While Hollywood blockbusters headlined by Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga and Ryan Gosling played in the smaller theaters at Main Street Movies 5, it was a group of local kids who were the biggest stars Sunday night during a special one-night-only showing.
The 80 kids had participated in weeklong summer camps held by Newark-based GEM Studios, where they filmed, directed and starred in their own short films. Those films debuted on the big screen Sunday night and drew a sold-out crowd of family members and friends.
“It was cool,” 13-year-old Larissa Heather said, describing the feeling of seeing herself on a real movie screen. “I never thought I’d see that.”
That’s just the reaction that GEM Studio owner Lee Irving hoped for.
“It’s phenomenal. Hopefully this is a lifelong memory for these kids,” said Irving, a professional actor whose credits include parts in “Friday Night Lights,” “Walker, Texas Ranger” and “A House Divided.”
GEM Studios opened on Main Street in 2008 and moved to its current location in Fairfield Shopping Center in 2011. The business offers acting classes for kids, teens and adults.
The summer movie camps started in 2011, but this is only the second year the kids’ work has been shown on the big screen.
On Sunday, the kids dressed in formal attire and posed for photos before the movie premiere. After each of the eight movies were screened, Irving called the stars to the front of the theater to talk about their experiences acting in and producing the films.
“It was great as an aspiring director to use real equipment,” Alex Toth, 13, said. “Everybody was so welcoming. Lee was great. It was great to talk to him and get his advice.”
Owen Kendall, 11, said the camp helped him in his goal of becoming a professional actor.
“It was very fun,” he said. “I like how they let us use the equipment. I feel like I got a lot of skills from it.”
Friends Savannah Gross and Isabella Doyle agreed.
“It was the highlight of our summer,” Savannah, 12, said.
“The people who run the camp are really nice people,” Isabella, 13, added.
Grace Walton, 15, is in her second year participating in the camp and said that while she enjoyed the experience, it’s awkward to see herself on the big screen.
“I have to critique myself for the acting,” she said, before conceding, “I don’t think I did too terrible this time. I think I improved.”
Angelina Wise, 9, liked seeing how the movie came together.
“She was really excited for today,” her mom, Angela, said. “She couldn’t wait for it.”
Laura Whipple enjoyed watching her kids, 8-year-old Keagan Short and 5-year-old Serraphim Short, finding their identity and coming our of their shells through acting.
“It was absolutely amazing,” she said.