After two years as a subordinate, proving both to himself and his bosses that he could come up with sellable ideas, Shahbazian went off on his own. He decided he would eat Trader Joe’s Mac and Cheese and start his own shop. “I did it in a 400-square-foot apartment in New York, and I worked multiple jobs.”
Why New York? His girlfriend got a job there, so he followed her. He had his smartphone and his network of contacts, and he knew that he could work in any city—so long as it was either London, New York, or Los Angeles. “I don’t think you can be a major movie producer from any other city. Because ultimately you have to be face-to-face with people, and if you’re a major player in the industry I don’t think you get through a year without working with different people in each of those three cities.”
Here’s where Shahbazian’s Santa Clara law degree came in particularly handy. “There are a lot of law firms in New York that hire temps—attorneys for doc review. I thought, ‘I can work a day job that pays the rent and pays for the food on the table—especially with the law degree.’”
For his movie ambitions, one big advantage of being based in New York was the time difference. Shahbazian could get off work at 5 or 6 o’clock, and it was still only 2 or 3 p.m. in Los Angeles. That left several hours each night to be making phone calls to the West Coast.
Soon he found his niche. “I realized there was an underserved market for book-to-film adaptation representatives. Let’s say Dan Brown writes The Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown needs an agent to sell it to a publisher, so he finds an agent, and the agent sells it to Random House. The author and the book agent and the publishing company would all love to see Hollywood make a movie out of that book. So, they engage a book-to-film representative to help them find a home for the project in Hollywood.”
Shahbazian noticed something about how that process was working, though. “When I started, the book-to-film representatives were cherry-picking the best books and leaving everything else as a wasteland. A book agent would have one book that everybody wanted, and then ten other books that nobody paid any attention to.”
Shahbazian became an expert in this area of the business, with a special concentration on the young adult market. “Within a few years, when Hunger Games the movie came out, that was the tipping point. That was when my career really took off because everyone paid attention to books after The Hunger Games.”