They pressed to the curb as two limos pulled up - ladies in pearls, kids waving autograph books, paparazzi holding cameras in the air.
"Here they come!" yelled a voice as a door flew open. "That's my granddaughter!" cried another. And the crowd, 200 strong, buzzed as actors, directors, gaffers and key grips popped out one by one to take their bows on a gleaming red carpet.
It wasn't yet 9 in the morning at the Senator Theatre, but the atmosphere was all Oscar night. The stars - budding filmmakers ages 8 to 17 - were there for the premiere of a 20-minute black-and-white thriller they had created as part of a six-week moviemaking camp last summer.
"It's a great opportunity to learn all the elements of the craft," said Nicky Smith, 16, who has attended the Young Filmmakers Workshop, held annually on the campus of Park School in Brooklandville, five years running. "By the time you're finished, you know every job it takes to make a movie. It's a comprehensive education."
The Young Filmmakers Workshop is the brainchild of two Baltimore artists: Lane Keller, a playwright and drama instructor who now lives in New York, and Steve Yeager, a filmmaker who teaches at Towson University.
For years, Keller had worked with children in a variety of stage-acting groups. But in 2002, she approached Yeager - perhaps best known for Divine Trash, a Sundance award-winning 1998 documentary he made about the early career of his longtime friend John Waters - to ask if Yeager might want to help create a camp on filmmaking.
"I asked her how old the kids would be," Yeager said. "When she replied, '8 to 17,' I thought, 'That's way too young.' But she said, 'Think of it as a challenge.' I like challenges."
Yesterday, on the eve of the program's seventh premiere - six of them held at the Senator, thanks to the support of theater owner Tom Kiefaber - Yeager called it one of the best decisions he has ever made.
"These students are like sponges," he said. "They pick things up so fast it's unbelievable. And every year, the group seems to get more sophisticated."
From the beginning, Keller and Yeager chose to stress two sides of filmmaking. Each student spends between three and six weeks immersed either in film acting or in the myriad jobs that happen off-camera, such as directing, lighting, sound recording and script continuity.
Students as young as 8 can sign up for "Acting For the Camera" - a course in which, coached by professionals, they work on short film scenes in groups of about 10. The pint-sized Paltrows and Newmans can end up starring in one or more short films, which Yeager screens before the longer feature each year.
On the production side, students as young as 10 and as old as 17 can try their hand at special effects, graphic design and art, set construction, makeup, costuming and more.
And about 15 advanced students - mostly 14 and older - take "Film II," the course in which the camp's masterwork, a narrative feature at least 18 minutes long, is made. This year, students chose the film noir genre and created Obscured by the Night, a tense tale in which FBI agents try to foil a terrorist plot in 1940s San Francisco. Complete with high-key lighting, rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, pinstripe suits and a fictional "plot to overthrow the free world," the film borrows liberally from noir classics like Kiss Me Deadly and D.O.A.
The hundreds who packed the Senator got to see actor Jackson Boggs - as hard-nosed private eye Mike Sledge - take a slug to the chest near a Bay Area boarding house.
"It's only a scratch," he tells his girlfriend, a moll named Velda (14-year-old Sammy Mancuso), whom he eventually frees from kidnappers.
The camp isn't cheap; fees range from $550 for a week of "Acting for the Camera" (this year, June 25-29) to $1,395 for three weeks in "Film I" or "Film II" (June 25-July 13). Financial aid is available most years.
Yeager sees it as part of his job not just to "set the bar high" - the course is the same one he teaches to college students - and "nurture their creative spirit," but also to help students realize "you can do other things besides starring and directing."
Four graduates of the workshop are now enrolled in college film programs, and many emerge convinced they want to make a career of showbiz.
Nicky Smith, a Friends School sophomore, said he'd ultimately like to attend a top film school such as NYU. "I want to write and direct," says Nicky, whose black-and-white documentary Shut Down and Shut Up was screened before the feature. "I'd hate to have to make films from somebody else's ideas."
At yesterday's glamfest, few actors were thinking small.
Shannon Atran, 14, resplendent in purple skirt and matching toenails, paused near the red carpet, where her family stood snapping pictures, to call it her life's dream to be a Hollywood star.
Breanna Stewart, 14, of Ellicott City displayed burgeoning confidence. She'd been nervous for weeks, wondering how she'd come across in her very first movie. Having seen herself in action, she was happier than expected. "Out of four stars, I'd give myself 4 1/2 ," she said, laughing. "I learned a lot."
And in a popcorn line during a brief intermission, Tyler Delaney, 15, a Loyola-Blakefield student, said it "felt really good" to have seen himself 10 feet high on a movie screen - though he did wish, at times, his face had been more expressive. "But today is just a jumping-off point for me," he said. "It's just the beginning."