LONG BEACH — Nicole Clemens, 18, was interviewing Nichole McGowan, 16, on camera about why she had become anorexic.
"I just thought I was fat," said McGowan, who weighs 104 pounds. "I've gone as long as seven days without eating. It's an obsession."
Earlier the same day, Ben Zappin, 12, had been taping and retaping a public service announcement that simulated a motorist sideswiping a youngster on a bicycle. The message: Pay attention to youngsters because they are the future.
Both episodes will be featured in one of two half-hour cable television specials being prepared by members of an unusual summer workshop. Sponsored by the Long Beach Museum of Art, it is designed to teach youngsters ages 11 to 18 the ins and outs of television production. But what it really does, according to coordinator Martha Chono-Helsley, is teach them how to work as a team.
"When you work in a video production there are people you have to rely on," said the instructor, assistant manager of the museum's video annex, the fully equipped studio in Belmont Shore where the workshop is being held. "What they really learn is responsibility--something they can use in any field."
For Clemens, that meant arranging on-camera interviews with two patients and a staff member from a local eating-disorders clinic, as well as supervising a team of other students overseeing sound, lights and camera.
In Zappin's case, relying on others meant sitting astride a bicycle while two older boys (hidden off camera) shook it violently to simulate a collision with a car. It also meant depending on his technical crew, since the finished segment required mixing shots of Zappin on his bicycle, of the car driving down the street and of Zappin lying on the ground.
"I really didn't know about all the editing required," said the boy, an eighth-grader at Hill Junior High School who wants to be a psychiatrist.
Said Clemens, who graduated from Wilson High School last month and plans to study radio and television production at California State University, Long Beach, in the fall: "This is hands-on training. I thought I would have to wait at least six years to do something like this."
Funded by grants from the city and the Public Corporation for the Arts, the workshop--called VIDKIDCO--began last summer with 12 participants.
This year, according to Chono-Helsley, the group has 18 members, divided into two separate sessions of two weeks each. Chosen by local teachers or principals on the basis of academic or artistic skill and socioeconomic diversity, she said, the youngsters meet five days a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to plan and produce their mini-contributions to the world of the airwaves.
"The media needs new ideas all the time," said Chono-Helsley, adding that she would like to see a local cable channel devoted exclusively to the works of children. In lieu of that, she said, the workshop's two shows will be broadcast in September over Simmons cable channels 25 and 42, which are operated by CSULB.
One of the shows, called "2nd Street Journal" after the street on which the workshop meets, will be a magazine-type production featuring a music video, a public service announcement on teen-age suicide, an interview with a former rock drummer whose career was ruined by drugs and alcohol, an editorial against school suspensions and a documentary on the workshop itself, as well as Zappin's bit with the bicycle and Clemens' exploration of eating disorders.
Although she initially gave the group some basic ideas on format, Chono-Helsley said, the subjects and treatments were chosen by the youngsters, with each member of the class taking responsibility for a single segment.
The second show, entitled "2027: Fast Forward," will be an experimental documentary on life 40 years from now in the year 2027.
"I don't know (what that will be like)," the instructor said. "I'm just going to hang out and watch what happens."
Both pieces, she said, will premier at a gala reception later this month to which parents and the press are invited.
"I think I'm going to get a copy and sell tickets," Clemens quipped. "I'm very excited."
Said Gayle Davis, a 15-year-old who wants to become an actress but settled on operating the sound equipment during a recent day's taping: "I'd rather be in front of the camera, but it's good to know all aspects (of production) to have something to fall back on."
Indeed, Chono-Helsley is not beyond admitting to professional aspirations for some of her students.
"I'd love to see one of these kids take over anchor at a major station or become an executive producer for 'Two on the Town,' " she said. "That would really make my day."