Do You Have a Budding Spielberg or Scorsese? Let Them Build Their Talents at Austin’s Film Camp for Teens

The Austin Film Festival summer camp started 15 years ago and has drawn thousands of participants who write and review screenplays and direct, produce and star in their films. Each camp provides a summer fantasy for around 200 children who get to perfect their various film-making interests.

The purpose is to present the concept of communication (of an idea or a message) to students in a way that enables them to connect with the media which they consume on a daily basis. Ideally, this will help to make them better communicators and more critical consumers of media. They learn script writing, craft story telling, marketing, communication, understanding audience and produce films.

The program offers in two modes. Children aged 9 – 12 will learn the entire process of conceptualization of story for a short film to finished piece and marketing. Students produce their shorts using digital video cameras with digital non-linear editing systems. Children get the opportunity to work in these technology areas, which is not a normal industry practice.

The second mode is for children aged 13 – 17. In this program, they will learn scripting, comedy shows, video class and make a film. Additionally, one of the inherent aspects of the film process which they learn is collaboration, as the medium. Parents are more excited than their children.

The skills learned both from the equipment and from the process of filmmaking can be applied to future careers in not only film-making, but other media like advertising and consumer communication fields. Though many enrolled students are inherently interested in the artistic applications of camp, the technology opens up other significant opportunities after college. Many of the past campers are now enrolled in film schools throughout the US.

Since the late 90’s, the film industry has been in the process of shifting to digital technologies in all aspects of film production. Not only is film being shot in a digital format, but the editing, sound, special effects and finally projection have all moved out of the real world and onto the computer. Technology can make film making easier now a days that anyone can buy a digital camera and make film. Apple comes with its own software which can literally edit and make films.

New digital technologies allow innovative and original voices to be seen and heard because technology has knocked down many of the roadblocks which the entertainment industry constructed with the original studio system. These digital technologies have allowed even the youngest filmmakers to produce work of a quality which would rank with some professionals (HD camera/final cut editing system).

Children are very excited when they are behind the camera. Here is what they say after the program:

“I’ve learned so much at the Austin Film Festival camp that it’s inspired me to go on and create my own movies outside and put my hands on every project I can,” said Elizabeth Breazile, a former film student.

In addition to this Camp, the Austin Film Festival runs a program in two Austin public High Schools in co-operation with the school district. The unique program teaches screenwriting in the underserved school’s English classes. Through a technology grant from AT&T, we were able to expand the program to include production of the screenplays which the students write. This opened up the opportunity for students who would not normally have the opportunity to even consider a media career to also learn practical, applicable tech skills which can be applied in a variety of careers. The student’s inherent interest in media opens up the door for them to realize many other opportunities.

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Barbara Morgan
Executive Director, Austin Film Festival

Barbara Morgan – A biography

Barbara Morgan co-founded the Austin Film Festival (AFF) in 1994 after a series of successful ventures in the music industry. In addition to running her own financing business for national broadcasters since 1988, Morgan managed musicians during Austin On the Road, a nation-wide tour of Austin singer/songwriters, which included Michael Fracasso, David Halley, Jimmy LaFave and Jo Carol Pierce; and also co-produced records with musicians such as Michael Fracasso and Charlie Sexton as an extension of her managerial career as well.

Since 1999, Morgan has served as the executive director of the AFF, the first festival to celebrate and recognize the screenwriter as the heart of the creative process of film making. In its fourteen-year history, the Festival has expanded to include a four-day screenwriter’s conference, eight-day film program, screenplay and teleplay contests and a film competition. In 2006, the AFF drew more than 2,500 registrants from around the world and sold more than 25,000 movie tickets. The AFF is one of the few U.S. festivals to be officially recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for its jury winning films.

Regarded as one of the top three script contests in the world, the AFF’s screenplay competition initiated the process of combining talented, undiscovered writers with production companies. In its first year, the AFF introduced screenplay winner Max Adams to then head of production at Columbia Pictures, Barry Josephson. The result of their meeting was the production of Adams’ script, Excess Baggage. The industry attention created by the sale of Adams’ script not only propelled the AFF to greater notoriety, but also encouraged Morgan to develop and produce a film from a screenplay competition submission. The film was 1996’s semifinalist Natural Selection, whose writers, B.J. Burrow and Allen Odom, had already signed a contract with Gotham Entertainment based on their Festival success. The finished film, which stars David Carradine (Kung Fu), Michael Bowen (Jackie Brown), Darren Burrows (Northern Exposure), Stephen Root (News Radio) and Bob Balaban (Waiting for Guffman), was completed in early 2000; has been aired on Showtime and the Sci-fi channel; is in DVD distribution and has been released internationally. In 2005, Morgan co-produced the feature documentary Antones: Home of the Blues, which was released internationally and is available on DVD; and in 2007 Morgan produced the locally made documentary, Teaching Austin: 150 Years of Public Education.

Morgan’s most recent project has been the expansion of the AFF’s Young Filmmaker Program. The program, which began with the Festival’s 1994 inception, sprang from Morgan’s volunteer work at Brackenridge Children’s Hospital, and provides local youth the opportunity to make films through the AFF Summer Camp in partnership with the University of Texas RTF department and hosts hundreds of students every summer. The program also provides scholarships to high school students enabling them to attend October’s festival at no cost and the chance to meet their screenwriting and filmmaking heroes. Recently, Morgan produced a video with the Texas Education Agency to promote a new screenwriting competition aimed at schoolchildren. The competition seeks to encourage the creativity and communication skills of participating children, by providing them with the tools necessary to improve their work in school and increase their chances of success as they enter the workforce. As a result, the Story Telling Through Film program has been implemented at three Austin High Schools and every year reaches about 500 students.

About Austin Film Festival:

The Austin Film Festival’s Film Camp will be hosted this summer at McCallum H.S. in Austin, Texas. McCallum, home to one of the leading Fine Arts Academies in the U.S., houses an impressive filmmaking lab with new Apple computers and a film studio for shooting, making the camp one of the most popular technology-oriented summer classes in the area.

In its 6th year, this affordable camp is designed to keep kids engaged in the arts by working on creative projects with qualified counselors who have experience in media-related fields. Camp gives kids interested in film an opportunity to learn from filmmakers, film students, and even film professors from UT, an experience otherwise hard to come by.

Campers can choose special-interest classes depending on their age, including Claymation, script-to-screen, funny shorts, special effects and even music video production for older campers.

The Claymation series involves using three-dimensional media and live-action, stop motion animation to make inanimate characters come to life in short films. The script-to-screen, special effects and music video courses combine the technological aspects of lighting, sound, editing and camera operation to teach young students the ins and outs of filmmaking. Students have the ability to actually produce films and receive a copy of their work on DVD at the end of the camp.

The Austin Young Filmmakers Camp takes place June 9 – August 8. Both one week and two week sessions are available for the classes, which are several hours a day on Mondays-Fridays

As an aside, the AFF Film Camp has many success stories, but the most recent involves local student Bryanne Cooke who has attended multiple camp sessions and just recently earned a full-tuition 4-year scholarship to USC’s cinema program. She credits AFF Film Camp for shaping her interest and skills.


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