He 'Swung,' he connected

Cameron Lew wanted to spend the weekend in New York City.

But, alas, Saturday is the day he takes the SAT.

Early this year, the 17-year-old filmmaker created "Swung," recently short-listed as an official selection for the first-ever All-American High School Film Festival from Oct. 4 to 6. But the Huntington Beach High School senior's travel plans were stymied by dreams of college.

He's not overly disappointed, though.

If anything, he's "grateful" that his first love story — depicting two teenagers whose relationship comes to a grinding halt because of an accident — was one of 80 picked from more than 1,000 submissions from 40-plus states, as well as Japan, South Korea, South Africa, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and France.

"I wanted to have fun and get my film out there," Cameron said. "From here, I don't care what happens. Just the fact that I got in is super awesome."

Cameron and film festival founder Andrew Jenks have never met, but evidence abounds that they are kindred spirits.

Jenks, 27, of Manhattan, recalls moving around often during his youth. Movies were his one constant, and so, at 16, he launched a film festival at Hendrick Hudson High School. This way, he hoped, his short videos could make it to a big screen instead of just being watched at home by his family and friends.

But soon, he wanted more.

"I am a big basketball fan and realized that there is the McDonald's All-American Basketball game and similar outlets for exposure and opportunities for athletics and academics, but there was nothing for film," Jenks said.

Adopting a similar template, he enlisted the help of notables Edward Burns, Dylan McDermott, Morgan Spurlock, Diablo Cody, Kristen Stewart, Henry Winkler, Danny Rose and Carlton Cuse, who will serve as judges at the All-American High School Film Festival.

"[My goal is] to put young filmmakers on the path to success," Jenks added. "If they need resources to help them realize their vision, I want to put a camera in their hand. If they need exposure so that top film programs will acknowledge and reward their skills, I want to provide it. If they need tips and tricks to improve their projects, I want to give them that too."

And so, the festival, being hosted at AMC Empire 25 at Times Square, the nation's busiest theater, will feature panel discussions, a college fair, musical performances and more — not least of which is the East Coast premiere of Relativity Studio's Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth starrer, "Romeo and Juliet."

Jenks' team initiated the process by contacting schools across the country, accepting only English-language submissions — something he hopes to change in the coming years. The response was astounding, he said.

The films, divvied up into genres — drama, documentary, comedy, sports documentary, public service announcement, experimental, music video, Kait Weston music video, scholastic book trailer and made in N.Y. — will be screened at AMC and also on the event's website before winners are announced.

"With any movie, for me, it comes down to story," Jenks remarked. "If you tell a great story, it doesn't matter if it's shot on an iPhone or a $20,000 camera. It will have you riveted to the screen."

Cameron, who used a Canon T3i and Canon EOS 5D MARK II for his seven-minute production, shot images all over his hometown — the pier, his school, parks, neighborhoods and Bill's Camera and Photo Lab on Warner Ave.

Filming his friends Julian Knight and Emily Iverson took about two days, and nearly five additional days were consumed by post-production tasks. In retrospect, he is pleased with his casting because the couple — Knight is a fellow Huntington Beach High senior and Iverson a Chapman University freshman — exhibited exactly the chemistry he needed.

The group's combined effort earned them the Grand Prize at the Surf City Student Film Festival in the spring.

"Some people draw, some write music. I started with music but then discovered filmmaking and video," Cameron said. "I love telling stories, whether it's through a documentary or film. I communicate stories and ideas best through a screen."

He doesn't think of titles when working on a script and was midway through the rough cut of his latest project when the word "swung" popped out at him as the perfect means of communicating a number of ideas depicted in the film.

"The cinematography was great," Jenks noted. "They used beautiful locations and natural light to really bring the story to life. At the end of the day, it was a beautifully sad love story that most people can relate to and has a nice twist using pictures and an old camera to tell it."

Cameron recounted being in English class when he received an email on his phone. Sneaking a peek, he realized that his entry had been accepted into the festival. After class ended, he made a beeline for his TV production teacher to relay the "really cool" news.

He said he originally penned the premise in freshman year, only then it was a more complex tale about two best friends. When the film festival rolled around this year, he wanted to participate but lacked the time to start a project from scratch.

It turned out he didn't need to — after he rediscovered the 3-year-old draft that he nurtured into "Swung."

"I had a month till deadline, and I was cleaning out my computer," he said. "And there it was."

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