The film Contest, about a bullied high school student who ends up teaming with his bully, premieres today at 6pm on Cartoon Network! We chatted with Contest star and friend of Sweety High, Kat McNamara, about the film, her role, and why the issue of bullying is so close to her heart!
Contest tells the story of high school students in a small town. Matt Prylek, played by Kenton Duty, is a bully, and Tommy Dolen, played by Daniel Flaherty, is the victim of his bullying.
“An incident occurs where the two are forced to work together in a contest, and they form an unlikely friendship,” Kat explained.
Kat McNamara plays the role of Sarah O’Malley, the new girl in town.
“She’s not directly involved, so she can see through the games the bullies play in the film,” she explained. “I see Matt’s intentions may not be in Tommy’s best interests, and I warn him to be careful.”
Contest was filmed in a small town in upstate New York, where there wasn’t much to do. During filming, Kat grew very close to her costars, Kenton Duty and Daniel Flaherty.
“I had so much fun with those two,” Kat said. “Kenton, Danny and I had so much fun on and off set.”
Contest is a film about bullying, and has found a good home on Cartoon Network, which sponsors the “Stop Bullying: Speak Up” campaign.
“‘Stop Bullying Speak Up’ has been around for 4 years and it’s one of the most effective campaigns there are for bullying awareness,” Kat said. “This year, one of the goals is to start a discussion one house at a time with families talking to their kids to speak up about bullying. That’s the goal of Contest, too.”
Kat explained that Contest will be accessible to kids because the message is contained within a relatable story. It’s a film about people, not statistics.
“It’s very authentic and very true to life, true to what kids experience in schools,” she said. “But it’s also a film that’s appropriate for kids. It’s not too intense.
The film encourages kids to end bullying by speaking up, and seeking out the resources and tools to stop bullies.
“It’s a fictional story based on truth that people can get lost in, and drawn into the characters. You can be emotionally involved in every single character,” she said.
She added that it represents bullying in a realistic way. The situation is rarely black and white.
“The bully isn’t just a villain,” she said. ‘He’s a teen with flaws and weaknesses. Tommy isn’t just the victim. Every character is rich and full.”
Stop Bullying: Speak Up provides resources not just for the victims of bullies and bystanders, but also bullies themselves.
“I think that kids sometimes don’t know how to express themselves in a way that’s constructive,” she said. “That’s part of the reason I feel so strongly advocating about bullying. There’s always another way to express yourself, another way to share your opinion.”
Kat also stressed the importance of knowing that no one is born a bully, and that it’s never too late to change.
“If you realize your actions are hurting other people don’t be afraid to make a change,” she said. “Go to a trusted adult for advice, and let them know you may not be treating people the way you should. It can be as easy as smiling at someone or complimenting them.”
Kat explained that kids should know they aren’t bullying because they did anything wrong.
“I dealt with a lot of bullying growing up,” Kat said.
She said that even before she started acting, she had always been different from her peers.
“When you’re different, other kids don’t understand that,” she said.
Four members of the Contest cast even have their own song on the soundtrack for the film to spread the film’s anti-bullying message.
“We all have our own distinct style, so the soundtrack has something for everyone,” she said.
The producers realized they had a talented musical cast in between takes when the actors would come together to play music.
“They thought our musical talents would be an asset to the film, and a different way to advocate against bullying,” Kat explained.
The producers gave each cast member a theme to write about from their character’s point of view.
Kenton Duty wrote the song “Breaking the Surface” for the film. Kat explained it’s about the pressures other people put on you, as well as the ones you put on yourself, and overcoming them.
Daniel Flaherty’s contribution to the soundtrack is called “Wishing Well.”
“It’s about wishing all the fears and words and bullying would just evaporate,” Kat said.
Alex Boniello, who plays Joe in the film, also wrote a track called “Alright For Now” for the album.
“They asked me to write a mid-tempo ballad as an anti-bullying anthem for the film and the campaign,” Kat said. “I thought of Sarah’s point of view as a bystander. She wants Tommy to realize how wonderful he is and not be brought down by bullying.”
The result is the amazing track “Chatter,” written and performed by Kat herself.
The music video features footage from the film, as well as shots filmed in Kat’s home town of Kansas City at her high school.
Kat recruited her friends and drama teacher to shoot the film.
“It was a sweet little homecoming,” she said.
She actually recorded the song when she had the flu! Even though Kat woke up with no voice, she pulled through and managed to record a brilliant song.
She’s also working on getting out her first EP!
Make sure that you tune in to Contest on Cartoon Network today at 6pm, and buy Kat McNamara’s “Chatter” on iTunes!
Millions have taken the Stop Bullying: Speak Up pledge. You can, too by clicking here!
Looking for a place to express yourself in a non-bullying environment? Join us at Sweety High!