If in the 7th grade a student’s defining characteristic is professional, would it surprise you if that same student was also days away from starting production on their first short film? Meet Annika Horton, a student at Pleasant Valley School of Engineering and Arts in Pleasant Valley, CA, and screenwriter of the new short film “Bratts”, one of three 100% student-made films coming out of this middle school 50 miles from Hollywood. 

“Bratts is about a new girl coming to a new school where everyone is stereotyped, and she’s forced to choose a stereotype to join, or else she will be cast out,” Annika explains just outside her mixed 6th-8th grade classroom. She is perfectly focused during the interview, as if not even tempted to be distracted by the noisy students behind her exiting the classroom with camera equipment. She has no fear of the camera, no fear of the interview, and no fear of her thoughts or ideas.

But like a true protagonist, she admits that even she has faced some obstacles, which now serve as the subject for her film. “Occasionally I’ve been stereotyped as the ‘basic’ kid, and it’s really annoying.” She goes on to say ‘basic’ is something people call girls who seem unoriginal and following trends. Basically what everyone basically does.

“The reason I wrote about this is it really annoys me when people stereotype themselves, and I just wanted to make a movie about it, kinda making fun of it,” said Annika. “The film is about stereotypes, and how you shouldn’t stereotype yourself, because no one fits into a stereotype perfectly. There’s no point in doing it.”

Now in its third year at her school, Annika’s opportunity to share this important story has been made possible by the Youth Cinema Project, a filmmaking program dedicated to developing lifelong learners and closing the achievement gap in the entertainment industry. YCP is an in-school class that meets twice a week for an entire school year, with the guidance of two filmmaking mentors that lead the students through the entire filmmaking process, from story development to delivery.

With the guidance of YCP, Annika learned how to take an idea and develop it into a script, encorporated proper story structure, and went on to pitch this story to her fellow classmates, who then voted to move her film into production. 

“The writing process was pretty quick once I got my idea down on paper, and then it was just like let’s add this joke here, let’s add some movement there,” she explained. “I went through two drafts before it was approved. For fun, I am writing a short story and I send chapters to my friends … so I really like writing.”

One of Annika’s filmmaking mentors, Gaby Acevedo, spoke about how one of the biggest challenges when writing is taking notes from other people, but just as with everything else she does, Annika took her notes like a pro. 

“She just said, ‘Ms. Gaby, I believe you’, and took the feedback and made the changes she needed too.”

PVSEA is just days away from their first day of production, which will present Annika with another challenge for her to stomp all over as she will also be directing “Bratts”.

“I ended up being the director because I wrote it and I had a vision for how this was going to end up and I wanted to make sure it went in that direction.” Spoken like a true writer-director.

All YCP films have their release dates set for May 2020, with private world premieres scheduled at the Academy’s Linwood Theatre, Nickelodeon Studios, and at CAA offices, all partners of the Youth Cinema Project.

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