An Interview with Hollywood Producer Cyrus Yavneh

OCA: Tell us about your background and biography?

Cyrus Yanveh: My father Zalmon was born in a small Jewish hamlet in Belarus.  He was conscripted into the Russian army at the age of 14.  My mother Anna was born in Palestine, a Sabra one of the first girls born in what is now Israel.

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Her parents immigrated from Romania through arrangements made by Baron Rothschild.  In the wake of World War 1, its dangers and upheavals, both my parents made their way to Ellis Island.  They met in Prospect Park Brooklyn.  I am the youngest of five first generation Americans.  My dad was a prominent Cantor of one of the largest Orthodox congregations for fifty four years.

I went to public schools, Music and Art High School and the City College of New York.  My interest was music, sports, theatre, writing and having a good time, much to my detriment at times.  I worked as a dance band musician, Las Vegas major showroom stage manager, apprentice actor, film technician and chief cook and bottle washer for a traveling magic illusionist show.  I was very fortunate to experience the last of the vaudevillian age.  At twenty-five I decided it was time to get a real job, by that I mean a weekly paycheck.  I was hired as assistant production manager in the New York office of Rose-Magwood.  At that time the biggest international TV commercial production company.  I learned well.  Fourteen months later I was hired as producer – production manager for the very successful high fashion Len Steckler TV commercial company.  In 1970 I joined the Directors Guild of America and decided to take my chances freelancing.  In 1974 I moved to Hollywood to pursue a career in features and TV which I continue to do to this day.
OCA:  When did you first start to produce major motion pictures?

CY: My first TV drama series was “Lou Grant” 1977 staring Ed Asner.  I was the First Assistant Director, however my first feature film was “Jennifer,” 1978, staring Lisa Pelikan directed by Brice Mack.  I directed and produced the feature documentary, “These Here Are My Feet An American Celebration Of Old Time Music” which was released in 1984 and  my first network pilot and series producing credit was “Michael Nesmith In TV Parts” for NBC, directed by Alan Myerson in1985.  I’ve produced or production managed about 40 features and TV movies, 20 TV pilots including the just completed “MacGyver.”

I’ve been the recipient of numerous awards and nominations. Included are The Producers Guild Of America Producer of the Year Award, Emmy and Golden Glove nominations for “24,”  The Peabody and the Humanitas awards for “Nothing Sacred” created by David Manson and Bill Cain.  Two Christopher Awards for the TV movies “Baby” staring Farah Fawcett, Keith Carradine, Alison Pill and Jean Stapleton directed by Robert Alan Ackerman, “Eye On The Sparrow” staring Mare Winningham and Keith Carradine written by Barbara Turner and directed by John Korty.  “Son Of The Morning Star”  a four hour miniseries produced by Preston Fischer and myself that won five Emmy’s and the Golden Reel award.
OCA: Was working with some of Hollywood’s greatest stars inspiring?

CY: The short answer is “Yes.”  There are so many wonderful talented actors.  Being an actor is a great profession if that’s who you are.  I admired Charlton Heston.  He was always first on set, line perfect and very sociable off screen.  A great professional and a lovely man.  I loved Lee Remick too.  We did a big package of commercials together.  Rex Harrison was great.  I was an assistant director and the only person other then his personal dresser he allowed in his trailer.  I had to make sure all his special treats and wines were completely fresh at the start  of each day.  Anything opened was not allowed.  Needless to say at the end of the day my crew and I had wonderful parties with slightly opened one hundred and fifty dollar bottles of champagne.

John Houston was one of my heroes.  I was fortunate to work with him for two days.  I have a great photo of us together on set and he autographed his book.  Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Bill Bixby, were so much fun on “Another Pair Of Aces.” Claudia Cardinale and I became set pals on the mini series “Princess Daisy” in France, produced by Lillian Gallo and directed by Waris Hussein  It’s the show I met my wife Lynne Hockney on.  Lynne was the choreographer.  John Cusack and Debi Mazar in “Money For Nothing,” Kiefer Sutherland “24,” Charlie Sheen “The Arrival.” Pauly Shore in “In The Army Now” directed by Dan Petrie Jr. all very talented and a pleasure to work with.
OCA: Are the demands of working with TV networks significantly different?

CY: All the networks, studios and production companies have their own dynamic., their own global overview, their own demographic targets.  Producing a one hour drama series, week in and week out  for 150-200 days requires incredible stamina.  You are writing, prepping, shooting and editing on several different episodes simultaneously, its goal is to get ratings.

Doing a pilot and creating its tone that all the ensuing episodes, if picked up, will follow is arduous.  The process of defining the characters usually requires continuous script revision.  It’s an intense 10 to 15 day sprint.  Its goal is to get picked up.  Hopefully the creator of the show, its director, executive producer and studio person have a clear cohesive point of view.

Doing a feature film is completely different in its approach to pilots or series.  There is more time to prep, execute and complete.  On a feature, the director is king or queen, in charge.  A bit like a feudal system.  The collective energy is funneled through the director to make film literature.  A finished product that will make lots of money and have an enduring shelf life.
OCA: Have any Central Asian or Russian movies influenced you?

CY: Sergei Eisenstein’s “Battle Ship Potemkin” created new ways of filming, new ways of seeing and editing.  Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Andrei Rublev” is considered one of the greatest films ever made.  I was introduced and chatted briefly with Sergey Bodrov  about his magnificent “Mongol: The Rise Of Genghis Kahn.” One of my favourite documentaries is “Genghis Blues” about Tuvan throat singers directed by Roko Belic.
OCA: Do you have any Central Asian colleagues?

CY: I was preparing the feature film “I’ll See You Again” for Steven-Charles Jaffe a few years ago with Gaukhar (Gia) Nootas one of the producers.  Gia is the Honorary Kazakhstan Consulate for Los Angeles.
OCA: What are your plans for 2017?

CY: I am hoping to open my play “SMP” a three act social comedy about a playwright who has led an adventurous early life but has fallen into a bit pudgy male middle age and a young eccentric twenty-three year old woman casting assistant who wants to do everything.  They see themselves in each other.  Britain’s David Parry will direct it.

My musical comedy “Zalmon and Anna” is a universal story, true today as it was then about the dangerous journey they endured, their meeting in Prospect Park in Brooklyn after WW1 and their life together as immigrants raising a large family in a new land.

To begin production on “Indian English” (working title), a major film which I am producing with Jillian Haslam and Alan Cox.  My script is  based on Jillian Haslam’s book “Indian English A Memoir.”  It tells the almost unbelievable but true story of a very young Caucasian girl and her family living in the most horrific impoverished slum in Calcutta, who managed to become a wealthy international philanthropist who’s life’s mission is to educate and feed the most poor and ill treated.

To have a new instillation of our continuing art show “MaryAnn Liu and Cyrus Yavneh A Journey From Doodle To Bronze”  Google it.

by David Parry 

 

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