College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

'Hats' off to UCR alumnus

Theatre, Film & Digital Production graduate talks about his path to success in the entertainment industry
By Chris Fleming, Student Writer/CHASS Marketing & Communications |

In 2016, Christopher Watkins III created Hats, a short film about a baseball player from South Central Los Angeles. It was the culmination of all that he’d learned during his time as an undergraduate student at UC Riverside and a graduate student at the University of Southern California.

At UCR, Watkins started on his academic path as a computer science major. It wasn’t for him, but Watkins has always loved a good story.

“I actually didn't consider film until an old friend of mine expressed her obsession with films,” Watkins said, “and how she viewed them many times when I rarely viewed the same film twice. She made me see the potential of working in the industry.”

Watkins switched his undergraduate major to Media and Cultural Studies: Film and Visual Culture/Media. He worked part-time at UCR’s Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies as a film intern and served as an editor and production assistant for the center’s documentary 1992 LA Riots: Reflections of Our Future.

Watkins also gained inspiration from Stu Krieger, screenwriter for The Land Before Time and a CHASS professor in the Department of Theatre, Film, and Digital Production. Watkins remembers taking an introductory screenwriting class from Krieger. 

“{Krieger] is an amazing human being,” Watkins said. “I took his writing class and my life changed from then on.”

“I always tell my students that talent is only one small portion of what it takes to succeed in the entertainment industry,” Krieger said. “They need to be relentlessly proactive, seeking opportunities and making connections whenever and wherever they can. Christopher took those words to heart and always showed up when department and extracurricular projects were happening. 

“He had an incredible work ethic, a positive attitude and a willingness to step out of his comfort zone in order to learn and grow as an artist,” said Krieger.

After UCR, Watkins learned grip and electrical work on a number of filming projects, including commercials for Sony’s Deliver Us from Evil and awards shows including the Oscars, Emmys and Black Entertainment Television Awards.

Watkins still felt that there was technical knowledge he was missing, so he applied to USC’s School of Cinematic Arts for his Master of Fine Arts. Krieger wrote Watkins a letter of recommendation. 

“The University of Southern California was my dream school since I was about seven and saw a football game there,” Watkins said. “I applied and it was probably one of the happiest days of my life when, one day before my 24th birthday, I got my acceptance letter to USC.”

While at USC, Watkins landed an internship with Sony Pictures as a Post Production Sound Intern. His mentor at the time, Tommy McCarthy, Sony’s Executive Vice President of Post Production, allowed him to shift the focus of his internship towards picture editing rather than sound editing.

Which brings us back to Hats: Watkins wrote Hats as part of his curriculum at USC. 

HATS is a baseball film,” he said, “a coming-of-age tale about a young Black man from South Central who must dismiss comfort zones in order to attain growth and success in a land he's unaccustomed to.”

In 2018, Hats was completed and Watkins graduated with his master’s degree.

Hats has garnered numerous awards. The film aired on Revolt TV and Aspire TV in October 2019. Watkins has also been working on Paramount’s Clifford the Big Red Dog as its post-production assistant. He’s currently working under editor Sabrina Pilsco, who lent her talents to Doctor Strange. In early December 2019, a film he edited titled Night Diner received the Jury Award at the Director’s Guild.

Despite recent success, Watkins hasn’t forgotten his UCR roots and the help he received along the way from people like Krieger.

“Latch on to a mentor,” Watkins said. “Gain as many mentors as possible. I gained a lot of ground and insight because of mentors.” 

Watkins also suggests that film students should seek out internships. “And keep it fun,” Watkins said. “Remember why you began to chase your passion in the first place.”


FEATURED PHOTO. Photos courtesy of Chris Fleming/CHASS Marketing & Communications.
Chris Watkins III, far left, is a Theatre, Film & Digital Production graduate who wrote "Hats," a short film about a baseball player from South Central Los Angeles."