From Hot Wheels to hot reels

Cameron Lew is truly one of the cool kids of the social media age.

The 17-year-old Huntington Beach High School junior has been shooting and editing videos for his YouTube channel since eighth grade. However, Cameron's filming career started as early as 8 years old. Armed with an old DV tape camera that he used to "steal" from his dad, he would film his Lego figures and Hot Wheels and just make "silly stuff" with his friends.

On his 13th birthday, he got a camera and saved up enough money to buy a computer of his own. Today, he is winning film festivals and has expanded his genre beyond building blocks and toy cars.

Cameron's short film "Swung" won the grand prize at the 2013 Surf City Student Film Festival on March 18 and also swept the Best Editing and Best Acting/Directing categories. The film festival is hosted annually by the Academy for the Performing Arts, a program of the Huntington Beach Union High School District, and is open to all district students. Cameron has been a part of APA since he was a freshman.

Last year, he teamed up with a friend and made a film that won a grand prize at the festival. His second consecutive win this year was, surprisingly, an entirely different experience; his film brought the audience to its feet.

"When the winner was announced, I got a standing ovation by my friends. And eventually the whole crowd stood up and applauded," he said with a hint of humility. "I was like, 'Wow, this is amazing...I can't believe it.' I thought it was really astounding."

The film is a love story of two teenagers who grew up together and shared a passion for photography. Their love is destroyed by a horrific act of texting while driving, leaving one to reminisce about their time spent together through the memories captured on film.

"He's won the festival two years running for one simple reason," APA media advisor Michael Simmons explained. "There are multiple criteria that the judges base their numbers on, like story, cinematography, acting, etc. Most young filmmakers put much of their energy into one area, like writing, camera work or effects, but the ones who pay attention to all those areas together score the highest and win. That's what Cameron does. It's no secret. I remind all my students all the time."

John Borack, general manager of the Public Cable Television Authority and a music journalist, was one of the 12 judges at the festival this year. Borack described Cameron's film as "stylized" and "professional."

"He approaches his work with the maturity and the trained eye of someone three times his age, and his films look like something you'd see on Sundance Channel or at the Newport Beach Film Festival," Borack said. "His work is simply a joy to watch."

It gets difficult for Cameron to juggle academics and APA activities. He is in school at 8 in the morning until sometimes 8 at night. He helps run a school news show and is very hands-on in his APA TV production class after school.

"The film that was entered in the festival was made over the course of one weekend," he said. "We were so close to the deadline that I wasn't sure if I was going to make it. But I got a group of friends that were really into the project."

Cameron's dedication for filmmaking isn't limited to his own work. While working on his film, he helped another friend who was filming his entry the same weekend.

"We really, really love [filmmaking], and we pushed through and we made it happen," he said.

Simmons attests to Cameron's fondness for teaching and helping others around him.

"He does more teaching than I do," he said. "I could disappear and he'd keep our program afloat. They respect him. There is some jealousy from those who don't know him, but he's always into helping out anyone who needs him."

Simmons recalls meeting Cameron as a freshman and watching his clip that he made for his music program.

"He had used a camera to film himself singing a song, broke that clip into hundreds of individual frames, loaded them into his iPhone, and then incorporated his iPhone into a stop-motion animation where he changed the movie frames one at a time... in essence animating himself back into the film," he said.

Simmons was so impressed that he told Cameron he had to take a media class next year.

"He motivates me and helps me so much every day. I'm going to literally mourn at his graduation," Simmons said.

Simmons might not be looking forward to seeing Cameron graduate anytime soon, but Cameron already has his sights set on his future. He wants to go to school for film/TV production and, unlike many kids his age, doesn't "aspire to be the next Steven Spielberg."

"I think I would be suited for behind-the-scenes, whether it be cinematography, editing, postproduction, and not so much a people person," he said.

He also has a penchant for film photography. He began to collect old vintage cameras, and whether they work or not, they are all displayed on a shelf. His love for analogue photography comes from his grandfather, who gave him a 35 mm camera and showed him the basics of film photography. His award-winning film is a tribute to two of his passions, filmmaking and film photography.

"I really wanted to combine the two elements," he said, "and somehow this story came about where it revolved around this antique camera that tore a couple apart, but it also brought them back together."

"Swung" is available to watch on Lew's YouTube channel.

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