Living

Camera in hand

Sixteen-year-old Zac Brakefield is about to accomplish what four Hollywood producers haven't yet been able to do: Film a movie in Rock Hill and guide the finished product to the silver screen.

Recent Hollywood productions filmed in and around Rock Hill the past few years -- "Walker Payne," "Patriotville," "Asylum" and "Gospel Hill" -- are all still waiting to be released in theaters. But Brakefield, an 11th-grade Rock Hill homeschooled student, will debut the 30-minute feature film he wrote and directed Friday night at the Center for the Arts in downtown Rock Hill.

"The Spirit of Freedom" is a fictional tale set during the Revolutionary War, starring Zac and 22 other youths and adults from Rock Hill, Lancaster and other parts of South Carolina. All of the scenes were filmed in Rock Hill, at Andrew Jackson State Park and in the Kershaw County town of Bethune.

The story is focused on a small South Carolina town during the Revolutionary War. When British forces descend upon the colonial village, its citizens are faced with a choice: pack up and flee or stand strong to fight the enemy.

"The American Revolution is one of my favorite time periods," Zac said while taking a break from the final editing process. "I like it because it was a patriotic era."

Friday's red-carpet event, which will be complete with a promenade for the stars and refreshments for the 100-plus family members and guests who are expected, will be the culmination of nearly 10 months of work.

Zac, the oldest son of Todd and Suzzanne Brakefield, said he decided to make the film in February, after he and his two younger brothers discovered how much fun they could have acting out battles in the backyard of their rural home near Newport and filming the action with a digital video camera.

"We had a big sleepover for the boys and all their friends, and they started playing with the video camera," said Zac's mom, Suzzanne Brakefield. "The next thing you know, Zac says, 'Can I make amovie?'"

Mom, who doubles as a principal, schoolteacher and bus driver, agreed, not knowing that she had just signed off on an epic project. "It just kind of exploded into this huge thing," she said. "But all the way through, everything just fell into place. We called it divine intervention."

Even with its heavenly help, the project required months of writing, directing, filming and computer editing. While many 16-year-olds spend their free time flipping burgers and scheming to buy a cheap set of wheels, Zac has labored tirelessly at his creation.

He said his script began as a skit with seven roles, but it morphed into a full-length story with 23 characters, meaning Zac had to recruit a cast.

He convinced friends, church members and cousins to act in his movie. There were no auditions. Anyone willing to participate received a part, Zac said. Even Grandpa, George Davis of Rock Hill, agreed to play the crusty old British general.

"It was an amazing project," Grandpa Davis said, bragging on his grandson. "I feel so blessed to have been a part of it."

After finalizing his script, Zac spent more than a month designing costumes. He researched the time period and recruited his mother to help sew the authentic colonial garb.

"I felt like Betsy Ross," Suzzanne Brakefield quipped.

Refusing to do anything mediocre, Zac recruited one of his grandfather's buddies, a Revolutionary War reenactor, to teach the cast members how to march like British soldiers.

Teens, dressed as Red Coats, spent hours in the hot sun learning military drills.

The aspiring Steven Spielberg -- knowing that a war movie wouldn't be complete without exciting action scenes -- fastened firecrackers to fake muskets to simulate the sound and pyrotechnics of a smoky, sulfury-smelling battlefield.

Zac also watched blockbusters "The Patriot" and "Last of the Mohicans," both filmed in the Carolinas, to get ideas on how to direct battle scenes.

Adam Lucas of Rock Hill, Zac's 14-year-old cousin, who played multiple roles in the film, said Zac is a poised director who kept his calm with inexperienced actors during filming.

"Zac was pretty easy to work with. It was the executive producer (Suzzanne Brakefield) who was scary," Adam quipped, flashing a nervous grin at his aunt to make sure he wasn't in trouble.

Filming spanned three days around the area. During the work at Andrew Jackson State Park, bystanders gawked at the 21st-century youths dressed as Patriots and Red Coats, taking pictures with their cell phones, Zac said.

Talk of the motion picture eventually spread from mouth-to-mouth and reached the folks at the Center for the Arts in downtown Rock Hill, who are trying to get more young people involved in local arts. They decided to host Friday's film premier.

Debra Heintz, director of the Arts Council of York County, said she hopes Zac's example will lead to a film competition as early as next spring.

"I was very impressed with Zac and his abilities," Heintz said.

Zac said he has learned a lot about film making and may even consider a career in the field. He's a huge history buff, so maybe a career making documentaries awaits.

But right now, Zac is only concerned with finishing the editing work on "Spirit of Freedom." It has to be finished by Friday.

And when it is, for the first time in 10 months, 16-year-old Zac Brakefield will get out of the director's chair and become just like every other teen in town.

He'll spend Friday night with his friends at the movies.

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