Interview with the First Page screenplay co-winner Matthew Yaldezian
Matthew Yaldezian talks about his ‘Armenian Goodfellas’ kind of story.
December 26, 2019 | by Creative Armenia
CA: Give us more insight into your opener. How was the idea conceived?
MY: After examining the poster, I conjured the images of a city and couldn’t get past the Hollywood sign and Little Armenia. With the setting in place, I knew I needed to follow up on the title of the film Creative Armenia which meant—there should be some art involved in this. I thought it should be something visual so I decided on a graphic artist. I also wanted to allow for the opportunity that perhaps the hero created the poster. I wanted half the page to be setting and tone and the second half to be dialogue. But the key is the characters and the world. This world of “Armenian Goodfellas” is something I’ve been tinkering with for some time and this challenge just opened another door for that idea, world, and characters. The characters being in a car was deliberate because opening images are always about movement. But at the same time, they are stuck—our hero, Aram, is stuck between two worlds. His family and the business that they do and “Hollywood” represent the artist and his yearning to be part of that world. I chose the name Aram because of Saroyan’s My Name is Aram and Vicken because it sounds opposite of Aram. I also liked the idea of Aram being bold enough to draw on the envelope full of money that they are supposed to give their uncle.
CA: Your first page of the screenplay for Creative Armenia made us want to turn the page. What would we find on the next page? Do you have a clear story mapped out in your mind?
MY: The next page would continue the argument between the two brothers and then, perhaps, their uncle would call and tell them to meet him somewhere different than originally discussed and we start to unfold their world a little more. I think the second act really brings Aram into the art world, maybe through a contest, or an exhibit. To be true, although I’ve been playing with the world, there was a sense of discovery in creating the first page. I never considered converging this world with the artist world. So any story that evolves from here was not necessarily preconceived.
Overall, it would probably be a classic story about a young man at the crossroads of his family and his artistic passions. But instead of that being the cliche “Armenian writer whose family wants him to be a doctor” story, this is an Armenian gangster who wants to be an artist—which is a pretty fresh take. Who in his family supports him? Who doesn’t? Does he have a girlfriend who wants him to stay in life and he meets a new girl outside of life? Does he find success outside of life as an artist—a path—and is that path threatened by his family or an enemy or himself? What choices does he have to make that jeopardize both paths? Where do the paths converge? Is he doing the art path in secret? If so, how is it exposed? These are all “maps” that would take time to thaw out but the journey is certainly sparked on this first page. And the more I think about it, the more I see it—and certainly see it as a feature film.
CA: You are a working screenwriter and the Associate Director of the Professional Programs at UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television. Tell us more about your creative background and current creative projects.
MY: I’m a proud alumnus of the California State University, Northridge Screenwriting program (B.A). Professor Eric Edson there was a huge influence on my craft. I would be nowhere without his teachings. After graduating from Northridge I began to work with Saroyan’s material a lot. Adapting his short stories into plays and scripts. But there is a lot of red tape with obtaining the rights to his work, unfortunately. While writing, I also worked in the industry as an assistant, intern for Fred Roos before graduating from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television’s Producer’s Program in 2015 (MFA) where both my writing and creative thinking evolved tremendously. I recently produced a documentary short directed by Anahid Nazarian called Lahmajune. We just won the Audience Award at the Napa Valley Film Festival. Between my work at UCLA and my projects, I have very little free time but I am always writing. I just completed a screenplay for Lotus Entertainment as well.
CA: What’s the next step for the screenplay? Do you mean to complete it?
MY: I think I sort of have to now, right? I’ll certainly develop and write a treatment for it to start. I feel like treatments are a great way to visualize the story and get quick feedback from people. It’s much easier to hand someone a 5-10 page treatment and ask, “What do you think” than a 110-page script. But I absolutely want to dive into this world. I did my master’s thesis at UCLA on the Anti-Hero which lives in the Gangster Genre and I have been really itching to explore this world from an Armenian perspective. I find that Armenians are not accurately represented in media. We seem to be only represented as “gangsters” or “goons” (The Shield, Ray Donovan), without much depth. And in the era of diversity and representation, I feel that an Armenian should be exploring these complex characters, so that they’re not just some easy fit into a “we need a bad guy” role hashed out on a writer’s room whiteboard. And the more I think about it, the angle of this story may be a really interesting way of presenting this world to audiences. I also think organizations like Creative Armenia are imperative in helping our community develop its voice so that we may be the ones to tell our own stories.
To read Matthew's opener and learn more about the challenge, please visit creativearmenia.org/firstpage.