Contest Gives Teens a Shot at the Big Screen Aspiring Spielbergs and Coppolas across the country are taking part in a contest called Fresh Films, where they hire actors and film their short screenplays. The best teen filmmakers will be announced in mid-August.
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Contest Gives Teens a Shot at the Big Screen

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Contest Gives Teens a Shot at the Big Screen

Contest Gives Teens a Shot at the Big Screen

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Imagine an elaborate talent show for aspiring filmmakers. A program called Fresh Films has been shooting at 10 locations since June, allowing teen-agers to get a kind of jump-start on careers in filmmaking. It's the second year of the program and in 2004, several of the shorts were shown at film festivals. This week, the filmmakers shot in the last location, New York City. NPR's Margot Adler reports.

Unidentified Teen: Slate, quiet on the set.

MARGOT ADLER reporting:

A crew of 13 teens and a few older staff members are shooting a scene in Riverside Park in New York City.

Unidentified Teen: Action.

ADLER: Two actors, adults, sit on a bench, the woman playing a cello. The man is a former violinist who walks with a cane.

(Soundbite of movie)

Unidentified Woman: I wish you would play with me.

Unidentified Man: I'm out of practice.

Unidentified Woman: I help you with violin like you help me?

Unidentified Man: I don't play anymore.

ADLER: The woman's cell phone rings. Their fingers touch as they go for the phone. She answers.

(Soundbite of movie)

Unidentified Woman: Hello? No, but I am not sick.

ADLER: Hearing these sounds in this short scene, filmed this past Thursday to be edited into a 10-minute film by tomorrow, you don't get the richness of the visuals, the pathos, the sense of loss, love and fear. The story is simple. A woman, perhaps from Russia, comes to America to avoid being quarantined for a disease. She meets a man who helps her but leaves him when she is discovered by the authorities. The original idea for the script came from Anastasia Shepard(ph), a 19-year-old, one of the oldest in the crew. But this is a collaborative effort. A writer helped out and all the teens pared down the script.

Ms. ANASTASIA SHEPARD (Teen Filmmaker): The role that the violinist is playing, he was a pianist and he was also a teacher, which it made it kind of crazy so I'm glad we got rid of that. And she was Chinese and, like, we had all these details didn't really matter. So I think this is a lot more simple and a lot more poignant.

ADLER: Shepard says hundreds of actors tried out for the parts.

Ms. SHEPARD: We had an open audition in a Wal-Mart parking lot in New Jersey and also a lot of Wal-Mart shoppers came. But these people showed up and they did a great job.

ADLER: And one of the actors, Glennis McMurray, says the crew has been totally businesslike.

Ms. GLENNIS McMURRAY (Actor): It's more professional than some other stuff I've been on with relative...

ADLER: With adults.

Ms. McMURRAY: Yeah, with adults. Yes.

ADLER: And why do you think that is?

Ms. McMURRAY: I just think they are just in love with what they're doing and they're not jaded by the whole process.

ADLER: The teens in this New York film crew were chosen from hundreds of applicants. They had to send a short movie idea to the Fresh Film teen competition as well as an essay on why they want to be filmmakers. There were similar crews in nine other cities from Seattle to Nashville. The 10 films that result will be on Fresh Films Web site in a couple of weeks and people can vote for the one they like best. But here in Riverside Park, everyone is a winner. Everyone gets to do every job.

Mr. RANDY CHAMPAGNE (Director): Bring it down. It's not in the sun. Bring it down, bring it down.

ADLER: The director of the film is Randy Champagne. He is 18 years old and he started out in an inner city film program in Chicago.

Mr. CHAMPAGNE: Everybody takes turn at doing everything, working the camera, the sound, the boom, the mixer, the slate, even stopping the pedestrians from walking into our frames.

ADLER: The crew members, 14 to 19 years old, even got a taste of the real world. One of their two locations dropped out at the last moment, and in three hours, they had to change everything. Here are Layla Sotelo, Alex Santella(ph) and Jonathan Brandao, age 14, 17 and 14.

LAYLA SOTELO (Teen Filmmaker): We had to rework the entire script so that the entire thing takes place outside. I think that the movie might even actually be better now.

ADLER: Why?

ALEX SANTELLA (Teen Filmmaker): Better ending and I think it's a lot more in-depth.

JONATHAN BRANDAO (Teen Filmmaker): Now it's like more like in a real movie ending.

ADLER: Brandao says he's wanted to be filmmaker since he was five.

Are you kidding?

BRANDAO: No. And I haven't changed my mind ever since.

ADLER: And what do you want to be? What's your goal?

BRANDAO: Director.

ADLER: But there's lots to learn in the meantime as jobs shift with each scene. Anastasia Shepard found she'd made a mistake.

Ms. SHEPARD: Because I labeled the close-up as a different shot.

Unidentified Man: With a shot number?

Ms. SHEPARD: Because it...

Unidentified Man: We should have 13 shots. Every time I change a scene, the shot number and take resets.

ADLER: Even the food provided for the crew seems professional, although the person serving the bagels, water, soda and fruit is Christina Cookingham(ph), the mother of one of the teens.

Ms. CHRISTINA COOKINGHAM (Mother): They're so good about involving them in every aspect of the making of this film. And so he sees every little part of it, and that helps him to understand what he would like to pursue more later on.

ADLER: So is this film different because it's created by teens? Randy Champagne says yes.

Mr. CHAMPAGNE: Every other movie about love always has that kind of cheesy romance stuff, I think. But this movie, since it is us teens, it's from our perspective, from our age, how we see love.

ADLER: And in two weeks, viewers will have a chance to judge that for themselves and vote for their favorite film.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

SIMON: And to find out more about the Fresh Films contest, you can come to our Web site, npr.org.

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