Afew years ago Eric Naughton sat in a Venetian cafe scribbling in his journal. The scribbles turned into a short story that evolved into a short film, "Foggy Bottom." The title refers to the Washington neighborhood where it was shot but also "the idea of the mysterious, foggy nature of the script," says Naughton. Every other title he considered had the word "spy" in it, he says; "I didn't want to be that obvious."

Shot over several weekends two years ago, the half-hour film noir focuses on a young man who witnesses a murder and then becomes a target himself. Naughton, a recent graduate of American University's master's program in film, talked the professors into letting him shoot scenes of "Foggy Bottom" as part of his homework.

With the help of casting director Kimberly Skyrme, he found local stage actors willing to work free in exchange for a crack at film. Helping them adjust to performing on video turned out to be one of Naughton's biggest challenges. "People who are used to doing theater work are not used to acting small," says Naughton. The other challenge was persuading Metro authorities to let him film a chase scene in a subway station (he wound up shooting it in Baltimore).

Growing up in Erie, Pa., Naughton, 29, planned to become an actor. But when he saw on his Penn State entrance forms that he could major in film, something clicked. "I erased 'drama' and put 'film' down and I haven't turned back," says Naughton. "With film there are a lot more possibilities. I am able to stay close to acting and still express myself."

Naughton supports himself by working as a freelance sound mixer (he's the guy during live TV interviews who holds up the long stick with the big fuzzy ball at the end). The $17,000 he needed for "Foggy Bottom" came from his parents ("They're divorced, so I can hit them up separately," he says) and student loans. His next short film, a six-minute, Woody Allen-type comedy called "Only a Dream," starts production in the fall. He's also adapting an acquaintance's action novel for the screen.

In October, Naughton plans to celebrate his 30th birthday by returning to Venice with his girlfriend. He'll save a spot in his suitcase for his journal.

"Foggy Bottom" will be screened tonight with three other short films at Studio 650, 650 Massachusetts Ave. NW. The program starts at 7:30 p.m.; admission is free. 202-408-0900.

With the Greatest of Ease

"This is not the trapeze people are used to seeing with sparkles and drums," says Caroline Gravel, press attache for Les Arts Sauts. "It's more emotion than technique. We want people to share their passion of flying." Translated literally as "the jumping arts," Les Arts Sauts features a cast of 11 trapeze artists who dip and sway nearly 50 feet above the ground accompanied by a live singer and several musicians who float above the audience as well.

The show's opening features Sara Sandqvist, an aerial ballerina who performs entwined in a long swath of white fabric. After her solo, the other fliers join her one by one until they all swirl against the dramatic lights of the set. "We didn't want to impose a story," says Gravel. "We like that people have different perceptions of the show."

A few days ago the Paris-based company left New York, where the artists had made their U.S. debut at the Lincoln Center Festival, to follow four truckloads of equipment to the Kennedy Center. Their two-week run starts Saturday.

Last night their huge, inflatable outdoor tent, designed by German architect Hans-Walter Muller, was pumped full of air on the Kennedy Center's east plaza. To enter the 850-seat tent, patrons must squeeze through an entry in the bubble.

Les Arts Sauts was born in 1993, the project of five trapezists who wished to do something other than perform in a traditional French circus. After making the rounds of small festivals, Les Arts Sauts now tours 10 months a year, traveling mostly in Asia and Europe. The current show, "Kayassine" ("circus" in Laotian), is its second production.

The trapeze artists (10 men and a woman) range in age from 25 to 44 and their backgrounds vary as well, although most of them graduated from the state circus school in France. Gravel's husband and one of the group's founders, Germain Guillemot, knew he wanted to fly before he turned 10. Another original member, Frank Michel, worked a variety of jobs, such as remodeling old houses, before he turned to the trapeze. "They have the same dream," says Gravel. "Age and experience doesn't really matter."

Les Arts Sauts performs Saturday through Aug. 15. Tickets are $20 Saturday and Monday, $45 the rest of the run. For information call 202-467-4600.

Arts Bits

Tomorrow night the Arlington Cultural Affairs Division will host a free outdoor screening of James M. Barrie's 1924 silent film "Peter Pan." Organist Ray Brubaker will provide musical accompaniment. The screening takes place at Lubber Run Amphitheater, North Second and North Columbus streets, at 8:30. For information call 703-228-6960 . . . Dorothy Pierce McSweeny was recently appointed chairwoman of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the city's official cultural agency. In her new position, McSweeny will oversee a $2.2 million budget and will represent the mayor at cultural events and activities.