Best of A Producer’s Life 

Legendary Hollywood producer Howard Kazanjian reminisces on his mind-blowing career during the 2022 Creative Armenia Week 

August 19 , 2022  |  by Creative Armenia

DAY 3, A Producer’s Life – How many people can casually bring up during conversations that they have worked with George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg or had daily coffee and lunch breaks with Alfred Hitchcock? While the names of these iconic filmmakers have been ingrained in our shared sense of cinema, to many their existence seems near-mythical. Not to Howard Kazanjian, though, a powerhouse Hollywood producer who has helped these filmmakers and their movies gain their glory. A man of incredible devotion and creative thinking, he spent his life alongside some of the greatest creators of his generation, producing such films as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars. His productions have shaped generations and defined the film industry of today, receiving Emmys, garnering more than a dozen Oscar nominations, and winning ten. 

 

One can only imagine what his life must have been like. So no wonder Howard Kazanjian had an unlimited storage of stories to share. Some of them he has described in his biography A Producer’s Life. Some of them he did the honor of sharing during his 2022 Creative Armenia Week panel. Listen to him share how he became Hitchcock’s “adopted son,” dealt with difficult artists, and navigated being an Armenian in Hollywood, in his conversation with the VP of Creative Armenia Alec Mouhibian. 

Working your way up 

“You have to start at the bottom. Not as low as I did, but you need to learn as an assistant director so that as you move up the ladder and you become a producer, director, or executive, you understand why people act the way they do. Understand what to do when an assistant director comes to you and says they have a problem with a certain actor. If you start at the top you may have a successful picture once or twice but if you do not know your crew, if you do not know their jobs, if you do not know the union regulations and the studio protocol, you are going to fail eventually.”

 

Hollywood then and now 

“Back then, the pictures were different. If we had the script and we got the 'go-ahead,' in one year it would be in theatres. Now, I take a script to a studio, and if they like it, they are saying if today is July 2022 maybe it will be in theatres July 2024 or sping of 2025. It’s crazy. And by the time everybody reads your script, the foreign distributor takes a look at it, the DVD guy and the merchandising specialist read it, usually, you never make your picture. There is too much analysis and too many paid people in charge of pictures. The successful pictures I think today are Steven Spielberg and George Lucas because there is not a committee. It is only one or two people making a decision.”

 

Channeling Hitchcock’s vision

“Hitchcock’s wife was not well at the time. Sometimes he would go home at noon. And we would still have 4-5 hours of shooting. So he would say, 'Direct the picture. Take over, Howard.' Well, Howard Kazanjian was not directing the picture. It was Hitchcock, through me, directing the picture. I knew what he wanted.”

 

Coming up with solutions 

“There is no answer to how you do it. You have to be in that situation and try to figure it out. Maybe a particular scene takes place in an airplane. And that particular scene is gonna cost you 3 million dollars. And you do not have the 3 million dollars because you spent it somewhere else or are 4 days over the budget. But maybe if you put it out of the airplane and put it in a truck, a car, a train it will cost you far less but work even better.”

 

Selling a story 

“The key for me is always story, story, story. What I learned late in life is not to value if I like the story but if I can sell the story to a distributor, to a studio, to a financier, and if is it going to work. Again, I learned that late. It is not what I like, it is what I sell. It is what the public will buy. Whether it is an Armenian story or not.”


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