Child Auteurs

“I made my first film at 4 years old,” says Calvin, 10. “I was 5 when I made my first,” bursts in Dash, a voluble and intensely charismatic boy of 8. “I do new ones all the time. I get my friend to take my cues and do the special effects, like flicking on and off the lights. My dad said I can put a movie up on the Internet soon.”

No, these children aren’t bit players in the latest Independent Film Channel commercial. They’re enrolled in Bright Horizons’ weeklong moviemaking day camp for the kids of AOL Time Warner employees. At a time when overachieving Manhattan parents increasingly view summer as too precious for their children to waste on ordinary camps, Calvin and eleven fellow campers spent much of last week holed up in the HBO building on 42nd Street, learning the family business.

These sons and daughters of television executives, magazine editors, and Web professionals composed storyboards, visited HBO’s editing suites, and played with equipment. “We are showing kids different environments,” says camp director Rachel Silver. “Another session was at Little, Brown.”

Their final product, “Sugar Mountain,” a fifteen-minute short shot in Central Park, pays homage to J. K. Rowling rather than to Kim Cattrall: A little girl ultimately prevails against a monster who tries to convince her that characters like Peter Pan and Harry Potter don’t exist. “It’s all about innocence, imagination, and magic,” says camp instructor Lynn Effros, who wrote the script.

But the AOL Time Warner campers seemed rather worldly for such a fairy tale. Calvin turned to a kid at his table from Levittown who confessed that he’d never made a movie before. “Well, be forewarned,” Calvin said. “You’re talking to a reporter person.”

Then Dash noted that his parents have “lots of houses, which make neat places for movies.”

Making a movie, under any circumstances, is a highly stressful occupation. But in the face of such pressures, most of the kids evinced a remarkable sangfroid. Lily, 11, the tallest and blondest of the campers, carefully highlighted her lines, while Calvin, whose mother works for Real Simple, meticulously drew row upon row of owl feathers. And Dash, slated to play Peter Pan, took care of P.R. “This film,” he said, “is gonna be great.”

Camp Status – Four top summer resume-builders

Village Camp Forum
Where: Switzerland
Who: Kids of CEOs, aristocrats, and other global scenesters
How Much: $1,500-$2,500 per one-week session
What: Build as a course in “networking” with other future world powers

Belvoir Terrace
Where: Lenox, Massachusetts
Who: Girls from Spence, Brearley, etc.
How Much: $7,000 for a seven-week session
What: Young ladies need culture (and Camp Greylock, for boys, is down the road)

Where: Wellesley, Massachusetts
Who: Children of meritocrats, both sexes, from both coasts
How Much: $5,695 for a six-week stay
What: Sounds educational. But c’mon: It’s camp.

Tripp Lake Camp
Where: Poland, Maine
Who: Tradition-minded Upper East Side girls
How Much: $7,175 for a seven-and-a-half-week session
What: The classic lakefront experience – uniforms required

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Child Auteurs