Not far from the set of "The X-Files," the "Star Trek" exhibit and the "Cheers" bar, a once-troubled young man is getting a second chance.
Chris, an 18-year-old from the La Crescenta Valley who is on probation, spent a recent day manipulating a mouse as he edited a documentary about marijuana. He savored moments of triumph as he precisely timed his mouse clicks to purge the footage of superfluous sounds and facial expressions as his instructor, Tim Cogshell, watched.
"It's surprising how easy it is if you take the time to sit down and learn how to do it," the young man said.
Teens such as Chris are given the chance to work toward their high school diplomas while learning about show business through a program offered at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum.
Chris needed a fresh start after he and his friends stole computer equipment, which landed him in probation camp. When he was released in October, his probation officer recommended that he enroll in the museum's Entertainment Academy because of his passion for music. Chris sings in a punk rock band. He has also picked up skills through the museum's Reel Hollywood program.
The fully accredited year-round high school for 11th- and 12th-graders is offered through a partnership between Los Angeles County and the museum. Like Chris, most of the 40 students are on probation.
Chris hopes to graduate this month.
About 60 students are enrolled in the after-school program, which offers courses taught by industry professionals. They show students how to apply makeup, edit film, produce records and videos, and design costumes, among other skills.
Museum officials point to a mandarin-style jacket of black and gold brocade stitched by a former pupil described as a heavy-set youth with a gang tattoo on his face.
"It was so out of character [from] who he projected himself as," said Richard Doran, the museum's director of education. "Everything about his exterior was toughness."
Youths learn more than how to express themselves, however. The program's "Shop Talk" series, for example, provides them with a candid glimpse into the entertainment business.
Guest speakers, who have included actor and ex-con Danny Trejo, and veteran movie producer A.C. Lyles, are invited to share their experiences.
Students learn, "how, if they want to be a camera operator, they're probably going to start out as a film loader," museum President Phyllis Caskey said.
The idea of establishing a high school with an entertainment industry focus grew out of an internship program started in 1997 by the museum and the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
The plan was to take youths from the county's Juvenile Court division and others and put them to work at the museum.
The museum had been open for less than a year and had eight staffers, Caskey said. She recalled the day the 13 interns arrived.
"I saw them and thought, 'Oh my God, what have I done,' " Caskey said. "They looked rough. They wouldn't look you in the eye. There wasn't any trust."
She sent three of the boys to help her technical director with an "X-Files" display. Within a few hours, they were hard at work and the director was thanking her for bringing them to the museum.
"Within three to five days, they literally changed the atmosphere," Caskey said.
"The kids started out asking why they had to stay so late -- to the museum staff having to kick them out so they could catch their buses."
The Reel Hollywood program was established in 1998, expanding the museum's mission from celebrating the history of Hollywood to preparing young people to enter the world. The academy opened the next year.
The programs are operated through a partnership between the museum, the Los Angeles County Department of Probation and the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
The entertainment industry helps out by providing internships and mentors.
Students travel from Orange County and distant parts of Los Angeles County to attend courses, forcing them to make long journeys to the museum at 7021 Hollywood Blvd., west of Mann's Chinese Theatre.
Chris, for example, wakes up at 5 a.m. to make it to the museum by 8 a.m. -- the start of his academic day.
The Reel Hollywood program kicks in during the afternoon and lasts until evening, followed by another bus journey home.
Chris said that at first he doubted he would stick with the program because of the long hours, but he soon looked forward to making the daily pilgrimage to Hollywood.
The average student, according to Doran, stays one to two years. Some graduate, while others use the academy to transition back to their former schools.
The learning experience carries over to Tinseltown for students lucky enough to land industry internships after graduation.
Orange County resident and academy graduate Alex Pelayo, for example, recently enrolled at a community college and began an internship in Paramount Pictures' marketing department.
Unlike most who attend the academy, Pelayo, 18, was not on probation when he enrolled in the fall of 2002. But he acknowledges that he had failed many courses at his public school.
Pelayo learned about the academy through his sisters, who learned of the program while visiting the museum's Max Factor display.
"The teachers were very caring," Pelayo said. "They would never just tell you to do this or do that. They would sit down and explain how to do things in detail."
Pelayo hopes to attend Cal State Fullerton and become a film editor at Paramount. His mother credits his teachers in Hollywood with inspiring him to dream.
"They were so devoted," Romalie Pelayo said. "They helped him focus."
Without them, "he would have been just another high school graduate with nowhere to go," she said.