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UCLA

Teaching Movie-Making to Teens

UCLA alumnus Alex Hakobian left a Hollywood career and created a crop of stellar high school filmmakers.

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By Sandy Siegel '72

Published Apr 15, 2009 5:17 PM


The UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television has no shortage of award-winning alumni. But no one comes close to Alex Hakobian '72 in the recognition department: He's racked up 300-plus honors and awards.

Name doesn't ring a bell? That's because Hakobian isn't a Hollywood player; for the last 15 years, he's been calling the shots in a San Fernando Valley classroom, teaching filmmaking in the communications-technology magnet at Grant High School.

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Alex Hakobian in the Grant High School studio.

It's not exactly the career he contemplated as a young man. His first love was the theater, but a gig as a movie stand-in in the late '60s got him hooked on film. After getting his degree, he became a showbiz jack-of-all-trades — actor, writer, crew member. When a seven-year stint with producer Ivan Tors (Flipper, Daktari,) ended with Tors' death, Hakobian, then a new father, did some soul-searching. "I was back to square one again," he admits. "That's when I said, 'I have to take care of my family. I can't do this anymore.'"

An occasional substitute teacher, he decided to get a credential. He spent eight years teaching filmmaking at Belvedere Middle School in East Los Angeles before moving to Grant High in Van Nuys in 1994 to launch their film program.

Working on and off campus and in a mini-studio off the classroom, students write, produce, direct, shoot and edit short films, documentaries and public service announcements. Subjects have included gang life, autism and alcohol abuse. "Every film we make here must be ethical in some way," Hakobian says.

With his "no fluff" policy and limited funding, he maintains a simple philosophy: "Let's worry about doing good films and make do with what we have." That approach has paid off. His students' work, which he executive produces, has won recognition in numerous local, state, national and international festivals and competitions, putting Grant in the top tier of the nation's high school film programs.

Hakobian proudly points to students who have gone on to film school — and into the very business he left. Does he regret giving it up for the classroom? "Not once in [the] 23 years I've been teaching have I gotten up in the morning and said, 'I don't want to go to work,'" he says, "because in a sense [my students are] doing what I wanted to do, on a smaller scale. As far as a job goes, I consider myself very lucky."

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