it would be difficult to find a more dedicated Lord of the Rings follower than himself and, in a roundabout way, Tolkien can be credited for his arrival at UCOL.
Derrick says while growing up in Kingsland, Arkansas (population 414), he didn’t have access to information about filmmaking - not in school, no books, no Internet.
“When I was eight years old, my Dad bought a used camcorder, and I began to take it out into the woods and make Rambo movies.”
“I kept at it through high school, and at university I discovered Peter Jackson. His work became my film school, especially the material he and Richard Taylor and Costa Botes put into The Lord of the Rings DVDs. For the first time, I saw how a film was properly done. Not only did that team bring my favourite Tolkien books to life, they taught me how to create cinema.”
A trip to New Zealand in 2014 to visit Middle Earth got him thinking, and after the birth of his daughter and a mass shooting too close to home, Derrick began to consider leaving the United States. “I didn’t want my daughter to grow up in that environment, where deeply-rooted racism and violence was so prevalent. New Zealand seemed safe. We had friends and opportunity here,” says the 32-year-old.
Derrick’s first break came when he photographed and directed a short film that was discovered by an IMAX proprietor. “They requested to play my film alongside Ang Lee's Ride with the Devil, and as any 19-year-old would do, I jumped at the opportunity. Not long after, I left Arkansas for Los Angeles to work full-time as a cinematographer, editor, and colourist.”
In 2011, Derrick wrote and directed his first feature, Come Morning. It premiered at Austin Film Festival and opened in cinemas in 2014. Come Morning is available on Amazon Prime, BluRay, and DVD.
His first three months in New Zealand were spent working as the Artist in Residence at Massey University. There, he held workshops and mentored students while also doing post production on his second feature, The Perfect Host: A Southern Gothic Tale. Derrick continues to develop projects with his company, Fabled Motion Pictures.
He is keen to make his mark on the programme saying “I want to make it mine and help it grow and be notable. I want to challenge students, to let them know filmmaking is tough, and I expect a lot from them - but then so does the film industry.”