An Interview with Vice President of Strategic Entertainment, Billy Haido
Interviewed by Tamara Odisho and published at the Assyrian American Association of Southern California, Inc. (AAASC) website by Emil Darmo.
A typical weekend can include anything from hanging out with friends, going to a club, a bar, or maybe even catching a movie. If you decide to catch a movie, some recent flicks out at a theater near you include Kill Bill, Mystic River, Akh Min Khimyani and Intolerable Cruelty. Well actually you will need to check your local Assyrian website listing to see if Akh Min Khimyani is playing at a theater near you. If you find that it is playing in your town, purchase your ticket in advance, which will cost you a whopping $10, that's right, only 75¢ more than your average movie ticket, but it's a sure guarantee you will get a good laugh and have a seat for the show.
Akh Min Khimyani is being released by Strategic Entertainment of Chicago, IL. Vice President Billy Haido, a young business entrepreneur, along with a few other talented Assyrians, have come together to bring movies back to the Assyrian community.
In a recent interview with Haido, he explained how Strategic Entertainment got off the ground and its hopes of sticking around and making a difference in the Assyrian world of film by education and giving us a better understanding of who Assyrians are through social comedies like Akh Min Khimyani.
Tamara Odisho: How did Strategic Entertainment Inc. begin?
Billy Haido: SEI began as our first step to becoming a production company. We had worked under the name of Babylon Productions for a couple of years making smaller independent short American films. We wanted to take it to the next level and decided to incorporate and start making more American films as a real company.
TO: Who founded it?
BH: Strategic Entertainment was founded by Martin Khoshaba and I in the beginning of 2002.
TO: Where did you get the name from?
BH: Martin and I wanted to have a catchy name for our Company so we did some research and I came across the NASA website and I stumbled upon an article on satellites and strategic locations. I called up Martin and threw the idea at him and we both agreed to call the Company Strategic Entertainment.
TO: How many Assyrians are involved with the Company?
BH: The Company is primarily run by Martin and I but there are a few others that are involved. Ashur Shiba is our partner in California. Eddy Mirko runs Edgraphx which does all of the films editing and printed material. Ramsen Khasha and Sunny Khoshaba along with many other people that help us make things happen day to day. There are many positions that need to be filled in order to make this company complete and for that reason we are always looking for young Assyrian men and women.
TO: What connection does Strategic Entertainment Inc have with Assyrians Around the World?
BH: The guys from AATW, Hermiz Hasso and Edward Hasso are the top Assyrian TV producers in Chicago and around the world; their program is the link for all Assyrians in the Chicago land area. When Martin and Idecided to make an Assyrian film we wanted to get involved with people in the community that were established and who were better than the people who started Assyrian TV. Martin and I approached AATW, and presented them with the idea of the movie and they loved it.
TO: Who came up with the idea of creating Assyrian movies?
BH: When SEI first came on the scene we wanted to make the American movies because it was the only way we though we would get recognition. Martin and I spoke about making Assyrian projects but never really made a push for it. We were afraid that we wouldn't have enough Assyrian people interested in making a movie. After lots of talks and arguments we decided tat we should give it a try and began the pre production phase of Akh Min Khimyani.
TO: Who's idea was Akh Min Khimyani?
BH: Martin Khoshaba wrote Akh Min Khimyani as an American film but saw the potential to rewrite it into Assyrian (with the help of Abee Sarkis). It's funny because the original name of the movie was Khoba Khata until actor Nazar Amedin who played the role of the counselor came up with Akh Min Khimyani.
TO: How long did it take to film?
BH: We started production around the beginning of march and ended at the end of June. So the filming process took about 4 months.
TO: Was pre and post-production all done in house by Strategic Entertainment?
BH: Pre-production and production was done by SEI and AATW. We cast the movie together and worked on the set together. Post-production was done primarily by SEI and Edgraphx.
TO: What was your expectation of the film? And did it meet your expectations?
BH: My personal expectation for the film will remain unknown to me for many years because I want this to be seen as the turning point for mass media in the Assyrians Community Worldwide. I am a believer that a nation is only as strong as its means to distribute its ideology to its entire member where ever they may be. We are a large nation in a sense, because we are extremely wide spread throughout the world. I hope this movie, although it's just a comedy, can show the Assyrian people all across the world that we have the ability and the means as a nation to take the next step in mass media. We have the ability to start and maintain our own TV programs and News Networks, informing all the people in the world who we are and what is happening to us. We must now take those steps to make them happen.
TO: How much did Strategic Entertainment Inc. invest in the production of the film? Including advertising, production, actors, etc. What kind of budget are we looking at?
BH: This film's production cost around $30,000 without duplication. SEI put up all the money to fund this project. We were able to get much of it back from sponsorship and advertising. Our hopes are to make future projects that cost virtually nothing to produce because all of the costs could be covered through advertisement and sponsorship.
TO: Where and when was the premiere?
BH: The national premiere was held on September 28, 2003 at Chicago, IL.
TO: How was the turnout? Was it expected? What feedback if any has Strategic Entertainment Inc. received from its audience?
BH: The turnout was tremendous... We never expected so many people to show up. Over 1900 people came out to watch the movie, but hundreds didn't have tickets. The facility only accommodated 1400 people and as you can imagine we had lots of upset people that couldn't get in because they didn't purchase tickets in advance. We were sold out two days before the premiere. I was really excited to see so many people gathered together for one reason. The audience really loved the movie and requested another showing. The encore in Chicago was another successful showing on October 12, 2003. Over 800 people showed up for the encore showing, another shocking but great event.
TO: Are you premiering the movie anywhere else? If so, where and when?
BH: We are kicking off our national tour in Los Angeles on October 19, 2003 , and continuing on all over the Country and soon all over the world. For information on tour locations, dates and times please check our website https://www.strategicentertainment.com or https://www.akhminkhimyani.com
TO: For those who haven't seen the movie , what should they expect?
BH: Our audience, whether watching the film in the theater or in their homes, will find a film professionally done by Assyrians. The rest, we will leave up to the imagination of the viewers. We do hope everyone enjoys it and will continue to support future projects.
TO: Is the movie available on video? If not, when will it be? If so, where can we buy it, and how much is it retailing for?
BH: The movie is available to purchase now. The film will not be distributed until mid December. You can visit https://www.assyrianmarket.com to reserve your copy in advance for $19.95 before December 15, 2003 , after then it will be $24.95.
TO: What is next for Strategic Entertainment Inc.? Are there any new films coming out soon?
BH: We are currently working on two projects, another comedy and possibly a television show. I do not want to get into specifics because we are still in the development stages for both projects but they are both promising.
TO: Does or has Strategic Entertainment Inc. communicated with other Assyrians involved in movie industry such as Mr. Beni Atoori and his production company? If yes, what was the outcome?
BH: We have communicated with Mr. Atoori more on a personal level then business. However, as an up and coming Company we would be honored to someday sit and talk to or even work with StoneLock Picture and Mr. Atoori.
TO: Where does Strategic Entertainment Inc see itself in 10 years : Still catering to the Assyrian Community?
BH: 10 years from now I see SEI as a legitimate Assyrian American Film Company making Hollywood movies, which cannot be achieved without the support of lots of people. We need to network with other Assyrians around the world to make this happen. When I heard about Mr. Atoori I was ecstatic. Having an Assyrian in Hollywood was about the most exciting thing anyone could have said to me. My hopes are that we can work with StoneLock Pictures and establish a relationship where there can be a mutual gain. People like Mr. Atoori and his accomplishments are what drive me to want to achieve more, as well as raise my personal bar of achievement. I want to work with other Assyrians to start a much needed Assyrian Film Consortium. We have many talented Assyrian men and women all across the world that need to get together for the sake of our people. As to the question about will we still cater to Assyrian people...Hum, I think so. (Smiling)
TO: Any plans to expand into the American movie market?
BH: NO! Just kidding!
TO: What is your expectation from Assyrian organizations , Public and especially young Assyrians in regards to your movie?
BH: My expectations towards organizations are slightly different then it is towards the public. As a president of an organization "The Assyrian athletic club of Illinois ," I believe that we have to support all Assyrian movements. Especially those that are related to the arts. I try to keep an open mind when I talk to the youth here in Chicago to hear what they want and need. What I have come to realize is that the Assyrian youth of this generation especially those in the U.S. are sometimes afraid to tell people who they really are. What I mean, and it is not fair to say all Assyrian youth fall under this category, is that they really don't realize what and who Assyrians really are.
I don't blame them for not knowing because they haven't been taught. I believe that lots of parents out there don't really know either. The leaders of these organizations that are the closest thing we have to a government have to teach these things. Where I'm getting with this is simple, organizations should fully support all endeavors such as movies and drama, because that is a means to teach people a lot. Most of what is learned in America is done through television and film.
Now as to the public and youth, they are critics and I expect no less then that. I just hope they see the greater picture and realize that everything we a re doing is for them and hopefully for a better future. Watch the movie, enjoy the comedy, learn form it, and move on to hopefully the next project. What more can I really expect? We love what we are doing and hopefully people can see that through our work.
TO: How do you see the current state and the future of the Assyrians in the U.S. movie market and especially in the highly competitive Hollywood market?
BH: I know I am not the only one who looks at the youth today and sees some of
the brightest and the most motivated people out there. I know as
Assyrian/Americans here and everywhere else can succeed in the American movie
market. But we have to understand we cannot do it alone, we need networking and
the ability to use each other's talents. Not everyone can direct a movie, but a
director alone cannot make a film. You need producers, camera men, artists,
writers and many other specific positions. We have it all in the community and I
promise that once we learn to work with one another as friends, family, and
business partners we can do anything we want. That is easier said than done. I
do have hope though and I believe the new generation of Assyrians can overcome
what hundreds of generation could not. We can come together under one common
goal and achieve standards never before seen. I regained this confidence when I
met Martin Khoshaba , Ashur Shiba, Ramsen Khasha , and Eddy Mirko . These four
guys made me change my mind and turn back to helping, and supporting Assyrians
rather than dwindling back into my own little world.