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Attack of the killer hamsters

Maddie Peckenpaugh was already a seasoned filmmaker when she enrolled

in the Movies by Kids camp this summer.

For a recent class project, the Newport Heights Elementary School

sixth-grader made a live-action thriller entitled “Rich Girl Ransom,”


in which two girls become friends after being kidnapped by gangsters.

So when she entered the weeklong Movies by Kids class at the West

Newport Community Center, she was ready to try surrealism. Her

group’s animated film, “Eaten,” features a plot that would make David


Lynch blush.

“A guy takes his hamster out to play with him, and the hamster

eats him,” said Edy Manetta, 12, one of Maddie’s partners on the

project. “He finds his long-lost girlfriend inside the hamster’s

stomach, so they live happily ever after. But outside, in the real

world, somebody’s buying the hamster.”

Just one question: How did the hero’s girlfriend end up in the

hamster’s stomach?


“The hamster ate her, too,” Edy explained.

The 34 participants in the Movies by Kids camp had only a few

minutes of footage to work with, so they got creative. Another short

film featured living French fries that construct pyramids.

During the class, 7- to 12-year-olds blazed through the steps of

creating a motion picture -- two motion pictures, in fact. After

outlining plots and drawing storyboards on Monday, the crews cut and

pasted construction-paper scenes, filmed them in stop motion and


recorded voice-overs. Midway through the week, they started the

process again using clay.

Megan Moricca, 8, of Newport Beach, enrolled in the class after

her mother learned about it on the Internet. Among the unusual

images in her group’s film is a reporter with a typewriting dog as a


“I got it from a movie on [the website] Fastplayer,” Megan said.

Tobin Felfe, the camp’s advisor, managed to keep his

air-conditioned classroom as Hollywood-like as possible.

When the talking got too loud, he shouted, “Quiet on the set!” and

the students provided an echo, yelling back “Quiet on the set!”

A film major at UC San Diego, Felfe served as an instructor in

the Movies for Kids program in Los Angeles last year and decided to

bring it down to his hometown of Newport Beach this summer. Last

week, he led the camp in digital animation and claymation; digital

filmmaking will follow on Aug. 8.

In the end, each participant in the class will receive a DVD with

a copy of his or her film. Felfe and Frank Yannarella, the assistant

instructor, allow almost any subject matter as long as it maintains a

PG rating.

“We don’t allow any violence,” Felfe said. “All the movies have to

be age-appropriate. When we announce that at the beginning, we always

get moans and groans.”

* SCHOOL’S OUT is a weekly feature in which education writer

Michael Miller visits a summer camp and writes about the experience.