That’s Entertainment: Exec Tells of His Hollywood Odyssey

Photo by Zane Hill / OUTLOOK Longtime film production man Craig Darian responds to a question from friend Andy Barth, who used an interview format to make the most of Darian’s appearance as guest speaker at Rotary Club of San Marino’s luncheon last week.
Photo by Zane Hill / OUTLOOK
Longtime film production man Craig Darian responds to a question from friend Andy Barth, who used an interview format to make the most of Darian’s appearance as guest speaker at Rotary Club of San Marino’s luncheon last week.

Asked about his 45 years in film production and distribution, Craig Darian said some describe him as entrepreneurial and others simply call him “a jerk of all trades.”
Darian, the CEO of Hollywood-based Occidental Entertainment who was the guest speaker at a recent Rotary Club of San Marino meeting, didn’t quibble about either description.
“My answer is, I think they’re both right,” he quipped. “But the reality is, is I’m kind of like a deal junkie. I love production. I love construction. I love leadership, which means that all the smart people do all the heavy lifting and I provide a culture, which gratefully has been a good thread throughout my companies.”
Darian, who with wife Kimberly raised three children in San Marino, has co-chaired Occidental — whose distribution credits include “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “War of the Worlds” and “Gladiator” — since 2004, alongside business partner Al Sweet. He also has shared chairmanship of Tricor Entertainment with Howard Kazanjian since 1988, and chaired his own Darian Management Group since 1987. He got his start as a studio projectionist and sound recordist in 1974 and gradually worked his way into sound stage management, production and distribution.
“As charmed as my business life has been, my family life has been especially charmed,” Darian said.
Occidental, which was opened in 1913, owns 14 sound stages used in a variety of productions, including “MasterChef” and the recently wrapped “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” The company was noted in a 2011 Los Angeles Times article for being among the few at the time building new stages from the ground up, and Darian was quoted as saying it was the firm’s vote of confidence in L.A. as the hub of American film.
“I’ve always been very optimistic,” Darian told Rotarians last week. “I don’t know that I’ve ever been smart enough to understand crisis when crisis really abounds, therefore I navigate it very well in those complicated waters. The industry has changed a lot in 45 years and I’ve loved every aspect of it.”
Technology and globalization have been the primary source of those changes, Darian explained, with the advent of computer-generated imagery and the ease of worldwide distribution and production opening countless doors for the industry. (“I’m able to distribute hundreds of films to Southeast Asia, with a 14-hour time difference, without using so much as a postage stamp,” he added.)
Forging and maintaining professional relationships and friendships is key to making it in the film industry, Darian added; he mentioned that the number of times he had a “furious” disagreement with either of his business partners was “somewhere between none and zero.” Darian added he tries not to get caught up in being star-struck, and rather sees whoever he’s working with as being part of the bigger operation.
“To me, they’re all just the same: I’m more interested in the lighting and grip order and how many days they’re shooting on a stage. I don’t care who’s in there,” he said.
Outside of work, Darian remains involved in the charity and nonprofit world. He is on the board of directors for the L.A. Metro Salvation Army and St. Anne’s, and is president of the Shakespeare Center L.A. board.
“As we get older, gratefully, most of us learn that repatriating that money to the most needy among us in an imperative and it’s an honor to be swimming in that terrain,” he said.
True to form, Darian donated a check for $5,000 to Rotary International following the luncheon.
Asked about how a movie guy watches movies, Darian said simply to do so the same way one reads a book.
“You find, thematically, different narratives resonate with different people,” he explained. “For my part, when I read a screenplay, it takes me 4 1/2 hours to read the darn thing. I need to annotate it and figure out who the characters are and how they weave together and whatnot.”
Expanding on that thought, Darian recalled watching the “Lord of the Rings” films at least four times each, specifically to focus on the aspects of filmmaking that they ultimately received awards for, including score, set design, costumes and writing.
“These are all different disciplines, but when you mush them all together, it creates a wonderful experience,” he added. “Imagine watching ‘Titanic,’ for example, without the score. It’s a different movie.”

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