The last TV tycoon

An interview with Reza S. Badiyi


The last TV tycoon
by Darius Kadivar

By Darius KADIVAR & Parisa DEFAIE

To have an opportunity to interview one of the most respected and prolific directors in American Television was a Dream Come True for me and my colleague and friend Parisa Defaie. He is one of the Last TV Tycoons who certainly shaped the medium as no other before him. I am nearly certain that many of you ( young or old) have spent many memorable Friday afternoon's watching his films on Persian TV before the Revolution. You may have even noticed his Persian name appear as a cathode like signature in front of your favorite TV show's cast & crew list wondering who he was and what he looked like.

Some like me and Parisa may even recall the days you were day dreaming on your way to school with your favorite American tin lunch box featuring one of your super heroes like Bionic Astronaut Steve Austin, the Charlie's Angels or Inspector Columbo and wishing to meet them in real life. Well I suppose that unlike Parisa, Charlie's Angels were not really my cup of tea before puberty but I sure did have a crush on Farrah Fawcett wondering where her name Farrah came from ?… ;0).

Born April 17th 1930 in Tehran Iran, Reza Badiyi moved to the United States in the 1960s to pursue a film career. He was educated at Syracuse University. He has Over 40 years of industry experience which include over 400 hours of primetime television, four feature films, and more than 60 documentaries. His directing credits include episodes of Mission Impossible, Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Hawaii Five-O, The Six Million Dollar Man, Starsky and Hutch, Cagney & Lacey, Falcon Crest, Baywatch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, La Femme Nikita and dozens more. He received the Gold Medal of Art from the hands of the Shah of Iran in the mid 70's. He also received the Directors Guild of America Award for most hours of television directing. Badiyi was married to actress/screenwriter Barbara Turner from 1968 to 1985. Their daughter Mina Badie is pursuing an acting career and his step daughter is Hollywood actress Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Parisa and I had this privilege to interview him, me from Paris and Parisa (Lucky Girl) on Location in LA. Behind the warm and confident smile, we discovered, a great professional, whose creative power, has been one of the most influential in the American Television Industry. We also learned that his rise to fame and success was not without its share of difficulties, sometimes bitter experiences but always great challenges which far from discouraging him, only strengthened his love for his profession as well as his ties with his home country, Iran and serves as a role model to fellow colleagues of the Persian Diaspora.

Below is the Exact Transcript (*) of our Audio Interview with Monsieur Badiyi. We hope you enjoy it:

Parisa DeFaie (PD): How did you decide pursuing a career in Directing? Did you have any experience before your departure to the U.S?

Reza Badiyi (RB): My family were mostly in the field of Medicine, and they were hoping that I would do the same and were worried when I decided to continue my education in Drama school, in which I became the first student. But Prior to my move to the U.S I was working at the Audio Visual Department in Tehran, (Honarhayeh Zeeba), during those years I was part of a crew that made 24 documentaries and it was a good experience. What distinguished me from the rest of my classmates was my prior experience like working with my bother Mojtaba Badiyi and Mr. Mobini, at the Iraneh No Studios, and other works which made me a part of many projects that were made in Iran. I had worked as an assistant to a Russian camera man, consequently I became the camera man. So when I enrolled in the production Program of Syrcist University in Iran, which has phenomenal teachers, I already knew how to work with the camera and I knew the process. Also, filmmakers like John Humphry and other top notch Film makers from Indiana university and U.S.C., excited us and inspired us. During the first three years I learned many things, in fact, As part of our training we were asked to get into our jeans and sweep the floors which now I see how useful that technique was. We had to clean the studio free of dust, since film and dust don't go together. (Laughs)

(PD): What was your first project as a Director?

(RB): I made my first movie " The Flood of Khoozestan". I went there with a wonderful man who was my assistant at the time, Mr. Kafafi, who is now an education minister in Iran, and a young soldier who volunteered to help us out. Because of the Heavy flooding we were engulfed in Shoosh, and we along with 80+ local people had to run away to the hills which led to the Biblical tomb of Daniel the Messenger. Since I was accompanied by the soldier who carried a weapon, I automatically became the authority figure. For the fist time in my life I had the responsibility of 80+ people on my shoulders, very much like a production. So I started figuring out everyone's capability, so I could assign them to different tasks. A few were assigned to gather food, some were assigned to make the food...etc. Therefore we started making an Organization, everyone had a responsibility and it worked like a production crew, we had meetings to discuss what had to be done , and what were our needs. Among all this chaos I also managed to shoot all that was happening. So when we finally were able to head back to Tehran, I was able to make a film about a small society and their efforts to survive. Which became an Internationally recognized movie. The Red Cross Int. picked it up and it ended up having 70 different narrations and was shown in many countries. I was also given the Golden Ribbon of Art by the Shah. After the success of " the flood of Khoozestan" I was invited to continue my Education In New York,

(PD):What was it Like when you first arrived in U.S? What were some of the challenges you faced as a young director?

(RB): I came to America on Sep 8th 1955. I did not know how to speak English, but between us I have to tell you something.. I felt guilty!! because there were so many talented Film makers in my class, and I was chosen because of my prior experience and the success of my first move, which the teachers and advisors were so proud of, I arrived in Kansas city and on the first day I arrived I was lucky enough to meet with a young Director who liked what I had to say, who was very patient. And who became my dear friend ... and that was Robert Altman. That was truly a miracle for me. A man with a lot of creativity, and a good human being who decided to be my mentor. I became his protégée, when he was not available they would come after me. It was a huge jump for my career, since I did not go through the usual steps the other directors go through… it was like moving up form 5th grade to 9th grade. Everyone from my agent to my lawyer suggested that I should take it slow and it was too soon for me to get there... but I took the chance... like mountain climbing... you know you have to get up there, you don't yet know how, but you take a chance... so the first Director project was not easy, but the 2nd, 3rd and 4th were. Each movie made the next easier ... all of a sudden I became the talk of the town .

Darius KADIVAR (DK): Sadly Robert Altman, recently passed away, could you share with us some of your collaborations with him?

RB: Robert Altman was my mentor , my teacher. And the beauty of working with Robert was that no matter what position you hold among the crew, you could talk to him and give him suggestions. I would ask his opinion about my ideas and he would just say: "Go for it!". The one advice he always gave me, was " Never listen to anybody's advice". But what he was actually trying to tell me was not to limit myself, do what comes to your mind. I always tried the crazy things with his visuals, because I had the approval ticket in my hand. When I went to Mission Impossible, I sat next to the executive producer, and creator of the show. I asked him if there was any limitation on what I would be doing, and if I could do the crazy visual effects, and his answer was " there is no limit Reza, Go for it" and that was my password to success. I give him all the credit to the way he taught me, which was always supportive. God Bless his soul!..

(PD):You are the only Director in the history of Hollywood to win the Director's Guild of America Award for directing the most hours in television , how do you feel about such an accomplishment?

(RB): I believe that motion picture is like a game that everyone involved has to play, as the leader of the game I have to make sure everyone takes their part in it. I cannot do it alone. It is a team effort. In all my accomplishments , I realized that everything I learned were also gathered from my younger years in Iran. All the motion picture classes, Iraneh No studios, the experience of working with my first camera my dad got me, or finding a solution to a problem that took me back to the years I was working with Mr. Hooshang Partoyee in Iran ... all of those memories and experiences came in handy during my work as a professional director. From my first movie up until now That I am sitting here with you, I knew I was made to do this kind of work. Having Directed 423+ hours of Television program is a great accomplishment and no one has broken this record to this date.

(DK) Iranian Television before the revolution was becoming very competitive and professional with channels like NIRT and also co-productions with American film companies. Some of the stars of your films like Peter Graves also worked with Iranian directors like Tony Zarindast and came to Iran to make several films. How would you compare Iranian Cinema before with what it has become today?

(RB) Prior to Revolution I had no idea of what television in Iran was. Because by 1955 when I left, there was one channel with limited hours. When I came back to Iran for a festival I saw programs like Parviz Ghareeb Afshar (See article on daughter actress Shiva Rose in David & Layla ) which was nice. And there was 2 channels, but I don't recall a specific program. After the revolution , there have been many channels for News, all kinds of political programs and of course sports... but in a very controlled environment. Everything is being monitored and a great deal of recitals from the holly book Quran. 3 years ago I went for another film festival in Tehran ... The Fajr film festival is meant to be a happy event. A celebration of Art were you'll see many festivities. But this time it was followed immediately by Muharram, so you saw everything become dark and mourning started. So right away you see two extremes, which was evident from the Television programs too. My flight was delayed for few days due to heavy snow and I had time to watch Television. I saw a man preaching on Television, there were so many cameras involved to capture the mood of that environment, the crowd of men, the crowd of woman mourning, very nice dissolves in between scenes, and close ups of the preacher. The technology of using Multi Cameras for such event was impressive. But when I saw the close up of that preacher I was amazed of how he had the pulse of the crowd in his hands. Of how he was controlling the program. He was such a pro in his delivery, that I thought to myself , if this man was in U.S , I would become his agent and become a millionaire... ( Laughs) he knew exactly what he was doing... all of a sudden the program gets interrupted by another man, who now wanted to deliver a breaking news. The breaking news was about a soccer team beating the other 2 to 0, followed by a footage of cheering crowds waving their flags in the stadium... then back to the preacher and his mourning crowd!!! two extreme moments... I was asked by Mr. Talebzadeh to conduct an interview, and one of their Questions was how we were able to make a full hour show in a week, and I explained this type of work needs a team of dedicated and devoted professionals who show up to work at 5:00 am and work to 7:00 pm...

(PD) Why are The European film festivals so fond of Iranian movies, which are mostly about misfortunes even poverty?... Is it true that such movies may have a negative connotation of how our nation is displayed?

(RB) There was a beautiful love affair between International Film Festivals and Iranian films that ended about two years ago. There was something unique about the Iranian films. Unlike the American or British films, where they cast actors and there is a script, and together between the actor and director they try to make the story believable. The Iranian Film makers would take a man from the street, with absolutely no acting experience, and they ask him to be himself... once they put everything together you'll see the innocence of the character and his/her dilemma in what to do and where to go. And as audience you get engaged and follow the journey, much like the realities of life... that was the beauty of their work. Now, many Iranians who live outside of Iran, tend to think that by showing a kid with no shoes or the girl who's lost her money, or showing people in their simple clothing is a negative image we are sending out about ourselves. Or they may think it is humiliating, why are they not showing the good things, beautiful houses...etc... let me say that recently Ms Tahmineh Milani has been doing that, which was a necessity to the type of stories she's been telling. However after a while, all the stories ended up being repetitive, so for ten years we showed wonderful stories...but the last two years they were not so interesting anymore. I saw 16 of 20 movies made in Iran at the Fajr Festival, all the stories were very similar to one another, they are very sad and mostly about the War with Iraq and the side effects. You'll see a lot of attention to the use of Narcotics even in Dariush Mehrjui's work, and others. Also they really don't get the permission to do the work they want. Farabi needs to give them permit and finance the movies... but because of the controlling environment the movies change. They seem to be interfering with the productions which is the situation the directors face in Iran. Majid-Majidi, Darius Santoorish, are among Directors who are doing good work, which will be coming here soon.

(PD) Today's Television Programs tend to Emphasize on the darker side of the story or characters, we rarely see up-lifting or life fulfilling stories, why is there such fascination with such genres?

(RB) You are right!! It's what the people like. Today's stories are about crimes, or suicide, homicide… etc, the shows like CSI, LAW&ORDER, is an "analyzation" of the crime, how or why did it happen?… Most of the time they are digging inside the mind of a criminal, the only positive thing you can see from it is that there is nothing they can not find!! they can dig in everything, so people like to hang to that more than hearing how US is doing badly in Iraq. Because there is a guilt in that... until the last election when they said it was enough... but things will improve in time.

(PD) Technology has made movie making business a much faster industry. Particularly Editing and post production. Is the expectation of meeting the release date still a pressure for the directors?

(RB): This new Technology is so expensive. If you have an army of 100 people, you could multiply it to have 1000 or more... but the nature of it is expensive. The CGI, is 12 yrs old but it keeps going further and further, and now you can do phenomenal things with it. The movie 300 ( Zach Snyder / Frank Miller) made so many of their scenes in front of the blue screen, and they created the background, and so on. When the studios give you a budget of let's say 30 $ million, they know what they will get with that budget. 3 years ago I did a picture, in Florida, with Judi Harris,... fantastic movie... I never ever had a frame of CGI in it, it was simple, the colors were the colors we actually shot, we did not do anything to enhance it… when you see the movie, it's a much better picture. People need to see images that are true to them. You can also excite people by images, which we call it " Tap Dancing", but then in the long run it may become boring... so, yes it can put a great deal of pressure on the directors because of the amount of $$$ involved. There are movies made that go directly to DVD and never get to big screen, and are sold over seas, and never get the exposure they hope for.

(DK) What was the toughest shooting Experience you had in your career? Who did you like to work with most?

(RB):The hardest shoot was when I was a camera man working with Robert Altman. We were in Chicago, shooting a pilot and I am talking about 1963, and it was a night in winter it was 18 below zero. The cameras and everything froze. When I was shooting ,the steam coming from the actor's mouth covered his face. We could not back lit the people. We would go to work in the afternoon until 5:00 am in the cold weather, which was very hard to manage. They gave us these battery operated suits that had heating inside of them to keep us warm. We had to keep the cameras warm by heaters so the film wouldn't freeze on us. Because the film becomes so fragile that can break like a slice of cucumber....but the results were marvelous...4 yrs ago in Canada when I was doing La Femme Nikita, I was on top of this hospital building. It was 10 to 15 degrees below, and I had to shoot a helicopter land with two ladies whom were practically wearing next to nothing. The weather was so cold that you could not keep anyone outside more than a minute and half. So we had to rehearse to get the timing of the scene… then we would run inside to get warm, and back again for another shoot. You could not believe the difficulty we faced...but we did it.Often we would talk amongst directors about who was the difficult actor to work with, and I heard there were some ..I worked with most difficult actors that everyone was talking about, Jack Lord, who fired people left and right… Jack and I never had any problem. Robert Blake was another difficult one whom I directed and produced his show...never had any problem. How did this happen? I did my homework by studying the person...what buttons should or should not be pushed? I observe them, then I wanted to get the thing I wanted from this person, and that is his performance. The rest of that person's attitude is not my problem to deal with or correct. My job as a director was to have the actor say his words and take him from point A to point B.Alfred Hitchcock believed that actors are like furniture. You just move them around. An actress once asked Hitch " sir, what is my motivation for this scene?" and hitch said " your paycheck, Love!". (Laughs)

(PD)Working on so many Television Shows and directing so many movies, I can't even imagine how many actors you've directed... how do you work with actors like myself? How do you define the relationship between the actor and the director?

RB: I always believed that I take a journey with the actor. We both read the script and I like to see what you as an actor would brings to the table, and I re-touch it. Never tell you what to do, but I will let you know if I like it or not and why, But I will never tell you how to act. With all my experience working with actors, I learnt to love them Because when I direct I become a father figure, I become a priest, a confidant and a shoulder. Then I have to allow you to do that. When a series is finished or a movie is done, it is very hard for actors to say good bye. Because they felt like I look after them. The wonderful Sharon Gless once said" I do not know who I am anymore, I wake up in the morning, get in a limo, then I am taken to place where they make me up, feed me and put me in front of a camera, , tell me the words to say and smile... then at the end of the day, I go home, into my bed...who am I??"... when I was doing Cagney & Lacey, they sent the script a week ahead of time for the actors to read. So, then the writers and the actors would meet for lunch and read the entire script together. They make all they make all the necessary changes. Once we start the shooting, I had this habit of going to the make-up room and shake the actor's hand, and ask them if there is anything they need to ask or talk about. Some actors knew what to do, but Sharon panicked once and said "can we change this line? I am not sure where I would be going with this…" then I would say it was not possible... and tried to help her get to the point she was looking for… then all of a sudden she asked if she could wear a hat while doing the scene. And I allowed it. That "hat" helped Sharon to get to the role she wanted... she saw the character through wearing the "hat"… and that was the trick…often I thought to myself how lucky I am to be a part of this journey with the actors. I sit and enjoy as an audience. Some times actors are waiting for me to say CUT, and I wait and wait, I really don't want this great relationship to end.

(DK) What is your opinion about the new generation of Iranian director and screenwriter like Farhad Safinia, Cyrus Nowrasteh, or Kayvan Mashayekh? What advise would give to aspiring directors to make it in Hollywood today?

(RB): I know Cyrus very well, also Mashayekh...both of whom are two different directors. Cyrus is a very creative writer, and director. He has created La Femme Nikita ( Based on French director Luc Besson's movie) which he did the pilot for the American Audience, and got accepted. He has worked with the team of 24, he is very talented...and he is in a different plateau than the other two. Mashayekh is full of energy, a wonderful kid... but I have to say this... what makes him successful, is his ability in Marketing... he knows how to market and where to push it. He can sell his projects. He has the pulse of industry in his hand. Right now he is working on a script and he is mainly working in Texas, and I like his passion. I have been in this business for 5 decades, and honestly after the 90's everything changed. I truly don't know what is going on. I know they are doing good things on Television, like the Sopranos, 24, or Six Feet Under... my advice to the new directors is that you have to breakthrough, you have to work as anything, to be collected and then grow in it.. Be more creative. Many days ago it was hard to even make a short film.. but now a days you can even take your own camera and put together a project. You must have the ability to tell a story with your images. And if you can do that, great!In the 60's I made a feature with a help of another gentleman, we had 15,000$. We shot in Kansas all the way to Salt lake city. It was simple, and shot in Black & White, with a few actors. We ended up selling it for 100,000$. Then the negatives were lost. In the 90's the negatives were found and the movie came out again, It got recognized as one of the best features, and I got invited to USC, and to the American Film society. So you can do anything when you put your mind into it.

(PD) With so many talented Iranians in the Entertainment industry, like directors, producers and screenwriter, why is it that we have not yet seen a movie that truly portray the Iranian culture or people?

(RB):Unfortunately, as you remember, the latter part of the 70's, the hostage crisis took place. And we became the enemy. At the time I was working in the industry, and I was told by my agent, and Lawyer to change my name, and never say I was Iranian. And I said to them, No I was not going to do that. Needless to say I really got hurt. The way I was standing on that plateau before the hostage crisis, and after ,were miles and miles different. I was one of the few directors in this town to be able to CHOOSE what I wanted to do. But, I am Iranian and I always remain Iranian. Recently because of other issues, like the nuclear Weapons, and the anti-Jew comments... the industry thinks: "who are these people?" And consequently we are suffering because of all this. So politely they are telling us you can not do that!...if you want to make that kind of movie, go ahead and make it in your own country!...So, it's like having this land and wanting to build on it. You have a beautiful blue print or map of how to do it... but your are not granted the permit to build.My hope is that all Iranians who are in this Industry get together and have a syndicate. So everyone can help each other. Recently, as you know, this has been talked about and I am really glad to be a part of it. We should support each other.


Author's Notes:
(*) We decided to print the original conversation with Mr. Reza Badiyi and his answers to our questions as conducted during the interview.

See More Documents in Article Reproduced on


Parisa DEFAIE is an actor/director Living and Working in LA/USA

First Published in OCPC Magazine Cover July 2007 Issue.



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