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The quest of SP Films and the value of learning history

After+meticulously+setting+up+lighting%2C+sound%2C+props%2C+and+other+equipment%2C+William+%28Pape%29+Crown+24%2C+checks+the+camera+for+any+adjustments+that+may+need+to+be+made.+Daniel+Franco+24+runs+over+his+lines+during+the+last+few+minutes+before+beginning+the+scene%2C+preparing+for+his+monologue.+
Ella Nicolle
After meticulously setting up lighting, sound, props, and other equipment, William (Pape) Crown ’24, checks the camera for any adjustments that may need to be made. Daniel Franco ’24 runs over his lines during the last few minutes before beginning the scene, preparing for his monologue.

With a camera in one hand and crumpled script in the other, the SP Films crew began its film-making voyage as inexperienced sophomores in Yiu Hung Li and Claire Adams’ College Preparatory (CP) English and World History classes, respectively. William “Pape” Crown IV ‘24 and Daniel Franco ‘24 were spared from writing an essay for semester one finals, but instead had to create a five-minute movie to display their knowledge of World War I (WWI), which they had been learning about in the past unit. Aiming to weave together themes from WWI and Erich Maria Remarque’s renowned novel “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the project was appropriately titled “The Soldier Project.” However, these three passionate storytellers, now fast approaching graduation, still sail forth in search of greater film-making adventures. Here is a recount of their journey, as well as a deeper look into the value of remembering the past.

It all began 11 years ago on the Foothill Technology High School (Foothill Tech) campus when Li and history teacher Dan Fitzpatrick (Fitz) partnered up to initiate a project for their students to be excited about, but also learn from.

Li stated, “We felt like the dreary subject of revolutions and dictatorships … can be a downer, and we wanted something fun for them.”

For these students to put together and take this film project to heart means the world to me, and I love what they’re doing and they make me proud.

— Yiu Hung Li

After brainstorming, they came up with the Soldier Project. Once former Foothill Tech teacher Kurt Miller joined Li and Fitz, the three began perfecting the project: its genres, topics, content and length. After three years, they came out with the magical assignment that students know and love today which hundreds of unique renditions have been made.

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For one group of students, the project accomplished what the Foothill Tech advisors set out to do — establish a legacy and sense of community. At the start, Crown and Franco teamed up to make their first Soldier Project production, and a year later they were joined by their third member, Jack Marshall ‘25. Their first two film productions, “Das Trauige” as well as “Left Standing,” not only established lifelong friendships, but also launched the group’s newfound purpose — to tell impactful stories under the alias SP Films.

Their initial work, “Das Trauige,” was meant to be a comedy, a completely indifferent and relaxed tone from what came out of production. But an epiphany for creation, with inspirational credit to Radiohead, combined with the important lessons on morale from class, motivated a different outcome.

Once finished setting up the equipment needed for the perfect shot Pape Crown ’24 begins recording the scene. However before any of the actors can start acting Keira Frisk ’24 has to clap the slate. The purpose of this is to help with syncing the audio to the video when it’s being edited. The slate also has the scene and take on it which also helps during the editing process. (Ella Nicolle)

“[“Das Trauige”] was going to be really silly, but we ended up going for a more deep and emotional film — so that was a drastic change and it ended for the better,” Franco, the main production actor, said.

That genre switch had changed everything. For Crown, “Das Trauige” solidified his plan to pursue the arts and directing in the future. For Franco, it gave him a reason to quench his curiosity and experience newfound situations. Their work reached Marshall the following year, who knew immediately that he wanted to collaborate with the duo to create another masterpiece.

“Since I found out about the soldier project, I knew I wanted to do it with the guys — they had such an amazing one the year before,” Marshall explained.

From there, the trio officially launched SP Films. A steady stream of hauntingly striking short films have been released within the span of two years, their work trademarked with intuitive complexity. Their more allusive works are “Beyond Human Comprehension” and their silent film, “Murder of the Mind.” The latter claimed to be their most challenging film made yet, abstractly portrays the perceptions of a victim caught in a seemingly nonsensical violence.

In the finale of their Soldier Project phase, a new, larger collaboration of members with SP Films created “Poppy.” The latest film regards a soldier who has an existential experience towards the end of WWI. “Poppy” transcends any former notion of rookie directing and perfectly concludes the current saga with

Waiting to shoot a scene for the latest Soldier Project Film, titled “After It All”, Samantha Hill ’25, reviews her lines and looks at the television which displays the view of the camera being used to film. (Ella Nicolle)

an amazing performance on their matured breadth of creativity. The team credits their ongoing passions and bonds to their humble beginnings — accomplishments that would not be as great in magnitude without the impactful lessons of a sophomore World History and English class.

In short, the Soldier Project has a deeper purpose than it seems on the surface. Teachers and students involved in the film-making process repeatedly describe the true meaning of the assignment as its formation of camaraderie between the group members. Laboring for weeks over a creative process connects the students and leaves them with long-lasting bonds, as evident with the SP Films crew. Li stated, “The meaning of it is really about the fact that [the] kids can be a part of something big, and they don’t have to be in a program or something like that for that to happen.” Each year brings a fresh class of students that can be given the ability and opportunity to create an inspiring legacy.

My life has been changed over and over again when I watch other films, and I’m starting to realize more and more about the world. Mr. Li made me realize that the media can do that — and it wasn’t all just in my head.

— William “Pape” Crown IV ‘24

But most importantly, the project forces students to truly immerse themselves in their lessons. Although it may seem pointless to some to learn about a couple of events that happened a hundred years ago, these historical events are inextricably linked to the characters of the present generation. In fact, one of the most common platitudes states that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Therefore, learning about history, how to read it and how you can interpret it differently are all crucial tools that every student should possess. Not only does it provide one with deeper insights on the world, but it can also help young students find their identity. The Soldier Project, besides all of its entertaining points, has shown itself to be an easy-to-use medium through which students can explore history unhampered. Maya Angelou’s quote, “You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been,” illustrates this idea best.

Although members of society don’t all have to agree on history, all should at least be aware of the stories of the past. And as Li put it, “With awareness comes power.”

Editor’s note: In addition to being a Foothill Tech teacher as stated in the article, Yiu Hung Li is also the faculty adviser of the Foothill Dragon Press. 

Before filming Pape Crown makes small changes in lighting and placement of actors to get the perfect shot. He has a vision for every scene in every film and, along with his film crew, he does his best to make every scene look as close to his vision as possible. (Ella Nicolle)

This story was originally published on The Foothill Dragon Press on February 18, 2024.