As a young woman, a portrait of an artist

Scholarship: After years of creative work in Howard County, a teen-age filmmaker earns $40,000 to study in New York.

June 05, 2003|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Brittany Newsome might call her film company Quiet Girl Productions, but the 18-year-old, who named the company after a Langston Hughes poem, has plenty of ways to make her voice heard.

She is an accomplished singer and pianist, student body president and straight-A student who completed three short films before graduating last month from Oakland Mills High School.

Now, her filmmaking skills and academic performance have earned her a $40,000 college scholarship over four years from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Newsome plans to study film at New York University, starting in the fall.

The academy was particularly impressed with Newsome's latest project: a 14-minute allegory about religious tolerance made with paper cutouts and clay figures.

In The Three Princes of Idea, three mythical princes inherit equal parts of their father's kingdom. But as each insists that his ideals, symbols and rituals are supreme, the three end up at war with each other and ignore a greater threat from outside their kingdom.

"It was my way of expressing what I felt about what was going on," Newsome said, including the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and religious violence around the world.

"I was surprised how many people understand the story," she said. She intended it to be symbolic, she added, but "I didn't want it to be so `in your face.' "

After nearly two years of developing the concept and a month writing the script, she spent half a year of nights and weekends making the first cut of the film in her father's basement study.

She decided to cut down on school activities, such as the annual musical, to spend more time on her project. "For six months, it was just the film," Newsome said.

A family affair

She received a lot of support from her parents: Lynne, who works with the county school system's Black Student Achievement Program, and Clarence, who just left his position as dean of the divinity school at Howard University to accept a job as president of Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C. Brittany's sister, Gina, is a second-year medical student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Brittany's friends and other family members also helped cut out characters and props (including castles, horses and different faces that could be attached to the princes' bodies for different emotions) and provided voices.

More affordable home equipment for filming and editing has significantly increased the number of student film projects, said Peter Price, president of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Amid hundreds of entries for the organization's two large scholarships, the judges looked for a combination of creativity, accuracy and excellence in production.

Price said of Newsome, "I think the interesting aspect of her work was the combination of intellectual horsepower and creative range."

"Brittany is probably the most gifted student I've ever known," said Marshall Peterson, principal of Oakland Mills High. He was impressed with her ability to excel in classes and in the arts, and encouraged her to seek opportunities outside school.

"She has been ready for the big time for a couple of years," he said.

Music meets prose

Newsome started studying piano when she was 6 years old and said she has been composing music as far back as she can remember, often writing pieces to accompany stories she wrote. When she was in eighth grade, the Owen Brown Middle School band played three pieces she composed to accompany a fanciful screenplay titled Akili, about an Ethiopian queen and her evil nemesis. Other compositions she wrote were performed by the Baltimore Choral Arts Society at Goucher College and at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, where she took classes.

Newsome also performed in local theater productions, starred in The Wiz and Bye Bye Birdie at her high school and was a Maryland Distinguished Scholar for Vocal Music.

Filmmaking, she said, seems like a place to combine her writing, music composition and dramatic talents.

"I've been making films really since I was little" using the family video camera, Newsome said. Then, during the summer after her sophomore year, she studied filmmaking at the North Carolina School of the Arts.

"It was really exciting," she said. "It was nice to get around some other kids who were into film."

Finding funding

The next summer, Columbia Housing Corp. hired her to film a summer learning camp for children, where her mother serves as its director. The housing corporation runs the camp with the county school system.

The teen-ager spent hundreds of hours filming the students and interviewing teachers, then edited it to a 24-minute video and added her soundtrack.

She used her summer earnings to invest in a digital video camera and editing software for the computer.

Then she produced a video of an awards ceremony for Council of Elders of the Black Community of Howard County and sold copies to parents.

The money she raised helped fund The Three Princes of Idea, including many trips to the craft store for paper, glue, Styrofoam, duct tape, plastic grass and other materials.

For her entrepreneurial skills, Newsome won a $1,000 Rising Business Star Scholarship this year from the Howard County Economic Authority.

Newsome said she is improving her latest film and looking forward to starting new film projects at New York University. After that, she is trying to keep her options open to explore music, writing and film.

"Knowing me, I'll probably do a mix of things," she said.

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