Sherwood high schoolers took the top prize at a recent science fiction film festival.

COURTESY: NOLEN STERNKOPF - Sherwood High School seniors Jack Weldon, Nolen Sternkopf and Skylar Smith pose outside of the Moonlight Theater on May 19 after winning first place at the McMinnville UFO Film Festival.Sixty-eight years ago, the small Oregon town of McMinnville gained national attention after photographs depicting what was thought to be a UFO hovering above a nearby farm ran in "Life" Magazine.

Though skeptics later determined that the photos were likely part of a hoax, they left a lasting impression on McMinnville. The town hosted its 19th annual UFO Festival (presented by McMenamin's) in May, and the festivities included a sci-fi film festival at the Moonlight Theater.

The winners of that film festival? A group of Sherwood High School students: writer, director and editor Nolen Sternkopf, and actors and writers Drew Crosby, Jack Weldon and Skylar Smith. They call themselves Metalcorn Productions.

Sternkopf started Metalcorn with fellow Sherwood High student Nathan Stafford during Sternkopf's freshman year.

"We were both big film fans, and both really interested in making short films," Sternkopf said. "It was just the two of us back then, and we made a couple short films."

Over the years, Metalcorn evolved to include more of the pair's friends. The troupe is mostly self-taught; Sternkopf had never taken a video production course until this school year.

"We really just started messing around with cameras and editing, and see what worked and what didn't," Sternkopf said. "Whenever we've been unsure about something, the Internet's always been a good place to turn to teach yourself new stuff." COURTESY: NOLEN STERNKOPF - The promotional poster for "Night Lights," designed by Skylar Smith.

Stafford now studies film at San Francisco State University, and Sternkopf plans to join him there in the fall.

Sternkopf and his collaborators created "Night Lights," their winning film, for a charity talent show in Tigard back in March of this year. They took the premise of the original 1950 McMinnville UFO sighting, and made a fictional follow-up story set twelve years later, in 1962.

They shot the film over the course of three days, at Weldon's grandparents' rural property in Hillsboro. Sternkopf edited the short during spring break.

Metalcorn Productions' choice to center their film on the McMinnville UFO sighting was a bit serendipitous — the group didn't know about the UFO Film Festival until after the short first aired at the talent show — and stemmed mostly from their love of science fiction.

"I really like how much creativity that genre has always allowed," said Sternkopf, who looks up to directors like Tim Burton and Ed Wood. "I think it's popular because it's the perfect cross between real life and fantasy and things we're unsure about, or look forward to possibly achieving in the future."

Perhaps most striking about "Night Lights" is the film's use of classic 60s-era music to create a haunting, almost creepy feel. Elvis Presley's "Fools Rush In" plays as a character spots a UFO for the first time, and "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" by Tiny Tim plays over the end credits.

"We definitely wanted to have music that made it feel like the right time period, and also worked with the atmosphere of the film," Sternkopf said.

There were six entries in this year's UFO Film Festival, and the Metalcorn Productions members were surprised to learn they had taken the top spot. But the young filmmakers — all seniors at Sherwood High — don't plan to rest on their laurels for long.

"Before we all go off to college, we want to get a bunch of projects done this summer," Sternkopf said.

View "Night Lights" at the following link:

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