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How to leave no child behind. What do L.A. kids need to thrive?

Spend your time

December 29, 2007|BY JOE PETRICCA | Joe Petricca is executive vice dean at the American Film Institute Conservatory.

LA.'s kids need you to volunteer. I've done it for years through an organization called Create Now!, teaching filmmaking to "at-risk youth" in group homes and detention centers.

In these settings, success is getting tough kids engaged, and filmmaking -- storytelling -- does just that. Kids find video cameras cool, they ham it up in front of the lens, and film is a language they understand. I've watched in surprise as a kid who didn't seem that interested instinctively transformed three shots into one, on the spot, accomplishing what the storyboard asked for, only faster and better.

They choose the story, generally a parody (a takeoff on "8 Mile" called "42240 FT," for example, and a set of improvs based on Drew Carey's old TV show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"). I always insist on a script and a shooting plan, and we cast, in part, based on desire. I've discovered there's nothing like a starring role to combat feelings of worthlessness.

The work is incredibly rewarding. Sullen kids, forced to come to "class," end up fighting to read Bart Simpson's part in a sample-script run-through. They learn tricks of the trade, like how a skillful edit covers a blown line; they learn to work together; they learn to tell stories.

It can have lasting effects. One boy I continue to mentor landed at Santa Monica College and is making his way as a stand-up comic around L.A.

Filmmaking and storytelling are great tools to engage young people. But more important, a volunteer shows up, an adult pays attention.

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