Spike Lee, step aside.
Ten youngsters from the inner city spent most of their summer learning how to become movie directors as part of the new Group Media Youth Program.
The program is the inspiration of the Rev. William A. Flynn, the tall, personable pastor of the Higher Ground Christian Center in the city's tough north end.
"This is a rough area," said Mr. Flynn. "These kids could easily have gone into a life of trouble. This gives them the chance to see another side of life."
Mr. Flynn runs the Group Media Youth Program with his twin brother, Wayne, who hosts a show on Adelphia Cable's Channel 24 in Niagara Falls called "Building Our Communities." The pastor's church services are also broadcast on the local Adelphia channel.
The Flynn brothers grew up in Niagara Falls, but while at Alabama State College, both wanted to be professional baseball players.
"That's when the Lord came into our lives," said Mr. Flynn. "Our lives took a spiritual turn and we've been on the right track ever since."
Their first group media semester, with 10 young participants, was so successful that Mr. Flynn will conduct another six-week session starting Sept. 7. The classes are free, and anyone interested in getting more information about enrollment may call Mr. Flynn at 282-6875.
The youngsters, aged between 13 and 16, meet at the Renaissance Center at 2616 Highland Ave. to learn to use the professional-quality equipment.
"The kids come to us cold, with no previous experience," he said. "We start by showing them how to mount a camera on a tripod, get it in focus and be ready to shoot."
Raised in the housing projects, the teen-agers who came to the first session were initially overwhelmed when they saw all the sophisticated movie equipment and found themselves being interviewed on camera.
"I was nervous," said Adreana Martin, 14, when a camera was trained on her for a test interview. "I had to think of something to say off the bat and make it sound good."
Niagara Falls High School football player Marcus Parmer, 14, is a tough guy on the field, but said his legs were shaking when he went in front of the camera for the first time.
"But I learned how to handle it, and I'd tell anyone to definitely get involved in the program," he said.
"We teach them not to be afraid of the camera," said Mr. Flynn. "The kids benefit in other ways, too. It helps with their grammar and how they conduct themselves. When you see yourself on TV, it can be a shock, and you make changes to improve your image and your speech."
After learning the basics in the Highland Avenue studio, the group went on field trips to places like Goat Island to tape live interviews. With the falls as a backdrop, the young filmmakers interviewed each other on camera, panning around the park for dramatic location shots. They also interviewed tourists and talked to State Park police officers on camera.
"They really impressed me, the way they caught on and quickly learned how to work the camera," said Mr. Flynn. "It really surprised my brother and me. The program teaches them to put a project together. They get to know one other and grow from the process."
Each student put together a 20-minute video and went back to the studio where they edited the videotapes on state-of-the-art equipment.
"I learned how to make an interview more exciting by editing the tape, splicing and switching scenes back and forth," said the enthusiastic Miss Martin.
Some of the videos will be shown on Adelphia's Channel 24 later this month.
Mr. Flynn said he wants to take the "cream of the crop" from all the youngsters who go through the training sessions and have them produce their own TV show to be shown on the Adelphia channel.
"I want them to do a program that will take the stigma out of the neighborhood and inspire other kids to stay off the streets and go for something positive and potentially lucrative," Mr. Flynn said.
Miss Martin will buy a ticket to that.
"I think it's a great thing that we don't have to be outside all the time, hanging around and getting into trouble," she said. "I'd like to get into video production as a career. It pays a lot of money."
Mr. Flynn said Miss Martin was one of the best to come out of the first training session and she will be back for the second round to help the new recruits.
Before launching the last training session, Mr. Flynn sought the advice and expertise of Robert H. Borgatti, associate professor in the multimedia department of Niagara County Community College. It was Borgatti, with Paul Lamont, who directed and produced "Fading in the Mist," the acclaimed PBS video on the environmental history of the falls.
"I thought it was a great idea," Borgatti said of Mr. Flynn's Group Media Program.
The Flynn project was made possible with a $60,000 grant from the city's Community Development Department.