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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



AFM Interview with PGA Producer Sasha Yelaun


Moldovan born Sasha Yelaun is an Irvine based PGA producer who opts to stay out of the LA madness. He travels to LA a few times a week for important meetings but for the most part he feels that if you really want to get stuff done you need as little distraction as possible. He recently attended the AFM for meetings about packaging his latest films. He has worked on such films as The Book of Love (2016), Wild Oats (2016), 10,000Saints (2015) and Benjamin Troubles (2015). He has a number of films in development and is just getting started.   In an interview with Sasha during the AFM, he talks about his dreams of becoming a producer.   Can you start by speaking about about your film Benjamin Troubles?

SASHA: Benjamin Troubles is a hybrid of various genres - as the director coins it an urban fairytale - it's also comedy, a drama, a love story, a thriller, a Sci-fi piece all blended into one. As Miles, one of our characters in the film, played by Phillip Botello, describes it "This could be the result of an Einstein-Rosen Bridge. Newton had a theory, a wormhole, a portal. "It all happened when I met, Lee H. Ross, the screenwriter at a pitch start up event for tech apps. My name tag read "producer" and his "screenwriter" before I went down this "portal" or "wormhole" of working on my very first feature film. A film about a guy, Ben Troubles, played by Manu Intiraymi with a "name" that reads like a religious ceremony for the gods by the Incan people, who gets these magic jeans, that produce a $100 bill on the hour every hour and gets himself into a bunch of troubles- Benjamin Troubles. As impossible as the idea sounds, the production was just as impossible. We had over forty locations, between fifty to a hundred people working with us, on a starter cash budget of as little as twenty thousand dollars and we persevered forward pulling magical hundred dollar bills out of our friends and families pockets to finish the film; The final cost to remain undisclosed. The beauty about it was constructing the whole master plan, from presenting the initial budget and schedule to an investor, to putting out ads for all the crew and building a team of up and comers and veterans in the industry, to sourcing favors and doing all of this simultaneously as we were running the set - it was REAL magic baby, as Ben played by Manu in the film says "The Tooth Fairy is Real." There's nothing anyone could have taught me that was more valuable than being on that set, while delegating the responsibilities to both myself and others and learning about how to do it all at the same time. It was a magical experience, no matter how chaotic it got. Now you can watch it in the comfort of your own home via Amazon, Google Play, and various other VOD platforms including Itunes to be announced over the holidays. I'm lucky and fortunate to call that my very first feature film.

What was your AFM market experience with the film?

SASHA: AFM was productive. It's that time of year when you can meet all the people you may have exchanged emails with or had conversations with overseas, "face to face." I also got a chance to have a ton of sales meetings for the projects I've been developing, and strength my current connections as well as create new ones and build on new opportunities out there.

Is it important for producers to attend a market? Why?

SASHA: Yes, especially when it comes to sales. I feel that it provides you with the insight you would need to really understand the marketplace, and see what's selling out there, from the projects to the names you want to package your project with. The first market I ever attended was actually Cannes, and I walked away with a lot of direct connections to distributors that I would have never been able to get especially as an independent producer working for myself.

Is it hard to get an indie film distributed today?

SASHA: Given birth via Indies, with up and coming actors to the A/B/C names of the world, I quickly learned the qualifications most distributors had in mind to consider a film to rep sales;  it was a given that names versus the film itself were always a selling point. To that defense, I understood it - actors are like stocks, everyone wants to buy "Google" not the next start up with the chances that it will fail in an industry that has become very risk averse. On the other hand, the new avenues of the VOD world, and filmmaker initiative distributors such as Indie Rights help fill that gap for those indies out there. You should be able to find a home, as long as you are willing to learn how to do it and not set unrealistic expectations on yourself. You now have the power and tools to also go out there and distribute the film on your own.

Is it hard to be an indie producer today?

SASHA: It's definitely hard and not everyone is cut out for this field. You will encounter people who have been in the industry for over thirty years or a lifetime, and never reached their goals. Why? They just didn't. Maybe they didn't get lucky. Maybe they never learned the game. Maybe they had children. Maybe they needed more structure. Maybe they were in it for all the wrong reasons. Maybe they never found their true calling. It's a lot of maybes and never a sure thing. This isn't like you get your Masters Degree, you get your Doctorate Degree or you study and learn somewhere and you are on a set track. You create your own track, and its up to you on how you navigate it, and how fast or how slow. That doesn't exactly help if you are trying to ends meet, and I wouldn't suggest relying on it as such. It's a lot of putting the pieces together, understanding what it takes to make a film and the bigger picture, your mindset, getting lucky. A combination of everything. This job is not for everyone, and you are never set up to succeed. You are always rolling the dice. 

You had your theatrical premiere on the last day of AFM. How was that?

SASHA: Wonderful! We had an amazing turn out - we planned for a 400 seat theater, and ended up with a 150 seat theater, where we went beyond capacity by at least thirty people. It felt good to pack a theater in Los Feliz, with films such as Dr. Strange playing where everyone mostly came to see our premiere.

You also have a film opening up soon called the Book of Love. What was your involvement on it and can you tell us about that experience?

SASHA: Yes, Electric Entertainment is distributing the Book of Love in select theaters and VOD January 13th. I first showed the script to Carlos Velazquez/Mike Landry over at the Darwin Collective, who turned the film into a reality after a number of investors and financing scenarios had fallen through. The film took nine years to make and I came on at the tail end about 2-3 years ago as an accredited Co-Executive Producer for the introduction. I shortly visited the set in NOLA back in March of 2015 to see the reality come to life, and again to support it during it's Tribeca Film Festival premiere and the West Coast Premiere in Napa. I was happy to see a film get made after years of various struggles and challenges; another "magical" moment. You can watch the trailer here for a sneak peak:

You're a member of the PGA. How important is that for a producer?

SASHA: While the PGA does not boast the same pension benefits as the DGA, it does open up a lot more opportunities and valuable connections, in addition to the chance of showcasing your work in front of the Academy. I believe it's an important step to show that you are serious. Whether it's to unlock the letter marks of the PGA to show that you did all the leg work, to submit your film for consideration or be apart of the panels/screening/networking mixer events - it is an organization that's building momentum to build a union of individuals that can define what we do as producers and give recognition for our hard work.

What other projects are you working on?

SASHA: I'm involved with over twenty plus projects in various stages of development and pre- production. The latest feature I am apart of is the animated Animal Crackers, starring Emily Blunt, Sylvestor Stallone, Ian Mckellan, and Danny Devito coming to a wide theatrical release in April 2017.

Did you always know you want to be a producer ?

SASHA: Not exactly. However, I always knew I wanted to be in the film industry. Ever since I moved to America in 1991 from Moldova - the former U.S.S.R - I was eager to learn the English language. I was 6 1/2 years old at the time, attending elementary school in Lynn, MA when my English teacher decided to hold me back a grade because I didn't know any English. Coincidentally with a name like "Ms. English," she told my grandmother who was ironically an "English" teacher that she was convinced I was retarded because I didn't know the language. At that time, I would run home and watch as much American television as I could, building an inventory of VHS tapes, to pick up the language. I soon dropped the accent going into high school, and started researching "Los Angeles Internship Programs" for film way back when. When applying for schools, I wrote about the elementary school experience as my college essay and attended Brandeis, where I eventually petitioned this "Los Angeles Internship Program" into a reality starting with a "Sydney Film Studies Program" through the other BU: Boston University. After Sydney, Australia - it was at the time when I was taking evening classes at William Morris Agency and balancing three internships at the same time that I found my true calling. I remember getting one of my first internships over at ABC, when a creative exec from one of the towns I grew up in wrote his name on a napkin and told me to call his office the next day and then I had a job. I came back to my Junior year in Brandeis, struggling to finish my undergrad to quickly return back to Los Angeles and continue on this path but at the time I had no idea what I wanted to do exactly yet. My internships varied from working for a Producer on Dr. Phil at the Paramount Lot and interviewing possible guests for the show to integrate my psychology background, to learning about the Stunt Department and sitting with the coordinator on a few wet mats to fire distinguish a stunt double who was set on fire and jumped 50 feet posing for Drew Carey, to sitting in on Creative Exec meetings on the 10th floor of ABC and dropping off the CEOs check every Friday night. It didn't stop there, I returned after undergrad to work as a copywriter for production magazine called P3 Update, then I took a hiatus and went to Jerusalem. When I returned, I lived on a sets for over a year - becoming an AFTRA regular on The Secret Life of An American Teenager, getting SAG waivers and doing separate photo shoots on the set of House, robbing a bank as a stunt double on USA's standoff, playing a wedding guest on Californication and living from set to set until I realized that my family wanted me to do something more "serious." Did I mention I also did ten years of marketing/brand ambassador work including Costume Characters - dressing up as Finn for Adventure Times on the Cartoon Network, Raphael for TMNT with Sean Astin throwing a pitch at Dodger Stadium, Test Driving Electric Cars, Working Security at E3 on behalf of Microsoft withholding Zac Efron from entering the premises (just kidding...). I knew I wanted entertainment and I sampled pretty much everything. It's when I had finally signed up for MFA in Producing and found myself on the back lot of Universal - I knew that I was meant to do something more than sleep on set, eat food, and play shadow to a lot of people. I wanted to take control. I wanted to take things into my own hands. And I did. To keep a long story short, I figured it out five years ago and it's the only thing I wanted to do since.


Interview conducted by Vanessa McMahon

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