Dry Hot SOCAPA Summer

So I've been MIA this summer, I know. But for good reason.

Wait for it....

I've been teaching. I know! Who in their right mind would allow me to teach anything?! 

Let me tell you about the summer that changed my life:

So there's this summer camp for high school students called SOCAPA, School of Creative and Performing Arts. It happens every summer in New York, Vermont, and Los Angeles and is open for teens going into high school and teens who just graduated high school. There are a number of disciplines in the camp: filmmaking, acting, photography, dance, and music. The LA program is currently hosted at Occidental College in East LA and consists of three sessions: a two week session, a three week, and another two week. At the end of each session, the kids would go home and we would receive a new group of teens, most of whom are not from LA and many from other countries. 

The way the program works is that the kids sign up for one of the disciplines and they stick to that one discipline for the duration of the session. So if you sign up for filmmaking, you're taking an intensive two week course (or three week if you signed up for that one). 

The students arrive on Sunday and check into the dorms. There are a few "day students" who live in LA who choose to get dropped off and get picked up everyday but for the most part, the students room and board on campus and even get a meal plan from the cafeteria. Right! I wish I had something like this when I was in high school!

After they're checked in, we have a little BBQ and orientation to introduce the staff. After all that's done, they go back to the dorms for some much needed rest because the program is pretty intense from the get-go. 

Starting first thing the next morning, they all break into their classes (film, acting, music, etc.) and they are in class from 9am-5pm, with of course an hour break for lunch. To give you an idea of how intense the program is, here's a rough schedule on the first week of classes for the filmmaking students:

Monday and Tuesday:
In the mornings, they're in lectures (9am-12pm) where we teach them film history and theory. Then they break for lunch and from 1pm-3pm they're working on their ideas for their first films and learning how to write. At 3pm-5pm, they're in class with me and we teach them how to work the camera and audio equipment. Then they have dinner, they meet with the students from the acting program who are acting in their films, prep for their shoots, and lights out at 10:30pm. 

They're all shooting their films that they've prepped Monday and Tuesday. They break up into groups of usually four and shoot from 8am-5:30pm. I know! Two days to prepare! And many of the students have never even written anything or picked up a camera before, let alone make a film! In their groups, they rotate crew roles (director, camera op, sound operator, slate) and each of them has two hours to shoot the film that they wrote with their group. Once the two hours are done, they rotate roles and the next director shoots their film. Ideally, the whole group should be done with all their films by 5:30pm. Then they have dinner, a nightly activity, and lights out at 10:30pm. 

They're with me in the editing room from 9am-5pm and I teach them how to edit their films. Their films all have to be done by the end of the day. Then they have dinner, a nightly activity, and lights out at 10:30pm. 

We critique their films in the morning from 9-12pm. Then there's another film lecture after lunch from 1-3pm and then from 3-5pm they're already pitching their ideas for their next film because they're going to have to start shooting another one the following Tuesday. Then that night, the whole camp gets together and there's a huge showcase where the students show what they've been working on all week. Camp showcases are every Friday. The music students play original songs they've been writing, the actors perform live scenes, photography has a slideshow, dance performs a piece, and filmmakers screen their films (that star students from the acting program). 

I always looked forward to the showcases because of how inspiring it was for me. For most of the students across all the disciplines, it was the first time they've ever shared their work publicly. In fact, in speaking with a lot of the students, coming to the camp was the first time they've made any type of commitment towards pursuing this art that they've been interested in for years. You could tell that back in their hometown, some of them felt that they were alone and even an outcast. They were the weird art kid that no one understood. Not even their parents. So coming to the camp seemed to be a "make it or break it" moment for some of them.

But when they all showcased their work and the other students cheered, the look on they're faces was so amazing to watch. You could see the moment when it clicks to them that "This is what I want to dedicate my life to" and it's so innocent, pure, and free of monetary expectation. It's purely for the love of the craft and it's been a long time since I've seen that. It's so inspiring and that feeling never got old.

I remember when they all first arrived to the dorms and how nervous and shy they all were. No one spoke to each other and even on the first two lecture days, no one sat next to each other. However, as the week went on, everyone started to sit together. I loved that. I loved how close all the students even got to the other students in the other disciplines. Everyone hung out with everyone in the dorms since the roommates were all mixed (boys and girls were on different floors).

You'd look at some students and think "If it wasn't for this camp and if this was back in their hometown, chances are, they wouldn't be hanging out together because of the politics of high school cliques" but here, none of that mattered. It didn't matter if you were the jock or the popular kid back home, because here, the only thing that mattered was the art. It was beautiful to see the kids who felt like an outcast back home, become the popular ones in camp because of their talent. 

At the end of every session, it was so emotional for all the students because even though it was just 2-3 weeks, they all grew so close to each other. They lived together, they ate together, they were in the trenches together. I've had many talks with the students across all three sessions and a number of them told me that they loved the camp because they "felt normal". For the first time they were surrounded by other people who were obsessed with the same thing that they were and they dreaded going back home where there's no one to shoot films with and no one to understand their obscure film references. They were going back to "the real world" and they hated it. Everyday, they were surrounded by these amazing people, experiencing these amazing things together, dedicating every waking moment towards the same thing together and all of a sudden it was over, everyone's gone, and they're just supposed to move on and carry on with life. I understand how hard it must be for them, especially, with most of them living in other states and even different countries! Them becoming so close was inevitable.

I miss you all and I can't wait to see you grow as artists. I'm so proud of you all and honored that I was able to help you realize your love of your craft and I'm so jealous that you've found it at such a young age. 

Like that last day at camp, I feel like I'm in a similar place right now. The camp's over, the kids and staff are gone, and I don't know what to do with myself. I mean, I know what to do, I have a bunch of gigs coming up but after this experience, certain things seem so unfulfilling and pointless to spend time on. 

I miss waking up early and teaching the class (even though I had no idea what I was doing half the time). I miss being on-set with the students, seeing them struggle, and then get excited as they figure out their process. I miss seeing the excitement they get when they realize a good shot. I miss seeing the joy in their faces in the editing room as their film comes together better than they expected. I miss laughing at how they got at each other for unintentionally ruining each other's sound. I miss staying late in the editing lab helping them fix their audio. I miss the long ass dance shoot days. I miss watching the fear in their eyes before they screen their films for the whole camp and then seeing it change into pride as the credits roll. I miss the horrible and sometimes pretty good "All You Care To Eat" cafeteria food. I miss being around people doing this for the love. I miss the staff.

Even though it was only a couple of months, the staff got pretty close, too. We were in the trenches together spending so much time with these students. Everyone is so damn talented at what they do, have such good hearts, and I'm so honored to have met and worked with you. Everyone is so accomplished that there were times I thought "What the hell am I doing here?!" 

You inspired me to become better at what I do and that's rare for me. You showed me that there are still good, genuine people in this crazy, messed up industry. You showed me that sharing sharing the knowledge of the art is just as important, if not more important, than sharing the art itself. 

Thank you.

Until next time...

P.S. - SOCAPA Hawai'i 20--, am I right?!?!