At Moviemaking Merit Badge Day in Hollywood, Scouts gain a new perspective from the director’s chair.
“The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of a copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.”
That FBI warning — seen by many, but read by few — is one way to urge young people to find legal sources for movies and TV shows.
It’s just not likely to work.
For best results, try something like the Moviemaking Merit Badge Day, a recent collaborative effort by CreativeFuture, Warner Bros. Studios, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the BSA’s Greater Los Angeles Area Council.
The 60 Scouts who attended left with a greater appreciation for the real men and women who make movie magic. And while that means they’re less likely to steal movies, the day’s full impact goes deeper.
These Scouts — many of whom couldn’t afford the $62 cost to tour Warner Bros. Studios on their own — had their eyes opened to a new career field full of jobs they didn’t know existed.
Romy Vasquez is Scoutmaster of Troop 780, which meets in South Central Los Angeles. Before this event, his Scouts never dreamed of stepping onto a movie studio lot.
“They never had an idea how movies are made,” he says. “They just thought, ‘Oh, let’s go to the movie theaters and have a good time.’ But to see how everything is built, how the movie is put together — there’s a lot of lessons.”
One lesson: Movies are made by real people with exciting, well-paying jobs. Mix a lot of hard work with a little luck, and that could be you someday.
“You want to go this way? You want to go this route? OK, go to school,” Vasquez says.
The 2009 film Avatar employed a cast and crew of 2,984 people. The credits list just 61 actors. That means 98 percent of the people who worked on the film were never seen on screen.
A young person who understands that is more likely to make good decisions about where he or she watches movies and television shows.
Brett Williams is vice president of Creative Community and Youth Outreach for CreativeFuture, an advocacy group working to combat piracy and promote creativity.
“For people to understand that the choices they make online affect people in real life, they have to know that those jobs exist — those people exist,” Williams says. “It’s about building empathy in young people for the people who make the movies and TV shows that they love.”
Williams admits the entertainment industry has “done a really bad job building that empathy.”
CreativeFuture decided to do something about that — thus their support of the Moviemaking Merit Badge Day, offered in the coolest setting imaginable.
The day begins with a tour of Warner Bros. Studios. Scouts pretend to sip lattes at Central Perk, the coffee shop from the set of Friends. They examine costumes and props from the Harry Potter films. They pose for photos next to the Batmobile.
Then they sit down with Hollywood professionals to talk movie magic. No smoke and mirrors here — just lots of creative men and women. In one crowd-pleasing moment, the Scouts learn about the 40-member department that invented the sounds of space for the 2013 thriller Gravity.
Next comes the hands-on fun: The Scouts split into six teams to write, storyboard and film their own short movies.
In the film What Is That?!, a Scout holding what appears to be a foreign piece of technology walks past five other Scouts. It looks like a Kindle but has pages that actually turn. The colors? Incredibly realistic. And it doesn’t even need batteries. It’s something called a “book.”
In an untitled film, three runners compete in a footrace. The first and second runners resort to bribes, booby traps and cheating to get an edge. The third runner, ostensibly the slowest, doesn’t use any dirty tricks. He wins.
After shooting their movies on smartphones — using multiple angles and several takes — the Scouts give their raw footage to Allison Smartt, former manager for youth outreach partnerships for CreativeFuture.
Smartt makes the edits, and soon the Scouts gather in a Warner Bros. screening theater to watch the final cut.
“They were laughing and having a great time,” Smartt says. “I would hope that they were incredibly proud of what they accomplished in a short amount of time.”
A two-hour feature film might take more than a year to make. The Scouts’ movies — ranging in length from 43 seconds to nearly two minutes — were finished in mere hours.
Smartt says there’s real talent among these amateur writers, directors and actors. She even did a little scouting of the Scouts.
“This is not the end, but only the beginning,” she says, “It was really special for me to be able to go to them afterward and say, ‘If you want an internship after, reach out to me. You have a talent for this.’”
For proof of the day’s lasting impact, talk to Michael Pasaye, a 15-year-old Star Scout from Troop 351 of Downey, Calif.
“I learned that moviemaking has a lot more components than a script and actors,” he says. “The people working on the set devote thousands of hours to create a stunning piece of art.”
Lorena Bernal, director of development for the Greater Los Angeles Area Council, says Michael’s story matches others she heard from Scouts that day.
“That was one of the things that a lot of Scouts took away,” she says. “They saw there were so many people involved. There’s an army of people, and they did understand that.”
CreativeFuture’s Williams says Scouting teaches young people to make the right choices in life, and that applies to a young person’s online behavior. That’s especially important when you realize piracy accounts for an estimated 25 to 30 percent of online viewing.
“It goes back to a basic, ethical choice,” he says. “Target is a billion-dollar company, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to steal from it. If we were stealing from Target at a rate of 25 to 30 percent, it would be affecting how many people they hire.”
The best audience for this antipiracy message, Williams says, is young people. Every time they upload something to Instagram or make a YouTube video with friends, they’re creating copyrightable content. There’s a lesson there, but it must be experienced and not delivered using legal jargon or threats from the FBI.
“We know that if you teach younger people these very basic facts about their personal behavior having an effect on other people, they get it,” Williams says.
Joshua Choi gets it. He’s a 16-year-old Life Scout from Troop 351, and he created the film about the three-person race won by the runner who didn’t cheat. He says he now understands who gets cheated when someone steals a movie.
“It is not fair for people to download movies illegally without giving the moviemakers any credit,” he says.
By now you might be thinking: A Moviemaking Merit Badge Day sounds great, but my troop meets in Atlanta — some 2,100 miles from Hollywood.
Fear not: Movie and TV production has expanded beyond Los Angeles and New York. The third-largest market is now Georgia, home to Captain America: Civil War, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and The Walking Dead. Major films and shows are created in places like Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Virginia.
Of course, you can’t just walk up to a movie set and start asking questions. Start with the IATSE. That’s the 130,000-member union that represents the workers behind the scenes of your favorite movies and TV shows.
“They’re everywhere,” says Smartt, an IATSE member herself.
Go to iatse.net to find your local union. Or contact a local theater, which might have an IATSE component. Making this connection could yield a fun tour for your pack or troop — or it might result in a full-fledged Moviemaking Merit Badge Day in your city.
“There are opportunities for Scouts in a lot of different locations,” Williams says. “What they learned and what they did is something you can do anywhere.”
Watch Highlights From the Scouts’ Movies at Moviemaking Merit Badge Day
The Cyber Chip — required to earn the Scout and Star ranks — covers online safety.
Brett Williams of CreativeFuture says part of being safe online means staying away from the sources of illegal movies and TV shows. Thirty percent of websites with illegal content expose the user to malware, he says.
“It is all wrapped together — this healthy way to behave on the internet,” he says.
Allison Smartt, previously of CreativeFuture and now an associate technical director at California Institute of the Arts, says she has worked with the BSA to amplify the Cyber Chip’s antipiracy message.
“It goes back to realizing that what you do online is no different than what you do in real life,” Smartt says. “It’s not enough to say, ‘Don’t bully online, because you wouldn’t do that in real life.’ Don’t steal online, because you wouldn’t do that in real life.”