Artbeats Volunteers at Camp Millennium: Filming A Summer Camp for Kids Dealing with Cancer

By Diane Barrows, Artbeats Executive Assistant to Phil Bates

Artbeats has been privileged to be a part of a great industry for over 23 years. We’ve made a commitment to giving back to the community, not only through monetary donations, but also in sharing our time and resources. For the past few years, we’ve had the opportunity to volunteer as the official film crew for Camp Millennium.

Camp Millennium is a camp for kids who are dealing with cancer in some way. The camp runs a full week and there is no cost to the camper, as it is entirely funded by donations. I’ve been privileged to join Artbeats president, Phil Bates, in capturing footage and creating a DVD that replays the fun the kids experience during their week-long escape.

At the beginning of this shoot, we accepted the realization that we could not control the place, time of day, lighting, or action taking place. We would not be able to say, “Take two” to much of anything except the kids’ personal introductions, and we would not have time to fiddle with camera settings, lenses or such. So, our first obvious choice was about equipment. We chose a Sony EX-1s, a lightweight tripod, and a FigRig to make hand-held acceptably stable. We took a reflector, a zillion cards,  batteries, and a drive on which to copy the precious footage.

Camp M is currently held in the mountains directly above the beautiful Umpqua River in Southern Oregon. A windy dirt road makes its way up to large terraces where a gym, pool, playground, and eventually cabins and cafeteria are nestled among giant fir trees – beautiful surroundings that make for exhausting shooting as you rush up and down hills so as not to miss any activities going on at each location. The 95+ kids participate in swimming, archery, horseback riding, a ropes course and giant zip line, judo, recreation games, art, skits, a day of water games, a dance, campfires and fun meals, and a whole day is devoted to a marathon field trip that includes a trip to the movies, McDonalds, a day of Olympic style games, bowling and pizza. The shooting day begins (after prep, that is) at 8:00 am and ends whenever the last activity for the older kids winds up, usually around 10:30 or 11:00 pm.

The trick was to change our mindset from shooting stock video to capturing not only participation in the events, but the anticipation, struggle, joy, trepidation, fun, frivolity, and precious, tender moments that flow out of a week centered on these kids’ camping experience. Being alert at every moment for the little scenarios going on makes you aware that there is a camaraderie among kids with a common problem. They encourage each other to get on a horse or swim across the pool, shout for joy when a timid jumper finally lowers himself off the platform to zip down the hill, and stop dancing to sit with their friend who needs a treatment. They routinely visit the nurses’ station for meds, sometimes with their counselors who are previous campers themselves. They hug, sing, and cry with empathy over the death of friends, relatives, or fellow campers; are enthusiastic, silly, and appreciative. They make kind and appropriate fun of their cool counselors who are always “on stage” and model a looking-for-the good attitude. And, imagine this: they act like, well, kids.

It’s these moments that you can’t “do over,” so whether it’s magic hour lighting or pouring down rain, these snippets in time must be captured for DVD posterity. Our first year at camp, the staff told us numerous stories of campers who have to spend time in the hospital, often in lengthy stays, and how they watch their Camp M DVDs over and over, reliving a time when they just had fun with their friends. The DVD serves not only as a chronicle of the year’s activities, but a reminder of a week of escape. That knowledge fuels our dedication to retelling the camping story – to give them something to remember, relive, and look forward to.

This year, we brought our RED Epic camera along, as well. We limited its use for all the reasons we stated, and daily rain further limited the plan because we just didn’t want to deal with keeping it safe and dry. But a savvy camper/budding film student spotted it, recognized what it was and drooled heavily, encouraging Phil to take advantage of a couple of fun opportunities to bring it out for some slow-motion trickery. One day a downpour brought rain overflowing the cabin gutters, and several older kids volunteered to let the streams of water hit their faces. He also caught a walloping belly-flop by a counselor who created an enormous splash in the pool, and brought the camera out again during the games for events like parachute launching and sack races (races in slow-motion? That’s an oxymoron.) Another day a young animal-lover begged Phil to film her “snail circus,” and recognizing this important gift from a child, he dutifully set up a camera and filmed her lovely snails, up close and personal, much to her delight. But the coups de gras was the short introduction to the Epic camera and some on-hands experience for that budding student, a moment he’ll never forget. And neither will Phil.

What Artbeats hopes to give the campers of Camp Millennium is a fun-filled, tender, hilarious DVD shot and edited by a professional cinematographer who adjusted his focus for a week and who truly cares about a bunch of campers he may never see again in this life.

Somehow the many adults who generously donate their time, effort, energy, and money to a worthy cause create a week of joyous escape for those to whom life has been unfair. What does Artbeats get from our donation? A new lens through which to appreciate the world, and you can’t put a dollar figure on that.

Learn more about Camp Millennium.

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