A couple dozen students got an in-depth, two-week lesson with Whidbey Children’s Theater Film Camp that started July 27 and wraps Aug. 7.
Like any camp, it has a story arc filled with highlight moments — laughter, arguments, breakthroughs — compressed into a tight window. During a short stop on the third day of camp held at the theater’s Langley location, participants went through the very arguments many professional videographers grapple with, ranging in topic from budget, locations and clarity of story vs. subtlety to costumes and locating the actors.
Teenagers, as it turns out, wander quite a bit, and can be easily sidetracked while they are supposed to be getting into costume or running lines. But the film campers were also passionate about their stories, dialogue and acting.
Being in the theater’s inner workings, the green room and administrative office and film editing lab, with three different student film crews buzzing about, feels like being suddenly transplanted into a molecule, with protons and neutrons zipping around, some in a recognizable pattern, others seemingly random. Thankfully, there were only 25 atoms.
Half of the campers are girls, an increase from when the program began several years ago. Asia Pruyne, one of the instructors, started as a student and joked that the camp was becoming a “girl’s club.” The 22-year-old recent Evergreen State College graduate grew up in Oak Harbor and learned from her fellow instructor, Oak Harbor High School videography teacher Chris Douthitt. She was a film camp student herself, having attended for a few years starting in 2009.
“They know so much more than even I did at their age,” Pruyne said of the campers.
With smartphone apps like Vine and Instagram which allow anyone with an iPod to document the minutia of their lives, Whidbey Children’s Theater Film Camp lets young people fully explore their creative interest and potential, Douthitt said.
Divided into three crews, each group is tasked with creating a film, from start to finish. They have two weeks to write a story, sort out duties, find locations, film and edit. Early on, duties are self-appointed by the campers, with those interested in acting taking leads and those interested in directing taking the camera.
“Not all of them want to direct, not all of them want to act,” Pruyne said.
A week after camp concludes, the theater hosts a premiere night to show the short films. All of them end up on the video site Vimeo and many of the films’ accompanying posters end up with Douthitt in his classroom, where he keeps many tacked to the wall.
One of this year’s crews worked on a psychological thriller about a poltergeist. Without spoiling the plot, the crew hit a snag on day three of production when one of the members said she wasn’t prepared to move forward with the shooting schedule until she knew what the story was. That led to a roundabout discussion of the desire to have subtlety play a key role in the film’s suspense, but could end up costing clarity to the audience. Think of the terror of seeing only the fin or the shark’s vantage for much of “Jaws,” versus seeing the beast throughout the film, and it dilutes the suspense and terror a tad.
Hearing the rancor, Pruyne trotted back to the room where they were supposed to be filming behind the theater’s stage. She asked them to go around and air their grievances, then try to resolve them. Making a film in a week means they have to be on task, and use time as a resource. That lesson was clearly enforced when Douthitt later visited the crew and asked them to shoot what they could with the remaining hour of camp that day, and perhaps discuss online that evening toward what direction the script should move toward.
Whidbey Children’s Theater offers a host of summer programs, with film camp being just one highlight of how the nonprofit ventures away from being strictly a stage company for young actors. In the film camp, students learn how to hold a mic boom, arrange lighting, operate a camera, write a script, craft a story, build set pieces, act, direct, edit video, design publishing materials such as a movie poster, and all of the other skills that those tasks entail: teamwork, coordination, organization, scheduling, etc.
This camp also bridges otherwise separate parts of Whidbey Island. The first week of camp is held in Langley, the second in Oak Harbor for the film editing portion.