The Lens: Happy campers and Jolly Roger | St. Louis Public Radio

The Lens: Happy campers and Jolly Roger

Aug 12, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: August 12, 2008 - Way back at the beginning of June, I took part in a one-week filmmaking experience. As with any production, there were months of planning, discussion, revision and tension. During the week of shooting, there was the typical drama, ego and crying you would find on any set. This particular set, however, was populated with a dozen 8-year-olds who were given the chance to play out a fantasy and make an actual movie.

Credit Photo provided by the author

At the beginning of March, I was contacted by former college adviser Ben Scholle to see if I or another former student would be interested in taking on the challenge of producing a film starring 12 8-year-olds. At first, I wasn't really interested, but somehow the seed was planted and my curiosity grew. I e-mailed the mom in charge of the camp, Debbie, and we began a slow dialogue about what the camp would entail.

We met once at the Cinema St. Louis office, where I serve as operations supervisor, and she laid out the groundwork for the camp. The camp would run one week, the first week of June, and would consist of her son and daughter and a group of her son's friends from Reed Elementary School. They would take care of writing the script and wrangling the kids. All I had to do was make sure I had a camera and that its picture looked good.

Luckily, I was able to use equipment from Lindenwood University and the unwavering tutelage of Ben Scholle. I enlisted the services of several friends to help out during the week and spirits were high, though occasionally I faced apprehension and worries. I had never worked with kids before, and any time I discussed the camp I was constantly reminded of the types of production I should never be involved in: ones starring kids and animals. I was also worried about balancing out my commitment to the film camp and my duties at work for the week, which included three Cinema St. Louis events (CinemaSpoke, Lightworks and an outdoor screening at the Schlafly Tap Room).

When the camp began, I didn't really think much of those warnings and worries. The kids seemed happy and rambunctious, yet eager and excited to begin work on the film: a continuation of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" story. It was hot outside, even for the first week of June, and most of our production took place outside. Our first day progressed smoothly: introductions, an outline for the week, and a review of scenes from the first "Pirates" movie.

Once we moved outside to begin shooting, that's when all the drama came flooding in.

We made it about halfway through the day: Kids were hot, tired and anxious to do something other than sit around and wait for the crew to get ready to shoot. Some of the kids were playing off camera, and that is very appealing to kids who are waiting for the camera to roll.

We were shooting the last sequence of the day, and things just started to boil over. One kid, Anton, was walking into the scene to hit his mark and say his line when the next kid, our little Monkey Jack, moved in a bit too soon and stepped on Anton's line. The next thing I know, three or four kids are crying and everybody else is running around the set playing, screaming or laughing.

We were finished shooting for the day.

That first day was really just a precursor for the week. Every day there was elation and giddiness, juxtaposed with frustration and stubbornness. It's not the fact we were working with kids - don't let anyone fool you or make you think otherwise. This is exactly how it is with any other production. Someone on set has massive ego issues, someone's lines get cut short, it's too hot outside, or production is moving slower than expected - all of these things happen on actual sets.

At the end of the week, I was exhausted. I was at camp by 9 a.m., into the office by 3 p.m., and working events until 9 p.m. or later three times that week. On the Saturday after camp ended, I spent all day editing so as to have something ready to show the kids and their families Saturday night. Though I was only able to cobble together a rough cut, the kids were delighted and the energy in the room was palpable. The short screened again at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, and many of the kids came out to see it on the big screen.

While I'm not entirely thrilled with the piece from a technical standpoint, all the kids did a great job and everybody had a lot of fun. It was great connecting with the kids, giving out nicknames and learning and understanding a new level of patience while working on a short film. I've been asked several times if I would ever undertake such an endeavor again, and without hesitation I answer, "Yes." I'm not sure, however, if the camp's organizer, Debbie, would ever be ready for such a task again.

You can check out the short film produced as a result of the camp by clicking here