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At Universal Studios, students get a crash course in filmmaking

'We try to make it as if they are doing this and getting paid for it,' says instructor.

August 05, 2012|By Maria Hsin,
  • Enrico Silva, 17, from second left, Igor Starodubsev, 17, and Yasmine Hammoudi, 17, prepare for a scene during a New York Film Academy summer workshop at Universal Studios' back lot.
Enrico Silva, 17, from second left, Igor Starodubsev,… (Cheryl A. Guerrero…)

A 12-year-old girl crouches into a corner in an alley, talking on a cellphone. The tone of her voice, her body language and her facial expressions convey distress.

Nearby, another girl holds a boom microphone over her as other 10- to 13-year-olds look on. The filming stops, and instructor Suzanne Kent's voice rises over the students' chatter as she tells the actress to come out and face the camera.

“That's gorgeous,” Kent says, and another take begins.

On a recent Friday, about 250 tweens, teens and adults aspiring to act or make movies were spread out across the back lot of Universal Studios, cameras in hand, directing, rehearsing and filming. The girl crouched in the alley was Sarah Lee — who normally directs — playing the part of a captured American soldier who was talking with a CIA agent.

Sarah and the others in her group are part of the New York Film Academy's two-week summer workshop for tweens. Workshops take place throughout the summer, said Benjamin Morgan, who has overseen the summer workshops for 15 years.


About 400 teenagers will participate in the program this summer and Morgan expects about 125 tweens this summer.

Many programs start and stop and overlap, and students in the four-week program make three films. Three-week students make two films, and one-week students make one film, Morgan said. All filmmakers get to write, direct and edit their own films and are encouraged to submit their work to film festivals.

“What we really try to do here is give them the real experience,” Kent said. “We try to make it as if they are doing this and getting paid for it. We teach them set manners, set protocol, and every time they defer from that, we are on them.

“We have to let them know how difficult this career is and how much concentration and how much sacrifice it takes. We're not trying to scare anybody away from the craft, but we're trying to tell them the truth about the craft.

“Then maybe they'll question it or maybe they have a total passion for it. You can't take no for an answer. But it really has to be a total passion. So we're testing them at this young age … it's money from the parents; it's time away from school; it's a whole other way of learning things.”

Nicholas Monaco, 12, whose last name is spelled “just like the principality,” he said, is from New York and took part in an NYFA workshop there.

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