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Use of Digital Technology Opens Pathway for Community Filmmakers

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 feasible and affordable for community groups to make their own movies. VOA's Greg Flakus has this report about a group in a Houston suburb that is out to take on Hollywood.

There are funny things happening in 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."

Now, the scenes are being put together on a computer editing system, not for the feature itself, but for a trailer-that is a preview of the film yet to be made.

This project is the brainchild of businessman and film buff Frank Eakin. "The pre-production trailer has allowed us to test this concept before we spent a lot of time and money and had a other people volunteer their time-professional actors and professional crew members in key areas," he said.

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 filmmaking, to independent filmmaking. Particularly, I think it's suited for childrens films. Parents become passionately involved when their kids are in a theater production."

So, Frank turned his house in the Houston suburb called The Woodlands 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.

Working closely with Frank is the director of the film, Casey Kelly, who 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. "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."

Two Houston-based professional actors volunteered to play the parents of the main child character in "The Bracelet of Bordeaux" -- Brian Thornton and Michelle Hatmaker. Michelle says, "I think it is exciting that the kids are having an opportunity like this to work on a project."

Brian Thornton says an important part of the learning experience for kids is seeing how much work goes into a production. "They do not understand the effort that it takes to actually go through, 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."

Upon review director Kelly is please with the sequence. For Kelly, the work is a reward in itself. She and Frank Eakin both see this project as an opportunity for many young people to experience firsthand the magic of movie making. She says, "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."

Once distributors have seen the trailer, shooting on the film itself will begin in a few months. Frank Eakin plans to eventually release it on DVD for worldwide distribution.