Students make mini movies

As students and faculty have mostly evacuated the SUNY Fredonia campus for the summer, the vacant campus gave room for stuntmen and ninjas to take over. The Action Films Workshop took over campus and the surrounding area for a week-long workshop for students of high school age and older.

Fredonia theater professor and AFW producer Ted Sharon first started the workshop with a team of professionals and colleagues. This was the inaugural year the program was held at Fredonia. It was previously held at the North Carolina School for the Arts. The workshop is an extension of the Playground Drama Camp held for students aged 8-17 at Fredonia’s Robert W. Marvel Theatre. Sharon said AFW is a unique one-of-a-kind program and the first of its kind in Western New York.

“Our area offers such a wide variety of interesting and useful locations. That, together with the support of the Faculty Student Association and SUNY Fredonia, made our decision to offer the workshop in Western New York a natural choice,” Sharon said.

The same team has been with the workshop throughout the years which is a top priority, according to Sharon. In addition to Sharon, the team includes Steve Vaughan, fight and stage director; A.C. Weary, producer and director; Eric Hartmann, cinematographer; J. Allen Suddeth, fight director; Jaryd Petorski, production assistant; and Tom Sullivan, production assistant.

AFW utilized the campus including Reed Library and even Point Gratiot in the city of Dunkirk. Sharon said the campus, the village of Fredonia and the city of Dunkirk have welcomed the program with “open arms.” Sharon also thanked the Edwards Waterhouse Inn for their support throughout the week.

“It’s been amazing to see the support that the community has poured into this project. Everything from permits and locations to aloe vera plants to treat sunburn from being on the beach. Everybody has been so good to us,” said Sharon. “The campus has been fantastic. Every thing from the president of the university down to the facilities personnel have been so welcoming and accommodating to us.”

Local high school students, in addition to older graduate students and professional actors spent the week at AFW first training then filming. Students were taught acting for camera in addition to utility stunt work – rolls, falls, fist fights and sword fights. Trevor Cole, an incoming junior at Silver Creek High School, has been involved with the playground program for several years. He has been working on editing video throughout the week and said it has been a great experience. Katie Dolphin Took, a home schooled senior, said she really enjoyed learning how to fight.

“I think that my favorite part was learning how to do the combat, how to get the feel of it then put it into practice,” she said.

Freshman Kiera Gross from Batavia, said she enjoyed filming her character’s death scene which gave her and her co-stars an opportunity to fall asleep. Fredonia High School sophomore Victoria Pucci-Schaefer said learning all the stunts such as shooting a rubber gun and flying on a harness were her favorite parts. Joseph Casey, a senior at Fredonia High School, said he enjoyed the entire week and could not pick a favorite moment.

SUNY Fredonia graduate Ben Sheedy has been involved with AFW since it has been held in North Carolina. He said the week-long experience is great since students get a sampling of a variety of cinematic techniques and stunts which would take normally two or three months to master.

“It’s a wonderful learning experience both for the younger students and for the older students who are teaching. The best way to learn something is to teach it. It’s really rewarding. This is a really good group of kids,” Sheedy said.

Erika Frase, a Tonawanda resident, said the week has been “amazing” and she enjoyed learning techniques in the morning and being able to apply them directly to screen.

“Working together with people who know what they are doing and when they have the same passion they’re able to make some pretty awesome stuff. We’re getting that training but then we’re able to turn it into something on camera,” Frase said.

Throughout the week, the students acted out two original scripts to make two short movie trailers: “Street Wars” and “The Last Sword of Masamune.” Both scripts were written in-house and were filmed incorporating stuntwork. “Street Wars” is about children who live on the street who learn of an evil gang’s plan and decide to fight back. “The Last Sword of Masamune” is about a magical sword forged in ancient times, now in danger of falling into the wrong hands. The sword also reveals a new power all its own during the movie.

Sharon plans to have the workshop at Fredonia in the years to come with more extensive stuntwork and adding more film locations throughout Chautauqua County. Once the two films are complete they will be posted on the Playground Camp USA Facebook page. Registration and more information for the Playground Drama Camp can be found on the facebook page or by email at

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