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March 7-13, 2007

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Day of Distribution, March 2, with J.J. Abrams

By Richard von Busack


While waiting for the J.J. Abrams thang, I encountered two San Jose filmmakers: VJ Rajan, writer, director and webmaster of the Sidekick City site (www.sidekickcity.com) and the producer Oscar Argello.

Rajan has coined the best possible name for San Jose ever (as in "Hi, I'm San Jose, San Francisco's wacky, sloppy sidekick!") At SJSU, Rajan turned from an electrical engineer to a filmmaker mostly because of the "incredible enthusiasm" he witnessed at a filmmaking class. One of Rajan's 13 short films played in last year's Cinequest.

He's also working on a film titled Bollywood America (the pitch-trailer is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUcAHlhLBVs), which he plans as a shot-in-Bollywood style feature made here in Sidekick City, starring local Yanks. He's anxious not to get stereotyped as an Indian filmmaker, though, and he was a little surprised to get mistaken for Kal Penn by not very observant passerby.

Rajan explained that he felt a San Jose Bollywood film would be especially viable, but he has other irons in the fire. Still, he had been perusing the Indian films at Cinequest, including the opening-night film, The Namesake. Despite Rajan's mixed feelings about the movie, which he airs in the review on his site, Rajan said he could barely stand to see how emotionally hard the film was on his first-generation immigrant mom.

Arguello had Rajan in his computer class and also made the switch into filmmaking; he's working a day job as an after school teacher, but he's been making films ever since high school, "where I did a documentary on the beginning of the Iraq War."

As for the Abrams' lecture, preceded by beezlebugbit.com's pretty good 1984ish Cinequest commercial, Abrams, co-creator of Lost and Felicity and director of MI: III wasn't exactly giving away the store, despite massive amounts of fan love.

Pestered about his upcoming Star Trek movie, Abrams made the contractually obligated claim that killers would have him removed from this Earth if he leaked details. (And yet so many publicists are left alive, despite the way they fill your inbox and mailbox with just such details.)

The Clark Kentish writer/director/producer, dressed in gray sweater and jeans, passed out a bowlful of tidbits: that MI:III was "big brother to Alias's little sister"; that he once made a mock-up of a crashed plane for a student film that was so realistic, a passerby nearly ran off the road trying to help the survivors; that he operates a vintage letter press as a hobby; that his father was a TV movie producer; and that's where he picked up his love of storytelling; that "Rod Serling is my idol"; that Lost is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive pilot of all time; that his favorite movies are The Philadelphia Story and Die Hard, though it was awe for Ordinary People that led him to do an early script, Regarding Henry; that he went to Sarah Lawrence on the advise of his grandfather, who told him "not to learn how to make movies but learn what to make movies about" (like about Harrison Ford snogging a beagle, for example).

Finally, he gave the excellent practical advice to Xerox a script five times, and then give the faded fifth- generation copy to producers to make them think that other people are reading it, so it must be hot.


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