“Friends and family remember graduate student Nicholas Aufderhar”
A memorial service celebrating the life of Chapman University graduate student Nicholas Aufderhar, who died suddenly on November 22 in Anaheim, will be held 7 p.m. Thursday at The Fish Interfaith Center.
Aufderhar, 24, was in his first semester of earning his M.F.A in Film Production with an emphasis in cinematography. Originally from Greensboro, NC, Nik came to Chapman in August after completing his undergraduate degree in film studies at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.
Aufderhar died in his sleep due to complications after a car accident, according to his parents, Craig and Carol Aufderhar, in an emailed statement. The Orange County Coroner Division is still waiting for official cause of death test results.
“Nik was in a car wreck and his car was totaled,” his father, Craig Aufderhar, said. “He had a lot of film equipment the back seat that hit him in the head. He called and said he had a bad concussion, but the police were going to take him home. I told him he had plenty of insurance go to the hospital and get checked out. He called me the next day and I begged him to get checked out. That was the last time I talked to him.”
The morning after his death, Aufderhar was supposed to work as the director of photography on the film set of his classmate, Matthew Rochester. When he didn’t show up to set, the crew kept filming, unaware of the tragedy.
“Pretty soon we all realized none of us had heard from him since Sunday afternoon, so we got worried,” Rochester said.
Another graduate director drove to Nik’s apartment to check in. He was the first to find out.
“Once others found out, it definitely felt strange to continue working,” Rochester said. “Everyone in the graduate program was filming the week of. For the students who found out firsthand, I assume it was unimaginably difficult to continue,” Rochester said.
Members of the graduate program have been mourning the abrupt loss of their friend and colleague since his death, eulogizing him as intuitive, kind and hard-working.
“Nik was involved in a lot of projects and was directly associated with other students because of it, so it definitely made things complicated emotionally,” Rochester said. “Looking at the footage and knowing that the guy who was supposed to help you is gone really sucked. Everyone has something unique to bring to a project, and that uniqueness that Nik had will now be forever missing.”
After Aufderhar’s death, all three years of cinematography graduate students gathered at Paul’s Cocktails one night to cope with the loss together.
“We all got together so that the people who knew him could tell stories and help anyone dealing with the loss through camaraderie,” cinematography graduate student Monty Sloan said. “I didn’t know him well, but since we have such small class sizes and work so much together, we’re like a family. It was a blow to our community.”
“He was very quiet and sometimes kept to himself but was always there to help someone in need,” Craig Aufderhar said. “He was passionate about so many things. He loved music, art, photography, sports, animals and, of course, all things film.”
Aufderhar started his undergraduate schooling in pursuit of a degree in biology, but in his second year, he changed his focus to film studies, according to his parents.
“I can remember telling him, ‘what the hell are you going to do with that?’” Craig Aufderhar said. “I think I sent him off on a mission to prove me wrong. He finished top of his class and made his own film that he raised money to pay for.”
During his senior year at UNCW, Aufderhar wrote, produced, and directed a short film titled “The Cleansing”. He also traveled to Honduras to work on a film he co-wrote, shot, and edited titled “Catrachos and Kings”.
Kelly Kruger, a close friend and frequent collaborator of Aufderhar’s at UNCW, said she always admired him for his ambition.
“Nik was a go-getter,” Kruger said. “He was too hard on himself, and held himself to this ridiculously high standard. It was his biggest strength and his biggest hindrance. You would never have heard Nik call his project ‘good enough,’ it was either perfect — or not finished yet.”
To describe Aufderhar’s style of storytelling, Kruger would not use the word “lighthearted”.
“He appreciated the irony and ugliness of life,” Kruger said. “I think he enjoyed exploring the darker avenues of human emotion and interaction because it fascinated him. He was a curious mind, and passionate for sure.”
When Aufderhar decided to pursue a graduate degree in film, he chose Chapman.
“Nik had a lot of offers from schools from New York to Los Angeles,” Craig Aufderhar said. “We did not want him to move that far away, but California was where he wanted to be. He had a passion for the film business and wanted to be the best he could be. He knew that Chapman was the place for him to excel.”
Rochester attended the same undergraduate school with Aufderhar before they advanced to Chapman for graduate school. Rochester spent a day with Aufderhar a few days before his death.
“He was super ambitious and talked about the future and what he planned to do,” Rochester said. “He said he wanted to be a director of photography and wouldn’t settle for less: if he couldn’t make it in the industry doing what he loved, he’d find something else. It was pretty clear to me that he would have obtained his dream easily. I’ve never met a harder working student than Nik. He constantly involved himself in projects and shooting.”
Bocong Lin, another cinematography graduate student, said Aufderhar had a significant impact on his understanding of the craft.
“I hadn’t known Nik for too long, but we became good friends soon after we met,” Lin said. “In this short period, Nik, as a talented and ambitious cinematographer, had already revolutionized my cognition of cinematography. He believed that a true cinematographer would not be one who asks for shot lists from directors, but one who would dig deep into the story and design the shots with the director.”
Fellow cinematography graduate student James Song also admired Aufderhar for his work ethic. “Nik was a very talented and tough cinematographer with strong ideas about what he wanted,” Song said. “I regret that we didn’t collaborate more often and I’m grateful for what he taught me on set.”
Lin also feels that he learned a lot from Aufderhar.
“If I had not met him, I might be a totally different type of cinematographer for the rest of my career,” Lin said. “It was lucky for me to know him and definitely a huge loss, losing someone who influenced me deeply.”
Directing graduate student Keegan O’Brien said he wishes he could have worked with Aufderhar more.
“He was quiet, reserved, but always had an opinion and he’d voice it succinctly, and he worked insanely hard on his set,” O’Brien said. “The shoot came together very last minute, and he had to make do with almost no prep time. He powered through though, and he made it work. I think any of us directors in the program would have loved to have worked with him on our Cycle projects.”
Aufderhar’s life and impact on Chapman will be celebrated at the Feb. 8 memorial, which will include speeches from students and professors.
“For people that are grieving or are trying to make sense of a death, it’s important to come together as a community and be with people who are experiencing the same emotions,” said Dr. Gail J. Stearns, Dean of the Fish Interfaith Center “It’s important to pause and honor Nik.”
Aufderhar’s parents will be attending the memorial.
“I think it might help with some closure,” Craig Aufderhar said. “We are very touched by the efforts of everyone at Chapman that have contributed to the memorial. It will be hard to go through all of this again, but we are very grateful for the outpouring of support.”