In the fall of 2010 I attended the First Glance Film Festival in my hometown of Philadelphia, this is where I met the founder of the festival, Bill Ostroff. Upon learning that I was a Philly girl that currently lives in Los Angeles, Bill shared with me a concept he had been developing for some time about a sleep-away camp for children that would involve the world of Star Wars. Being a fan of Star Wars, and having a huge working background with children (in a former life I was a teacher, a substitute, a therapeutic staff support, and still tutor occasionally), I of course was interested to learn more.
Flash forward approximately 6 months to the spring of 2011: Bill and I are having coffee in Sherman Oaks, California where he goes into greater detail on the project. I would be playing the role of the lead camp counselor, starring opposite Camden Toy (of Buffy fame), as well as being a producer on the project. We would soon be auditioning children thru a round of taped auditions. “Great,” I said, “can I read the script?” This is when Bill tells me that there is no script, yet.
At this point I sort of think this guy is a bit nuts, but as a fellow Philly native, and the founder of not one, but two successful festivals, I figure I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, and keep myself in the loop of this project. As an actress/producer, without a manager, it can be difficult deciding which projects are worth vesting effort into and which are not.
Bill explains that he will be having the children send in videos dressed in their favorite Star Wars costumes, and improving their favorite scenes. (Again, I’m thinking, wow, there’s no script yet, and you’re having children audition.. but okay, I’m going to stick with this).
Finally a script arrives in my inbox fall of 2011, a year after our initial meeting, and guess what, to my utter joy and surprise it’s a GOOD SCRIPT! Bill has added more to the initial concept that he pitched me as well. A Star Wars Camp for kids sounded great as it was, but now the project has an anti-bullying message as the underlying theme.
The series follows a group of young Star Wars fans, who embark on an adventure filled summer at the first ever sleep-away camp for Jedi. Throughout their summer, they’ll learn the ways of the Force and be tested by the Dark Side. When the youngest camper, Lucas discovers he has the Power of the Force, it enables him to conquer his fears and defeat his bully. I believe that this is what makes this project so special. Bullying, unfortunately, is a very real topic in 2012, and our series deals with the issue of bullying and how a group of young children deal with the implications of bullying. Adults and children alike are fans of Star Wars and if this project can help even one parent to sit down with their child and get real about bullying, then we’ve done a good job.
Now that I have an actual script in my hand, and am really able to grasp the impact of such a project, I am excited to get this ball rolling.
We set up call-backs for our favorite children based on their video submissions. Because we’re dealing with children ranging from age 6 to 12, we set up the call-backs as a bit of a round-robin, where each of the children joined me as a group, to read thru the entire script, in various roles. This gave us a feel for who we felt was strongest in each role. We broke the call-backs up into 2 weekends, and after the first round, I thought wow, we have found our cast, we really don’t need another weekend, boy was I wrong. On that last weekend of call-backs a young actor, by the name of Stuart showed up. His parents had heard about the project, and even though he wasn’t in the initial round of auditions, Bill gave him the okay to read with the current group. He blew us away. They all blew us away.
At the end of the day, Bill and I looked at each other and said unanimously, “We need to give them all a part.” Bill wrote in a few more key characters, and a few more side-kicks until we were happy that we gave each of these talented children a role. On a side-note: I could never be a casting director at Disney or Nickelodeon, I just couldn’t break that many young hearts on a daily basis without it affecting me personally. It’s tough enough as an adult actress.
Over the past few months we’ve been gathering our stunt coordinators, our cameo appearances, and our crew, but the most difficult thing so far has been our location. It needs to be an outside, “campy” looking location, in the Los Angeles area, that won’t break our budget. This is still proving to be difficult, but I am confident that something will pop-up, maybe someone reading this article, owns or works at a camp-ground, who knows!
About a month ago, we gathered the entire cast, including Camden Toy (who is such a sweet man, don’t let his gruesome characters fool you), for a table-read as well as to make our kick-starter video. It was truly magical to see the story unfold out of the mouths of these young children. But even more touching, was to hear them each speak of their own issues with bullying. Those clips didn’t make it into the Kickstarter video, but I believe we will be sharing them as updates.
So of course, that brings us to where we are now; in the final days of fundraising. We have set a goal of $8500 and anything we raise above and beyond that will be donated to the www.DoSomething.org against violence and bullying.
Always on an adventure and more than willing to take you along, Leah Cevoli was born in Philly, is a bi-coastal actor, host, and producer who geeks out over all things Rock ‘n Roll, Horror (most importantly vampires), and Social Media. She is most notably known as a voice actor, having recorded over 30 characters on the Emmy Award winning Robot Chicken, as well as her work on HBO’s critically acclaimed series Deadwood. She has created a number of web-projects including Livin’ On A Dream; an inspirational talk-show, as well as her popular Vlog, On the Road with Leah (over 60 episodes, shot in 8 states, and 15 cities). Leah also writes a weekly “Adventures in Randomness & Rock ‘n Roll” blog for Talk Nerdy To Me Lover. Leah is currently starring with Camden Toy (Buffy), in the web-series Jedi Camp. Oh, and she’ll KAROAKE anywhere, anytime, and totally beat you at Ms. PacMan.