Bothell High student shows promise in moviemaking, competes in Film Fresh competition

Stephanie Oberto had the mark of a film director from an early age.

It started with a vivid imagination and a knack for getting friends to play along with make-believe drama.

Oberto would convince them to act out imaginary scenarios that involved rescuing horses or escaping from medieval torture prisons, for instance.

“I loved pulling people in and getting them excited about whatever little creative thing I was thinking about,” she said.

Some games never get old.

Oberto, now 17 years old and entering her senior year at Bothell High School, still has a passion for directing drama.

These days, she captures it on video.

Whether it’s shooting mini-features for a video-production class at Bothell High, participating in the summer film camp at Pepperdine University, or working a recent internship with Monroe-based Kostov Productions, Oberto is learning what it takes to be a moviemaker.

Her latest experience came by way of Samsung Mobile’s sixth annual Fresh Films contest.

The competition brought together 99 teens in nine different cities this summer to learn about the magic of moviemaking, with each team producing short features that are battling for viewers’-choice and jury awards in three categories: action, comedy, and drama.

Oberto’s group, which worked out of Portland, has already moved onto the second round of voting with an action piece called “Surviving Emily.”

The team earned more votes than both of its combined competitors, who came from Boston and St. Louis.

Voting for the final round takes place online ( from Aug. 21-27.

The winning group gets fee lodging and airfare to attend the AFI (American Film Institute) Fest in Los Angeles, where its film will premier.

Oberto has been lobbying for votes from virtually everyone she knows.

Her team needs a strong marketing campaign to defeat its next competitor, the crew from Dallas.

That group includes YouTube celebrity ItsBrent, who has over 14,000 subscribers on the popular video-sharing web site.

“Surviving Emily” is a short film about two teenagers who get lost and separated while shooting a documentary in the foothills near Oregon’s Mount Hood.

One of the characters critically injures himself while trying to wave down a helicopter. His attempts fail, but a search team eventually finds him and provides an airlift.

The Army National Guard supplied Blackhawk choppers and a real-life rescue team for the sequence, giving the amateur film crew resources that are normally reserved for Hollywood action movies.

“They said they’ve had a hard time reserving Blackhawks for their own training, so we were lucky,” Oberto said. “It costs thousands of dollars just to get one of those things in the air.”

Critiques of each Fresh Films projects came from a panel of five established film professionals, who will select the jurors’ choice winner.

The group this year included Sean Astin, who played the lead role in “Rudy,” Tom Skerritt of the television show “Picket Fences,” and Rick Cleveland, writer and executive producer for HBO’s “Six Feet Under.”

Students who participate in the Fresh Films program rotate through a number of different crew positions. They operate camera booms, obtain film permits, work the soundboard, and even arrang actor auditions.

The one thing they don’t do is direct.

Oberto already had experience with that role from her video-production class. She says it’s become her favorite aspect of moviemaking.

“What I really like about it is that you get to work with actors to create this vision of what you have in your head,” she said.

Bothell High video-production teacher Duane Eickhoff claims Oberto has an instinct for that sort of thing.

“She really loves directing and portraying what she wants,” he said. “Her actors have a physical response that really comes out in her movies.”

Eickhoff lists storytelling as another one of Oberto’s strengths.

“Creating an engaging screenplay is difficult, but when a student has the talent and takes the time to plan out a movie worthy of an audience, then you’ve found a moviemaker,” he said. “Stephanie is a moviemaker.”