June 02--GREENSBORO -- Director Aaron Ashby is in the makeshift nail salon, trying to bring "bubbly" out of a young actress on her seventh take.
"Gabby, I need you to be more energetic," Ashby urges the actress.
Then Ashby, 18, slips into the character himself -- wide-eyed, clasping his hands -- and delivers the line in an exaggerated falsetto.
"Oh, my God! Coral pink. Bubble gum pink?
"What about salmon!"
The crew and other actors get a good laugh. The actress gets a perfect "10" on the next take.
Out of the frame, 15-year-old Lauren Elwood exhales.
Her story finally is taking shape.
Elwood, a freshman at Southeast Guilford High, won a contest sponsored by City Arts to have "In the Crowd" -- a teen-angst story she wrote -- cast and turned into a movie.
City Arts is the visual and performing arts arm of the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department. Its Teen Greene Pictures division is producing the story, which started filming this spring in downtown Greensboro.
The movie will have a red-carpet premiere at a Greensboro theater in August.
"It's just an amazing thing to watch the story come to life," Elwood says.
Feb. 6: The script
Elwood shows up early, notebook in hand, and takes a seat in a large meeting room, which can double as a movie set in the downtown Cultural Center.
She is there with Ashby and the managing director of the City Arts Drama Center, Stephen Hyers, a professional fight choreographer and stunt coordinator who is overseeing the project.
Meeting for the first time, the three come up with dialogue and possible shooting locations, such as Center City Park next door.
Hyers passes out typed copies of Elwood's story of a young girl's search for inner peace.
Ashby takes out a pen.
"Fair warning," Ashby begins, as he and Elwood make eye contact. "We are making the strongest choices we can."
First up: opening scene. The first lines have the young heroine hanging with her friends in the park -- and in her head wondering why she's there:
Samantha listened to her friends catch up on the latest gossip about boys, clothes and makeup. Honestly, she didn't care about any of it.
Ashby looks up.
"We want something everyone can identify with -- 'My name is Samantha, and my life sucks,'?" he says.
Elwood, a Girl Scout and honor roll student, nods. She is reveling in being here -- in this introduction to the work behind getting a "Mean Girls" or other teen flick into a theater.
This film won't be two hours of action. More the length of a sitcom minus the commercials, it is a cautionary tale about young people trying to fit in by pretending to be someone else.
"The message is it's OK to be yourself," Elwood says.
Elwood's mother told her about the contest soliciting short stories. Elwood, who loves to write, unloaded her thoughts on the pages of a notebook.
Hyers, overseeing the contest, liked what he read.
This is the first dramatic production with a story line for Teen Greene Pictures, which Hyers started for aspiring filmmakers.
The group has shot witty public service announcements and improv. The crew of young people also shot a couple of films last year, including one with just an outline.
"One of our biggest struggles was coming up with a good story," Hyers says. "A lot of these kids know their cameras backward and forward. I thought, why don't we put out a contest for a good story?"
The personable but focused Ashby, a veteran of Teen Greene and other local productions, is a graduating senior at Grimsley High who plans to attend the University of Southern California film school -- if he comes up with the tuition.
"I wasn't sure how much the writer was going to be involved," Ashby says of Elwood during a break. "She's got great ideas and definite ideas -- but she sees what we are trying to do."
The back and forth goes on, line by line, through the scene with the young heroine Samantha -- underage and drinking in the park with her friends -- barely slipping away as cops arrive.
Then comes the film's turning point.
"That's good," Ashby says of how the details hold together. "Great emotion."
Feb. 23: Auditions
Turns out the crowd outside the stage room where Hyers placed an "auditions" sign is looking for the casting call next door.
Hyers put out feelers -- by word of mouth, Facebook and related newsletters -- for actors looking for exposure.
Major characters they're casting for today include two teenage girls, an older woman who counsels one of them, an angry man and extras for the park scene.
But just four names are on the audition list.
One of the first to take a seat on the stage is Gabrielle Edwards, a teenager right out of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue, flashing a big smile. She's also one of Elwood's best friends.
Looking into the camera, the Northwest High freshman reads from the script she's handed, making eye contact with the camera.
Elwood and Hyers watch her delivery from behind a monitor. Ashby, at an orientation at USC, will watch a DVD of auditions before making final decisions.
"We'll let you know," Hyers tells Edwards.
One of Elwood's teachers is on the audition list, showing up to support her. He tries out for a speaking role of the angry male character.
There aren't enough people to audition by the second hour, when Hyers calls the day a wrap.
He tells Elwood that he'll send an email blast to actors Teen Greene has used before.
April 13: Filming starts
The female leads pull clothes and accessories out of suitcases sprawled across a lobby of the Cultural Center. They're piecing together outfits for the day's shoot.
"Is this pattern too much for the camera?" one actress asks Elwood.
"Not if you wear it with this," Elwood says, pulling a white tank top from the pile of clothing.
Choosing wardrobe, scribbling down the director's notes and grabbing equipment for the crew -- she will do it all over the next few hours.
"You can't expect a dream to come true if you aren't willing to work for it," Elwood says.
Soon, the crew is setting up in a main thoroughfare of the Cultural Center, which also gives them natural background noises for the nail salon.
"Aaron knows what he's doing," says Hyers, who has a master's of fine arts in drama and has taught play writing at several area universities.
"Sometimes I think I'm just here to let security know they have permission to be here," he jokes.
Edwards didn't get the lead role. But she'll play a major character.
"It was horrible because I don't like to tell people bad news," Elwood says of another actor winning the role.
Hyers knew the level of "angry" the scene would need. He had a veteran actor in mind.
"When I wrote it I did not picture some of the people in it, but I see it now," Elwood says. "He said to me, 'Do you want the face or the talent?'?"
Back at the set, Elwood is playing with the clapboard -- "I always wanted to click one of these -- take one." Then she claps it for real.
"I had a dream about this," Elwood says. "It's like deja vu."
May 18: Spoiler alert
Elwood appears in the movie's last frames.
Add "cast member" to the other jobs during filming, which ended last month.
That also makes the short story's journey from idea to film more than she had imagined.
"I'm still as excited as when I got the email saying I won," Elwood says.
Hyers remembers getting those early typed pages from Elwood for another reason: It was the only story submitted.
"So we were lucky," Hyers says, "because it ended up being a great story."
Contact Nancy McLaughlin at 373-7049
Contact Nancy McLaughlin at (336) 373-7049.
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