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Conversations with Maria Jorjezian

Today we’d like to introduce you to Maria Jorjezian. 

Hi Maria, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I’ve always been a fan of the arts. I’ve loved drawing, singing, dancing, and playing the piano since I was in elementary school. When I was in middle school, I really became a fan of animation. I was obsessed with hand-drawn animation from Disney to anime. I began to pursue animation until I hit my senior year of high school. Interestingly enough, after watching Scarface with Al Pacino, along with the awe-inspiring films by Stanley Kubrick, I completely changed my course to film/theater. Something about that film made me realize that I wanted to be a part of the bigger picture. I wanted to stand behind the curtain and create an element of culture that others aspired to be like. Around this time, animation was taking a more computer-generated turn. I realized that I am more intrigued in telling a story. I felt that, with animation, you kind of focus on the individual aspects as opposed to the story as a whole. I went into college still holding onto animation though, it was my first love after all. Here is where I spent years working in theater. I worked as a production designer, stage manager, assistant director, as well as an actor. It was extremely fun and the connections I made throughout those four years were and still are some of my most memorable friendships. As I transitioned to college, I pursued marketing as my major. Actually, I went in with a triple major. This is where my life began to take a major turn. I began to encounter major hardships with my father’s illnesses that suddenly fell in 2017.  

Around this time, I met an amazing Cinematographer, Lucas Pitassi. This is the thing that absolutely changed my life. At this point, I was completely inexperienced. I came into a set where he was DPing and I was a PA/2nd AC/GE etc. It was an amazing experience, I truly learned. I interacted with him and we became close friends. He is definitely the first person that believed in me and took a chance because by this point, I had decided to become a director. He brought me onto my first few projects. I directed Big Little Life by Mikey Wax which won the “Best Love Song” award in the 2nd Annual California Music Video awards. It was an honor considering it was my very first project. I also directed a couple of music videos by Oshun, a commercial for Dangaard Saddles, and a music video for Gregg Garvey. I absolutely love directing. There is nothing else in life that I can imagine doing in life in the long term. Now, by this point, I was being picked up to do short-term productions and I was still a student. This is the point in my life that I began to realize that I need to choose between continuing my education with a triple major or shift in order to take up more projects. This was huge for me as I had aspired to complete all of my education. But at this point, I needed to choose. I chose my career, because what else was I getting an education for if not to grow in my career. I graduated with a Bachelors and Marketing, Minor in Film and Animation. As I was entering my final semester, I got pulled into a feature film as a Line Producer. It was uncharted territory but I think I was able to manage. Right after that, I was hired for my second feature “6:45”, where I came in as a Line Producer and also became an Executive Producer. This was an incredible experience and I am eternally grateful to the director and producer, Craig Singer who guided me through the process of becoming an experienced producer. I graduated this semester and within a month flew to New Jersey to shoot 6:45. Not only was this my first time flying to another state in the US but also it was for my career. Amazing. I was over the moon. 

Once 6:45 was wrapped. I flew back and the pandemic began. This was a heavy time because I was in a financial struggle. I mean with my sick dad and having trouble with the home, plus being in so much debt, I was quite trapped. 

I had to get a couple of jobs in the grocery store as well as the pharmacy later as these were the only things open around this time. While I worked in these jobs, I would secretly continue producing 6:45’s post and delivery process. I gotta say, it was extremely difficult to run a full-time job and also a production back-to-back but I could not let this pandemic step on what I had spent so many years working on. I mean it really felt like a life-or-death situation for me. 

Finally, when things began to open up, I met my now close friend and producing partner Steven E. Kimbrough, who after a couple of meetings, guided me to creating a drive-in film festival! We decided to call it the Jorjezian Film Festival as there is literally nothing of the sort. He is an amazing human being as well as a comedian! A Hilarious and talented person. 

I feel that I have grown immensely and with the help of all the incredible people in my journey. I am currently working on directing my first feature film “Lily is the Best ” which is in pre-production currently! I am also going to be directing a couple of music videos, one of which is by my talented friend and musician Gregg Garvey! There are a couple of features on the slate I cannot speak in detail of that will be produced. Finally, I am going to have my third Jorjezian Film Festival on September 10, 2022! We are accepting short films of all kinds if you are interested! Look us up on FilmFreeway. 

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Frankly, it has not been a smooth road. It really was great until 2017. This was before my career even started. I was attending Woodbury University and this is when my father had a multitude of illnesses hit him at once. He had a heart attack, stroke, and his kidneys failed. All within the same time as one affected the other. He was an incredibly strong man and loved his job. He was a civil engineer who used to work for the king of Iran back in the day. Incredibly talented. So, for someone like that to become ill was absolutely heartbreaking for not only his family but especially him. What happened with this was he was also the only true breadwinner of the family. We were struck with a lot of difficulty having to take care of him as his health was declining, unfortunately, over 5 years. I really didn’t want to step out of college as I knew that once I stepped out, I would probably not be able to come back. This was also a reason why I shortened my education to one major and two minors (which I speak in more detail in the story section). I also had to take student loans as the university I was going to was not cheap. Our home situation became in question at the same time that we had to take care of my father. I also had to get a job between directing as well as school. I really had no free time at all. Because of the drastic and dire situation, I was thrown in, my family was both supportive but also very conflicted with my choice in film as it is not the most stable. I really didn’t want to let this go. If anyone meets me, they’ll know I’m very centered on this dream, which is now my plan of action. But it was extremely hard pushing against the current every single day for 5 years. I graduated in 2019 and this is around the time that I started getting jobs in film. I got my first line producing gig while I was still in college and immediately after I got my line producing job in NJ for 6:45. Things were looking up for me. I felt like I could really get on top of this and show that I can handle what we were going through while pursuing my dream; however, in 2020 as we all know, the pandemic began. Thankfully we had just made it out of production so we didn’t have to go through the arduous task of halting production. But this flipped the world upside down for me. Now, I couldn’t even get a job in film because at this point everything had shut down. I was slated to produce 3 other features back-to-back but they all dried up into a hold. Nothing was open and it felt as though I didn’t get a chance to live life outside of college as a normal person. I had to jump right into a regular job because I needed to support my family. At this point, there was nothing open so I had to work at a grocery store Deli, which I was grateful for. It was something. But it was so difficult going through the sleepless pain of working a 40-hour job and running the post-production/delivery of 6:45. After a couple months I found a job in a pharmacy. The people in both the grocery store and pharmacy were incredible. I mean I am absolutely grateful for all of them to be in my life; however, it was interesting running meetings in my earphone while working a completely different task. I feel like it ages you a little. The hardest part for me was that while all of this was happening, I lost my father in December of 2020. We couldn’t even set up a proper funeral for him because of the pandemic. I was working on so many issues and jobs, plus dealing with all the debt and now his death and not being able to do anything properly for someone I love, was probably the darkest place I’ve ever been as a human being. On top of that, I couldn’t really go out to air my mind. We were under lockdown. Almost nothing was open. I haven’t felt more trapped and in pain. But I was willing to go through the level of intensity because if I stopped and my career halted altogether, I would have never forgiven myself. Ever. I had come way too far. I know for a fact that the young woman I was in 2017 before all of this started is long gone. I tried to return to being her because she was very happy, but I had to go through a lot of personal realization that she will never come back, and I will never have the blissful happiness I took for granted. But I have become someone much stronger and more resilient, which in a mature way, is someone much more rare to achieve. Frankly, I am still in financial detriment. There are projects looming but the consistent lockdowns or new strains of the virus make it difficult for some projects to take off and that alone makes it difficult to carry on. But that won’t stop me! If there’s anything my own life history has shown me is that I will walk through broken glass to get to what I need to achieve. That is a promise. 

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
So far, in terms of directing, I have specialized in short-form content. I’ve directed short films, music videos, and a commercial. You can find all the available content on my website https://mariajorjezian.com/ I’ve produced two features. Both of them are thrillers and one of them (6:45) has been exclusively released through Regal Cinemas in Summer of 2021, as well as won in multiple film festivals. What’s interesting in terms of my producing is that I’ve strangely specialized in horrors and thrillers and I don’t think I’ve watched many thrillers myself! But I can tell you many ways how to prepare a murder haha. I find it to be a specialty because I have now also broken-down scripts for other genres and I have to say that the difficulty level of having to calibrate for a thriller is completely on another level. I think every producer starting up should go through at least one thriller or extensively action-heavy film to really know what they’re up against. It makes most other productions much lighter (though no film is light to make). One thing I was told on set as a producer that was interesting to me was that “you can go to school to learn how to be a heart surgeon, but you can never really learn how to be a producer”. Every production is completely different and beautiful in its own way, regardless of your position in film. 

One thing that I think I specialize more is that, because I have produced as well, it has definitely changed how I am a director. I see and appreciate a completely different aspect of filmmaking that I didn’t actually recognize when I started off as just a director. I’m much more engaged and involved in my work and I do realize that as projects grown in size and budget, things will be a little different as I will center more into my directing role; however, I do enjoy all things film and I enjoy being able to look in both sides of the coin both creative and logical. It’s hard to say which specific work I’ve done I’m most proud of because they all made me happy and proud in their respective way; however, I do find that I am absolutely proud of the accomplishments of 6:45. This is greatly thanks to the hard work and collaboration of the team behind it run by our incredible director and producer Craig Singer, but what I love about this project is that we were able to accomplish so much with it being my first full production as a producer from script to screen and right out of college, in a completely different state, immediately before and within a pandemic, with everything going on. 

All that being said, what I’m proud of as a director, is my music video with Gregg Garvey. It was done within the pandemic first of all, so there was this pent-up creative energy that went into exploding a creative piece by all involved! Now, in creating this music video, I had to consider the elements of the current climate, which was Covid. So, I had all the crew get tested of course, and we chose one day, the location was exterior only in the desert so we were not cramped. I love that everyone came in with so much vibrance. What I love as a director is the weird emotional/spiritual/true knowledge you have to have between people, story, and technology. The difference between animation, theatrical, comedy, music, is that film has to create reality within the confines of the current technology; which can be daunting and exciting at the same time. 

I love that I can communicate with so many individuals on a set to come together to create an element of a story. One interesting part of the day was, we were working on creating dust around Gregg to create the western Mirage illusion. We were communicating through a multiple-way phone as we couldn’t afford walkies on this particular set. As we were resetting to have the two cars drive around him and to start the music, one of our drivers told me they can’t drive as there is an old-looking car approaching. I looked and noticed that it was this beautiful blue vintage car fast approaching near the set. I decided to quickly have to communicate with the entire crew to reset and incorporate this completely new thing that was fast approaching and wasn’t stopping or in any way communicating with any of us as it was not on our set. I was excited that all elements connected, where I was able to set the PA to replay the music, cue Gregg to walk right at the right moment with the music, have Luke whip the camera at the exact moment the car passed by with the music playing. All of it aligned perfectly and we made sure to include that shot in the final cut. I think what makes me especially happy about that moment is that there were so many factors incorporated in this coming true and the attentiveness of the team as well as the quick communication made this completely outside element work. 

What do you like and dislike about the city?
What I do like least about our city though is what we are currently dealing with our homeless population. I really think we need to step up as a community, myself included, to help figure out a way out of this for the community that is affected so harshly. I would love to get more involved with this issue as it is very pressing for me. Breaks my heart. 

I absolutely love LA. I recognize it’s not the most perfect place in the world but what is? I love the weather. I’ve lived here my whole life. I’m a local. I love the different cities with all the culture and vibrance. Every city in LA is ever-changing. I realize I’m speaking more of the county and all associated, but with LA it really feels all connected. You know that phrase, “you can never step in the same river twice”, I feel that with LA. I’m grateful that I was privileged to have been raised somewhere that is literally associated with my career. I know that not many people can say that and I do not take that for granted. I love that I’m so close to the ocean. I love the Pacific Ocean and I hope I can spend more time near it as much as I can. I love the iconic element. I love the sheer talent that is within this town at any given time. The knowledge in all aspects. I can drive endlessly and I know that having a car is extremely crucial here because you literally can’t travel anywhere without it. I do also love that I am close to Glendale/Burbank which has a heavy Armenian community and being an Armenian I can enjoy the best of both worlds in the U.S. Being near my roots is also very important to me and I know I can’t get that in any other town over. 

Pricing:

  • Jorjezian Film Festival Early Bird Registration Deadline Fee: $15.00
  • Jorjezian Film Festival Early Bird Student Registration Deadline Fee: $10.00
  • Jorjezian Film Festival Regular Registration Deadline Fee: $20.00
  • Jorjezian Film Festival Regular Student Registration Deadline Fee: $10.00

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Image Credits
Omari Washington
Steven E. Kimbrough

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