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Groton - James Messina started making movies at age 12 with a digital camera he bought with money earned mowing lawns.
Now the senior graduating from Robert E. Fitch High School is getting noticed for his movies about skateboarding.
Messina placed in the top 10 of the 2012 TransWorld SKATEboarding Cinematography Contest with his YouTube video "Planned Existence." Messina has also made two feature-length films about skateboarding, including "Culture Shock," which premiered May 31 in Mystic.
"He's very driven," said his father, Jeffrey Messina, pharmacist and owner of Fort Hill Pharmacy in Groton. Melissa Messina, James' mother, teaches math at Ledyard High School, painted signs at one time and took art classes, her son said.
James Messina's subjects have always involved action sports. Initially, he filmed snowboarding and set up elaborate courses in the yard, building a wooden ramp and using a section of utility pole and a metal stool as obstacles. He lit the course to film at night, his father said.
"Even if we got, like, three inches of snow or four inches of snow, he would shovel it from other parts of the yard and put it on the ramp," Jeffrey Messina said.
James Messina said he's not sure what attracted him to film, but he enjoyed editing clips of snowboarding because it extended the winter.
He and a friend, Ian Boyd, made a snowboarding movie in eighth grade and another in high school. Then Messina realized he could also film a summer sport. He went on his own.
"It's kind of cool to be able to show the parts of skateboarding that people don't get to see unless they're there," he said. He can't show the same by skating because he's not as good as everyone else, he said.
"He's skating along with the subject" as he films, Jeffrey Messina said. "They go slow. He's just crouched down with his board."
He's suffered some broken camera equipment, but no broken bones.
James Messina said he added weight to the camera so it wouldn't shake.
"Culture Shock" took about two years to make, he said. Messina, who travels to Boston, Providence and New York to film, recently went to Michigan. Last summer, he visited San Diego and Los Angeles. His films also include some local spots like the Skate Park in Groton and a building foundation on Route 12.
"I've never seen a kid with this much passion and focus," said his aunt, Chelle Messina of Groton.
At the end of the summer, James Messina is moving to California to try to film skateboarding for a living. He said he looked at film schools last summer, but didn't find one he liked. So he told his parents he was going out on his own. His friend, who skateboards, is also moving.
"I'll probably evaluate again after a year and see where I'm at," he said, "but as long as I'm not hating life, I'll probably stay out there as long as I can."