LOS ANGELES, Calif.—Before a crowd of 200 patrons, artists and students, the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance (ADAA) presented an informative industry panel at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills on November 8, 2013, discussing how Armenian artists can navigate their careers in entertainment.
The conversation was a rare opportunity to hear firsthand stories of the panelists’ successful careers and priceless lessons learned, followed by a question and answer session with the audience. The event was emceed by television personality Jill Simonian (The Hallmark Channel and HLN Showbiz Tonight), and the panel was moderated by ADAA president, Bianca Bagatourian. His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church, started the evening off with an eloquent speech about how art was integral to the Armenian soul.
“Make the Connection: Linking Armenians in the Entertainment Industry” featured an array of Hollywood dignitaries: Ovation-nominated director and former CAA literary agent Michael Peretzian; Emmy-winning TV and film producer Robert Papazian; Emmy-winning actor Michael Goorjian, novelist Aris Janigian (This Angelic Land), and Emmy-winning TV producer Hank Saroyan.
Near the outset and throughout the panel, Michael Peretzian advised: “When you make the connections, you better know who you are and what you have to offer. And that requires preparation…you have to be ready. Know what you have to tell us and what is special about you.”
Hank Saroyan talked about some of the advice his uncle, William Saroyan, provided him, including to write every day if he was going to call himself a writer. Hank said: “It’s not about being Armenian or being Jewish or from Finland. It’s about talent and drive and a spirit of industriousness.” He also said that “spirit of industry” has been his guiding principles in his career, which has included producing television for Dick Clark, Joe Barbera and Jim Henson. “If everyone else came in at 8, I came in at 7:30.”
Robert Papazian spoke of his early days of working in television: “A director at CBS asked me what I wanted to do and I told him I wanted to be a producer. He told me…’You’ll always be a producer. You’ll read, you’ll find material, and guess what? You’re a producer.’ I’m not keen that you need to study film in school; you innately have talent. If you discover that talent in yourself, you have to hone it.” He also encouraged students to complete their education before launching into their careers.
Multi-talented actor/director Michael Goorjian said: “I was very hungry. I had something to prove. I had that drive, which has served me very well. What I’ve learned over the years that served me more…is looking at the long-term relationships. I haven’t burned a lot of bridges. I’ve made close friends that have served me in the long run. Also, finding your own voice. There are a lot of people talking and they all sound the same but always ask…am I developing my own flavor?”
“It takes tremendous patience, hard work, diligence and a degree of ruthlessness to be able to survive,” said author Aris Janigian, whose latest novella, Dining with Lipschitz at the Chateau Marmont, is about a down-and-out screenwriter waiting to hear about a response to his script. “There’s a lot of aversion to risk among the people with money,” he said, when recommending that Armenians explore writing other contemporary stories and themes instead of more genocide stories.
The question and answer session featured Armenian film students and young professionals passionate about progressing in their careers and receiving excellent advice from the panelists.
ADAA’s annual Armenian Star Award — for an Armenian making significant contributions to the industry — was then presented by ADAA board member, playwright Lisa Kirazian, to the late Armenian American playwright, Leah Ryan, of Boston, whose play Bleach about the Armenian Genocide is widely read and performed. Leah Ryan was a playwright who taught at a variety of institutions including Vassar College, the University of Iowa, and New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Theater Apprentice Training Program. A graduate of Smith College, Juilliard, and the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Leah Ryan’s play Pigeon was published by Playscripts, Inc. Leah Ryan died of leukemia at the age of 44 on June 12, 2008, in New York City. The Leah Ryan Fund for Emerging Women Writers (http://www.leahryansfeww.com/) continues her legacy by supporting talented and unrecognized emerging women playwrights.
The panel event was sponsored by City National Bank. Other sponsors included The Dramatists Guild and Final Draft. Reception sponsors were Robert Burns Wines, Paradise Pastry and the Kradjian Family Fund. The event was photographed by dawnboweryphotography.com and videotaped by Artyom Aleksanyan.
On the same evening, ADAA presented the 4th Biennial Lillian & Varnum Paul 2013 Screenwriting Award to Levon Minasian & Eric de Roquefeuil for their script, “The Second Journey,” a dramatic comedy that takes place between Yerevan and Paris, and also between 3 generations of men, all started by the discovery of a bundle of love letters from a woman who captivates them all.
Levon Minasian, one of the winners, made a surprise appearance via Skype on the theater screen from St. Petersburg to accept the award with Eric De Rocquefeuil, who was in attendance. Both writers are from France. After winning, Levon stated: “Whatever the outcome of the competition, I know we are all winners now, because such events reinforce our motivation to tell our stories, and after that we have no choice — we must be successful.”
The other finalists were: “1915,” by Garin K. Hovannisian & Alec Mouhibian; and “The 13th Image,” by Yervand Kochar and Jeani Di Carlo.
In a wonderful show of unity, all six finalists revealed that they had decided ahead of time that all six of them would share the $10,000 prize money — the first time this has occurred in the competition’s history and a strong message of support to fellow artists.
The three finalist screenplays were evaluated by an esteemed honorary jury: Anahid Nazarian (Producer, American Zoetrope Productions), Michael Goorjian (Emmy-Winning Actor) and Hank Saroyan (Emmy Winning TV Producer).
ADAA Board Member and actress Karen Kondazian helped establish the Paul Screenwriting Award in honor of her family, The Paul Family. Before announcing the award, she said: “My mother taught me to put my arms around life…that it’s never too late to be who you always wanted to be. My father taught me about responsibility…He taught me…that with our talent we need to inspire, we need to heal, and most of all…we need to give each other courage. So I’m grateful to be here tonight in their honor, to present this award.” Past Paul Award winner Jeff Kalousdian (The Florist) joined Karen to help present the award.
The Lillian and Varnum Paul Screenwriting Award is administered by ADAA through the generosity of the Paul Family, through the Western Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, under the auspices of His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese.
In closing, ADAA announced it was accepting applications for its first one-on-one “Industry Mentorship Program” which will begin in 2014. Interested parties and also those who wish to volunteer or intern with ADAA may send their resumes to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance’s mission is to make the Armenian voice heard on the world stage through the dramatic arts of theatre and film. The organization accomplishes this mission by supporting playwrights and screenwriters and providing production opportunities, research tools, networking resources and writing awards.
This event was better than I imagined it to be, it gave us all a chance to re connect with the writers involved with the entertainment industry. The relationships and ideas that are shared are invaluable, we have some excellent writers of screen plays like academy award winner Steven Zailian for Schindler’s List. There is no reason why the best selling novel “40 Days of Musa Dagh” cannot be turned into a screenplay for a great director such as Steven Spielberg who has shown a big interest in the film.
Thanks again to the ADAA for such an exciting and worthwhile event.