The actors and extras gather around the set. The scene: the Virgin Bar.
The director shouts, "Three, two, one, action!" The camera rolls.
A young woman runs into the bar, crying, seeking out a friend. Her friend asks whether her brother was the one who beat her up. No, it was someone else, the crying girl says, and the scene is played out.
After a few takes, the director is satisfied. "That's good. Cut!"
It was a scene that would be edited into a new full-length feature film, "The Slices of Life 2: The 50-50 Club." The movie shows the trials and tribulations of a group of multicultural teenagers coming of age in an urban community. But these are not your typical Hollywood actors working on a studio production.They are students at the Arlington Career Center, and they have produced a full-length feature film -- which runs an hour and fifteen minutes. The movie premiered last weekend at the Career Center and the Gunston Arts Center.
"This is all student-run," said David Welsh, the instructor and one of the advisers for the project. "This is like a New York University graduate film school project."
It is the second film the center has produced. Last year, students created "Slices of Life: The House Party," which was so well received that they got the green light to do another one this year, Welsh said.
With a shoestring budget of $20,000 from the U.S. Department of Education, and with the help from other organizations, including the Urban Alternative, a nonprofit continuing education and social services program, and the Columbia Heights West Teen Photo Project, the students spent the last five months writing a script, building a set, producing the music and learning myriad technical and editing skills needed to make a film.
The labor-intensive project drew students from all four county high schools -- Yorktown, Wakefield, Washington-Lee and the H.B. Woodlawn Secondary Program -- who were among the 1,200 students at the center who take part in the vocational, creative or technical programs it offers.
Making the film was not only a creative outlet for the students, it was also a way to get hands-on experience learning a multitude of skills on industry-standard editing and computer equipment, Welsh said.
Yorktown junior Jiji Hofiz, 17, said that when she enrolled in the center's television and multimedia production class, she had no idea that she would be playing one of the main characters in the film.
"I thought TV class was like shooting with a camera, fixing a lens," the aspiring actress said. "I was so surprised that we were doing a movie!"
Fellow thespian Lou Pineda, 17, a Wakefield junior, rattled off what he has taken in during the five months of filmmaking: "Lighting, video, editing, how to work the computers -- everything."
"Making a movie is a big process," he said. "This is professional stuff."
The project was also extremely personal, participants said. Working with a diverse group of students who cut across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines, Welsh said he wanted absolute candidness about the issues that they would write into the script.
"I told them to put all the chips on the table," Welsh said. "Reach down for the deep stuff."
The "deep stuff" that surfaced was jarring. One student acknowledged being an alcoholic, drinking since the age of 13, another talked about enjoying drugs. One talked about breaking the window of a police cruiser and running away, and another revealed how she had to talk a friend out of committing suicide.
"These are things you usually don't hear in a school environment," Welsh said. "The power of this is that it brings down the teen facade and the code of silence that surrounds risk behavior."
As a result, the plot lines of the film reveal what many teenagers struggle with: whether to take drugs or drink (as a positive message the students agreed to have the film's hangout, the Virgin Bar, be drug- and alcohol-free); sexual identity; peer pressure (one character fights to keep from joining a gang); suicide; racism; pregnancy; and family pressures.
In reality, the students worked to learn about each other; others continued to struggle with their differences. Will Boisture and Chris Guest, who worked on last year's film and came back this year to volunteer, were able to establish a friendship in spite of their different backgrounds.
"We never would have met -- we lived on the opposite sides of Arlington, we went to different schools," said Boisture, 21, who is white.
Boisture, who just finished his second year at NYU's undergraduate film school, had taken classes at the Career Center from 1999 to 2001, and last year received an internship to work on the film project. There, he met Guest, who is a musician and was starring in the film.
"We clicked right there. We're both creative," said Guest, 19, who is African American. Guest, a Wakefield graduate, said the center also helped him get through a tough period in his life last year when he spent two months in jail for being in a car where a gun was fired. Now, Guest has landed a job as a veejay with a new hip-hop network that will be launched in New Orleans this fall -- a connection made by Boisture, who is working on the network's launch.
Other students said the filmmaking experience has also made a difference in their lives. Once the quietest among his peers, Brian Jimenez, 16, a junior at Wakefield, has opened up since he was cast in the film as a teenager struggling to stay away from the gang life.
"I have a lot of friends who are in gangs or who are locked up," Jimenez said. "This makes you think about the different choices we make."
Welsh also tapped into the students' musical talent. The film's soundtrack features original music from participants, including a jazz quartet, a punk band and rap acts.
While Welsh acknowledged that most of the students won't pursue careers in entertainment or music, the technical, editing and informational skills they learned while participating in the project will prepare them "for any job that they will get."
Russell Berger, 16, an H-B Woodlawn sophomore, said the experience was invaluable.
"Most kids my age would never get an opportunity like this -- not only to learn the equipment, but to direct a scene in a feature-length film," he said.
Welsh said he hopes the project will leave his students with a sense of accomplishment that they deserve.
"It becomes like a monument," he said. "Students will be watching it 20 years from now."
To order a copy of the DVD call the Arlington Career Center at 703-228-5800.