Born in Tehran Iran, director Reza Badiyi came to America in 1955, a very good year for American culture and iconic film and television.
It was the year Gunsmoke, The Lawrence Welk Show, The Honeymooners and Captain Kangaroo all had their smallscreen debuts.
Little did Mr, Badiyi know at that time, as he was mastering English and absorbing a vibrant young Western culture, in Kansas of all places, that someday he would be the Godfather of American television, logging in more hours as a TV director than anyone in history.
Reza Badiyi eventually made it Syracuse University to complete his filmmaking studies. But it was a fortunate crossing of paths with filmmaker Robert Altman that propelled Mr. Badiyi into the ranks of sought-after director with a Hollywood career. Mr. Badiyi became Altman’s protégée and friend for life.
But often time, his rise to fame and success was not an easy journey. The difficult period in the 1970’s, when the Iranian hostage crisis occurred during President Jimmy Carter’s tenure, Mr. Badiyi’s career was affected inside the Industry.
Mr. Badiyi holds the record for the most hours of television directed. 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, Dr .Quinn, Medicine Woman, Mannix, Jake and the Fatman, Hawaii Five-O, The Six Million Dollar Man, Starsky and Hutch, The Rockford Files, Cagney & Lacey, Falcon Crest, Baywatch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, La Femme Nikita and dozens more.
It was Mr. Badiyi who gave Mary Tyler Moore the idea to toss her hat up in the air for the iconic opening of The Mary Tyler Moore show, and he created the memorable opening sequence for Hawaii Five-O, capturing the big wave with his camera.
Prior to his coming to America, a young Badiyi was already a filmmaker in his native Iran; his work so notable that he was given the Golden Ribbon of Art by the Shah of Iran. He also received the Directors Guild of America Award for most hours of television directing.
Mr. 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.
Monsters and Critics interviewed Mr. Reza Badiyi, this year’s recipient of the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award at the Noor Iranian Film Festival which is scheduled for May 3, 2009.
These are interesting times to be Iranian and an American; you are part of the great, creative Persian Diaspora. Do you think younger filmmakers will now have unprecedented access to a vast multi-cultural America to tell uniquely Iranian stories?
Reza Badiyi: Timing is very important and in my opinion and now is the right time. There are many fascinating and educated Iranians that are getting into the film industry and can accurately tell Iranian stories.
It wasn’t too long ago that you couldn't emphasize Iran in films and any film with the Iranian fingerprint was quickly passed upon by the industry execs. But now, things have changed and we are in a new era of hope and understanding.
I was especially moved when our current President cited a famous Persian poet, Saadi, “Human beings are members of a whole, in creation of one essence and soul."
So you come to the US, and you continue to study filmmaking, enhanced by your experience from working in the film industry in Tehran. Was your family supportive, or were they apprehensive for you, preferring you to go into a more academic or traditional field of study?
Reza Badiyi: My father was a Pharmacist and my brother was a doctor. They hoped I would too go into the field of medicine, but I had no interest in it, even though that was my major in university.
While attending university, I secretly signed up for drama school and eagerly attended classes. After a few semesters I confronted my father and told him I wanted to be an actor.
My parents were very surprised and didn’t instantly warm to the idea. However, shortly after, I received a Gold Medal from the Shah of Iran for my acting abilities. Needless to say, my parents were very proud and realized that this was my passion and the field I was so meant to be involved in, so they gave me their blessing and were very supportive.
Later on, I went from acting to cinematography and had the honor of being the Shah’s personal cinematographer and traveled all over the country with him.
What was the most interesting film you were responsible for in Iran, before you came here?
Reza Badiyi: I made 21 documentaries before my move to the U.S., but one documentary that stands out is called “Flood In Khuzestan.”
My assistant and I traveled to Khuzestan and spent a week there shooting everything we could.
We didn’t have a script so it was a very liberating experience, not to mention eye-opening. Especially since the horrendous flood had all of us trapped for that entire week. During that time, we created a small group of people from different backgrounds and beliefs that all lived in the area. We ate together, slept in the same area and took care of each other.
The wonderful group of people consisted of Nomads, Arabs and Kurds. The inspiring experience where so many different people came together in time of crisis resulted in the execution of the documentary.
We shot the whole piece on 16mm black and white film. The documentary was selected by the Red Cross internationally. They ended up adding narration to the piece and screened the documentary all over the world in order to bring awareness to the disastrous flooding.
When the U.S. State Government saw the documentary, they invited me to come to the U.S. to study film making.
Which American smallscreen series was the most satisfying for you professionally to be part of?
Reza Badiyi: All the shows I worked on were an amazing and unique experience for me.
For example, “Mission Impossible” came about at a time where we were using images differently than before. We would use extreme focusing and close ups in order to accurately convey to the audience the actors’ feelings, thoughts and actions. It was also a time of breakthrough visual-effects, so I had the opportunity to do things I hadn’t done before – It was great – I let my imagination run wild and it worked and the audiences loved it.
'Hawaii 5-0' was very exciting too, especially with the location being as beautiful as it was and the breathtaking stunts - everyone fell in love with the show and the stunts became huge.
'Cagney & Lacey' was another show that was so well-written and so rich in material that when I was preparing and reading the script I felt obligated to give the show a visual effect that was just as good as the writing.
You had to have been terribly upset at the vilification of Iran and the tension during the Jimmy Carter years, what are the biggest misconceptions Americans hold about Iranians, in your estimation?
Reza Badiyi: I suffered greatly during that time, even though I was in the US and the number of years I had spent in Iran was less than I had spent in the US.
That being said, I never wanted to change my name or deny my nationality.
There was a lot of pressure from the industry as well – one of the networks removed me from a film I was working on due to my nationality. I was so hurt by the incident that I left and moved to London for a while. My friends kept calling asking me come back – it took some time, but I finally decided to return and continue to pursue my career in the U.S.
Same question reversed, what would you tell Iranians reading this (in Iran) are the biggest misconceptions Iranian media purports regarding Americans
Reza Badiyi: There are a lot of misconceptions due to the fact that Iranians living in Iran can’t speak freely about their thoughts on the Western World. Iran’s population consists mostly of young educated individuals who love America - the music, the food, the people, the arts - however, that isn’t always talked about.
The government is its own entity and most Iranians living in Iran have different views and beliefs about America and the world... Most of their choices in music, fashion, etc. are influenced greatly by the Western World such as the U.S.
The late director Robert Altman was your mentor. Tell me about your friend, how you met him, and your relationship over time?
Reza Badiyi: When the U.S. Government invited me, I was one of the students from 18 countries asked to come to the U.S. to study in the field of Motion Pictures.
In the field of Motion Pictures, only four students were chosen and I was lucky enough to be one of them.
I was sent to the State Department for a week long class on leadership – they would send high ranked professors from Columbia and George Washington Universities to talk to us, however, it was very puzzling considering that the entire class was filled with international students who couldn’t speak English that well …and I was one of them.
After the week was over, I was sent to Syracuse and then to Kansas City to work at the Calvin Company - The Calvin Company was a Kansas City, Missouri-based educational and industrial film production company that for nearly half a century was the largest and most successful film producer of its type in the United States.
My first day at Calvin Company, I was introduced to different departments, when I came across a young director, Robert Altman.
I noticed that he was shooting with very primitive cameras. Shocked, I went up to him and asked him to shoot with my camera called Arriflex, which was the newest and most innovative camera at that time.
Robert gave it a try and was very impressed with my knowledge and skills. He asked me where I was staying during my visit and told him the YMCA. He then invited me to come live with him and his family, which I agreed to.
They were a kind and loving family and had a substantial hand in teaching me about living in America.
Robert became my best friend and mentor and shortly after, asked the State Department to sign me over to him. We grew very close and he asked me to be his assistant director in the film he was working on at the time, “The Delinquents,” which was the very exciting start of my career here in the U.S.
What television series today speak to you, resonate with you positively?
Reza Badiyi: These days I spend of my time helping the new generation of filmmakers wanting to get into the industry. I read scripts and materials and guide/advise them.
I also spend quite a lot of time traveling to various universities across the country …Florida, Texas, etc...Speaking at their film schools. I’m also on the Board of Trustees as the Los Angeles Film School and the New York Film Academy.
That being said, I was a huge fan of the “Sopranos” and still try to watch “24” when I have time.
What American television shows you directed are popular in Iran, that you have received feedback and praise for?
Reza Badiyi: 'Mission Impossible' – This series was the pride of Iranians – fans were sending me pictures of their children and grandchildren hoping that I would cast them on the show. 'The Six-Million Dollar Man' and the 'The Incredible Hulk' were also very popular and loved.
Is there reality TV in Iran? Whose work in Iranian television do you follow or are a fan of?
Reza Badiyi: I’ve been in the in the US for 55 years so not sure about reality TV at this time. However, I can speak about a wonderful series, titled 'Christ,' which told the story of how the Qur’an and Bible tell the story of Jesus Christ, from his birth to crucifixion.
The series did very well and was made into a feature film that was showcased at the Vatican, Los Angeles, New York and Washington D.C. to name a few.
Who is the biggest Iranian TV or film star that should be a cross-over hit, the way Aishwarya Rai is for Bollywood-Hollywood - in your opinion.
Reza Badiyi: There are so many wonderful actors in Iran, such as Mohammed Reza Golzar, who has a huge following internationally, Parviz Parastui who was recently in 'Marmoulak.'
Also, Bahram Radan was magnificent in the very popular film 'Santouri,' which was directed by a very talented and well-known director, Dariush Mehrjui.
Another director that I should mention in Iran is Magid Majidi, whose work is just so deep and inspiring. His latest film, 'Song of Sparrows,' can currently be seen in theaters in the U.S.
He is also known for several other popular films, such as 'Children of Heaven' and 'Color of Paradise.' Young Iranian film makers are doing very well and so many of the films I have seen are shot and executed beautifully.
Also, I would like to mention a very famous and talented Iranian actor named, Behrouz Vosoghi. I admired him greatly and always wanted to work with him. I was thrilled when I got the opportunity to cast him on a few of my shows 30 years ago when he moved from Tehran to San Francisco.
Most of the younger actors today still look up to him, such as Parviz Parastui, and aspire to be like him.
When I was visiting Iran a few years ago I noticed that vendors were still selling his pictures and T-shirts with his picture and name on it. It exemplified the fact that Iranians still want to hold on to the wonderful memory of such an iconic actor and the great movies he made.