Former actress and theater director Christina Hamlett is the published author of 16 books, 98 plays and musicals, and over 200 magazine and newspaper articles on the performing arts, humor, travel, and publishing. She is also screenwriter for an independent film company and is currently teaching an online script-writing class through WRITER ON LINE. Her latest book, a humorous essay collection called "HOW TO TELL IF YOUR CO-WORKERS ARE FROM MARS & Other Tales of the Workplace," is available at www.zeus-publications.com

Visit Christina's Online Screenwriting Classroom.

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INKLINGS: Writing Well & Profitably for Books, Film, and Stage

This Month: PACKING YOUR BAGS FOR FILM CAMP - An Interview with Shannon Gardner
Oh, the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful...

As another year draws to a close and winter descends from coast to coast, our thoughts are probably pretty far from what we'll be doing with our lives in the next long, hot summer. Nonetheless, if you're a student with your heart set on an eventual career in film, it's not too early to start scoping out the opportunities available at local film camps. Would it surprise you to hear that some of the award-winning fare on HBO and Nickelodeon was created by writers still in their teens?

Mr. Shannon Gardner, President and Executive Director of the Young Filmmakers Academy, is the driving force behind this non-profit corporation in Manhattan Beach, California. Not only does the curriculum give aspiring moviemakers a head-start on the creative tools needed for visual expression, but offers overseas summer programs to Italy and Germany-a forum for cultural exchange with European students pursuing the same dream.

Q: Let's say that I'm 16 and have convinced my parents that YFA film camp is a great idea. What can I expect to learn from it?

A: One of the biggest things we emphasize is the team approach in both production and communications between the students and the mentors and instructors. No matter what kind of job or field the participants eventually go into, the hands-on experiences we provide in the start-to-finish aspects of making a film will give them a better sense of self-awareness, confidence, and how to bring the best out of everybody in the group.

Q: Do you primarily concentrate on the technical aspects of filmmaking or the creative steps that go into coming up with original ideas?

A: I think one of the really big differences in what we're doing in our program is that a lot of film camps per se take the approach of putting a camera in someone's hands and simply telling them how to turn it on without first exploring what they want to say with that camera. This is a backwards concept to me because it puts more emphasis on inanimate objects like the equipment instead of focusing on the interests and insights of the person who's going to be operating it.

Although we give everyone a solid grounding in the "mechanicals" of sight and sound and the things that go into post-production such as CGI and special effects, we want them to know why they want to use film as the medium to express themselves instead of, for instance, writing a poem or short story. We also don't want them to just go out and be mimicking what they saw last week at the movies. Every individual is different and has something inside of them that they want to communicate in story form. Should they shoot in color or black and white? Should it be a bunch of close-ups or do they want to create a mystery through longer shots where a lot of detail isn't seen? These are the kinds of questions that go into the full process of learning what filmmaking can accomplish.

Q: Do you think it will become easier or harder for tomorrow's young screenwriters to break into the industry?

A: I think that the Internet and digital TV will be really hungry for new content, some of which young people are already writing for. The market will always be competitive no matter what age you are, but I think America's greatest export and resource has always been its intellectual property. People will always go to movies and want to see new movies because films are about the human journey and characters who are just like them.

Q: Let's say that someone is planning on majoring in film in college. What sorts of things should they be doing while still in high school in order to distinguish themselves?

A: Number One thing: Get involved! Participating in extracurricular activities will not only make you a more well-rounded person in terms of what you know about, but also enable you to meet people who can help introduce you to film-related opportunities. Is there a movie or TV show that's being shot in your hometown? Go see what you can do to volunteer. TV stations often have internships for students who want to learn about broadcast journalism and programming. If you want to be a screenwriter, you also need to write a lot of things and show a variety of range.

Q: How about shooting a lot of footage with a camcorder?

A: It's nice practice but no one at college is going to be asking to see your reel. What they want to see is what you've accomplished in terms of activities outside the classroom, that you're a person who's not afraid to step up and get involved. As a matter of fact, YFA has launched a PSA (public service announcement) program nationwide called "Kids Speak Out."

Q: 'Kids speak out' on what?

A: The issues that are affecting them personally in their schools-things like non-violence, drug abuse, alcoholism, teen pregnancy. Teachers enroll in the program and receive guidebooks to use in the classroom and teach students how to develop and script original PSA's on these topics. The best ones are then submitted for competition and, if they win, national broadcast.

Q: In other words, delivering the message straight from the lips of the audience's own peer group?

A: Exactly. Hearing it from their own age group can be a lot more effective sometimes than hearing it from a bunch of adults who work at ad agencies.

Q: I've saved the most fun question for last. Tell us about Germany and Italy!

A: Well, like our studio programs in L.A., the Germany and Italy workshops are an intensive way to not just learn about movies and how to make your own but totally immerse you in the culture and history of another country. In Germany, we visit castles and museums, take a boat trip down the Rhine, and have even brought in storytellers to talk about the region and the people.

Q: Sounds like a vacation...

A: Make that a "working vacation!" The whole time, the students are writing, shooting, and editing their projects. The same with Italy where the workshop is held at a former royal palace near Pisa. If you're a fan of GLADIATOR, you get to see where the story took place, plus have access to gardens and grounds and even a beach to go shoot your story!

Q: Drat! How come teens have all the fun and we have to stay home?

A: Oh, but you don't! We also have a crash-course for older students and adults who either want to turn this into a family adventure or who have always dreamt of dabbling in cinema.

Q: Does that mean we can go enjoy the Roma nightlife?

A: Not until you finish your homework.

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More information on the Young Filmmakers Academy and the KIDS SPEAK OUT program can be found at http://www.youngfilmmakers.org

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Happy Holidays...and here's to a great new year of writing in 2002! - Christina


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