Rejuvenating the coming-of-age story

Producer Pouya Shahbazian talks “Love, Simon” and evolution of the industry

ae-lovesimon-Courtesyof20thCenturyFox

In 1999, Pouya Shahbazian graduated from the University with a degree in theater, packed his bags and moved to Los Angeles, determined to work in the entertainment industry. Starting his career in the mailroom of a major agency, Shahbazian described his attempts to channel his passions, utilize his skill set and find his place in the entertainment world. 

Now a producer for film and television, Shahbazian spoke with Arts and Entertainment over the phone to discuss the upcoming release of the film “Love, Simon”, as well as the power and particulars of modern storytelling.

Portions of this interview have been edited for clarity and length. 

Arts and Entertainment: What attracted you to the film coming out in March that you are a producer on — “Love, Simon?”

Pouya Shahbazian:  I really enjoyed the book … that it’s based on, “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli, and … I thought it would make a great film in the vein of the movies that I grew up on … It’s the type of movie that doesn’t get readily made these days, so it was a chance to do something that’s not being done very often, and also with an incredibly inspiring message that makes you laugh, it makes you cry and it really makes you feel a great unity towards everybody. 

At some point, everyone has to come to grips with something that’s different about themselves, and this story gives you the opportunity to laugh and cry with a character who is coming-of-age in a high school setting that is reminiscent of great movies that we love from yesteryear. 

AE: You mentioned John Hughes movies, and how these kinds of films — while they aren’t readily made — they have been around for a very long time … How do you think the coming-of-age story, or the "teen movie” genre in general, has changed at all, considering the kinds of stories that can be told?

PS: I think … I don’t want to call it a formula, but there is an arc that a lot of movies follow, and we’ve seen a lot of those movies. We’ve seen them done very, very well … but they are a very major studio, similar arc for the characters. It’s difficult to replicate that and to still feel original. 

I think what makes “Love, Simon” stand out is the fact that you have characters who are going through things that we’ve never seen a major studio dive into before — a young boy coming out, in high school, in the John Hughes-type tone of a movie. That’s never really been done before, and I feel like our movie is very, very special … everyone who made that movie felt like they were a part of something that could be groundbreaking, could help folks for many, many generations to come. 

I hope that people look back on this movie. I hope people love it now, when it comes out in a few months, but also look back on it…and say ‘that was a movie that helped tell a story that hadn’t been told before and opened the doors for more stories that haven’t been told.’ 

AE: “Love, Simon” seems to touch on a lot of recognizable facets of teen life too — friendships, social media, first loves. Where do you think the appeal for this kind of story comes from?

PS: I think that there’s been disruption within the digital marketplace with Netflix, with Amazon … The world consumes content differently than it ever did before, with all the digital streaming platforms and all the digital media outlets that filmmakers have today. 

So, I do think that people are watching as much content as they ever have, but they’re watching it in different ways, and now there are different outlets that all want original content in order to attract eyeballs to their specific outlet … The ability to be mobile and to be able to take your content with you everywhere you go — I think that’s created a huge demand for product. 

AE: I wanted to ask you about book-to-film adaptations, because a lot of your work has dealt specifically with that — with the “Divergent” movies, and with “Love, Simon” being based on “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.” So, what attracted you specifically to this kind of film production?

PS: I love books. I love to read a great page-turner … The business changed since the time I started, where the marketing costs of a film are just so high that having some pre-existing piece of intellectual property that has already been vetted by the public is a huge boon to a film or TV show. 

Books have always been adapted for film and TV shows … [but] I thought there was a niche in the marketplace where there weren’t enough folks who were willing to get in the trenches with books, and jump in there and read as many books as possible and try to put them together as movies. I do think it’s a little bit more saturated now, but when I started doing this a decade ago, there was a little bit less emphasis on books. 

There were still a lot of original screenplays selling, a lot of original scripts selling. “Hunger Games” was a major … catalyst for the young adult market … and now recently, television buyers are very hungry for books, whereas even a few years ago they weren’t. 

AE: Bringing it back to what we were talking about earlier, about different kinds of stories and the kinds of stories that we can tell now … Why are we attracted to stories not only about young people but … through their eyes? 

PS: I think being young is a time of great learning, and gaining the wisdom that you’re gonna use to hopefully succeed in whatever endeavor you choose. I think watching those trials … it’s kind of a cathartic experience to see how someone else has come of age. 

You can even harken back to Thomas Jefferson, like you’re never a senior at learning, right? So, I think that if we heed Thomas Jefferson’s words that you truly are never finished with learning … Watching someone else’s coming-of-age story can always be relatable.

“Love, Simon” will enter theaters March 16. 

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