Pride-Jewel, a feature movie filmed in Benicia by Benicia writer/producer
It’s no secret that we are continually impressed by the residents of our small town. The beauty of Benicia seems to attract and inspire the most brilliant of minds. This is undoubtedly true for Armen Dilanchian, writer and producer of 4D Legacy Studios’ feature film, Pride Jewel. Dilanchian was born into an Armenian family, immigrating to the U.S. when he was 12 years old. Now a Benicia resident, Armen has an MFA in theater and an extensive background writing and producing plays in and around San Francisco, CA. Although he has written and produced several short films, Pride Jewel is his first feature, and it was filmed entirely in Benicia during the coronavirus pandemic.
This spectacular action thriller follows a father and son who arrive in the Bay Area after an earthquake levels their small town in Armenia. Angry and bitter over his father’s infidelity, Andre gets involved with a group of violent jewel thieves led by his father’s boyhood rival. Hoping they can pull it off, the group plans to rob an unlikely target. Unfortunately, “Revenge is the only way out, and redemption is nowhere to be found.”
Pride Jewel, set for release in 2022, has won 4 “Best Screenplay” awards and was an “Official Selection” in more than 15 screenplay competitions across the globe. Luckily, we don’t have to wait until 2022 to watch this impressive film. 4D Legacy Studios is gifting us early access! Visit www.pride-jewel.com to stream it now.
Our interview with Dilanchian gave us more insight about his film and himself.
BM: What inspired you to pursue a career in film?
AD: As a kid I always loved movies. One of the best memories I had of my mother was when she used to take me to the movies every Friday afternoon. One afternoon I saw Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon” and I was hooked. That day I told myself “This is what I want to do. Make movies.”…I think cinema is a very powerful medium and in my small way, I always wanted to contribute to it. I can’t think of any other business that can bring you the thrill of seeing your script come to life on that big screen. It’s a great feeling.
BM: The idea for your film, Pride Jewel, was sparked at a lavish Armenian wedding you attended. Can you tell us a bit more about how this wedding inspired you to write a film centered around a jewel heist?
AD: Yes, Being Armenian, I have attended several Armenian weddings and some Armenian weddings can be very lavish. At these events, guests are expected bring cash or jewelry for the bride and groom as gifts. Without giving the ending of the movie away, while attending one of these weddings I thought to myself … man oh man … there is lot of cash and expensive jewelry lying around and no security … And that’s when the idea of the movie came to me. Plus, I also enjoy watching films that keep you guessing and hold you at the edge of your seat…like the movie Bank Job, The Score, The Italian Job. I enjoy the intensity of Martin Scorcese and Michael Mann films. I thought to myself, it really gets your heart pumping. For me, it has all the right elements for a good action thriller film. I usually like to write scripts like that. I enjoy writing films that are action thrillers. I wish I had the knack to write Sci-Fi films. This is definitely a much more lucrative genre.
BM: You pulled off the near impossible feat of filming an entire feature length film in only two weeks! What did you find most helpful for you and your team’s success? What was the biggest challenge you ran into?
AD: Actually, we had to extend the days of the shoot because our director Doug Thomsen had a cold, but we had to have him tested to make sure it wasn’t Covid. We had to halt production for 3 days. Therefore, the shooting days were 17 days and not 14 days.
What we found most successful for our team was, simply, I found everyone to have a genuine work ethic to get the job done. These talented people came together for 17 days to do my story and I was humbled by their commitment to this project. Also, there was a great chemistry between cast and crew and everyone involved in making this film. We were lucky. This usually doesn’t happen much on a set. It was a very smooth day to day operation, even though we had a few challenges. I remember one challenge was that we ended up replacing one of the minor roles due to an actor’s delay in Covid test results. He was not able to report his test results in time and therefore, unfortunately, we couldn’t have him on the set. We ended up replacing him with another actor at the last minute.
BM: Filming a movie during a global pandemic must have had a million challenges, one of them being a limit to how many extras you could have on set. How did you manage to film the wedding scene with these limitations?
AD: Well, I should say I couldn’t have accomplished any of this project without our director Doug Thomsen and our other producer Megan Louise Thill. As a matter of fact, the entire cast and crew were a God send. These were amazing, talented individuals who came together for roughly two weeks to accomplish something we never thought we could pull off. The determination we all had for this project was absolutely incredible. You are right, we were limited in how many people we could have on the set. We followed all the SAG guidelines to the best of our ability to keep everyone safe. That was our main priority. It was time-consuming, but everyone came together and worked as a team.
Doug, our director spoke to me about how he was thinking to do the wedding scene. Mainly, he told me the main focus should be on the bad guys and not so much on the wedding ceremony itself. When you watch the movie, you’ll see what I mean. It was a brilliant way of filming. Of course, Johnathan Salazar, our cinematographer was amazing. Again, when you watch this movie you’ll see how pretty this movie looks. They both wanted to ensure the intent of the scene wasn’t lost due to COVID and our restrictions, and I believe the movie accomplishes that goal.
BM: Heist movies are bound to have a large amount of stunts and props. Is this something you’ve had much experience with in your past short films? How was it different in this feature length film?
AD: No, in this film the stuntwork was very limited in scope. We did have a stunt coordinator on the set in case we needed him. In the feature film, the only stunts we were focusing on was the shoot out at the wedding. I guess you’ll have to watch the movie to see how it ends up.
BM: Your family immigrated to the U.S. when you were 12 years old. How much of your own experience made its way into the film?
AD: I think there were definitely elements of my own personal experience that made it into the movie. One example is how my father joined us in the United States and how he had to start his whole life again in a new environment. That wasn’t easy and he also had the pressure of providing for his entire family. That took a lot of courage, determination, and perseverance. That made a profound effect on me when I was growing up and the way I tell stories. My father and my mother were the greatest people I’ve known. The sacrifices they made for their children were incredible.
BM: How did you go about casting your film during the pandemic?
AD: All I can say is, Zoom and our cast and crew became friends, real fast! The entire casting process was conducted using Zoom video meetings. I was actually nervous about us casting this way. It was a new territory for us, especially me. I like being in the same room with an actor when they are auditioning. There is a connection when you are in the same space with an individual who is reading for a specific role. But we did not have that luxury. We had also sent all the core actors specific scenes and had them self-record and send recordings back to us for evaluation.
Again, all these were ways for us to minimize social contact. Which goes against my nature. I just don’t think human beings are meant to talk to one another through screens. But, where there is a will, there is a way. There were many times I was contemplating stopping and waiting until the pandemic was over, but I really didn’t want to lose the opportunity to make this movie. I’m just glad that everyone of us had the same goal with this project and they stuck to it to the end. Very special people. I am glad that we were all safe.
BM: How and why did you decide to allow early access to your film for Benicia residents?
AD: I’m a Benicia resident myself and this beautiful city gave me the opportunity of a lifetime. Making a movie is a dream and this city made my dream come to fruition. But most importantly it was the people in the city that made it possible for us to accomplish this monumental goal during the worst pandemic. We made lasting relationships with Reed Robbins, our Associate Producer and the owner of the Jefferson’s Mansion, Vigil Mechanics, and Roberto’s Jewelry on 1st Street, Pro-Faction Martial Arts and Fitness and Benicia Historical Museum. All these businesses opened their doors to us. I was truly humbled that they would believe in our project and wanted to make it happen for us…So, before the film gets released in North America and Canada, I wanted to make sure Benicia residents get the opportunity to watch the movie first…I hope in a small way we are able to show the world what a great town we are living in.
BM: Are there any fun stories from the set that you’d like to share?
AD: My son Carlo was in this film. At that time, he was only 12 years old. It was funny when the time came for his scene, Carlo had so many directions to give to our director and cinematographer. I actually had to step in as producer to let him know to take it down a notch. I thought it was very endearing to see how enthusiastic he was to do his best job.
BM: Are there any future projects you’re working on that you could tell us a bit about?
AD: Sure, I’m working on a project titled “Gabriel,” which is a feature action thriller film about cryptocurrency. Right now, I’m in the process of raising capital, which is always the hardest part of movie-making. Should investors in Benicia be interested in what we are working on, they may contact me directly at 4D Legacy Studios at adilanchian@4D-lagacymedia.com. We, as a company, would love to get to know the community better.