Youngsters get a taste of Hollywood

Summer camp at Filmsters Academy teaches kids editing, acting and making short movies

August 10, 2008|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

Demontrae Easton was doing his best Martin Lawrence impression when one of the owners of Filmsters Academy dropped by the Bates Boys & Girls Club in Annapolis. Patti White wanted to offer scholarships to a few kids for her two-week summer film camp.

White liked his energy and selected the 11-year-old for camp. Four years later, the outgoing kid from Glen Burnie seems to have caught the acting-singing bug. He co-wrote and starred in the short film, I am Smoothflow, a rise-and-fall story about a rapper who makes a successful comeback.

"I just liked doing impressions," said Demontrae, now a volunteer for the Bates Boys & Girls Club. "I never knew this was something we could do."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Anne Arundel section (The Sun, Aug. 10) about the Filmsters Academy should have said that student Demontrae Easton's heart, which stopped one day in March 2007 at Bates Middle School, started beating again before he received medical attention. The Sun regrets the error.

That is the beauty of the fast-paced camp that teaches pre-teens and teenagers how to produce 15-minute short films on the campus of Key School in Annapolis, White said. The camp, which ended Friday, gives youngsters a taste of the filmmaking industry.

"It doesn't just happen in Hollywood," White said.

Filmsters Academy, now in its seventh year, was founded by White and K. Lee Anderson, award-winning television and film producers with their own Annapolis production company. (They have two other partners, David Dizenfeld and Michael Miller.) The summer camp produced a festival award winner last year and has propelled several former campers into film schools. The film, Prelude, won first place in April in the grade school/high school short category at the Phoenix Film Festival.

But the camp does something else for students who attend on scholarship, said White, a board member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. It builds confidence and maturity and gives them a creative outlet.

"It's like a mini crime-prevention camp," she said.

Demontrae has never gotten into serious trouble, but he is headstrong and a talker, something that can be a challenge at times, said his mother, Loleta Easton-Springer.

"He can be a piece of work sometimes," she said.

The camp has helped Demontrae find focus, Easton-Springer said.

"He has really grown in terms of maturity, in how he speaks," she said. "He's even doing better in school."

Despite his outgoing personality among friends, Demontrae was in a different world when he started at the Filmsters Academy.

"When I first got here, I was a nervous wreck," he said. "I didn't know anyone."

Demontrae took behind-the-scenes jobs on his first film as a producer and an editor. The following year, he became more comfortable. He took the plunge and starred as a martial artist in his first feature, Kung Fruit.

"I had fruit thrown at me," Demontrae said.

He had found his passion. By spring, Demontrae would start talking about going back to the summer camp, said Reggie Broddie, executive director of Boys & Girls Clubs of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.

Last year, he starred in The Flop, a 20-minute improvisational film that poked fun at moviemaking. He branched out and played extras in other campers' movies.

But he also encountered a personal challenge. During the school year, he collapsed at North County High School. His heart had stopped. Doctors revived him, but they had to implant a defibrillator into his chest. Demontrae has recovered, but he is barred from playing sports.

The physical setback did not stop him from wanting to return to camp this summer. This time, Demontrae conceived a movie that incorporates his interests in acting and singing. I am Smoothflow tracks the progress of small-time rapper, Smoothflow, who hits it big until a rival rapper knocks him off his pedestal. It has a happy ending, as Smoothflow gets rediscovered.

Demontrae said this was his favorite year at camp because he connected musically with his five camp teammates and his counselor. He wrote and sang the raps for Smoothflow, although he prefers singing R&B.

"That's a hidden talent that no one here knows about," said Demontrae, who wants to study music production in college.

Katie Sieracki, a former camper who became a camp counselor, said she has watched Demontrae evolve.

"His maturity level has gone through the roof," she said.

Sieracki, 20, has evolved too. She started coming to camp five years ago, unsure of whether a film career was right for her. The Annapolis resident will start her junior year this fall at New York University's film school.

"It sealed the deal for me," Sieracki said. "It's just a good training ground."

Filmsters is broken into three groups for campers ages 10 to 21. Younger campers start out in the five-day beginner's camp, which costs $645. They graduate to the 10-day intermediate level, which costs $1,145. The advanced class spans 14 days and costs $1,350. The advanced students use the extra time for preparing their scripts and auditioning actors. Films typically range from 10 to 15 minutes. At the end of camp, there is a public screening.

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