MORAGA -- In a small classroom at St. Mary's College, Joey Travolta is in "director mode."

From testing sound equipment to pointing out markers in the scene where his actors should stand to deliver their lines, every aspect of the room he commands is reminiscent of a Hollywood film set.

The only difference for Travolta is that his actors are not from California talent agencies, but instead are between the ages of 9 and 22, all possessing differing forms of autism or Asperger's syndrome.

Behind the closed doors of Travolta's Summer Inclusion Film Camp, the dozens of lights, cameras and costumes are being used to creatively address the social, cognitive, communication, and interpersonal skills of the 46 camp participants.

"What we're doing is we're taking children with developmental disabilities and we're taking them through the entire process of film making," said Travolta, the brother of actor John Travolta but also an actor, director, producer and writer in his own right. "We have three groups learning everything from lighting, editing to acting, the whole process."

By the time the two-week camp ends Friday, each group will have created a five- to seven-minute film they will premier at a "red carpet" event on the campus in October for the campers and their families.

A professional film crew works with Travolta during the camp, but he said the professionals lay the "framework" for the projects, which the campers fill in with their imaginations.

"The thing that's great about this is that filming involves every aspect of every day life," Travolta said. "It not only teaches them how to talk to other people but it also gives them a voice."

The voices have a theme -- The Bizarre Zone -- a concept based on "The Twilight Zone."

The camp is organized by Futures Explored of Lafayette and Full Circle of Choices, based in Concord. Both groups provide life skills and opportunities to adults with developmental disabilities.

Travolta has traveled the country spreading awareness and understanding of autism through his film camps for the last six years. During the time, he has come across return participants as well as families bringing their children in for a first-time experience.

The camp -- funded through the California Department of Developmental Services -- opens the door for families of all financial backgrounds by offering scholarships for some participants while also accepting private pay from others.

Robert Lovelace, 45, of Moraga, whose 13-year-old son received a scholarship to attend the camp, said he noticed a positive change in his son's behavior within the first few days.

"On typical days when I would ask Tim about his day, it would be like pulling teeth trying to get some information from him," Lovelace joked. "Now, it's easier for him to talk about his day because he likes talking about everything they do here. It's like therapy for him and it teaches him about social skills and friendship."

With Travolta eyeing the possibility of turning the camp into a full-time program in the Bay Area, St. Mary's College is also looking for a more significant role in the film camp. The college has hosted the camp for four years, and hopes to involve students from its graduate education programs in the camp's daily activities.

"The camp is great community outreach for the school," said David Krapf, program director of single subject and special education for the Kalmanovitz School of Education at St. Mary's. "Now we're looking for how our own students can benefit from this experience as well."

Krapf said he hopes to have some of his graduate program students shadow the behaviorists already participating in the camp. The students will get a first-hand look at the habits of the experienced behaviorists and can then apply the techniques in future classroom settings.

Deep in the mix of camp actors, directors, producers and script writers, Travolta looks right at home. He's pointing to areas of the set, answering questions and for a moment, explaining the spirit of the camp.

"What we're doing is taking a blank piece of paper, then taking kids with developmental disabilities and we're making something great out of it," Travolta said. "This camp is basically a down payment on people's futures."

INFORMATION
Go to www.futures-explored.org for information on the Joey Travolta's Summer Inclusion Film Camp.