For immigrant who couldn’t speak much English, middle school media class offered a path forward

October 19, 2022 — by Anika Kapasi
Photo by Darren Guo
Senior Darren Guo films for former Saratoga mayor Yan Zhao’s 2022 campaign for city council re-election.
After taking the media arts elective at Redwood Middle School, senior Darren Guo knew filmmaking was something he wanted to pursue in his future.

When senior Darren Guo moved from China to Saratoga in seventh grade, he spoke little English. Until his English improved, he had a hard time in most of his classes — except during his media arts elective.

“Media arts and filmmaking was something that my language barrier didn’t bar me from being good at or giving my all,” he said.

Guo liked the class so much that he took the same elective in eighth grade and, when he came to Saratoga High, he knew the Media Arts Program (MAP) was the “obvious choice” for him.

“There’s the aspect of filmmaking [that allows] self-expression and fulfillment, which is what I [discovered in middle school],” Guo said.

While in MAP, his passion and talent for filmmaking was recognized last year during SMASHIN’, an event held at the end of the school year to award the year’s best projects. In May, Guo won three awards for his films: best curricular project, best documentary and best American story. 

Mike Davey, Guo’s history teacher in his sophomore and junior year, described him as a humble, responsible and quick-witted leader who must have had “extra hours in the day” to get all of his projects done.

“He has become more empathetic over the years to the point where he will lead a project and give other people credit for its success,” Davey said. “He goes out of his way to help everybody, working with the underclassmen and putting together podcasts [that serve as how-to tutorials for media arts].”

Over the years, Guo’s passion for filmmaking grew, and when the leadership class decided to create a dedicated commission for the tech aspect of leadership events, Guo applied for and earned the lead position as a result of his filming and editing abilities. 

As head of tech commission, he delegates tasks to his peers — juniors Dhruv Kapur and Ethan Canahuati and sophomore Amy Pan. He makes sure all the needs are fulfilled, as his commission is responsible for social media content created for other commissions in leadership as well as graphics and videos created for the student body. Guo specializes in the filmmaking and videography aspect of the commission. 

The homecoming reveal video played on Aug. 16 during the Food Truck Fest and the football hype film aired during the first rally on Sept. 19 were made by Guo and the rest of the commission. Along with creating films, they are responsible for handling the audio equipment and recordings for quad days. Currently the commission is working to create a cinematic video for the Trunk or Treat event on Oct. 29, with the concept of the video being similar to the Homecoming theme reveal video. 

While he has often been told to submit his films to festivals, Guo said he has “never felt the time or need to do that.” However, for his senior year, he is required to submit his group’s MAP Capstone project, a 10-minute film, to a film festival and is curious to see the result of his submission.

“My project is about a member of a search team in a post-apocalyptic world facing a moral dilemma when they encounter an infectious monster,” Guo said. “Currently, the film is in pre-production and I have finished a draft script.”

Along with his MAP and his commission’s films, Guo has worked on various outside projects, recently working with former mayor Yan Zhao for her 2022 campaign.

He said he hopes to pursue film in the future, applying to the film programs at USC, UCLA, Chapman University and Loyola Marymount College.

“Filmmaking is really like any other form of art,” Guo said. “It’s the process of having what you imagine in your head coming to life in a tangible medium, which is the part I have found to enjoy the most.”

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