Netflix shows such as “Stranger Things” have ushered in a new era of talented young actors, and that youth movement extends to students at A.G. Wright Middle School, who have been producing their own films in Stafford County.
Wednesday evening at Paragon Village 12 behind the Spotsylvania Towne Centre, about 200 middle- schoolers and their friends and families enjoyed a private screening of a feature-length movie created by the Film Club at A.G. Wright over the past year.
“Brinking News” was written, produced, filmed and directed by middle school students with some guidance from adult volunteers. The 110-minute-long mix of drama and comedy unravels the mystery of a girl and some teachers who go missing. A second, 25-minute movie made by the club, a comedy called “Debatably Blonde,” also was shown.
“You would not believe the number of hours they’ve dedicated to this project,” said Robert Long, the film club advisor. “Writing, filming, editing, sound—they started it, they produced it, and the amazing thing is, they finished it.”
Before the movie started rolling Wednesday, Philip Snow, an adult mentor for the club, greeted the crowd at the theater.
“Can you believe this? We’re watching a movie that you made in a real movie theater!” he announced to enthusiastic applause. “I’m so proud of you all. This shows the amazing things you are capable of accomplishing!”
Eighth-grader Megan Shaw, who’s been part of the Film Club at A.G. Wright since she was in sixth grade, starred in “Brinking News,” playing the main character, Natalie Brinkman.
“This is so exciting to me, it’s hard for me to believe,” Megan said. “Seeing the final product this way is incredible. Acting is a passion for me. It would be amazing to do that for a career.”
Now the 14-year-old has professional-quality film footage she can submit to potential employers. The same goes for any other student who worked on the film in any capacity.
“I’m not aware of any other middle schools anywhere that have this kind of a program,” Long said.
Also the school’s gifted education teacher, Long said many high schools have film clubs and offer film classes, but it’s less common at the middle school level.
“We’ve had up to 50 students show up for meetings,” he said, but added that the core group attending regularly numbers about 15 to 20. “Sometimes we’ll have guest speakers come in from the film industry. We teach the kids how to write a screenplay, learn how to use cameras and editing software, how to do lighting—we do what we can to give them hands-on experience.”
Michelle Snow, a sophomore at Mountain View High School and daughter of Philip Snow, was attending A.G. Wright four years ago when the club first got started.
“Mr. Long is a film buff, so he showed us some old films, and we came up with the idea of making a movie,” Michelle said. “Our first film was ‘Punk 5 from Outer Space,’ which is a spoof of ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space.’ ”
In the years since, the club has produced many other movies, learning with each one. If you search the Internet Movie Database, better known as IMDb, you’ll find a film listed that was created by the A.G. Wright club last year, “The Exceptionals.”
“When you submit a film and they accept it, it means yes, it’s a real film,” Long said. “We plan to submit ‘Brinking News’ to it, as well.”
Since getting started in 2014, the club has sponsored an annual film festival for Stafford students. This year’s was held May 11 and 12 at Colonial Forge High School.
Michelle Snow entered two films she produced and directed—“The View,” and “Girls Night In,” both of which are available to watch on her YouTube channel.
“I love to be able to tell people a story, and to have them see what you see and feel what you feel,” the 16-year-old said, adding that she intends to pursue film as a career. “I don’t know where I want to go yet, but I definitely want to get a Bachelor of Fine Arts in film production and probably a minor in business to help me learn how to get my movies out there.”
Each of the films for the festival was limited to about seven minutes in length. A total of 20 films were submitted by students afrom six Stafford schools, including a stop-motion film made by a Ferry Farm Elementary School student Ranya Al–Tikriti, the youngest to enter.
“The film fest is our biggest fundraiser for the club. We put all the money back into our account to buy or replace equipment that breaks,” Long said. “A lot of that technological stuff is pretty expensive, so we have to do a lot of fundraising.”
Even so, at the Paragon screening Wednesday, all they asked of those who came was a food donation for the Fredericksburg Food Bank.
“We’re so grateful to Paragon for hosting us and for all the students and their families for the hundreds of hours they’ve sacrificed for all this,” Long said. “We wanted to make it an evening of giving.”