Moviemaking merit badge lets Scouts be the stars

Not coming soon to a theater near you: Humanic Park, The Dino Infection or Rexy. But these three short films, among the movies created last summer at Camp Josepho, could very well be springboards to Hollywood careers. Scouts attending the Western Los Angeles County Council camp wrote, directed and starred in these films on the way to earning the Moviemaking merit badge.

Program director Stephen Snowden, who holds a degree in film and video production, helped start the program seven years ago. Sure, the camp is just 16 miles from the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And, yes, some campers have family members in the film industry. But Snowden thinks his program would work just about anywhere.

“This isn’t just a Los Angeles thing,” he says. “In any state or city, you can find people that are doing this stuff.”

Read First, Shoot Later

Snowden says counselors (and Scouts) should read the merit badge pamphlet first, because it offers a great introduction to the subject.

In fact, Snowden himself first got interested in moviemaking when he stumbled across the pamphlet (then called Cinematography) as a Scout. He didn’t know what cinematography was, but he recognized Eagle Scout Steven Spielberg, who helped develop the badge, on the cover.

When Snowden couldn’t find a counselor, he taught himself the subject. “Even in college, there were things I’d already learned in Scouts that gave me a leg up on my degree,” he says.

Use Your Resources

Hollywood studios use expensive equipment, but Scouts don’t have to. Smartphones can shoot great video. Free programs and apps like iMovie let you add titles, special effects and other features.

At Camp Josepho, Scouts used a free version of the editing software DaVinci Resolve on old computers donated by California State University.

“You can run editing software on computers that are six or seven years old,” Snowden says.

And Scouts don’t need to commission soundtracks from John Williams or Hans Zimmer. Plenty of websites offer royalty-free music under the Creative Commons License.

Get Wired

Besides cameras and computers, it’s important to have reliable power and internet access when you’re working on the badge.

“While a lot of cameras can run on batteries, you want to plug in as much as you can so you don’t have to worry about the batteries dying,” Snowden says.

Time is of the Essence

Although Moviemaking has just four requirements, it can take quite a while to complete. It’s especially important to build in extra time at the beginning, when Scouts are developing their scripts, and at the end, when they need to render their movies (i.e., turn raw video files into a finished file that can be shown to an audience).

“That can take a couple of hours to do,” Snowden says. “If you wait till the last minute, that will hurt you.”

Finally, Snowden recommends enlisting people younger than he is — he’s in his mid-30s — as instructors.

“They’re making movies to put up on YouTube and trying to become the next YouTube sensation,” he says.

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