Austin Chapman

Austin Chapman's life changed when new hearing aids allowed him to hear a wide range of sounds for the first time. (Bethany Mollenkof, Los Angeles Times)

The first thing you notice about the short film is that you never hear dialogue, only the dreamy, Daniel Lanois-type score. Instead, it's subtitled — even though the actors appear to be speaking in English.

In the opening scenes, a young woman falls on the street, and a young man approaches to help.

"What, are you deaf?" the subtitles have her saying. "I said go away."

"Actually, yeah, I am," he replies.

The music swells, but the actor and director, Austin Chapman, never heard it while making "Eleven, Eleven." The movie, which won the grand prize in Pepperdine's student film festival in 2010, was based on Chapman's experiences as a deaf person.

Two years later, the aspiring filmmaker's life changed: New hearing aids let him hear a wide range of sounds for the first time. One of the first things he did was watch "Eleven, Eleven." When it was over, the 24-year-old cried.

"It was like the first time I was kissed by a girl," he said. "Scary, but exciting at the same time."

Now, he knew, he would be able to choose the music for his films.

Amazed at first, he went on a musical binge, listening to everything from Mozart to Metallica, to prepare himself to choose the soundtrack for one of his shorts, about a man who loses his dog in Lake Arrowhead.

At a pivotal moment, when the man realizes his pet is missing, Chapman proposed a series of loud notes at each cut, almost like something from "Jaws."

"It wouldn't have worked. It would've totally taken viewers out of the scene," said the composer, Max Royer. "I thought, 'We're going to have to work on some stuff.'"

"I didn't know what cliche was," Chapman said. "I still had a lot to learn."


A few months after Chapman was born, his parents, Molly and Peter, noticed that he never seemed startled when their dogs barked and didn't calm down when they spoke to him.

Molly, a pediatric nurse practitioner, thought he might have fluid behind his eardrums. But when Chapman was tested at 9 months old, doctors said he was profoundly deaf, the highest degree of hearing loss short of total silence. There was no cure.

Nobody is sure what caused Chapman's hearing problems, although his parents suspect it's genetic. Several relatives needed hearing aids at an early age.

Once Chapman's parents got over the shock, they decided they wanted him to learn sign language and how to speak. "I didn't want him to be limited or isolated," Molly said.

He was going to a school for the deaf, but his parents decided he would be better off in a regular school. So they enrolled him in Mariners Christian School in Costa Mesa, starting in the second grade.

He went to school with an interpreter. His younger sister, Kelsey, who also knew sign language, occasionally translated for him.

Still, Chapman didn't have a lot of friends. One of his favorite films is "E.T.," because he related to the alien who had trouble communicating with his peers. "Most days in elementary school I went home wondering what the kids were saying at the playground," he said.