Press

Renegade filmmaker credits Almaden roots

By Romina Saha

Mercury News

Sean McCarthy is as homegrown a filmmaker as they come. Raised in Almaden Valley and schooled at Los Alamitos Elementary School, Castillero Middle School and Leland High School, McCarthy has used the community he knows best for its talent pool and for its many scenic locations.

McCarthy, 27, is a professional filmmaker who knew since childhood that this was his calling.

Since the age of 7, he has been writing and drawing, realizing only years later that what he had done was actually called storyboarding, and that the fantasies he had could be translated into film.

In 2000, a year after graduating from Leland High School, McCarthy began writing the story of an obnoxiously cheerful bicyclist attacked by a demonic rider.

McCarthy worked numerous odd jobs, including as a deli counter clerk at the local Albertson's, to raise money for his short film. The picture would take four years to produce for less than $10,000.

"Raging Cyclist," McCarthy's first film, was screened at the Camera Cinemas in downtown San Jose in 2004. Since then, McCarthy has worked on a variety of projects, including a feature-length movie, "Last Days in the Suburban Jungle," commercials for Hitachi and music videos. He also created his own production company, Guerilla Wanderers Studios.

Recognition is coming to McCarthy. He and Dustin Strocchia edited a music video that was recently nominated for an MTV award. The video features the rock band Lupara singing "No Pity for the Ants."

McCarthy continues to count on his deep Almaden roots. "Raging Cyclist" stars Ephraim Joseph, one of McCarthy's buddies from Leland, was the cheery bicyclist in the film. Joseph was also the producer.

Last December, McCarthy's two new short films, "Boxed Up" and "Superhero," were screened as a double feature at the Camera 7 Cinemas in Campbell.

The movies, McCarthy says, were well received and sold out. The screenings were intended to attract investors to help finance future projects.

"Boxed Up" starred his 19-year old sister, Syra McCarthy, as an angry schoolgirl-turned-heroine. Syra McCarthy, who graduated from Pioneer High School, is following in her big brother's footsteps and pursuing a career in the film industry. "Boxed Up" also featured Leland principal Bob Setterlund and McCarthy's former Leland English teacher Richard Ajlouny, in brief roles.
"Superhero" stars McCarthy himself as a nerdy guy who feels his genius went unrecognized and who, in his fantasies, transforms himself into a superhero.

"A filmmaker needs an army," says McCarthy. His "army" includes Leland alumni such as Shawn Shaffie, one of the "Superhero" producers, and Artin Rodriguez, one of the "Boxed Up" producers.

McCarthy also credits Diane Olsen, his former drama teacher at Castillero; Gay Brasher, his former speech and debate teacher at Leland; and Dale Poor, his multimedia design instructor at MetroEd, among the people who recognized and acknowledged his artistic talents early on. He says these individuals "watered the plant."

McCarthy's parents have also been supportive and appear in cameo roles. His mom even caters the shoots. He admits, though, that there was a period when his parents questioned his decision to forgo college to pursue a film career.

"They let me figure out things for myself," says McCarthy, after his parents saw his determination. He pointed out that the industry has a number of famous filmmaker drop-outs, such as Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino.

"It's like being an athlete," he says. "All you can show is what you can do."

From short films and even a feature-length movie, "Last Days" in the "Suburban Jungle," McCarthy has branched out into making commercials (including two for Hitachi), music video, graphic design, sound design and visual effects. As for the name he chose for his production company, McCarthy says it stems from his high school years.

He describes himself and his friends as a renegade band in high school, getting in trouble with the police and other authorities for staging violent sequences for his films. He and his "army" were given warnings and threatened with arrest, but they persisted.

"We would always wander somewhere else to film, whether it was that day or another. It was a kind of militant, artistic and spiritual way of thinking. We were so dedicated to making it, we would get it done by any means," McCarthy says.