NEWPORT BEACH — An employee on a ladder changed the letters on the Lido Theater marquee to announce not the latest art film, but the premiere of Newport Harbor High School's eighth annual freshman feature film.
Past participants, parents and friends queued outside Tuesday evening to watch the ninth-grade actors' big-screen debut, "Giving Up the Ghost."
The movie is about two former Harbor students, now ghosts, who haunt the campus until they figure out what they did wrong, all while working to help fix the problems of two current (living) students.
"Overall, as a whole, I was really proud of it," said leading man Sam Bush, 16. "I didn't think it would be that good."
Advanced Placement art history teacher Joe Robinson brought the film project to the school as an extracurricular activity when his children came to Harbor.
The project started as a play before becoming a film.
The idea came from when his daughter, Sara Robinson, now 32, was in elementary school and needed entertainment for the summer.
Robinson would write 30-minute plays for his daughter and the neighborhood kids to act out every summer in his garage. The plays progressed every year until they were full 90-minute musicals performed in front of hundreds on their cordoned-off street.
Now the two work together on the project, writing the screenplay, holding auditions and reworking the script to fit the actors.
Sara Robinson directed and her father filmed and then edited the footage. Kevin Weed, the school's accompanist, wrote the score for the 75-minute film.
"It's so much fun," Sara Robinson said.
"He used to do all these creative projects with us as a kid … so now, it's great to work on the other side of that."
The two led a group of 35 students during evening practices for about three months before filming for three full Saturdays around the campus.
The movie took a lot of time to make, but was well worth it, said leading lady Hannah Felte, 14.
Fellow actor Genesa Cefali, 15, said it was interesting being on the big screen instead of just watching it from theater seats.
It was also a bit uncomfortable, she added.
"It was kind of embarrassing," she said, "but I was really excited and it was a lot of fun."