A Summer in Hollywood

It was more than 17 years ago, on a cold day in February 2000, when Keith Duncan, the founder of The Movie Institute (MI), and his wife and co-founder, Martha Duncan, first got the idea to open a summer camp for young film buffs. The pair were lamenting over the lack of film and entertainment industry mentors available to them growing up, and decided it was time someone did something about it. Thus, the MI was born. 

“I was working as a producer at the studios of Las Colinas. Martha and I decided enough was enough and we came up with the idea for Kamp Hollywood,” Mr. Duncan comments. “We figured, let’s create a week where kids (like us film kids) can get together and really express their creativity.”

The couple and their team bring all kinds of vital experience to the group. Mrs. Duncan is the interim chairwoman of the MI’s board of directors and Mr. Duncan is CEO of the staff, as well as on the board as a member. Mrs. Duncan is also the former vice president of the Dallas Producers Association, where Mr. Duncan was a board member for two terms. Also on the board are local motion picture luminaries Don Stokes, former chairman of the Dallas Film Society/Dallas International Film Festival and former president of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance and Dallas Producers Association, as well as Linda McAlister, a Texas talent agent with offices in Los Angeles and a founding member of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance.

Kamp Hollywood was the MI’s flagship program — a week-long moviemaking day camp where kids come in and break into groups of about 10-15 to create their own little production company and make an independent film. This program has helped hundreds of students from all over the country, and the world, go on to prestigious schools such as New York University, Southern Methodist University, the University of California, Los Angeles, California Institute of the Arts, Columbia University and University of Southern California film schools.

However, what started as just a day camp has now grown into a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering young people for positive character growth and successful career development by providing mentoring and training for success. Not to be confused as an arts/leisure program, the MI is a mentoring and training community focused on building skills in people to make them more employable and successful. “Through our camps and workshops and these creative means, we are teaching kids critical thinking skills, teamwork and problem-solving. So, even if down the road the student decides they do not actually want to go into doing film for a living, they still have these practical skills they can apply to all facets of business,” Mrs. Duncan says. “We will have students come back to us and say, ‘Just because of what I went through in your camps, I now know how to deal with other people, how to deal with problems, etc.’”

Having been passionate about filmmaking from a young age, mentioning he made his first film at age 14 on his Super 8 camera, Mr. Duncan wants to give kids today opportunities he was not presented with growing up. In only one week at Kamp Hollywood, the Duncans and their team of mentors work to teach about 60 campers or “indies,” as they are more fondly known, as many facets of the film business as they can. Kids travel from far and wide to attend Kamp Hollywood, with some coming from Nebraska and Chicago. Others travel from as far as Japan, Peru and Israel.

The mentors include acting coaches, screenplay writers, directors, editors and more, all found by Mr. and Mrs. Duncan through their connections in the Dallas/Fort Worth film community. The mentors are alongside the kids every step of the way, but only to help guide them, never to take over or tell them what to do. Kamp Hollywood is all about giving kids autonomy and being primarily artist driven. “They will make up the movies themselves and we will have a screenwriter come in and help them structure it and give them some pointers, but they have to pitch the idea to us as if we are the studio. They really make themselves into their own little company,” Mr. Duncan explains. “We treat them like young artists because that is what they are. We want them to know we respect their ideas.”

The week-long program eventually culminates to a gala film festival where each student group shows their film at places like Cinemark or AMC Theatres in front of their friends and family. This event is followed by an award ceremony where students can be awarded best picture, best director, best screenplay, etc. 

In addition to Kamp Hollywood, which takes place only once a year, around the last week of July, the MI also offers a variety of weekend workshops, as well as after-school programs for students during the academic year. As the company has expanded over the past few years, Mr. and Mrs. Duncan were able to hire their first full-time employee, Tracy Anderson, who serves as both the company’s CFO and the COO. With Ms. Anderson’s assistance, the MI has been able to clean up their books and get organized so they can work with community partners like the Frisco Education Foundation, the Frisco ISD, the Frisco Chamber of Commerce and more. 

“The thing about media is, it is left out of school curriculums a lot, especially film. Schools have media, technical classes and broadcast journalism, and those are great, but we want to bring in the creative side, the Hollywood side, and make narrative television and art films,” Mr. Duncan shares. The MI has had a few school districts around Dallas/Fort Worth, including the FISD, ask them to run after-school programs for kids, specifically to work with at-risk students. Most recently, they have been working with students from Vickery Meadows Youth Development Foundation of Dallas, as well as students from the Student Opportunity Center of Frisco. “For some of the students we work with, it seems like everyone has given up on them. However, they are incredibly bright students who just need someone to give them a chance to turn things around,” Mrs. Duncan explains. “While the kids can seem a bit standoffish at first because they see all adults as figures of authority, once they realize we are not coming at them with an agenda, but rather just there to help guide them along creatively, everyone starts to loosen up and start smiling and laughing.”

Having worked primarily in the Dallas area over the last few years, it has only been recently that the MI has started looking to lease space for a headquarters in the Frisco area and expand their organization. “Innovation and educational innovation are what is really bringing us to Frisco. The city is all about the kids, and that is what we are all about as well,” Mr. Duncan states. “We have seen that the FISD’s absolute mission statement is to know every kid by name and know that student and understand what their individual needs are. We have seen that implemented on so many levels in the school districts and around the community.”

The MI’s long-term goal is to put in a full youth academy for multimedia and game design for ages 6-18 that can also serve as a college prep school for kids who want to continue pursuing a career in the film and entertainment industries after school. They would also eventually like to own a production studio connected to the academy where companies could come in and not only use the studio facilities, but also work with the students. “Our mission is to truly bridge art with technology. That is what film is — a commercial art, so our big push in Frisco is to push art into technology. Frisco is very technology-oriented and is becoming even more arts-oriented today,” Mr. Duncan shares. “The city is a hotbed for innovation, not only for childhood education and technology, but for businesses as a whole.”

For more information about the MI or to enroll in any of the group’s exciting programs, visit themovieinstitute.org.

Rachel Beaird is a recent University of Arkansas graduate, travel enthusiast and a public relations aficionado.