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Persian Golden Boys In Hollywood


Report by Darius KADIVAR


A New Generation of Talented Persian Screenwriters gets noticed in Hollywood



Persian Golden Boys ©imdb



The Advent of Iranian Actors/Directors in Hollywood is not a new phenomena. Already back in the 60's and 70's Director Reza S. Badyii was to be one of the first Persian expats to impose himself in Hollywood. A close friend and later protégé of Robert Altman ( M.A.S.H), he was to impose himself as one of the major directors of the Golden Age of American TV series with such important films like Mission Impossible, The Six Million Dollar Man or Falcon Crest to name a few. In recent years Shohreh Aghdashloo, Bahar Soomekh, Marshall Manesh and Catherine Bell have become familiar names in Hollywood as reliable and popular actors for both TV and Cinema productions. The industry also has benefited from the work of great technicians like Cinematographer Darius Khondji ( Evita, Seven) or Special Effects Wizard Habib Zargarpour ( Twister, Star Wars :Episode 1, Jumanji, The Perfect Storm). However a new generation of talented screenwriters of Persian Heritage have also been quite successful in  bringing a fresh new look in a highly competitive market and making a name for themselves on independent films or on major Hollywood Blockbusters.  Below are some of these credited yet unknown faces that play a crucial part in the genesis and completion of a movie.


Hossein Amini :One of Britain's hottest young screenwriters, Iranian-born Hossein Amini wrote the teleplay for Peter Kosminsky's "Dying of the Light" (1995, TV), a based-on-fact drama about the outspoken UNICEF aid worker in Africa, Sean Devereux, who was assassinated in Somalia. The program earned a BAFTA Award nomination as Best Single Drama. A screen version of Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure became his first produced feature film, Michael Winterbottom's JUDE (1996), winning both the Michael Powell Award for Best British Film at the Edinburgh Film Festival and Best Film at the Dinard Film Festival. Amini's adaptation of Henry James' novel The Wings of the Dove for Iain Softley's 1997 film raised his star to new heights, putting him in league with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala as a leading translator of Victorian and Edwardian fiction into the language of film. Other screenwriting credits include The Four Feathers (2002) and The Great Raid (2003). With The Four Feathers, Interestingly Amini walked in the shoes of Hollywood Pioneer Merian C. Cooper ( Creator of King Kong ) who had directed the first version in 1929. Cooper had started off his Hollywood Career with the shooting of a landmark documentary shot in Persia entitled "Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life"  amongst the Bakhtiary Tribes. Hossein Amini was Nominated for the Oscars for Achievement in Writing (Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published) The Wings of Dove 1997.





An Eye for Epics : Cyrus Nowrasteh (  Into the West ) , Hossein Amini ( The Four Feathers &
Oscar Nominee for best screenplay
The Wings of the Dove in 1997 )  and Farhad Safinia
Apocalypto ) have demonstrated a taste for Epic films ©


Farhad Safinia : Was born in Tehran, Iran in 1975. He left Iran with his family at age of four to live in Paris, then London. At Kings College Cambridge, Where he read Economics.  He directed and acted in a number of stage productions for the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club and other theater companies. After Graduating he moved to New York City where he studied film at the New School University and the  New York University Tisch School of Arts. Apocalypto which he co-wrote with director/producer Mel Gibson, is his first feature length screenplay. He presently lives in Los Angeles.


Babak Shokrian's America so Beautiful ( with Shohreh Aghdashloo, Mansour) and Dustin Ellis'
Babak and Friends: a First  Norooz (Aghdashloo and Catherine Bell ) have had an international notice
as Independant Productions with a Hollywood Cast  ©Babak Shokrian & ©

Nowrasteh:  Was born in Boulder, Colorado and grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. He attended New Mexico State University on a tennis scholarship, but later transferred to U.S.C. to study in their renowned School of Cinema. While teaching tennis in Los Angeles he wrote screenplays. His first break came in 1983 when he was hired by Universal Studios to do a rewrite on a project entitled 'Bikers'. Mr. Nowrasteh says this first job was a disaster because he tried "to please everybody." Two years later he wrote his first produced script for the CBS TV series 'The Equalizer' which led him to work predominantly in series television for the next five years. He also wrote scripts on assignment for various producers and studios, the best regarded being 'Black Jack' and 'Murder At Nha Trang' for Interscope Productions. His move into directing began on the independent front with 'Norma Jean, Jack, And Me', a zany comedy about a young drifter who washes up on an island and discovers that Marilyn Monroe and JFK are alive and well! It starred Sally Kirkland and Michael Murphy and became a festival favorite throughout the world.

Cyrus Nowrasteh recently wrote and directed the Paramount/Showtime production The Day Reagan Was Shot (2001) (TV) which starred Richard Dreyfuss. Produced by Oliver Stone, The Day Reagan Was Shot received rave reviews and a number of awards including the Pen USA West Literary Award for Best Teleplay 2001-2002. Presently, he is developing a four-hour mini-series on John Dillinger for the USA network which Mr. Nowrasteh will write and direct. Also as writer/director, Mr. Nowrasteh is developing 3rd Down & Forever with Chris Columbus's 1492 productions.

Some of his other writing credits include Showtime's 10,000 Black Men Named George (2002) (TV)(a dramatization of Black activist A. Philip Randolph's struggles in leading the Pullman Strike), the independent 1996 Sundance hit, 'The Interview', _"Nikita" (1997)_ , the pilot for the hit USA Network series, 'La Femme Nikita', and the adaptation of Alan Dershowitz's novel, The Advocate's Devil (1997) (TV) for ABC. Nowrasteh has also received numerous credits as a writer/producer on such television series as The Equalizer, and D.E.A. As a screenwriter, he is writing Juarez for Warner Brothers and Robert Lawrence Productions, Andrews' Raiders for Kennedy/Marshall and Universal, and Personal Injuries for Punch Productions and Dustin Hoffman. His latest film entitled  The Path to 9/11 was subject to some controversy ( See below) . His wife, Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh, is also a screenwriter.


Always in search of new talents : Richard Dreyfuss, Mel Gibson and Steven Spielberg have
worked with some of the above talents


Dustin Ellis: After graduating from California State University, Northridge Film School, Dustin Ellis started working under Richard Simmons at Working Dog Productions. There, Dustin was an integral part of an animated series called "Richard's Angels". With one project under his belt, Dustin moved to Warner Brothers Feature Animation, where he was part of the "Iron Giant" story department under Brad Bird of "The Incredibles". Subsequently, Dustin worked on the Universal Cartoons TV Series "The Woody Woodpecker Show" and followed at the movie development department of Nickelodeon Animation Studios. At Nickelodeon, projects included "The Rugrats Movie", "Jimmy Neutron" and "The Rugrats go to Paris". After Nickelodeon, Dustin returned to Warner Brothers, to work on the movies, "Osmosis Jones" and "Scooby Doo". It was his love of cartoons that gave Dustin the idea to start a venture for high quality animations in niche markets. With his wealth of knowledge in the film industry and a great culture to rely upon, Dustin started "Babak and Friends - A First Norooz" which has been a Hit in the Persian Diasapora community worldwide and was supported by confirmed Hollywood talents such as Shohreh Aghdashloo, Catherine Bell and Persian Veteran actor Parviz Sayyad. (Bio courteously borrowed from Norooz Productions)

Babak Shokrian : Born in Tehran in the mid sixties, he moved to the US with his parents well before the Revolution of '78-'79. Actually in '71 and it was purely for the old "American Dream". His uncles had moved to the US and were doing business importing oriental rugs from Iran and all over the world. According the Shokrian "Business was very good in those days and immigration was much more welcome and easier than today. My father just followed the natural course of the immigration process and it worked out for them, but not without certain costs, and I don't mean money but change of life, belief, expectations one might have for their children and preservation of heritage and culture. Although, I think my father did okay, not every family, especially ones that came later in the '70s, were as fortunate." In his first feature film America so Beautiful  Not only does Babak Shokrian manage to bring important issues about immigration, identity and America-Iran relations to the surface to be discussed, but this independent film, made for under 1 million US dollars, serves as a testament to the fact that important and potentially influential films are still being made outside of Hollywood, a fact that should hopefully inspire other young filmmakers to find the courage to tell their own stories. In these marginal production circumstances, Shokrian has made a richly layered and intelligent film that is as entertaining, humorous and moving as it is questioning of political, social and cultural issues, issues that need to be discussed right here, right now before it is too late.



Author's Notes:


Recommended Viewing : Farhad Safinia and Mel Gibson in the Making of Apocalypto  ( 

Recommended Reading:  With help from a friend, Mel cut to the chase (Hollywood Reporter)

Recommended Reading:  Cyrus Nowrasteh responds to controversy surrounding his  latest  screenplay on The Path to 9/11  (Wall Street Journal)   

Recommended Reading:  "America So Beautiful": Babak Shokrian's bitter sweet look on the American Dream by Darius KADIVAR



About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant.


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