As one of Glendale’s most outspoken developers, Haik Vartanian has always found himself in the middle of the action--in the building trade.
But now he finds himself preoccupied with explosives, automatic-weapons fire and “a small California farming community caught up in the bloody grip of big city crime and corruption.”
Vartanian, 29, best known for taking on Glendale City Hall in a long battle to overturn a local building moratorium, has gone Hollywood.
“I am very entrepreneurial by nature and I’m always looking for an opportunity,” explained Vartanian, who now wears two hats--one as chairman of Tensor Group, a real estate firm, and the other as chairman of newly formed American Entertainment Circle Inc.
The opportunity for Vartanian to become a filmmaker emerged when Pasadena screenwriter and director Kris Kertenian asked him to invest in his first feature-length film--a B movie titled “Under Crystal Lake,” which is being promoted as “an action-filled dramatic tale of good versus evil.”
The men, both of Armenian ancestry, met while organizing a fund-raising event for victims of the 1988 earthquake in Soviet Armenia.
“When Kris first asked me to invest, my reaction was that the entertainment business was too far away from anything I knew anything about,” Vartanian said. “But I felt I could trust him. When he worked on the fund-raiser, he really squeezed every penny. So I knew he’d be good at keeping costs down.”
Kertenian has been no spendthrift.
“Under Crystal Lake,” whose three-minute trailer depicts several sex scenes and half a dozen bloody shootouts, cost $1.5 million to make--a frugal budget by Hollywood standards. Vartanian declined to say exactly how much money he put into the film.
“It’s a pretty decent movie, for $1.5 million, and it’s doing pretty decent in a very competitive market,” said Kertenian, a longtime NBC associate producer who quit television to pursue his dream of making feature-length films.
Kertenian says the movie grossed $22,000 in its first two weekends after being released Oct. 18 at two theaters--one in Highland Park and the other in Tujunga. He said total foreign sales are about $400,000.
“We are so happy with the results from the first two weeks, that we are planning to release the film nationwide after the Christmas holidays,” said Frank DeMartini, president of Magic Lamp Pictures, which is distributing the picture.
“Under Crystal Lake,” which stars Cliff Potts, Susanne LaVelle, Charles Dierkop and Ken Hebert, is scheduled to play at the Academy Theater on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena beginning Friday, Kertenian said. The producers said they hope to screen it in Glendale after Thanksgiving.
Vartanian says that, despite his financial participation, he has not been bitten by the movie bug. He never once set foot on the sets of the film, which was shot in Visalia in the San Joaquin Valley.
“The glamour and glitz doesn’t really interest me,” he said.
Still, in May, he did go to France for the Cannes International Film Festival--the most star-studded and glitziest of the international film festivals.
“I went to hype the movie and make some deals,” Vartanian said. “Everyone was there--buyers, distributors and producers. For me it was a condensed education in the movie business.”
After completing the film in September, American Entertainment Circle sent the trailer to several dozen distributors and held a screening for those who were interested in the movie.
“It’s tough to find a reputable distributor for a first film,” the 44-year-old Kertenian said. “They have to be convinced that the movie will make money. That’s the bottom line.”
Now that the film is being distributed locally, Kertenian and his international distributor, Hills Entertainment, have been busy selling it in foreign markets.
During October’s weeklong American Film Market in Santa Monica--the world’s largest motion-picture trade event--the movie was sold in 27 markets, including Germany, Spain, Portugal, Korea, Japan, Australia and Mexico.
AFM is devoted to buying and selling films from smaller independent companies.
Vartanian and Kertenian predict they will break even with “Under Crystal Lake.”
It is their next film, “L.A. Brothers"--described as a “bloody love story"--they maintain will make the big time. Filming is set to begin in January.
“What is of interest to me about the entertainment business is that the risk is great, but the reward is really great,” Vartanian said. “Both real estate and entertainment are big-money businesses.”