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Bayview teen competes in national filmmaking competition

Clark Sarbaugh of Bayview, who will be a junior this year at South Whidbey High School, gets an early seat at the Clyde Theater in Langley. Sarbaugh is a filmmaker who was picked to compete in a nationwide moviemaking contest. - Brian Kelly
Clark Sarbaugh of Bayview, who will be a junior this year at South Whidbey High School, gets an early seat at the Clyde Theater in Langley. Sarbaugh is a filmmaker who was picked to compete in a nationwide moviemaking contest.
— image credit: Brian Kelly

Thanks to a popular brand of cheesy chips, Clark Sarbaugh of Bayview was picked to take part in a nationwide filmmaking contest.

Sarbaugh, 16, was one of just a hundred or so teens from across the country selected for this summer’s Doritos Fresh Films program.

The premise for the competition is simple. Think “American Idol” with movie cameras.

Ten teams of teen filmmakers from 10 cities were chosen to show their moviemaking skills by making short feature films. The movies and their makers then went head-to-head in an online viewing and voting contest, with viewers selecting their favorite film.

Sarbaugh won a rare spot on the Seattle film team.

The Fresh Films competition was an eye-opener for Sarbaugh, he said.

“The whole experience, it made me look at it so much differently,” he said.

“It made me appreciate movies way more. It takes a lot. Just for our six-minute film we made, a lot went into it,” he said. “Making storyboards, setting out every shot. Getting together where you are going to shoot, calling in people, organizing it all.”

Sarbaugh has been interested in moviemaking for a few years now. It was his love of skateboarding, however, that took him from curb to camera.

He started skateboarding in sixth grade, and became interested in turning a camera on his friends’ four-wheeled antics in eighth grade.

The following year, Sarbaugh got his own camera.

“It grew from basically skateboarding,” he said.

“Not just screwing around with my friends, making weird videos, and skateboard videos. It grew into interest in bigger films,” he said.

The Fresh Films challenge, believed to be the only national program for discovering teen moviemaking talent, gave Sarbaugh a one-week crash course in film.

The filmmaker’s mother, Mary Jane Sarbaugh, heard about the film contest and told him he should enter.

“He’s very creative. It surprises me; I don’t know where that comes from. I’m not very creative, but he is,” she said.

When her son said he didn’t have any script ideas — one of the things needed to get into the contest — his mother figured her son wasn’t going to enter.

But he did. And as weeks went by, thoughts of the competition faded away.

So when Fresh Films later sent him an e-mail saying he had been selected, his mom was skeptical.

“This sounds kind of hokey,” she recalled thinking.

“The first thing I did was call Fresh Films in Chicago to make sure it was legit.”

The week-long competition was intense from the start. After the team members met, they immediately started going over the script of “Goodbye, Howard.”

“We had final auditions and decided who our cast wasgoing to be,” he recalled.

The third and fourth days were devoted to pre-production; creating a storyboard that picked apart each scene in cartoon fashion, then shot lists were made and matched with locations.

“We had two days to organize it, a day to shoot it, and two days to edit it,” he said.

Like major movie projects, the Seattle film team faced challenges.

The script came from Fresh Films and couldn’t be changed. And the selection for the cast of “Goodbye, Howard” was done through an open casting call, and the film team had to choose just four actors.

“Goodbye, Howard” tells the story of two boys, one with a dead goldfish, and their quest to give the departed pet a burial at sea.

Sarbaugh was happy with the finished film.

“It had good potential, and we did it well,” he said.

The Seattle team included 11 teens from Seattle, the Eastside and south Snohomish County.

“There wasn’t crazy differences. We all have that same passion for film. So we all got along really well,” he said.

“We never got down to like, arguing, because we all worked together really well. We kind of just made everyone’s ideas work,” he said. “We all put our ideas together and made it one.”

Working with different camera angles, lighting, different shot selections, he said, gives him a chance to share his skills.

“It’s art. I can be creative,” Sarbaugh said. “It’s just a really interesting way for me to get at my ideas, and get those ideas out there.”

Personally, Sarbaugh said he likes movies with a bit of mystery; ones that weave together storylines from seemingly unconnected characters by movie’s end.

“That’s like really crazy. To do that and make it look successful on film is really hard,” he said.

Sarbaugh is soft-spoken but wears a gracious grin. He is the youngest of three, with two older sisters, Jessica and Jennifer, both now married.

His interests are varied, his mother said. Skateboarding, of course, has been a lifelong love. He’s also big into music, too, but doesn’t stick to one style.

“I’ll go into his room and he’ll even have some classical music on,” Mary Jane Sarbaugh said, pausing. “He’s probably not crazy about country music - which is what I like - but he’ll listen to it for a while.”

A Boy Scout with Troop 14, Clark Sarbaugh likes the outdoors and was traveling this week to a white-water rafting trip in Idaho.

Sarbaugh is easy to be around, his mother said.

“He’s funny; he keeps us laughing,” she said. “He just has a really great sense of humor; he appreciates human nature.”

“But he’s also very quite and private.”

The Fresh Films contest has changed the way Sarbaugh looks at movies.

Now he watches films for more than the stories, something past the plot.

“Ever since I’ve gotten into filmmaking, instead of just looking at what the movie is about, I’ve been looking at what kind of shots they’re using, how they’re doing it. Ideas, basically,” he said. “Their techniques, as opposed to what I would do in that situation.”

The film contest matched Seattle versus Washington, D.C.

The Seattle team tried to rally supporters before the Internet vote, emailing friends and family about the contest as well as passing out fliers to shoppers at Westlake Center in Seattle.

“It was really close,” Sarbaugh said.

“It was never more than a 5 percent difference. We were up and down, up and down, all week,” he said. “We were just hoping we would be up when it was done.”

Still, the Washington, D.C. film team won the fan vote, 53 percent to Seattle’s 47.

The Washington team will now be one of the five finalists. That group will be narrowed down to two before a winner is selected. The winning team will be honored at a Hollywood-style premiere party this fall in Los Angeles, Calif.

While it’s somewhat soon to make a final decision about college, Sarbaugh said film school is an option. As far as a career in film goes, he said he’d be happy to get any job in the movies.

“Who knows if he will continue or make a career out of this,” his mother said. She added that her stance will stay the same: “Support your kids in their righteous endeavors the best that you can, and see where it leads.”

Sarbaugh took the contest-elimination vote in good stride.

“The fact that they didn’t win the first round of competition wasn’t a big deal to him,” Mary Jane Sarbaugh said.

“I think it was more of big deal to me. I don’t know if my heart could take another round of competition.”

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