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February 23, 2016

An SCA Power-Couple Takes The Indie Film Scene by Storm

By Peanut Alvarez-Mena

Ohanian and Qasabian

Producers Sev Ohanian and Natalie Qasabian’s romance first sparked at the School of Cinematic Arts. Both are now considered industry up-and-comers, and have been making their alma mater proud with highly regarded projects that have won numerous awards at festivals nationwide.

At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Ohanian’s feature film The Intervention, the directorial debut of actor Clea DuVall, was making its debut. So was Qasabian’s short Join The Club, written and directed by Eva Vives, wife of director and SCA professor Peter Sollett. While coordinating times to make sure they would be at each other’s screenings, Ohanian and Qasabian realized their schedules oddly overlapped. “We both get the emails and I called [Sev] and said ‘Hey, I’m on Tuesday at 3:30’ and he says, ‘Me too, I’m on Tuesday at 3:30’. So we were really bummed thinking we would miss each other’s premieres. Then I told him ‘Oh, I’m at Eccles and he goes ‘I’m at Eccles too’. We thought it must be a mistake.”

After reading the fine print, Qasabian realized her short was scheduled to premiere before a feature instead of playing in one of the short-film blocks. Although festival administrators could not tell her which feature her project would premiere before, she knew. Join The Club was scheduled to premiere before The Intervention completely by coincidence, creating a surreal experience for the couple and for Sundance. The story became quite a conversation piece throughout the festival leaving everyone in awe. “Sundance was like ‘What?! That’s insane!’ It was the first time in history for them,” says Ohanian.

Qasabian had actually worked on The Intervention alongside Ohanian, which was the first time the couple had joined forces to create a project together after years of working separately. “I had been pursuing all of these Indie features and I would tell her ‘Natalie, you’re awesome. Come work on one of my movies with me’ and she would say ‘No, you’re going to work on one of my movies one day.’ So I said okay, fair enough.” However, in the early stages of The Intervention’s production, Ohanian realized some crewmembers were not carrying their weight; he needed someone he could rely on and could call last minute. The next morning, after having just quit her job as an in-house production coordinator at a production company, Qasabian was on a plane to Savannah, Georgia, where the film was on location. “She came and she saved our asses,” says Ohanian. Even better, they realized they worked extremely well together and now plan to collaborate more in the future.

For Ohanian, who graduated with an MFA from the Film & Television Production Division in 2012, The Intervention was his third feature to premiere at Sundance, and was purchased at the festival by Paramount Pictures for $2.5 million. His first Sundance feature, Fruitvale Station (2013), was written and directed by another SCA alum, Ryan Coogler (MFA, Production, 2011), and Ohanian co-produced on a production crew that was filled with more than a dozen SCA students and alums. Fruitvale Station won the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and was later purchased for public release by the The Weinstein Company. At the 2015 Sundance, the indie rom com Results, starring Guy Pearce and Cobie Smulders, which Ohanian executive produced, was purchased by Magnolia Pictures. Join The Club was Qasabian’s first short since graduating with a B.A. from the Bryan Singer Division of Cinema & Media Studies in 2014, and she has several other projects in the works. She and Ohanian have been working with Indie film stalwarts Duplass Brothers Productions on various projects including Rainbow Time, a feature Qasabian co-produced that will premiere at South by Southwest in March.

Qasabian recently finished production on another short, Asphyxia, with SCA alums Will Lowell and Tim Smith, who both graduated from the Production MFA program in 2014. Ohanian just sold his first pitch for a feature titled Search with another SCA graduate, Aneesh Chaganty (B.A. Production, 2013). “As a producer we have the luxury of being able to choose who we surround ourselves with on set and more often than not it’s all USC love,” says Ohanian. Qasabian adds that it also makes being on set more fun. “It’s a good feeling; it always feels a little bit like family,” she says. Ohanian has also become an Adjunct Professor for SCA teaching introductory production courses, which he professes to be an extremely rewarding experience. “It’s an opportunity to pass along what I’ve learned over the past couple of years as a current producer,” he says. “But I also get a glimpse of the future of the industry.”

The fact that Ohanian and Qasabian are such recent graduates, are taking the movie industry by storm, and are starting to combine their talents to create magic has earned them the “power-couple” moniker. It’s a term they are starting to hear frequently but can’t quite seem to get used to. “It’s so weird that people are calling us a power-couple,” says Ohanian. “In our minds, our heads are still in the sand and we’re trying to build careers, focusing on each project one at a time.” While Ohanian realizes that many couples in the industry fear working together, for him and Qasabian it has actually made their bond, and their projects, stronger. “If the movies turn out great and it was because we were a couple doing it, the more power to us. We’re just trying to figure it out like everybody else.”