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This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the May 29, 2002
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Even Untrained, Kids Can Still Star
For parents who shoot home videos, the idea that their
children will end up as stars is surely only a pipe dream. An
But for Steven Haase, it is reality. For his business, Trainfans
Inc., he wanted to make videos showing families having fun taking
train trips. So he hired his children, Kayla, age 8, and Alec, 7.
They had no theater training but turned out to be naturals.
Their first video, "Kayla and Alec Ride the Acela Express
is meant for ages one to six and sells for $15.99 at Jazams in Palmer
Square, Pennington, and the Montgomery Center. Co-sponsored by Amtrak,
the video is the first in a series that will explore some of America’s
greatest cities. It has been so successful that Haase has changed
his business model from selling train videos to adults to creating
train-related products for children.
The video opens at the Haase home in Hopewell where the children
preview a trip from Boston to Washington, D.C. They sound enthusiastic
and spontaneous, perhaps because they aren’t over rehearsed, but they
also sound as if they had acting training. No such thing, says Dad.
They didn’t even have much rehearsal.
"We started going through the script every day, thinking that
they would need training, but it got to be too much. You gotta keep
it fun," says Haase. "So the day before a half-day shoot,
we start to go through some lines for two hours. Then they aren’t
tired of it."
He hired one professional actor, a Rider University alumnus named
Bo Smith, to play the role of Cody, the young conductor. He hired
Bert Stronsdorf of Hamilton-based MC Squared to write the theme music.
His wife, Nadine, works with the kids. He taps Rider University for
interns. But Haase writes and directs the scripts himself. Neither
he nor his wife had any theater training, but his maternal grandfather
had been a playwright and director, and his grandmother was a writer
for Highlights, the august children’s magazine, and Haase remembers
helping her edit when he was 12.
Nevertheless, the company started out using a professional director.
"We canned him after the first day," says Haase. "He spent
six hours doing a 1 1/2 minute scene, and it wasn’t fun for the kids.
They were entirely turned off. I just said we are going to do it
and the more we got into it, the better we got."
In the video, as the children tour various child-friendly sites in
Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, and D.C., they are lively and
animated. Perhaps because their dad wrote the lines to fit how they
talk, they sound spontaneous. Their parents can be seen in the
so you know these kids aren’t traveling alone, but they are the stars.
As the antithesis of stage parents, the Haases had
that Kayla and Alec would retire after they have made a couple of
videos. "We want to keep things normal — they missed almost
three weeks of school for the first video," said Haase several
Now it seems the kids will have a longer run. "Once we started
the project, it became obvious from the feedback we were getting that
Kayla and Alec could handle the roles and were always very comfortable
in front of the camera and crew," says Haase. "In fact, over
the past year, the kids have become extremely close to our crew (Shawn
Kildea, Charles Gallagher, Nick Lipka and Bo Smith) and it has been
an ideal working environment for all involved."
"That being said, each project has presented hard work for the
kids," he says. The first video involved three filming sessions
on multiple days each to Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and
Washington, at least seven filming sessions on a long distance train,
six filming sessions at home, two filming sessions each in Vermont
and Delaware and northern Virginia. "Lots of patience and
is required and it’s rare to have two kids consistently roll with
Wary of parental pride, Haase has sought opinions from dispassionate
observers. "If anyone was going to give us honest feedback, it
was the president of FAO Schwarz, the famous toy store that also owns
Zany Brainy and the Right Stuff," says Haase. Result: Haase is
working on a Kayla and Alec video that takes place in the Manhattan
store. His next goal is a TV series, introduced by the three main
characters, followed by an animated travel episode.
"We have one of the few products that parents will purchase, and
when the children watch it, they will ask mom and dad if they can
ride the train and see the different sights," says Haase.
Trainfans used to be a catalog business for people who like to watch
trains pass. Haase founded it using proceeds from Princeton Learning
Systems, an online learning firm from which he had made a hefty profit
(U.S. 1, September 4, 1996). But he is selling off the catalog
so that his seven-person company can try to fulfill the potential
of the huge entertainment market for toddlers. Books, product
(which brand of bottled water will they drink?), and memorabilia items
are just some of the possible additional sources of income. "If
we can create other offshoot products, the brand will quickly catch
on," he says.
If Haase has his way, a Kayla and Alec Trainfans brand will put Thomas
the Tank Engine on a siding.
— Barbara Fox
Steven Haase, principal. 609-466-0880; fax, 609-466-8114. Home
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