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FOR THE KIDS : Center Teen-Agers Create Horror Film : The Thousand Oaks youths bring zombies to life in 'Overnighter.' The hourlong video will debut June 24.


When the Thousand Oaks Teen Center holds "overnighters," teen-agers bring sleeping bags and spend the night there, watching scary movies, eating junk food and generally hanging out.

Just suppose one of these overnighters turns into a blood bath when zombies show up and terrorize the place. That's what happens in a video that teen-agers at the center have spent the last nine months putting together.

Called "Overnighter," the hourlong video will make its first public appearance 3 p.m. June 24 at Manns Theater at the Janss Mall. There is no charge to see the flick.

"Overnighter" actually is the brainchild of Lemuel Hill, a Teen Center recreation leader with a special interest in film. He began leading a drama program for kids last fall and it evolved into video production.

Hill, who has a degree from San Jose State University in radio, television and film, tossed out the idea of a horror movie to the kids.

"They flocked to it," he said. "I'm not into horror movies at all. I don't go to them." Nonetheless, Hill wrote a script loosely based on a horror movie entitled "The Dead Pit."

And what was to be a six- or eight-week drama program turned into a major project involving about 40 kids, mostly high school students.

"The teens did 75% to 80% of the work," he said. About 20 to 25 of them have roles in the film. They did the costumes, makeup, special effects, and they shot the video.

Those who handled the camera took a course provided by Ventura County Cablevision, which operates the public access channel in Thousand Oaks. The company also provided the camera equipment for filming.

"This was not a low -budget (film)," Hill said. "It was no budget."

Crews began filming last November and finished early this spring. (Almost all of it was shot inside or outside the Teen Center.) Then came 10 weeks of editing. By early June, Hill was still working on adding music to the video.

Hill said the lengthy project, although behind schedule, was done in record time considering the work that went into it.

"Nine months is not bad," he said. "I'm proud of this."

The video has some genuine Hollywood touches to it, thanks in part to Eric Durst, who has directed television commercials. Durst offered his services after his son became involved with the project, Hill said.

In fact, Durst is responsible for a special effect near the beginning of the film when three nerdy-appearing teen-agers are transformed in seconds into trendy, hip youth.

"It was all done by computer," Hill said. Durst also conducted a class for the kids to learn how the trick was done.

"What these guys are getting out of this is tremendous," Hill said. "For the rest of their lives they can say, 'I did that.' "

When viewers see "Overnighter," they shouldn't expect a high-tech Hollywood-quality film with flawless editing and acting. It's choppy in spots. But the video is impressive, considering it's the work of kids with little--if any--experience.

"I'm real proud of the effort that went into this," said Brenda Coleman, director of services. "They stayed with it for nine months. That's a tremendous commitment for this age group." The average age of the participants is 14.

The film starts out in a time 20 years past, with a mad scientist concocting a brew designed to transform nerdy teen-agers into cool kids. He tries it out on three nerds. It works, but they end up dead and the scientist buries their bodies in a vacant lot.

Flash forward 20 years and the Teen Center has since been built on the vacant ground. Teen-agers are having an overnighter there, and the after-midnight movie is a ghoulish flick called "Zombie Squad."

Like a movie-within-a-movie, the events of "Zombie Squad" parallel what happens to the kids at the Teen Center. An earthquake rumbles the building and sets off a bloody chain of events. (A disclaimer in the beginning suggests some parts of the video may be inappropriate for younger children.)

One of the stars of the film is Ian Lebby who plays a meek, nerdy kid named Joey, the victim of jokes from other kids, especially an older Eddie Haskell-type prankster. Joey's secret love is Christy, a pretty, but snobby, rich kid played by Catherine Conti.

"I really want to become an actor," said Ian, 13, who attends Sequoia Intermediate School in Newbury Park. "But it's so competitive."

When he auditioned for the part of Joey, Ian's only acting experience had been with a drama club at school. In the video, he chalked up his first on-screen kiss, a difficult scene that took eight takes to get just right. Most scenes took an average of five takes with much of the filming done late at night.

At times, he said, the shooting got a little messy. The fake blood was sticky and sometimes dripped all over everything.

The video has some funny moments. Paulette Weiss plays the part of Lyra, a mysterious woman who shows up at the Teen Center dressed all in black and puts two kids in a hypnotic trance. She issues the ghoulish warning: "Evil is coming. It is upon us."

The response is stereotypical teen-ager from one whiny girl. "She is so strange, like, what is her trip."


"Overnighter" will be shown at 3 p.m. June 24 at Manns Theater in Janss Mall. There is no charge. For information, call the Thousand Oaks Teen Center, 494-5156.

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