Lukas Valderrama has been drawn to mythology since he was a small boy. Growing up in Atlanta, he used a digital camcorder to make short films full of heroes, monsters, magic and mysticism.

But as he grew older, and started to make movies for a living, Valderrama noticed that fantasy stories on the big screen were often hitting the same notes. Having learned about the diversity of mythology in the Americas and beyond in part from his Chilean Jewish parents, Valderrama knew that something was missing.

"Knights and dragons, Greek and Norse mythology – all that stuff is great," Valderrama said. "But there are hundreds of Indigenous cultures in the U.S. alone, all with their own mythology that for many reasons has not been shared, often because it's been suppressed."

As part of an effort to fill the gap, Valderrama and Perry Ground, a member of the Onondaga Nation and Valderrama's writing partner, started Petroglyph, a production company focused on highlighting Indigenous stories through film.

"It's about providing a space for storytelling and cultural knowledge from Indigenous communities and combining it with our filmmaking knowledge in a way that's very new," Valderrama said.

Part of Valderrama's filmmaking knowledge was honed at UCLA Extension. He'll graduate this month with a certificate in screenwriting that he completed in December of last year. Valderrama started the program in 2018 while working his first jobs in the film industry in Atlanta, and finished his coursework after moving to Los Angeles three years later. He said he was drawn to the program because it complemented the skills he was already putting to use on film sets

"The workload can be kind of intense, but to me its definitely worth it," Valderrama said. "I feel like it helped me to become a better writer and a better creative."

Now fully ensconced in Hollywood, Valderrama has worked in a variety of roles in the film industry, including as a director's assistant, as he pursues his own projects as a writer and director. He plans to come back for more classes at UCLA Extension, he said, to keep learning and improving his skills. For now, though, he's happy to be doing the same thing he did when he was 8 years old: making movies.

"I like the filmmakers' lifestyle, where you always get to see new places, think of new ideas and meet new people," Valderrama said. "The other day on the set we did a stunt where someone was getting lit on fire. I mean, what other industry in the world is like this?"