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Mar 20, 2012 12:19 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

11-Year-Old Girl Makes Her Directorial Debut In Westhampton Beach

Mar 20, 2012 2:02 PM

A local aspiring director took the first step toward achieving her lifelong dream last week when her short film, “The Games of Hunger,” was screened at the Hampton Arts Twin theater in Westhampton Beach.

An estimated 50 people filled the Six Corners movie theater, including 20 members of the cast, for the premiere of the nearly 30-minute flick that is the director’s interpretation of her favorite book, “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. The book was recently made into a Hollywood movie that is being released nationally this Friday, March 23.

Also in attendance last Friday afternoon were family members and teachers at the nearby Westhampton Beach Middle School, where the director of the short film—11-year-old Sydney Sheren of Westhampton—currently attends the sixth grade.

“My dad told me I should be a director,” Sydney said just moments before her big-screen directorial debut. “It just kind of stuck.”

Sydney said she discovered her passion for filmmaking in the second grade, when she directed her cousins and twin brother, Adam, in a small play for their parents, Madeline Shakin and Kevin Sheren, both dentists. From there, it was destiny, she said.

Since discovering her passion, the sixth-grader has already produced 10 short films, including one “claymation” that required hours of work to shoot three seconds of film. Sydney films and directs all of her movies using iMovie on the MacBook she received while in the fourth grade and attending Westhampton Beach Elementary School.

The inspiration for her latest project was her current favorite book, “The Hunger Games.” The dystopian trilogy revolves around North America following a citizens’ uprising that was quashed by the government. After the uprising, America, now known as Panem, was divided into 12 districts. To remind the people that the government is in control, each district is forced to select one girl and one boy, between the ages of 12 and 18, to participate in the annual Hunger Games—a televised arena battle where participants must fight to the death.

For her big-screen debut, Sydney, along with the help of her best friend, Eleanor Kast, 11, of Westhampton Beach, chose to convert the first book into a short movie. All together, the project took five months to complete. To start, Sydney and Eleanor would get together and go chapter by chapter through the book, converting it into a screenplay. That process alone took three months, they said. From there, they started a cast list.

And the girls weren’t taking any chances. Both knew that they would eventually like people to see their finished product on the big screen, so friends who wanted to star in the movie had to sign a permission slip—and have their parents sign it, too.

“A lot of my friends were excited when I told them about the movie,” Sydney said. “Most of my friends know that I like to make movies, so they didn’t think it was weird at all.”

With the cast list set, Sydney set out to begin shooting, and most of it took place in her front yard and backyard. One scene was shot near the middle school.

“When the two girls showed me this long script, I was amazed,” Dr. Shakin said. “But when Sydney sets her mind to it, she is pretty determined.”

For the next two months, the two friends shot scenes together, and Sydney began the grueling process of editing. With her finished project finally in hand, Sydney knew that the next step was to show it.

“We saw her with all these kids in the backyard, and you just don’t know how it will come out,” her mother said. “But when she started editing and it was coming together, and then it was this movie—this half-hour-long movie that took up hours of our time. We were just so proud of her that we knew we had to show it.”

Sydney’s parents said they planned to rent the Hampton Arts Twin movie theater but, after contacting its owners, were told that they could screen the film for free.

“Madeline called the theater, and the owner was so nice and excited to hear that an 11-year-old did this project, so he said, ‘It’s yours,’” Dr. Sheren said. “So, we decided that for his charitable work, we would do charitable work.” To thank the theater’s owners, the family collected donations at the premiere, raising $700 for the St. Jude’s Children’s Fund, which supports hospitals that treat children with cancer.

With her premiere now behind her, Sydney is busy working on her next project: a short film that is being written by her brother. Sydney, who plans to attend film school when she’s older and eventually wants to become a director, said she intends to help her twin shoot and edit his flick.

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