Maur Hill-Mount Academy harnesses Hollywood magic

Deran Sarafian, a 1976 Maur Hill, Atchison, graduate and producer and director in Los Angeles, volunteered his time to teach a two-week minicourse for Maur Hill-Mount Academy students. The students wrote scripts and adapted them into short films. LEAVEN PHOTO BY ERIN HUNNINGHAKE

By Erin Hunninghake
Special to The Leaven

ATCHISON — Deran Sarafian, a 1976 Maur Hill graduate and accomplished producer and director in Los Angeles, recently volunteered his time to teach a two-week minicourse for Maur Hill-Mount Academy students here. Students met with Sarafian and MH-MA music and theater director Erin Wolf to learn how to write scripts, analyze movies, shoot and edit a short film, and direct talent. 

Sarafian said his main goal for this class was to inspire.

Sarafian developed a love for film at an early age, thanks to James Bond and other action heroes of his youth that graced the big screen. That desire for a creative outlet followed him to his days as a boarding student at Maur Hill Prep School.

“We used to take plays and put a different twist on them,” Sarafian said.

“Theater became very popular,” he said. “We had a lot of fun, and I think that got me wanting to continue on this path.”

In an industry not always known for its embrace of the importance of faith, Sarafian has never shied away from proclaiming his.

“A lot of my themes represent my Catholic upbringing,” he said. “You’ll see in my new project that it’s more about hope than disaster. It’s more about the human condition than the weather condition.”

It is also common to see scenes of people praying and the clergy in Sarafian’s work, an environment he was used to while growing up and at Maur Hill.

After graduating from Maur Hill, Sarafian set his sights on the City of Angels and enrolled in classes at UCLA. He soon realized, however, that if he really wanted to turn his dreams into reality, he was going to have to take some more immediate action.

This took him overseas to Italy where he met famous directors like Federico Fellini. Before he knew it, he was selling his first film script, propelling his career forward.

Sarafian is known primarily for his work in the action and thriller genres. Some of his most popular work includes “Death Warrant,” starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, “House,” “CSI,” “The District,” “Without a Trace,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Nash Bridges,” “Fringe,” “The Cape” and “Rosewood.”

When MH-MA president Phil Baniewicz first reached out to Sarafian with the invitation to return and teach a short course, the latter gladly accepted.

“Everyone has the dream of coming back to help out after having done something you’re proud of,” Sarafian said. “Even showing off a little bit.”

Sarafian’s years of experience in the film and TV industries offered the MH-MA students a rare and unique opportunity to learn real techniques from a successful professional.

During one class period, the students got the chance to watch a trailer Sarafian created to promote a new show he is slotted to executive produce. The show had been officially picked up by NBC the day before.

Sarafian credited this good news to his new students, telling them they must be good luck for him.

“It’s a really great group of kids,” he said. “I wish I could continue [the class]. I’m luckier than the kids are.”

The rest of that day’s class time was spent working on scripts in small groups. Sarafian and Wolf circulated between the students, giving feedback and providing suggestions. These scripts were then adapted into short films, shot and edited by the students.

Sarafian made it clear to the students early on that his expectations for these films were high.

“Let’s make them great,” he said. “I expect masterpieces.”

The two-week course ended with a screening of the students’ finished projects at the school’s first-ever film festival, which they christened The Philm Phestival, in honor of Baniewicz.

An award was given to the group with the best film, voted on by the rest of the student body.

More information on Sarafian can be found online.

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