A free two-week summer workshop on cinema for high schoolers will culminate Friday in a film debut at Angelika Film Center & Café.

That is when Poway Unified high school students and invited guests will view the teens’ creative efforts on a movie theater screen.

The AME Summer Cinema Workshop brought 17 incoming freshmen through seniors together with professionals in the film industry so the teens could explore the Arts, Media and Entertainment Career Technical Education Pathway in Poway Unified.

To make the short film “The Sidekick,” students had to go through every step of the film production process under the guidance of mentors. The student-created film is about an ordinary woman who finds herself mistaken for a superhero and she ends up helping her new sidekick save the day, said Ross Kallen, digital media production teacher at Rancho Bernardo High.

Students Katie Leung (director) and Sophia Calcagno (first assistant director) with mentor Mike Brueggemeyer at the director’s monitor.

(Ross Kallen)

Last week students began with the pre-production phase, which had them coming up with a storyline, writing a script, casting and scheduling. Later in the week they were in the principal photography phase, which included lighting, directing, camera work and acting. Last Friday they filmed on location in downtown San Diego, including outside of the San Diego Concourse and Civic Center Plaza.

This week their focus has been on post-production, including editing, music, sound and color grade.

Fallon Millsap, an RB High senior, said she has been taking digital media classes since seventh grade. For most of this workshop she has worked behind the scenes, especially on sound editing.

“In the program (over the years) I have not found my passion by working with the camera, but in this workshop I was pushed to pick up the camera,” Millsap said, adding she learned a lot about how a camera works.

Sania Bhatia, an RB High senior who was director of photography, said that is the job she is aspiring to have as a career.

“I’m taking as many opportunities I can to improve and this workshop is a good opportunity,” Bhatia said, adding the professional mentorships have been very helpful.

Katie Leung, a Del Norte High senior, has been the film director. She chose to take the workshop in order to improve her skills, she said.

“It’s really refreshing to be with people who enjoy the same passion as you do,” Leung said.

“I’ve always wanted to pursue a film career,” said Sophia Calcagno, another RB High senior, who was the assistant director. “I’ve loved it. This is a great experience.” She added that listing the workshop on college applications will also be beneficial.

Brenda Sanchez, a Poway High senior who was the second camera assistant, said her job was to slate, the audio signal to all on set that they need to be quiet and filming is to start. She also announces the roll number, scene and take being filmed.

“I like the position,” Sanchez said. “The job itself is very minimal, but without the slate you can’t start.”

While she was interested in being a film director when younger, Sanchez said she now has new interests, including that of Foley artist — the person who makes the sound effects, such as footsteps or a closing door. “It’s more experimental,” she said.

Student film crew setting up shot with lead actor Alex Medico (in role of Pauly).

Student film crew setting up shot with lead actor Alex Medico (in role of Pauly).

(Ross Kallen)

The workshop also gave her greater insights into what it is like to work on a film set. “Filming is long … with a lot of stress,” Sanchez said. “My respect has grown for the people in this industry.”

Kallen said the goal of the workshop is to offer experiential learning and career pathways to the students by having them work side-by-side with professionals in the industry rather than shadowing them. “It’s a reverse internship,” he said.

Mike Brueggemeyer said his “day job” is as a video director and cameraman, but he also works part-time in the district. He is serving as an in-house mentor.

Jeremy Svenson, a writer for TV shows like “BH90210” and “Rizzoli & Isles,” was among Rancho Bernardo High alumni to provide guidance. After students wrote their first draft of the script last week, Kallen said Svenson provided notes and talked with the students via Zoom about how to make it better.

The reason Svenson gave Kallen, his former teacher, for wanting to help the students was because nearly two decades earlier, he had the opportunity to participate in a workshop with professionals and it was a game-changer for his career. Therefore, Svenson told him he wants to be for these students what those pros were for him, Kallen said.

“During each step of the production … we had mentors for the students,” Kallen said.

“Our goal is to empower the kids, this is their work, not ours,” Kallen added.

Brueggemeyer said they want to provide the students with experiences he never had access to during film school. “In college I was working with other college students,” he said.

By the workshop’s conclusion, Brueggemeyer said the students will have learned so much that they will be “very qualified to be on a film set.”

He said Bhatia has done things during the workshop that are “on par with my work and I have been doing this for 30 years. She still has a lot to learn, but to be so far along (at her age) … it’s amazing.”

Brueggemeyer also said a documentary Calcagno made during the pandemic was very impressive. “The film is very moving, very well thought out,” he said. “I don’t think I could have done it in college, and she has done it as a junior.”

This is Brueggemeyer’s first time working with Leung, but over the first week he said she went “from wide-eyed and lost to focused and creative.”

According to Brueggemeyer, by working with mentors the students have also seen “how professionals behave, think. … They’ve seen how to be ready on a moment’s notice and pay attention to what is going on around them. It makes them much more employable.”

Students playing role of extras as reporters for film.

Students Daniel Romo, Peter Majourau, Drew Floyd, Braeden Bugsch, Fallon Millsap and Antonio Herrera playing role of extras as reporters for film.

(Ross Kallen)

According to Lynn McConville, assistant principal of PUSD’s career technical and adult education, funding for the AME Summer Cinema Workshop at RB High was made possible through a mix of COVID relief funds as a summer enrichment program plus partnerships with businesses that gave donations of supplies and services. Many professionals brought in as mentors are PUSD alumni.

This is the first time for the workshop and most of the other CTE summer offerings, with the exception of an internship program that was offered before, McConville said. The RB cinema workshop was for advanced digital media students, while a beginner option was offered at Westview High. Other summer workshops focused on automotive (Mt. Carmel and Poway high schools), construction with the goal to construct a tiny house (Mt. Carmel), fire science (includes fire service and emergency medical technician/first responder — also at Mt. Carmel) plus college and career readiness (at RB High and virtually).

In all, more than 200 students are involved in the high school summer programs, she said. Students were referred or applied before the school year ended last month. McConville said no students were turned away. There are also enrichment programs offered at the elementary and middle school levels.

“All the classes except internship are non-credit bearing,” McConville said.

“The kids are having fun, the teachers are too because they are back in the classroom doing what they love,” she said.