LAKEWOOD RANCH — Manatee County educators Heather Manley and Helaine Grant created a filmmaking company for children last year to give students a vehicle to speak about social issues.
They also did it because they’ve seen firsthand what it’s like to be voiceless.
Manley is a seven-year former exceptional student education teacher with Manatee County Schools, while Grant has worked for 15 years with special-needs students.
In 2011, the two turned their passion for filmmaking into Lakewood Ranch-based Inspired Minds, an education group that teaches kids how to make movies.
During a two-week camp this winter, 32 area students in grades three through 10 created an eight-minute, science-fiction film titled, “Color Me Invisible,” which pushes the theme of being true to yourself.
The project, shot at Braden River Elementary school for four days, takes students through the entire process of filmmaking — from costuming to make-up, to set design, to writing — and culminates Dec. 1, with a red-carpet screening at Lakewood Ranch Cinemas.
At the event, which starts at 9:30 a.m. and is free to the public, the Sarasota Film & Entertainment Office will proclaim Dec. 1 as “Film Kids Day.”
Manley expects to draw 200 people to the screening.
Last year’s film, “The Good Kids,” shed light on bullying and earned an award at the Sarasota Film Festival and a spot in the Gasparilla International Film Festival in Tampa.
Each film starts with prompts from Manley.
After the showing of “The Good Kids” last year during informal talks, students told Manley about the pressure for middle schoolers and high schoolers to blend in.
From that loose idea, Grant’s twin daughters, Nicole and Hannah, plus Savannah Wright — all Lakewood Ranch High School sophomores — spent long summer nights writing “Color Me Invisible.”
“Ms. Manley gave us that rough idea and we saw it as a big issue, as well,” Wright said. “There are a lot of cliques in school and some people are pressured to be put into groups they don’t want to be in. We want people to know that it’s OK to be yourself and not let people judge you.”
“Color Me Invisible” tells the story through an alternate universe, in which a special council wears colored morph suits, or skin-tight spandex over their face and body, and puts each character into social groups, represented by unique colors. Each person within the various colored groups acts and speaks the same.
The main character, Jared, who likes to draw, skateboard and be alone, refuses to join a group and is designated an “invisible” who loses his name and can’t socialize.
Thirteen-year-old Blake Brannan landed the role of Jared by accident.
Brannan, an eighth-grader at Nolan Middle School, who had a small speaking role in “The Good Kids,” tried out to be Scott, Jared’s best friend. Brannan’s good friend, 13-year-old Anthony Bavaro, auditioned to play Jared. Manley and Grant switched the duo’s roles.
Brannan remembered looking up at Bavaro during the first take of the first filming day and laughing. It took 10 takes to shoot that scene.
“Filming taught me a lot about patience,” Brannan said. “If you mess up your lines once, you start over. It’s a pain.
“A lot is on you to learn by yourself and through the other kids, but that’s why it’s awesome,” he said, noting he received acting tips prior to filming.
Nasya Kastelik, the 12-year-old, home-schooled co-director of the film, learned about movies the old-fashioned way.
As a 4-year-old, Nasya sang and danced around the house, which prompted her parents to enroll her in iPOP!, an acting agency in Los Angeles.
Nasya soaked up life in front of the camera as an extra in Disney films.
When Nasya started at Inspired Minds last year, her perspective changed.
“At first, I wanted to have fun and be the best I could be in front of the camera, but I later realized I wanted to inspire other children,” Nasya said. “Behind the camera, as a director, you can inspire the most. That is where the magic happens.”
An admirer of Steven Spielberg and Francis Coppola, Nasya dissects movies and points our framing errors when she watches movies with her parents.
She says she’s learned the real-life lessons through Inspired Minds.
“Making this movie taught me compassion, pride and curiosity,” Nasya said. “I learned to believe in others. A director has to do that.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].