Directors and actors get all the attention but everyone in... Pamela Spyrs Hollywood’s Greeks behind the scenes.

50 -52 PRODUCERS:Layout 3
11:52 AM
Page 50
Directors and actors get all the attention but everyone in the film industry knows
that it’s the producer who makes it all happen. Pamela Spyrs profiles four of
Hollywood’s Greeks behind the scenes.
ew people decide to see a movie
based on its producer–although it’s the producer who has made the choices–director, actor, writer–that get audiences to the box office.
The producer guides the film from screenplay
to screen, and frequently is responsible for developing an idea into a script. Greeks have
been behind the camera even longer than
50 September/October 2012 I ODYSSEY
George Zakk/photo Syamsul Hadi
Making Movies
they’ve been in front of it or directing it, starting with the legendary Spyros Skouras who
oversaw epic productions as president of 20th
Century Fox for two decades. Today, Greeks
continue to make their mark as producers,
from Greek Canadian George Zakk building
the brand of action star Vin Diesel to Greek
Australian Louis Mandylor who came to the
U.S. in pursuit of a boxing career and later
found himself starring in and making movies.
Then we have Victoria Bousis who took it from
the life as an attorney to producing a wide variety of films and Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, vice
president at Earth Friendly Products, now executive producer of a film exploring the life of
her Greek immigrant father.
50 -52 PRODUCERS:Layout 3
11:53 AM
Page 51
sion of a story that is a twist on The Twilight
Zone meets The Sopranos. Though some may
think the fantasy crime-drama sounds like
an outlandish animation, hands down they
are going to be completely floored–in a good
way. Mandylor manages to reinvent things
with this project in a way highlights his creative brilliance. It is his hope the world will
enjoy Elwood as much as he did creating it.
Victoria Bousis
Louis Mandylor
Melbourne-born Louis Mandylor (aka Elias
Theodosopoulos) came to the U.S. in search
of a boxing career but after finding himself
in acting classes, through the influence of
his brother, Costas Mandylor, he was later
led to prominent roles both in television
and film. “My brother, Costas, has definitely had the biggest impact in my life,” says
Mandylor. “He has encouraged me from the
very beginning, always telling me that
dreams are only an airplane ride away”. The
two have had separate careers but a shared
professional moment is the brothers’ collaboration in My Brother Cicero, an awardwinning comedy short film written and produced by Louis Mandylor.
Though Mandylor’s role as Toula Portokalos’s brother Nick in the surprise 2002
hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding and his recent
role as Peter in A Green Story are the most
overt connections to his Greek background,
he confides his great desire to work more
with Greek filmmakers and quite possibly
film something in Greece–he hopes in his
father’s hometown of Tripoli–in the near
To date Mandylor has produced (on various levels) six films and has several other
projects in the works in the next couple of
years. The project he is most passionate
about is his short, Elwood–understandably
given his numerous levels of involvement as
creator, co-writer, director, executive producer, and cast member. The project was inspired by another of Mandylor’s talents–
sketching, which he especially enjoys doing
with his afternoon coffee. The idea for Elwood came from a comic book he drew.
Mandylor describes Elwood, which stars Ron
Perlman, as a very modern comic book-ver-
Becoming a filmmaker was never a childhood dream of Victoria Bousis. Yet, as a
child growing up in Chicago, she would close
her eyes and visualize herself in front of an
audience electrifying the spirit and provoking the thoughts of people through the power of a positive and empowering message.
Bousis began her professional life as an
attorney specializing in entertainment and
international law. She was appointed as an
Assistant Attorney General. Fast forward a
few years, she later founded and is currently the Managing Director of The Bousis
Film Company, an independent film production company based in New York and
known for its focus on creative packaging
and financing.
Bousis’s first feature-length film, La
Commedia, premiered at the Venice Film
Festival in 2010. This was followed by the
profound Alps, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and co-produced by Bousis. In 2011,
Alps also premiered at the Venice Film Festival and won the award for best screenplay;
screenings at the Toronto International
Film Festival and London Film Festival followed. In late 2011, Bousis
wrapped up production of another feature, What Maisie Knew, which stars Julianne Moore, Alexander Skaarsgard, and
Steve Coogan. The film is due for release in
late 2012.
What Maisie Knew is a contemporary
New York City revisioning of the Henry
James novel by the same title. It revolves
around unwitting seven-year-old Maisie
who is caught in the middle of a tumultuous
divorce between her aging rock star mother
Susanna (Moore), and her father, Beale
(Coogan), a major art dealer.
Earlier this year, Bousis’s production
company partnered with BCDF, a highly regarded New York-based independent film
company, and Strategic Motion Ventures, a
multimillion-dollar film fund, to develop, finance, and produce films together. They are
currently assembling this year’s film slate of
between five and seven pictures, bringing
together a grounded familial approach to
gripping positive storytelling and streamlining high-value productions with acclaimed talent. Bousis is also developing a
documentary and separately an animation
project based on a Greek concept.
When asked what advice she would give
to women in film, Bousis said: “In today’s
challenging financial, social, and political
times, it is our duty as filmmaker–more
than ever–to bring messages of hope, meaning, purpose, unity, and inspiration to people and those around you. Women of today
have a unique and daunting task of being
not only good mothers and companions but
also successful career women contributing
emotionally, physically, and financially to
the home.”
Though her workweek seems endless at
times, she finds inspiration as an avid philanthropist and activist following in her
mother‘s footsteps. Asked about her parents’
influence on her, she confides that “through
their loving arms, faith, and supporting
words, my parents instilled a sense of fearlessness in me and curiosity of life–fearing
only God, believing in humanity, and soaring the sky.” Bousis is involved as a Junior
Board member to Leadership 100, Little
City Organization, the Greek American Rehabilitation and Care Centre, the Eleni and
Dimitri Bousis Foundation (an orphanage
September/October 2012 I ODYSSEY 51
50 -52 PRODUCERS:Layout 3
11:53 AM
Page 52
Greece that is will increase tourism to
Greece immensely.”
When Zakk isn’t developing the next
blockbuster you can find him with his business partner and (as he puts it) “better half”,
Lui, enjoying time with his dog, Pikachu, or
hitting golf balls on the green.
in Kenya), and a volunteer for local Pro
Bono Legal clinics and the Art of Elysium.
Bousis is not shy when it comes to sharing her Hellenic pride and determination to
support growth and expansion for Greek
filmmakers. “I have a deeply imbedded want
to stay connected to my Greek heritage and
aspire to develop more films from Greece
and hope to help further in bridging the gap
of Greek filmmakers and American cinema.” She adds: “To truly be successful you
must know the elements and values that define you as a person first and then as an
artist. What defines me is my heritage, faith,
family, good works and strong work ethic–
my films are all byproducts.”
Kelly Vlahakis Hanks
George Zakk
George Zakk (born George Vitetzakis) has
long worked with A-list casts and has produced films that have grossed over 910 million dollars at the box office worldwide.
Making it big in Tinseltown was a childhood dream inspired while watching the latest flick at the local cinema in his hometown, Montreal. Zakk, an ambitious teenager, began his career when he was just fourteen, producing and arranging music tracks
for local garage bands. At seventeen, he
made the big move to Los Angeles to pursue
further opportunities in the entertainment
industry; his first job was as a roadie and
stage hand on stadium tours with Guns N’
Roses, Motley Crue, Elton John, Depeche
Mode, and Eric Clapton.
Zakk’s early career as a producer was an
almost exclusive collaboration with producing partner Vin Diesel, whom he helped
establish One Race Films under the shingle
of Revolution/Sony Studio. He vividly remembers working “off the street from a pay
phone” before breaking into the show business. Zakk says Diesel is indeed one of the
biggest industry influencers when it comes
to being courageous and breaking down all
barriers to get things done right.
Zakk has worked as producer or executive producer on several Diesel blockbusters:
Adam Shankman’s The Pacifier for Disney,
David Twohy’s The Chronicles of Riddick for
Universal Studios, Sidney Lumet’s Find Me
Guilty. He also produced Strays, which
marked Diesel’s directorial debut, and during his tenure at One Race Films was instrumental in getting Pitch Black, The Fast
52 September/October 2012 I ODYSSEY
and The Furious, and The Iron Giant from
studio to screen.
Seeking to take filmmaking in a new direction, Zakk founded An Olive Branch Media, Inc. with Cybill Lui, a Hong Kong-born
Canadian investment banker who branched
out into the film industry. Their purpose in
creating the company was to develop and
produce high-quality independent theatrical feature film and television projects. Its
best-known feature to date is George Hickenlooper’s 2010 Casino Jack, which earned
star Kevin Spacey a Golden Globe nomination for his role as lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
An Olive Branch Media is currently putting the finishing touches on their next film,
The Philosophers, directed by John Huddles
and with a cast that includes Bonnie
Wright, Daryl Sabara, and James D’Arcy.
The film is set in an international school in
Jakarta where a philosophy teacher challenges his class of twenty graduating seniors
to choose which ten of them would take shelter underground and reboot the human race
in the event of a nuclear apocalypse. Zakk,
on location during the filming of The
Philosophers, shares some thoughts: “Being
onsite in the middle of nowhere and in the
midst of Mt Bromo was electrifying. We
couldn’t have found a better location than
Indonesia to shoot this film.”
Though he has yet to find the right project to film in Greece he did say he has a great
desire to film there someday. “My hope is to
someday film something so powerful in
Originally from Itasca, Illinois, Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks enjoys living in southern California, where she shares her life with her
husband, Eric, and their daughter Alexsia.
She travels extensively on corporate calls to
various parts of the world, many times
bringing her young daughter with her.
Vlahakis-Hanks is currently vice president at Earth Friendly Products, a company
founded by her father, Van Vlahakis. But
before joining the Earth Friendly Products
team, Vlahakis-Hanks worked in marketing
for several other companies. “It was a good
thing to do having worked for a variety of
companies in my field prior to coming to
my family’s business. It was the best way to
inherit a true appreciation for our company and establish solid work ethics. Truthfully speaking, when I began working for
Earth Friendly Products I did not start as
vice president rather, I worked my way up. I
have experience in all aspects of our family’s business, which is very important to me
and speaks to who I am today.”
Though her job at Earth Friendly Products comes first, Vlahakis-Hanks recently
added filmmaking to her resume, taking
the entertainment industry by storm as cofounder for Paramyth Films. Her first project was as executive producer on A Green
Story, a bio-pic about her Greek-immigrant
father. At first, she confesses, she had
mixed emotions when approached by filmmaker Nick Agiashvili, who wanted to
write their family’s story and put it to the
big screen. “It’s uncharted waters for me.
Let’s be honest all day long I’m in business
to make laundry detergent and cleaning
products–that’s what I do–so to make a
leap into the film industry was a very big
thing for us. However, given my marketing,
public relations, and communications
background and the fact that having our
story shared through a film is a wonderful
way to really share the importance of going
green with the mainstream public, I even-
50 -52 PRODUCERS:Layout 3
11:53 AM
Page 53
tually got on board with the idea and before long the filming began.”
A Green Story, written and directed by
Agiashvili, is based on the life of Van Vlahakis, who left Greece as young man in
search of the American dream with hopes
for a better future for him and his family.
The story in not only about how Vlahakis
transformed his own life but also the lives of
all those who come into contact with him as
the owner and CEO of Earth Friendly Products. A Green Story premiered at Los Angeles
Greek Film Festival in May. When
Agiashvili was asked what it was like to
work with Vlahakis-Hanks his immediate
reaction was, “working with Kelly was like a
dream. She always made herself available
even though she was running a major company. Every time Kelly came onset the energy would rise. Her presence had a very positive affect on the cast and crew and that is
With one film in the can, as they say,
Vlahakis-Hanks is now looking at other
projects for Paramyth Films to produce–and
has two already in the works. Asked which
director she’d like to collaborate with in the
future, she replies: “Outside of the very talented Nika Agiashvili, if I could work with
any filmmaker in the world in would be, beyond a doubt, writer-director Alexander
Payne. I had the pleasure of meeting him on
a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago when
he was writing his Sideways script and have
followed his work very closely over the last
decade. He is brilliant!”
Another collaboration with Agiashvili is
definitely in her future. Vlahakis-Hanks has
already attached to another film with the
Georgian-born director as executive producer on The Tunnel King; the film, currently in pre-production, is written and director
by Agaishvili and scheduled for release in
September/October 2012 I ODYSSEY 53