Jeff Seidel

Shaquille Coleman, 16, holds a boom microphone over the movie set in an alley behind the Children's Center of Wayne County in Detroit.

Vic Spicer, the project director, takes over.

"Are we ready?" Spicer asks. "OK. Quiet."

A few seconds pass.

"OK, roll camera," says Spicer, who owns his own production company in Detroit. "Action!"

Music starts to play. It is a catchy, foot-tapping, inspirational song these teenagers wrote, performed and recorded at Harmonie Park Studios, the same studio Aretha Franklin and Eminem use.

"Pursue your dreams," female voices sing sweetly.

The actors start to dance, as the song breaks into rap: "All it takes is a little dedication. Realization. Motivation. Don't stop! Keep chasing!"

Filmmakers have popped up around Michigan, making feature-length movies and TV shows, but this is different.

This group of 18 high school students from Detroit and Highland Park is filming its own short movie at a blazing pace - three weeks from start to finish.

The teens wrote the script and choreographed the dances. They're acting and doing most of the behind-the-scenes work under the guidance of several professionals through a program called artsJAM Detroit! WAY (Work Alternatives for Youth), which is introducing them to the film industry.

Titled "Dreams: The Musical," the movie's theme is about reaching for aspirations. It's broken into four vignettes and is being shot in and around the Children's Center. Organizers expect it to run about 30 minutes.

It's part of the three-week VSA Arts of Michigan summer program that is funded through grants and donations, including one from Detroit's Community Development Block Grant Neighborhood Opportunity Fund .

"We are hoping that these teenagers are going to learn skills that they can use later on, when they finish high school," says Ellene Corace, a program assistant. Each of the students has some form of disability, and Corace has been working with many of them for three years.

Corace says she has seen tremendous growth in the students.

"We have a strict structure here for discipline," she says. "We want to model what the working environment is going to be after they graduate. We don't let them get away with things. It's all about training them for the world of work."

It is the first real job for Sierra Burkes, 15, of Highland Park. Her dream is to become a nurse or a dancer.

"I've learned how to control my attitude," says Sierra. "When I first came, I used to be all talking back and stuff."

All of the students are being paid minimum wage.

"It's like a dream come true, actually," says Alphonso Mayberry, 17, who is set to graduate from Highland Park Community High School in 2011. He says he wants to become a disc jockey, a police officer and work at a recording studio.

"We are getting experience making movies and videos," Alphonso says. "It's the experience of having a job and getting a real paycheck. We are learning to work hard."

The film will make its premiere at the Boll Family YMCA .

"I think it will be cool," Sierra says. "It's going to be exciting. I want everybody to come and see me. I'll be happy."


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