SECRET TREASURES, A NINE-MINUTE MOVIE ABOUT A LITTLE boy and his friends who find a treasure map in the park and dig up the loot, doesn’t exactly rank with Citizen Kane as a cinematic tour de force. But to dismiss it as something a 5-year-old could have made would be to underestimate its director, Gregory Scott. This towheaded cineast, who turns 6 next month, is already one-upping Kane wunderkind Orson Welles. Gregory has signed a five-year deal with MCA/Universal Family Entertainment to develop TV shows, movies and videos, and will soon become the youngest person ever to join the Directors Guild of America.
Meanwhile, Gregory Scott (he dropped his surname, Frances, he-cause he didn’t like it) is a “very typical Sherman Oaks. Calif., kindergartener,” says his teacher, Roberta Strem, who insists that success has gone only to his attendance record.
But if Gregory’s new professional obligations cause frequent absences, at least he has vision. “I want the whole world to see my movies,” he says, reclining on the multicolored sectional in the living room of his contemporary three-bedroom home.
“Gregory!” interjects his mother, Helene, 43. “Please sit up.”
Not budging an inch, Gregory continues projecting grandly into the future, which, he hopes, will bring several Oscars. “I want people to say, ‘Wow, a little kid making a movie.’ ”
They already are. Gregory’s meteoric ascent began last June, when a Los Angeles Daily News reporter spotted him shooting Secret Treasures in a local park. Within two days after the story ran, Arsenio Hall and Entertainment Tonight both booked Gregory. His TV appearances attracted the attention of Steven Spielberg, who invited him to the set of Hook, as well as TV producer Al (Facts of Life) Burton, who signed Gregory to his deal with MCA/Universal, which could net him a total of $100.000. Gregory has already bagged a few jobs, including directing a music video segment for the syndicated Baywatch.
Though Helene, a onetime B-movie actress (Last of the Great Survivors), chauffeurs her son to locations and makes lunch for the casts (which are composed of neighborhood friends). Burton insists that nobody is pulling Gregory’s strings. “I work with stage mothers,” he says. “Gregory is his own man.”
Is he ever. Since Gregory cannot yet read or write, he chases after his mother to write down his endless ideas. “His brain doesn’t stop,” Helene says. “I’m proud of him, but I need a bit of my own life.”
By the time she had Gregory in 1986, Helene Frances had three other children (now aged 22 to 24) with her ex-husband, Miami Municipal Court Judge Jerry Zeltzer (from whom she has been divorced for 16 years). Gregory was conceived in a subsequent relationship and has no contact with his father.
Helene was a struggling single mom, working in real estate in the San Fernando Valley in 1990, when her camcorder was stolen and she bought a new one at Gregory’s urging.
Three days later he made his first film, Pete and Sandy, about his two dogs, followed by Secret Treasures, Ghost Campout at the Cemetery and Rock & Roll Teddy Bear. Along the way he also found a love interest, 9-year-old Alana Austin, who appears in Teddy Bear and the upcoming Private Eye Jr. “He’s a typical director,” Helene says. “You know how they choose their stars and then they fall in love with them.”
Gregory apparently has no problem wrapping older children around his fingers. “Sometimes he’s bossy,” says Amy Katterman, whose sons, Bryan, 11, and Scott, 9, have appeared in his films. “But he seems to command the respect of the kids.”
Not everyone is putty in his hands, though. During the filming of Teddy Bear, Gregory fired one disobedient little girl on the spot. “If they listen to me, they’re allowed to still be in my movie,” he says. “If they say, ‘Gregory, we want to do what we want to do,’ then I have to replace them.”
Obviously this is not a filmmaker to cross. “Instinctively he seems to talk like a director,” says Burton. “But he never smokes on the set.”
LYNDON STAMBLER in Los Angeles