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Two Honors scholars at the heart and soul of coming film

two students watching preview

February 14, 2024

Pictured: Honors Scholars Kaden Groda and Michael Rodriguez previewing the coming film on the Traveling Preachers of Early Texas.

By: Dr. Andrew Yox, Honors Director

Was it fifteen times, the official honors count, or twenty-five times? Kaden Groda, and Michael Rodriguez, two NTCC honors scholars who were stalwart supporters of the coming film on the traveling preachers, believe it was more than the official count.  But they weren’t counting.  They loved the process. The coming film project was exceptional in NTCC history for the number of times honors students devoted time to the filming of a project beyond the normal over-booked six-day film week in August.  Groda and Rodriguez were involved in scouting film sites, filming scenes into November, doing special narrations, operating the boom mic, and even collecting B-roll–special inserted clips of nature footage. Both star in the upcoming free film this Friday at 7 p.m., with Rodriguez playing the role of the senior traveling preacher, William Stevenson, and Groda, playing the role of Stephenson’s son, James.

Their favorite site for filming?  Both loved Daphne Prairie in Franklin County. Lawyer B.F. Hicks graciously met with five honors students in his Mount Vernon law office, in October–Groda, Rodriguez, Victoria Matiz, Garrett Phillips, and Skylar Hodson.  He took them out to his carefully guarded, pristine prairie. “Everything was like new there” noted Rodriguez; “we saw a beautiful copper-colored coyote, and brilliant, unnamed flowers.”  Other favorite film sites included the stage of the Whatley Center for the Performing Arts, an evening bonfire in Nacogdoches, and shore-side spot on Lake Bob Sandlin.

Both Groda and Rodriguez attest also to the special role played by Allen Herald as the executive director.  “He kept us all …  inspired.”  Groda noted: “There was a time that I felt a scene had gone badly.  Herald’s response was to play a take for us to see, and point out all the things that had gone right.  That is what we felt, “positive,” Groda noted.

Rodriguez said the “film project became one of the most unique group experiences ever.  There was this humor we brought into each scene.  And yet we knew the scene was also serious, and we all respected that as well.”

Both honors students have known life elsewhere.  Rodriguez was born in El Salvador, lived thirteen years in Plano, and graduated from Paul Pewitt.  Groda lived in Stephenville, west of Fort Worth, and then attended Harts Bluff. Both appreciate NTCC and Honors Northeast as a place to receive a fine education with negligible costs, and both are looking forward to transferring to universities.  Rodriguez has embraced agriculture at NTCC, but hopes to work in wildlife management.  Groda is interested in a career in business.

“After having seen a preview of the film,” notes Honors Director, Dr. Andrew Yox, I am quite enchanted by the way Herald and Goldblum coaxed some arresting acting among quite a few. I have always appreciated Andrea Reyes’ ability to pose as “Southern.” Reverend Dan Hoke brings his innate enthusiasm into the mix: Luke McCraw plays a marvelously emphatic Stephen F. Austin, and Skylar Hodson, an intriguing sister to the antagonist. Raul Leija was astonishing as Sam Houston.  But I was most surprised by the ability of Groda and Rodriguez to assume the lilt of old-time southern preachers. Because they had central roles, their enthusiasm carried the film idea to a higher level than we have seen.”

The “Traveling Preachers of Early Texas” film is free and open to the public this coming Friday, 23 February, at 7 p.m. at NTCC’s Whatley Center for the Performing Arts. Afterwards, the friends of Honors Northeast will provide free refreshments, including home-made cookies. Guests are welcome to stay around for a brief time after the performance to meet the cast, and ask questions.

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