If Diana Derycz-Kessler ’91 (’92) made movies, she would be shooting two films simultaneously, bankrolling another, and throwing in a cameo appearance to boot. She has a way of fitting it all in, regardless of the production. Once a rising young star in the oil business, Derycz-Kessler now has her role of a lifetime as the new CEO of the Los Angeles Film School.
She devotes 90 percent of her time to that job, 40 percent to another job (for her, the percentages somehow add up) as principal and general counsel of the Bristol Group of Companies, an investment fund that she and her husband, Paul, manage. One of their investments is the Los Angeles Film School, an operation she believes in so much that, earlier this year, she decided to run it herself.
“I have two goals,” said Derycz-Kessler. “My first goal is I want it to be a prestigious institution that is producing quality filmmakers that are going to be the future next generation of stars. My second goal is to make a healthy business enterprise.”
Launched in 1999, the film school offers an intensive ten-month program that emphasizes hands-on practice over theory, and boasts a roster of film industry veterans eager to train–and sometimes employ–talented young students. Derycz-Kessler was a hands-off investor until financial mismanagement at the school motivated her to take over earlier this year. “It was like a movie that kept going over budget,” she said. “Instead of getting the BMW of equipment, we were getting the Rolls Royce.”
Yet the top-of-the-line equipment does serve as a selling point for the school, located in the Sunset Boulevard building in which Elvis Presley once recorded. No other film school can rival the school’s moviemaking facilities, according to Derycz-Kessler, and no other school requires its students to produce as much film product. The 170 students invariably have cameras in their hands.
Derycz-Kessler has dreamed about being behind the camera herself. That’s why the Los Angeles Film School is not, for her, just another investment.
“I always had the bug, on the producing and filmmaking side. That’s probably what pushed me to take over this company,” she said. “I do have a love for academia and academic institutions. That and the filmmaking allure. It’s exciting and it’s Hollywood.”
It’s also a big change from her previous jobs. After graduating from HLS, Derycz-Kessler joined a New York City firm, where she provided legal advice to clients in Mexico. That job led her to a corporate legal counsel position for Occidental Petroleum’s international division, making her the youngest person and the first woman to serve in that role. There, she managed a legal staff in Latin America but also looked to a future in the business world.
“At the oil company I got my first glimpse of being close to business people, and I liked it,” said Derycz-Kessler. “They did a lot of big picture stuff and then they gave it to the lawyers to paper deals and negotiate them. I thought that looked a lot easier than being a lawyer, and it also looked more fun. And they make a lot more money.”
The for-profit school should break even next year, according to Derycz-Kessler. Just as important, she says, many of the initial graduates have gained jobs in the industry. So while she and her husband shop for investors for the school, Derycz-Kessler intends to stay on as CEO as part of the deal. Because more than money is at stake.
“We have all these kids with hopes and dreams, and great faculty members,” she said. “We’re going to continue with the culture of the school.”