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Community Theater Group in Texas Dabbles in Filmmaking

For people who enjoy the dramatic arts, there are thousands of community theaters across the United States where they can get involved in activities ranging from acting to set design and production. But the rise of digital technology has now made it possible and affordable for community groups to make their own motion pictures.

There are odd things happening in the fictional community of Chem City, Texas - dogs are being kidnapped, girl scouts are fighting the bad guys and an old bracelet is producing magic.

Recently, dozens of people came together at various sites around Houston to film scenes for what they hope will eventually become a feature film called The Bracelet of Bordeaux. Editors are now putting the scenes together, not for the feature itself, but for what is called a trailer, that is, a preview of the as yet unmade film.

"We call it a pre-production trailer," explained businessman and film buff Frank Eakin, the man behind the project. "The pre-production trailer has allowed us to test this concept before we spent a lot of time and money and had a lot of other people volunteer their time, professional actors and professional crew members in key areas."

Frank Eakin's idea grew out of his involvement with a local children's community theater.

"What I realized was that the same business model that applies to our youth theater company can certainly apply to independent filmmaking. Parents become passionately involved when their kids are in a theater production," he said.

So, Frank Eakin turned his house into a movie studio, which soon filled with volunteers including pre-teen actors, high-school-age interns and parents who engaged in everything from carpentry to smoke machine operation. Also on hand for every aspect of the production was the director of the film, Casey Kelly.

She worked for more than 20 years writing screenplays for television and film before entering a program for women directors at the American Film Institute. She says this community effort to make a children's film is also motivated by the need for more wholesome family entertainment than Hollywood is producing.

"Statistics show that the market is hungry for PG and G-rated films and 69 percent of what Hollywood is turning out is R-rated or above and in the dramatic category, for the most part. So, it is an under-served market, making much more money than the dramas, so there is a real place there for anyone willing to come up with nutritious entertainment, which is entertainment that meets all the tests of a good film. Just because it is a kid's film does not mean you can slack off in any way."

A number of Houston-based professional actors volunteered to play parts in The Bracelet of Bordeaux. Film actor Brian Thornton, who has been seen recently in such films as Spy Kids 2 and Friday Night Lights plays the father of the main child character. He says making this film is a real learning experience for the younger members of the cast and crew.

"They do not understand the effort that it takes to actually go through and check the lighting, make sure the sound is there, all the little details, and how many different angles you are setting up for just two lines of dialogue," he said.

For one teenager working on the crew as a volunteer, this production provided a unique opportunity to apply his musical talents. Clayton DeGuerre, who writes songs and sings with a local rock band, now has some of his music being used in the movie.

"It just so happened that they needed some original music and I was helping and I just offered to let them hear my CD and some of it just happened to fit, so I am just changing some of the lyrics to fit the story of The Bracelet of Bordeaux," said Clayton DeGuerre.

For director Casey Kelly, working on a motion picture is a reward in itself. She says kids and their parents can gain a lot from involvement in such a project.

"We want them to have fun. We want them to learn something. We want them to participate in something they can be proud of and carry around for the rest of their lives," said Ms. Kelly.

Once the trailer has been evaluated and shown to distributors, the community filmmakers in The Woodlands will start preparations for shooting the film itself. The plan is to do all the major filming in May and June, using digital video tape. Frank Eakin plans to eventually release The Bracelet of Bordeaux on DVD for worldwide distribution.