May 25, 2020

Grad wins Sci Fi Contest

Slowly close your eyes. Imagine that it has been a few years after you’ve graduated from Fresno State.

Now, visualize that you’re doing exactly what you wanted to do. Imagine that you’re a teacher, a reporter or you own your own business.

Open your eyes slowly and think about what you just saw.

Robert J. Thissen, class of 1997, doesn’t have to imagine because he’s doing what he wants. He is making films.

Thissen recently won Exposure, a short-film contest on the Sci Fi Channel. The contest, also put on by the Sundance Channel, was made up of 64 films, and through a number of weeks voters chose Thissen’s film, “Paradox Road,” as the winner.

Thissen said that, “ ‘Paradox Road’ is about a detective that helps a former drug addict find his missing daughter that was abducted by an alien race.”

Thissen’s short film was originally shot as a 44-minute pilot for television. For the contest, however, he had to edit the movie down to less than eight minutes. But it was well worth it –– his prize for winning the contest was the opportunity to pitch an idea for an original motion picture to the executives of the Sci Fi Channel.

Thissen’s film was shot entirely in and around the Fresno area, even using all local actors. Thissen and his sister were the only people who worked on the movie, which had a budget of $500. His sister worked on the audio and helped him with lighting. Thissen wrote and directed the film, as well as wrote all of the music that was used. He learned how to do much of this while receiving both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mass communication and journalism from Fresno State.

While at Fresno State, Thissen took classes geared mostly toward news broadcast, not film. When he was in school, there were no classes that offered an entertainment aspect of media. He would get an assignment that called for a news or documentary feel to it. He took those ideas and twisted them around into short movies or films.

Thissen said that being in this kind of environment gave him the opportunity to use many different aspects of filmmaking. He was able to do both audio and video, which helped him later on.

“I was used to directing live, multi-camera, so that really trained me to think on my toes, to make quick decisions. The entertainment part was pretty much myself though,” Thissen said.

Thissen was asked to be a panelist at the Fresno Filmmakers Forum, which was held this past Saturday at the Warnors Center for the Performing Arts. He was one of the few people asked to be there who actually has Hollywood experience.

Thissen has worked on a few feature films but worked mostly on crew positions. He also did camera work for many years on different concerts and comedy shows for artists like Santana and Bill Cosby.

Thissen was not able to say much about what he’s currently working on, but he did say that he’s working on four to five different ideas to pitch to the Sci Fi Channel. He is also writing several films, two of which he will begin directing/producing within the next year.

To those students who are interested in going the same direction as Thissen, he said: “Don’t ever stop making movies… keep doing what you do. Keep experimenting, just do whatever you can.”

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