The story behind the small-town documentary that was a star at UIL
By Linda S. Johnson
When Macy Melton and Morgan Dyer decided to shine a light on Texas’ huge need for foster families, the two Nocona High School teens never dreamed their short documentary would place fifth in the state UIL competition. But with No Matter What, they struck a chord.
In fact, the film came about by happenstance. Macy, 17, a junior and a member of First UMC Nocona, ended up in the school’s audio/visual class by luck of scheduling with Morgan, 17, a senior.
HOW THEY GOT THE IDEA: When Macy and Morgan began tossing around ideas for a film, they came up with the foster parent subject after attending the Montague County Child Welfare Fair, a benefit that area churches help put on and that features family-friendly activities as well as provides information on the system.
“We talked to a lot of cool people who were so passionate” about the subject, Morgan said.
They ran it past their audio-visual teacher, Rob Norman, who attends First UMC Whitesboro, and he thought it was a strong idea. It would also be the school’s first documentary submitted to the University Interscholastic League.
Did You Know ...
When Rob Norman, who attends First UMC Whitesboro, moved up from the middle school to Nocona High three years ago, he had no idea how the video program would take off.
What the school district discovered is that no matter whether gifted and talented or in special education, the student tests better in all subjects after taking video production. Why?
Norman theorizes it is because film and broadcast production require analytical thinking, with a story, graphic design and camera work involved.
From a broadcast production class the first year, the teacher now has a full-time technology schedule including classes in audio/visual broadcasting, radio broadcasting, movie production and graphic design.
And there are no easy A’s, says Norman, who describes himself as a “tough teacher.” Even so, 200 students are signed up for his classes next year.
A FOSTER DAD, AN ADVOCATE AND A LEGISLATOR: The students didn’t have to look far for whom to feature in their film. Patrick Flaniken and his wife, Jamie — with five young children, one biological and the other four fostered, then adopted — had just joined First UMC Nocona, Macy’s church; he was also Macy and Morgan’s high school band director. Morgan’s uncle, Austin Wright, himself adopted after being born to a 13-year-old, is on the county child welfare board.
To give the film added weight, they tracked down Texas Rep. James Frank of Wichita Falls, who has co-authored legislation on foster care after becoming interested in the subject through his church.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: When it takes custody of children, Child Protective Services tries to keep them in the same county — or as close to it as possible — as their parents. That’s partly to cause less disruption for the kids but also because, in many cases, the parents are going through programs to win back custody, says Flaniken. The parents have six months to complete a plan, but the state can extend that to 18 months. During that time, the parents are entitled to supervised visits with their children, so distance becomes an issue.
From Left: Morgan Dyer, Macy Melton, and Deziray Graham
But there’s more to it. Often the children come as part of a sibling group, which can be harder to place. The Flanikens, for example, took in three sisters — and there were actually six kids in the girls’ birth family. Sometimes, children go into homes where there may be 10 to 12 kids. With new kids, who have been abused or neglected or have witnessed it, come new family dynamics, and the children may be shuffled again when things don’t work out, Flaniken said. His own daughters had been in six homes over 3½ years.
As No Matter What notes, there are 28,000 foster children in the state of Texas, and there is a shortage of families, including in Montague County, willing to take them in. With no other options in their home counties, Wright and Frank say in the film, the kids are ripped from familiar surroundings and sent perhaps hundreds of miles away for care. Frank wants to enact legislation to make it easier for people to become foster parents.
PUTTING THE FILM TOGETHER: Macy and Morgan entered the documentary category of the UIL, but they expected their classmates who were in the narrative category would do better than them. (The narrative made it to the semifinals.) There are also digital and traditional animation categories.
Norman advised them on their camera work — “how we were going to do it, because we weren’t too good at that at first,” Macy said. Classmate Deziray Graham, 17 and a junior, did the voice-over and smoothed out lines when they were a little rough. The teens shot 40 minutes of video, then had to edit it down to 7 minutes to meet UIL rules. They strived to keep the personal aspects in the film to tell the story, and Flaniken’s vignette about reassuring one of his girls that he loved her “no matter what” gave the documentary its title.
From Left: Deziray Graham, Macy Melton, Morgan Dyer, and Rob Norman
Once they were done and the film entered, they couldn’t go back and tweak anything. And while Norman thought their work was solid — especially for two first-year film students — the girls weren’t convinced they had a winner. When they made it through the first round of competition, they were proud but didn’t expect the documentary to go any further.
THEN ... Macy was sitting in class when her audio/visual teacher got the email announcing they were a finalist in state. “He came and found us,” she said. “We couldn’t believe it.” It was off to Austin for Macy, Morgan, Deziray and Norman to see where they would place in the Division I documentary category.
IT’S LIKE THE OSCARS! The group was so excited that they got to the historic Paramount Theatre before any other school and were first in line to enter — and were escorted to the front row, Norman said. They watched 48 films, all the entries in all the categories that placed in the two UIL divisions. “It was really cool to see it on the huge movie screen,” Morgan said of their film.
It wasn’t until after their film was shown that the results were announced in a ceremony much like the Academy Awards. They knew they would have a hard time edging out Argyle, a booming Dallas suburb rich in resources, which took the top three awards, Norman said. So they were happy with the fifth place win.
WHAT’S NEXT: Macy will be moving for her senior year to San Angelo with her family, where her dad, former Nocona Pastor Scott Melton, has taken a job to be closer to his parents. Macy plans to go into education for a career. Morgan, graduating this year, has been accepted into Texas A&M, where she will major in journalism. “I really like talking to people and writing,” she says. So don’t be surprised to see her name again. And Norman’s enrollment is booming with sign-ups for next year.
From Left: Deziray Graham, Macy Melton, and Morgan Dyer at Paramount Theatre in Austin
MORE ABOUT THE FLANIKENS:
Patrick and Jamie Flaniken had talked about adopting children even when they were dating. After marrying and having a daughter, they decided to go the foster-to-adoption route through the agency A World for Children. At the time they were living in Ganado, a small town near Victoria where Flaniken was the high school band director.
Their first foster child, a boy, was placed with them at 3 weeks old. Within six months, they took in the three sisters, ages 5, 7 and 8. After 1,307 days and six foster homes, the girls could finally call the Flanikens mom and dad for good when they were formally adopted. The Flanikens moved to Nocona before the start of the 2015-16 school year when Patrick took the band director job at the high school there.
The Flanikens, neither of whom had grown up United Methodist, had been members of First UMC Ganado because they felt it had the best outreach program in the area. When Patrick was looking into the Nocona High job, they dropped in at First UMC Nocona the Sunday before his interview the next day.
“The membership of this church was so friendly and welcoming of our family,” recalls Patrick, who said that not all congregations are accepting of a biracial family like his. “The members had no idea of who we were or what we did.” Impressed by the “Christ-like attitude” of the congregation, the Flanikens knew, once Patrick landed the job, they needn’t look any further for a church home.