From SJSU to Hollywood

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Student filmmaker Evan Rogers on Campus MovieFest
By Leeta-Rose Ballester

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Photo by Basil Sar

Perched in front of a table with his feet up on tiptoes, filmmaker Evan Rogers looks as though he is ready to lunge at the next big thing — even when he is just waiting to meet someone at a coffee shop. As he stands up, he pulls his glasses off to the side in classic director fashion and takes the world in with his big eyes.

At just 23 years old, Rogers has already been to Hollywood and his dreams might take him even further.

“Disconnected,” a five-minute film that took a week to shoot, landed Rogers an award for Best Drama at the 2012 Campus MovieFest.

The film focuses on the emerging virtual culture that today’s teens have fallen hard for, according to Rogers. A fateful day alone at the mall led Rogers to the topic and was a “key moment” for him, he said.

“I saw a table of girls all on their phones,” he said. “Not a single one was speaking with each

other.”

Spinning off this topic, Rogers takes “Disconnected” to another level, or perhaps another dimension. He said he “wanted to bring a literal aspect to that” and to “where they are plugged in.”

The characters are quite literally plugged in and interacting in a sterile, controlled environment through text messaging until the male character wants to break away, according to Rogers.

“They have no facial expressions, they are zombies,” he said.

Rogers said he did not think the film had any chance of winning.

“I was really nervous about it despite the amount of time I put into it,” he said.

Rogers joked that he often needs one other person who says his work is “good enough” because he just cannot see it. He said he will continue to work on a project long after it is done in the same way a fine artist might overwork a piece. Sometimes he needs to be told to stop.

Rogers’s girlfriend, Jerika Ramirez, has also worked on a number of projects with him, including a current live-action and animation collaboration.

“He always feels that with his work … he can do more with it,” Ramirez said. “He is humble in that way.”

Rogers, on par with his perfectionism, said there is really no point in making a film unless it’s brilliant, especially in a world where he is competing with “cheap, fast media.”

“If you’re going to tell a story it better be good enough before they (viewers) get bored and leave,” he said. “My goal was that it was at least good enough to have people watch it.”

An anonymous panel of judges agreed that “Disconnected” was that good when it voted for his film as Best Drama for San José State and then as part of an elite Top 16 that went to Hollywood.

“This is where the best of the best come together,” said Nishant Gogna, promotions manager of the Northern California Campus MovieFest.

Gogna said the “mega event” gives student directors a chance to see their work on the big screen and meet industry professionals whom CMF invites.

He said that the actors and directors who come to see the students’ work “can’t believe the talent that comes out of this generation.”

A flood of students and their guests came from around the world to walk the red carpet and pose for pictures in the “glamorous” event, Gogna said.

Rogers described the CMF Hollywood as part big party and part convention.

“It was just what I had expected but a little more hip,” Rogers recalled.

He said that when his film was shown on the Universal Studios screen, he was overtaken by happiness.

“It was very surreal,” Rogers said. “I never thought I would get to experience something this big at a young age. I thought it would take decades.”

Rogers’s early success has struck him as surprising, he said, in part because he decided that he wanted to make films when he was only about 18 years old.

“I’ve always known I liked creative things,” he said. “I want to tell stories and I want to share that.”

He said that after he finished his first film, “Moonlight Rose,” he knew he had chosen the right path.

“It was a sense of euphoria,” Rogers said. “When I saw it on the screen it was so amazing that I started dancing.”

He shared that his parents did not feel the same way about his choice to make films as a career but when he won Best Drama, they knew he was serious.

“They wanted me to do something that had more security,” Rogers said. “Before that they had passive-aggressively tried to dissuade me.”

Rogers is already working for a start-up production company in San Mateo, Calif. His goals are enormous, he said.

“Of course I would like to be the next Steven Spielberg, but that’s not special,” he said. “Really, I want to create things that move people. I always try to evoke a response.”

Ramirez said she has no doubts that Rogers will succeed.

“He’s super ambitious and he’s been able to pull off incredible things,” she said. “He has a lot of ideas.”

Rogers said that even if he is not rich and famous, he has done his job if he can make people go “huh.”

“The amount of joy I get out of making films is something I could do everyday of my life,” he said.

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