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Driving “Paradox Road”

Fresno State alumnus’ self-produced movie lands in top nine in SciFi Channel’s viewer-voted “Exposure Film Contest”

America’s best undiscovered movie directing talent might just be a Fresno State alumnus.

Last year, the Sci Fi Channel, in collaboration with the Sundance Channel, produced an “American Idol� style show called the “Exposure Film Contest� in search of unknown directors.

Fresno State alumnus Robert J. Thissen, 32, was one of thousands who submitted short films for the contest. After the field was whittled down to 64 by a professional committee, the public had its say through online voting. Nine finalists were chosen, among them Thissen’s film, “Paradox Road.�

The winner will be given a trip to New York to pitch a movie project to the Sci Fi Channel, as well as gain national exposure.

Thissen, a Chowchilla native who earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Fresno State, will need as many votes as possible to get the top prize.

Thissen described “Paradox Road� as, “A human drama characterized with supernatural elements that takes audiences through a journey of the unknown.�

The film, which is a psychological drama, begins with a police detective who helps a former police officer and recovering drug addict locate his kidnapped daughter. “It’s really ‘Twilight Zone’ supernatural stuff,� Thissen said.

“Paradox Road� was initially written by Thissen to become a television series, but he shortened it for submission to the contest. The film was written, edited and directed by Thissen, who also operated the camera, wrote the soundtrack and created the special effects.

His sister, Annette Doucet is also a Fresno State graduate, and she was an integral part of the film by working as his assistant director, Thissen said. “Paradox Road� was filmed entirely in the Valley with local actors, including the star of the film, Charlie Bonner. Everyone volunteered for the project and Thissen’s short film has generated a lot of interest in Hollywood with a budget of just $500 and a crew of two, he said.

Thissen is currently a screenwriter and director of independent films and he is also teaching a screenwriting workshop at Fresno State. He wears many hats when creating his films and his extensive musical background works to his advantage when scoring the soundtracks.

Originally a music major, Thissen plays 10 instruments. He eventually switched his major to mass communication and journalism, which he also received his master’s degree in before starting his professional career.

Don Priest, the chair of the mass communications and journalism department, remembers a film called “Abduction: The Chowchilla Story� that Thissen created as a student more than 10 years ago.

“He did a sci fi movie about an alien meeting a redneck from Chowchilla,� Priest said. “By the end of the film, the alien was sitting on a couch watching wrestling.�

Priest recalled the diverse talent that he recognized in Thissen. “He was capable of anything,� he said. “He does his own shooting, writing and composing. He always had ambition. He never gives up and he doesn’t get discouraged.�

In fact, Thissen was the first student at Fresno State to create a narrative short film. His thesis project was a film that he described as “‘Star Wars’ meets ‘The Matrix.’�

To aspiring actors, Thissen said that good advice would be to get in short student films in order to get a reel going. If you want to be a director, it is important to make student films and enter as many festivals and contest as possible.

He also said it is beneficial to broaden your horizons. “If you’re interested in production, take an acting class to see what it’s like from an actor’s perspective,� Thissen said. “If you’re an actor, take a television production class to get experience with lighting and hitting your mark.�

Thissen is excited about his future, and because of the attention he has received already from the contest, he has feature film projects in the works for this year, he said. “I have a lot of studios looking at me because of the competition,� Thissen said.

He aspires to one day be a director of big action movies, similar to those directed by Michael Bay.

Should he win, Thissen plans to bring “Paradox Road� to television and pitch another one of his movies to the bigwigs from the Sci Fi and Sundance Channels.

The “Exposure Film Contest� will air on both the Sci Fi and Sundance Channels in the near future, after which the public will again be
called upon to select its favorites through online voting.