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'Hunger Games' stars going separate ways to college

After a series of homemade “Hunger Games” videos launched them into fandom celebrity, four Charlotte Country Day students have graduated high school and will go their separate ways to college this fall.

But that doesn’t mean videos from the group’s YouTube channel, The L4gMast3RZ (pronounced The Lagmasters), are over forever. The four said they’ll consider doing more short scenes from the second “Hunger Games” book, and continuing with other short films as well.

Before leaving for college, they talked about what they’ve learned from their experience in the past three years and also their plans for the future.

The journey began in October 2010, after they’d all read “The Hunger Games” series by Suzanne Collins – and loved it.

“We thought we’d only film maybe five minutes of it,” said Eddie Mansius, now 18.

Their video – 10 minutes that portrays part of the first book – made it onto the popular fan site mockingjay.net soon after they posted it. As of this month, the group’s YouTube channel, with seven installments of the first book and five shorter clips of the second, had more than 5.5 million views and more than 8,000 subscribers.

Fan reaction hasn’t all been pleasant.

As the teens posted more videos, they say, they grew thicker skin to negative – and impassioned – commenters. One commenter even recommended they commit suicide.

“Eddie used to get really defensive,” said Nicholas Rhyne, 18. “We all got defensive – that (the original) was our baby.”

“Now it has a lot of siblings,” added Maddie Moore, also 18, “with a lot better acting.”

As they filmed, the group learned a lot about making good videos. (Maddie: “Sound is so underappreciated.”) Duncan Rule, 18, and Eddie sold Christmas trees one winter to raise money for a better camera. They learned about lighting, sound, and that starting a fire in a barn isn’t as easy as it looks.

Eddie said he got a lot of pointers from YouTube videos and also learned the importance of leadership and working in a group.

They also revitalized Country Day’s film club and have encouraged other students to make their own videos.

Before their videos took off online, the four friends didn’t say much about them at school.

“At one point we were kind of embarrassed,” Eddie said – but then classmates began to think the videos were cool.

Then came a little slice of fame.

Maddie, who played heroine Katniss, was recognized in a New York pizza parlor. Nicholas was recognized on vacation in the Cayman Islands. And a new student at school from Ireland recognized them, too: “You look so familiar,” she told them. “Do you like ‘The Hunger Games?’ ”

Then Eddie got an email from YouTube notifying him the first video had been “disabled” after a complaint of infringement from Alliance Films, part of the company making the silver-screen “Hunger Games.”

“It blindsided me,” he said.

A New York Times reporter heard about the takedown, took an interest and called the film company, asking why it had sent the letter. Soon the video was back online, and the reporter told Eddie via Facebook that the email had been automated.

“They (let us) put the video back up, so I can’t complain,” Eddie said.

“It was weird,” Duncan agreed.

The Times didn’t end up running a story, but The Observer, WCNC, Los Angeles Times and the Australian “Today Show” all had stories about their work. (The BBC also contacted them, but they didn’t make the program’s deadline.) Maddie and Eddie spoke live on the Australian show, with just earpieces and no way to see the other people talking. “That was definitely nerve-wracking,” Maddie said.

But now the hoopla is coming to a close for the Country Day graduates.

“The ‘Hunger Games’ door is mostly shut now,” Maddie said. “That’s OK. We learned from it, and that’s what matters. It’s bittersweet.”

“We’re all pretty ready to go, but it’s sad,” Duncan said.

Maddie is heading to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts to study acting. Duncan will attend Babson College in Massachusetts, where he might study business, but still has dreams of Broadway. Nicholas will attend Elon University to study politics and economics, and he wants to work on a political campaign someday.

Eddie will go to Brown University for urban studies. While his dream job is to be a film director, he wants to be an urban planner. He’s excited about Brown’s film club, which he said premieres a lot of independent films. “Filmmaking for me is not dead,” he said.

Because their videos (particularly the first one) became so popular, they can advertise on some of them.

So far they’ve made about $30 from advertising, which paid off the first movie they made.

Eddie said that all the time, effort and laughs have been well worth it. “We had big dreams and we didn’t have a $60 million budget,” he said. “But we had each other.”

Ruebens: 704-358-5294
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