Signal Film Students Launch Career In Chattanooga

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The community has a chance to be part of a young trio’s summer goal of making a film shot in and around Chattanooga before they head in different directions to pursue their passion.

Rowan Spraker set up an online account to raise money to produce “Keys,” the story of a work-obsessed pianist whose dream of becoming a renowned composer is shattered after a sudden accident leaves him with nerve-damaged hands.

Fellow SMHS Seniors Kevin Cecil and Jack Skowronnek are other members of the team that plans to to release their project via YouTube as a three-part series. Mr. Spraker then plans to launch SprakSlate productions into the Chattanooga film scene by submitting “Keys” to the 2018 Chattanooga Film Festival and then taking it to other film festivals all over the South.

Previous work by this trio was included in the inaugural Signal Mountain High School Film Festival that showcased work by upper-level students enrolled in a two-year Film Studies course at the high school. 

Mr. Cecil organized this event as his senior project for the International Baccalaureate program at SMHS. He wanted to publicly recognize  work that the Senior Film Class had put into projects over the last two years during the class that evolved from an after-school club just a few years ago.

The group enjoyed local fame a couple of years ago, when a two-minute safe-driving public service announcement won $100,000 for the school from a State Farm Insurance “Drive 2n2” contest. 

Some of that money had to be used to support a student safety driving program. But the majority of it bought more professional equipment for the brand new Film Studies IB course, which now has four cinematography cameras instead of one, along with better sound equipment.

“It gave us the tools to up our game and experiment a lot,” said Matt Doebler, who teaches English as well as the Film Studies IB course that he said focuses on “cinematography and movies and communicating through film.”

“Film is so powerful,” he said. “It’s the only medium where you can communicate ‘meaning’ without words. Film has the power to communicate straight to emotions.”

The festival included the State Farm PSA, some “Signal Shorts” filmed around the school, music films, and even some short clips produced during a pilot Chattanooga 2016 Capture Filmmaking Project that involved students and media instructors from SMHS and Howard High School working with staff from Chattannoga State’s Media Technologies Program, as well as professional film-making crews.

After trailers and an outdoor family documentary that Mr. Spraker filmed in Maine, the audience were presented with four longer, but still, short films. The one titled “Ukulele Bonding” cast teacher Bo Chamberlain and his son, Shiloh, in a heartfelt film.

The other three included supernatural elements in productions that were filmed in very different venues.

Students had to lug equipment across streams and up hills to get the right setting for “The Wild,” based on a spooky camping story.

“Hanging in the Balance” was shot solely in a Signal Mountain courtroom and focused on where people go after death.

The film “22” was shot in various venues downtown and included a mugging along the Tennessee Riverfront and a running scene at night. Its theme is toxic love, where a young adult must make the choice between right and wrong when who he thought was the love of his life turns out to be his worst nightmare. 

This product, full of symbolism, is a product of Mr. Spraker, Mr. Cecil, and Mr. Skowronnek.

Mr. Doebler hopes to repeat the Film Festival that also included panel discussions where students talked about their work, what went into each film, and the challenges they had to overcome.

“There’s so much thought, so much process, so much collaborative work, and so much passion that goes into each one of these projects,” he said.

Signal’s film students are involved in every aspect of a film such as storyboarding, casting, directing, location scouting, filming, lighting, and sound recording.  

Mr. Cecil wanted people who came to the Film Festival to “understand the intentionality and work” that goes into each film.

Seniors Rowan Spraker and Jack Skowronnek assisted fellow film student Kevin Cecil in presenting the first SMHS Film Festival. The three are working on another short film this summer in Chattanooga.
Seniors Rowan Spraker and Jack Skowronnek assisted fellow film student Kevin Cecil in presenting the first SMHS Film Festival. The three are working on another short film this summer in Chattanooga.

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