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October 1, 2014

SCA Alumni Stories: Sev Ohanian

Only two years after leaving SCA, producer and writer, Sev Ohanian (MFA Production, '12) is currently working on his seventh feature film. From My Big Fat Armenian Family to Fruitvale Station to the Google Glass short Seeds, Ohanian jumps from project to project with an enthusiasm nothing short of infectious. His early and continuous success traces back to his belief that "it's about being able to be proud of that next piece of work." 

You had already directed your first film, My Big Fat Armenian Family, before attending the MFA Production program. How did that experience influence your time at SCA? For background, I used to make 5-minute videos that would poke fun at Armenian culture -- out of love, of course. I put them online and they became quite popular. On an $800 budget, I made a feature film based on those videos. It was just me and my friends, and a lot of Taco Bell. After two weeks of just selling DVD’s online and putting on a few screenings, I made $100,000. Of course, all that money went straight to USC. Entering the program, I thought I knew what filmmaking was all about. What SCA immediately teaches you is that you need a team. You need collaboration. Everyone has to be 100% a part of the team if you want to make a good movie.

Did you enjoy your time at SCA? I loved my time at SCA. Half of the reason I’m teaching at SCA now is because it’s my way of giving back. From Fruitvale Station to the mentorship I received, this school has changed the entire course of my life.

Can you speak to the USC connections on Fruitvale Station? First, I was originally connected with Fruitvale’s writer/ director Ryan Coogler (MFA Production ’11) through the recommendation of several friends and professors at SCA. That’s the magic of this school: being a part of the massive internal network that is the SCA family. Then, while working on the film, we would constantly refer to SCA. Whenever a challenge would arise, we’d look back to our past experiences in our 546 class or would ask ourselves, “What would John Watson say?” There were times where we’d even call SCA professors at 3am from set with questions and they would be in their beds at home giving us incredible advice. Once we had a finished cut of the movie, one of the first test screenings we did was right here at SCA. We invited the faculty members we’d connected with, and they came and gave notes.

How has being an alumnus influenced your career? I’m currently producing my seventh feature film and every person on my crew is a USC alum. All of my movies have been colored by the fact that I’m “That USC Guy.” We don’t even realize that we have a reputation. I worked in Austin, in Kentucky… everyone knows about USC. With that reputation comes a certain expectation that whoever is from USC has a certain level of professionalism that I feel is my duty to uphold—just like it’s every alum’s duty. 

How did you become attached to the Seeds Google Glass project? Google Glass was running a small program called "The Creative Collective.” And for a year or so, they’ve been handing out the Glass to film schools - in our case, to School of Cinematic Arts professor Norman Hollyn - throughout the country to see how the product could be implemented as a filmmaking tool.  But until now, nothing major had come out of this program. After Professor Hollyn brought me on board to produce, I had to put together a team. When tasked with finding a great director, I brought on Aneesh Chaganty (BA Production, ’13) instantly, knowing that he would have both the creative skillset and passion for story to pull it off.

Do you have a preference: Shorts vs. Features? I do short films for projects that interest me on a personal level. For instance, I recently did a film called Sheila Scorned, a grindhouse movie written and directed by an incredible female director. It’s an action film, with substance. Plus, there’s an underlying sense of female empowerment. Now, I’m not getting offered those types of feature scripts, so I figure why not work on shorts in that vein? I’ve never quite lost that anxiety associated with wanting to do as many projects as possible. It’s about being able to be proud of that next piece of work. I love doing my shorts -- quick burst of energy, get it done and now we’re moving on. I like to do a few in between features.

What fictional character do you most connect with? This is going to sound so cheesy, Dr. Watson. It’s because I feel like the producer’s role so often involves helping the genius director accomplish his or her vision in a practical and logical manner.