Arts and Entertainment

Port Orchard teen's short film up for a premiere at AFI FEST | Update

South Kitsap High School sophomore Dakota Smith participated in the nation's leading filmmaking program exclusively for teens this summer.

Update: Smith's group's film was the top-vote getter in Round 1 and will be competing against Fresh-Film's best comedy, starting Sept. 10 at

Whether or not his group's superhero film goes on to win the prize in this year's Fresh Films series, Port Orchard teen Dakota Smith garnered a bit of great wisdom just by being a part of the program.

"Actually, something I learned," the incoming South Kitsap High School sophomore said, "there is not much money in film, unless you make it big."

Earlier this summer, Smith spent seven days in Orlando, Fla., learning the ins and outs (and harsh realities) of the filmmaking world through Fresh Films — the nation's leading filmmaking program exclusively for teens.

"How I Met My Mermaid" — the short film which he and the Orlando Fresh Films crew were responsible for nearly every aspect of — was the top vote-getter in the superhero category and will be competing for votes against this year's top Fresh Films comedy, starting Sept. 10 at

The winning crew gets a Powerbook and a star-studded premiere for its film at the American Film Institute's AFI FEST, Oct. 30-Nov. 7 — accompanied by showcases from big-name entertainment media and connections with industry contacts from across the country.

Smith pegged his Fresh Films entry in for Orlando because it was the furthest away from the Pacific Northwest — sandy and sunny and tropical. His interest in filmmaking piqued last year during a three-week course at the West Sound Technical Skills Center in Bremerton. When he saw an ad for the Fresh Films program while reading through a Boy Scout magazine, he decided he'd enter.

And he ended up one of just two teens selected from Washington state — the only one from his next of the woods.

"The filming was easily the hardest thing," Smith, 14, recalled of the group's filmmaking process. "We had to get 60 shots in one day, which is like three times more than professional filmmakers are expected to do."

On filming day, Smith said he and the crew got up at 4 a.m., drove a few hours to location, and started filming around 7 a.m. Even with storms on the horizon — in an area of the country which he learned "is like the lightening capital" — the crew had to get all the footage for their seven- to 10-minute film on that one day.

While each crew was given its film's story, of the seven-day program, the first was reserved for casting, the second for callbacks and the third for rehearsal. Then came the filming, editing, production and post-production, all the way through to the final product.

"I thought we should've been given a few days to come up with our own story, because that is such a huge part of it," Smith said, noting he did learn a lot about the technical aspects of film, like angles, composition and the editing process.

Each person in the crew got to do a little bit of everything.

"Imagine a Hollywood film set where teens replace the pros," the Fresh Films' tag line reads.

Since the program's inception in 2002, teens across the nation apply through a series of essays on how they became interested in filmmaking, their favorite part of the process and one on a film idea and how they would market it.

It's free and open to anyone in the country, ages 14-19.

Find info for next year and vote on this year's films at

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