Nine short films — all filmed by local filmmakers and all written by area children — will be shown during a red-carpet gala Wednesday night at the Art Theater in Champaign as part of the first Pens to Lens competition.
CHAMPAIGN — Like most kids, Iona Sofia Hopping plays video games.
Unlike most children, though, she drew from them as well as her own imagination to write a short screenplay.
And then she received the rare opportunity to see her script filmed by Shatterglass Studios and starring two professional child actresses from the Chicago area.
"It's just an amazing feeling I have that what I wrote will be on the big screen," said Iona Sofia, an incoming fifth-grader at South Side Elementary School in Champaign.
Her "Even and Odd" as well as eight other shorts — all filmed by local filmmakers and all written by area children — will be shown during a red-carpet gala Wednesday night at the Art Theater in Champaign as part of the first Pens to Lens competition.
The Champaign-Urbana Film Society created Pens to Lens for area students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Members of the Champaign Movie Makers, of which Shatterglass Studios is part, sifted through the 120 screenplays entered and chose nine to produce.
The movies run from 3 to 12 minutes each and were filmed in a variety of styles including stop-motion animation.
Shatterglass Studios shot the live-action "Even and Odd" on the outskirts of Meadowbrook Park in Urbana. It's about a portal a girl finds in the woods. After entering it, she discovers her unconscious self.
"It was really just amazing because everything I wrote on paper was out in the field," said Iona Sofia, who along with her mom, Judith Pintar, watched the crew make the movie.
Now the 10-year-old looks forward to the screenings on Wednesday evening.
"I can't wait until it happens," she said. "I'm going to be happy when it happens. It's going to be really great."
Also pumped is 8-year-old Quinn Fisher, who not only wrote a screenplay but also stars in her short movie, directed by Mike Trippiedi.
In her "Super Duper Low," Quinn portrays Super Quinn, who has diabetes and battles Mr. Machine. During the duel, Super Quinn's blood sugar drops. The two pause while Super Quinn waits for her blood sugar to rise and educates Mr. Machine about diabetes.
In real life, Quinn was diagnosed at age 3 with Type 1 diabetes. To better help her maintain her blood sugar levels, she wears a continuous glucose monitor (http://www.dexcom.com ) and insulin pump (http://www.myomnipod.com ).
Being a machine, Mr. Machine is really interested in the monitor and pump.
"You'll see both in the movie, which educates about diabetes in an unexpected fun way that kids can relate to," said Leighann Calentine, Quinn's mother.
Calentine called Pens to Lens fantastic, especially considering that the filmmakers put their own time, effort and money into making the shorts.
Pintar also is impressed, calling Pens to Lens a remarkable opportunity for a town that already has many wonderful opportunities for children.
"This one goes above and beyond, I feel, partly because it's an Ebert town," Pintar said. "We have this feeling we're about film."
She said Pens to Lens is especially amazing for the young screenwriters including her daughter.
"(Iona Sofia will) have an IMDb (Internet Movie Data Base) page at the age of 10, as a professional writer," Pintar said. "I just think it's going to do wonderful things for her in terms of self-esteem and what she can imagine for herself.
"I hope this becomes a tradition because it could have a wonderful impact on children every year."
The C-U Film Society's Brett Hays, a producer at Shatterglass, said he expects even more Pens to Lens entries from children next year. While planning the first one, the organizers talked with teachers, who suggested that they write a curriculum to help them teach children about how to write screenplays.
They did and put the curriculum online.
The C-U Film Society and Champaign Movie Makers also collaborated with the Champaign-Urbana Design Organization. Its members received copies of all the screenplays and selected more than 50, whether they were produced or not, for which to make movie posters. The posters will be displayed at the gala and likely online.
"If there was something like this when I was kid, I would enter it every year," CUDO's Matt Wiley said.
Hays, who has done a "lot of cool things" in his life, calls Pens to Lens one of the most amazing.
"I haven't run into anybody who's negative about it," he said. "Everyone we've asked for support has given it."
Local merchants donated items and coupons to the "swag bags" for the young screenwriters, and some gave money, he said. Pens to Lens also received a public arts grant from the city of Urbana.
But Pens to Lens is all about the kids, said Hays, who has three of his own.
"The whole point is just to inspire them and say, 'We believe in you. Keep writing. Keep doing good work. Especially keep writing because you are our future.'"
List of writers
The Pens to Lens movies and their young writers:
"Susan and Daisy's Adventure: Episode 1," by Beatrice, Catherine, David, Dennis, Jonathan, Reuben and Saewoong of University Primary School, Champaign (last names of the students were unavailable)
"Into the Mine," by Blake Primmer and Logan Lindsey of St. Joseph Middle School
"Fluffystein," by Maya Kesan, Madely Childress and Taqia Heryadi of Next Generation School, Champaign
"Devil Uses Purell," by Ella Greer of Stratton Elementary, Champaign
"Super Duper Low," by Quinn Fisher of Champaign
"Even and Odd," by Iona Sofia Hopping, of South Side Elementary, Champaign.
"Unexpected Trip," by Jose Gamino, Taeyoon Kim and Dafeny Corona of Urbana High
"Dinner Party Antics," by Aly Hastings of Eater Junior High, Rantoul
"Tunnel to Greenland," written by Ruth Chung of Centennial High, Champaign
If you go
What: Pens to Lens red-carpet gala featuring screenings of nine short films written by local children, and Zoo Improv acting out a couple of scripts that were not produced (presented by the Champaign-Urbana Film Society, Champaign Movie Makers and C-U Design Organization)
When: 7 and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, with red carpet starting at 6
Where: Art Theater, 126 W. Church St., C
Admission: Free, thanks to a public arts grant from the city of Urbana and support from local merchants
Advice: People who want to see the shorts but are not related to the young children who wrote them are advised to attend the 9:30 p.m. screening (eventually, all of the shorts will go online)