LAKE CITY: Combining fright and comedy in their ghost story, “The Midnight Visitor,” proved to be a screaming success for three South Central Calhoun High School seniors.
Arienna Grage, Kennadie Machovec and Maggie Simpson collected all-state honors in the short-film category in the recent Iowa High School Speech Association Large Group contests.
The South Central Calhoun entry received a I (excellent) rating at District to move on to State, where it again received a I and was selected all-state by the categories’ judges.
This was the students’ first all-state honors in either large-group or individual speech competition.
Marleta Smith has coached South Central Calhoun speech five years, and this is the first time one of her large-group entries has received all-state honors.
“I am proud this group was the first, because I have been with them each year in high school and have watched them grow as performers. I am so excited for them to have this recognition,” Smith said.
All-State Festival, held annually at Iowa State Center in Ames, was called off this year due to the coronavirus pandemic; however, the “The Midnight Visitor” can be viewed on South Central Calhoun’s YouTube channel and will be shared on its Facebook and Twitter pages.
Describing the film, Smith said, “ ‘The Midnight Visitor’ is a short film about three students who decide to break into their school at night in order to go ghost hunting. Their school is rumored to be haunted by the infamous Bertha, also called ‘The Midnight Visitor.’ The three traverse different areas of the school all night, gathering and searching for evidence of this ghostly spectre, only to encounter something surprising.”
Smith said the students had a strong storyline and are very good storytellers.
“Their creativity really enhanced the focus and perspective of the shots they created,” she said. “One of my favorite moments is when their heads peek around the corner, one on top of another, and we see the true story of the unexplained. The comedic one-liners and moments really pushed the piece to outstanding level.”
Simpson said the group began brainstorming their film last fall as Halloween was approaching when they were “in a spooky mood and wanted to do something horror-movie-esque.”
“From there, the story quickly evolved to include a comedy aspect, and the characters took on a life of their own,” she explained. “We wanted a clear distinction between the three and thought the contrast of opposing personalities would be fun. We ended up having a grumpy non-believer, a timid bookworm and a not-so-bright ghostbuster. It really helped that our characters fit our own personalities pretty well.
“As for the production, it was a lot of trial and error during filming. None of us had a lot of experience in this area, so it was really just a lot of experimenting to see how things would turn out. Our time-management skills ended up being completely dismal, and we had to cut a lot of scenes we had originally wanted. We also had to shift from an improv style when filming to a more-structured, scripted style after taking too long on the first night of filming.”
Grage said, “At first we wanted it to be a more serious film, since we usually do funny story lines. We ended up making the opening of the film more serious and the ending funny. Inspiration for the film came from movies like ‘Paranormal Activity,’ but also from Ragtime-era films, which is a strange mix, but worked well.”
Smith said, “Some things the students considered when making the film were camera angles and perspective. The students also recorded with a camera that had night-vision mode, which really lent itself to the spooky ghost-hunting quality they were trying to create. They also included purposeful sound effects and moments of thematic music while editing the film.”
Machovec said of receiving all-state honors, “It is a huge honor. I think our hard work really paid off.”
Simpson said, “We have worked so hard on this film and were so proud to share it at District and State competitions. I never thought we would go to all-state for the simple fact that we never have before. Today when I received the news, I started crying and immediately ran to tell my mom. Being able to share our short film at All-State is such an honor.”
Grage commented, “It’s the icing on top of my senior year. I’ve been in speech all four years of high school, and every year I think that I got better and more confident, which led to making it to All-State.”
Grage, Machovec and Simpson also all have participated in numerous activities.
Grage has been involved in plays since middle school, takes Speech II class and is a new member of National Honor Society.
Machovec’s activities also include choir, the Titanium a cappella group, the Lady Patriots national anthem singers, band, color guard, play, individual speech, swimming, soccer, softball and wrestling cheerleading.
Simpson has participated in Academic Decathlon (four years), football and basketball cheerleading (freshman year), wrestling cheerleading (sophomore through senior), band and flags (freshman), play (four years), 4-H (since the summer after fourth grade), and Rotary Interact (junior and senior years).
Both Machovec and Simpson are preparing for individual speech contests.
Machovec plans to perform “Till There Was You” from “The Music Man” in musical theater. Simpson will be trying individual events for the first time, planning to enter improv acting.
For her part, Grage said, “I prefer to do large-group speech because I like to do it with my friends and it seems less scary when you are in a group.”