After more than 120 days of pitching scripts, watching classic movies and arguing about everything under the sun, seven high school students and their director finally finished a 26-minute film titled "Poppy."

The movie is about a teenager trying to graduate from high school and become the first in his family to attend college. His mission is complicated by the sudden death of his grandfather. All the scenes were shot in Anacostia, and they were all based on the ideas of students who stuck with the four-month project.

Initially, the 12 student filmmakers selected for the experiment had fuzzy ideas at best about the attention and commitment it was going to demand. The Anacostia Senior High School students were chosen because they made it clear that they were interested in making a movie.

Not all made it to the end. A few students could not hack meeting every Saturday morning for three hours to plan the big shoot. One was pulled away by a sick relative.

The seven remaining students learned how to use movie jargon and how to pitch scripts professionally. They learned how to audition. Eventually they even learned how to listen to each other respectfully so that ideas could be expressed without interruption.

Their progress was evident on the second day of filming when one of the lead characters was more than an hour late for the shoot. With all the day's shots centered largely around him, nothing could be done until he arrived. Instead of flipping out, everyone waited around trying to put on happy faces. But the tension was mounting.

"I don't have all day to wait for Rayvon {Hicks}. He's done this before. I could be out doing something else. I don't need to be here right now," said Robby Preston, who bided his time by practicing the gospel song he sings in the film. "Then he'll show up late smiling like nothing happened. Watch, watch what I say."

Finally Rayvon Hicks arrived and almost nonchalantly announced that he had overslept. Most of the others shrugged it off, but one student who shared a scene with "the star" used his real anger to better his performance.

The program, called Lights, Camera, Action!, is the brainchild of Allison Silberberg, an adjunct faculty member at American University and a screenwriter and filmmaker. The program's goal is to teach adolescents the art of filmmaking and to improve their performances in English courses.

Silberberg, 31, also tried to prod the students and challenged them to make deadlines and fulfill their responsibilities to the group.

"The real purpose {of Lights, Camera, Action!} is for the kids to learn about themselves. The program builds bridges between where they are and where they're going. It gives them a sense of what is really important. ... I would hope the program gives them confidence to do anything in the future," Silberberg said.

Silberberg began by assigning the students to learn the meaning of theatrical terms such as "suspension of disbelief," "pitching" and "empathy." They wrote them in their journals. The terms quickly became a part of their vocabularies.

But everything has not come easy. Sacrifices had to be made.

Rayvon Hicks, Robby Preston, Ernest Solomon, Troy Mitchell, Charmaine McCowan, Chaquina Lee and Maurice Saunders, talked about missing other activities while staying focused to their LCA! commitment.

"The only thing I disliked about the program was missing other opportunities like {joining} clubs after school and hanging with friends," said Hicks, 16, who has the starring role in the movie, which was shot in color.

Hicks, who aspires to be an actor and is contemplating transferring to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, said: "I stayed because I wanted to get this opportunity because I want to act in the future. Sometimes you have to put something important ahead of other things. ... I also liked working with someone like Allison {who is} out of my culture. That's fun as well."

One student who did not complete LCA! but still gave the program high marks was Lawerency Boone, 18.

"It is a great program. I really like it because you learn the ins and outs of the film business, and Allison is a great person. She is very devoted and dedicated," Boone said. The high school senior, who needs to finish summer school and four classes to obtain his diploma, vowed to return to LCA! next year. "The program helped my study habits because the assignments had to be typed in correct form," Boone said.

The American Film Institute at the Kennedy Center has agreed to show a special screening of "Poppy" in September when the editing is done. All students will receive copies of the film.

According to Silberberg, who wants to turn the program into an annual project, the future prospects of LCA! largely will depend on individual and corporate benefactors. It would be inappropriate to ask the original benefactors -- the school, the 7th District police department, where the students met on Saturdays, and Union Temple Baptist Temple Church -- to carry so much of the load again. There was financial help too, from the National Endowment for the Arts and the D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities. Eastman Kodak donated film, and Colorlab of Rockville contributed with a break on processing the film and donated videotape.

"I can't afford to do the program full-time anymore. ... Overall it has been good. It has been the best experience in my life. But it's been a lot of spaghetti dinners and tuna salads," Silberberg said.

Janet Solomon applauds the program and hopes it succeeds. Her son Ernest, 17, plays Pooh, Hicks's best friend in the movie, and Solomon's father, James Jackson, plays Poppy, Hicks's grandfather.

"Ernest has undergone a good change. I've seen the enthusiasm in him. {LCA!} didn't deviate from his schoolwork at all," said Solomon, who is proud of her son's 3.0 grade-point average and his aspirations to attend Yale law school.

"The program taught me to have more patience with friends," Ernest Solomon said. "That's something my mother says I need more of. {Through LCA!} I learned that I would like to see more black Americans get along like in the program because we as a world can't function on hate alone."