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ENGLISH VERSION14 ноября 2008 22:00

Hollywood producer Sam Artyunyan: Only Arab sheiks top Russian oligarchs

The Armenian-American who brings the world's biggest stars to Moscow spoke with KP about celebrities, money, lies and the "Russian flare"
Sam Artyunyan literally took Monica Bellucci around Moscow by the hand.

Sam Artyunyan literally took Monica Bellucci around Moscow by the hand.

Sam Artyunyan keeps things plain and simple. He stresses his simplicity in each and every possible way. He wears regular T-shirts and baggy pants (although obviously designer). Meanwhile, he holds a top position on the international show business scene as the director of Platinum Rye's Eastern European operations. Platinum Rye is a key consulting firm providing clients with access to all things Hollywood.

In Russia, such high-profile jobs usually require expensive suits, luxury cars and perpetually distending cheeks. But Artyunyan keeps a casual profile.

Artyunyan doesn't stay in any one place too long. His job requires him to be on the move, accompanying celebrities to concerts throughout Europe. He is known for arranging the visits of renowned celebrities to Russia, such as: Milla Jovovich, Monica Bellucci, Gwyneth Paltrow, Prince, Liza Minnelli, Kate Moss, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez, Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton and Sharon Stone...

We met up with Artyunyan in Los Angeles where he was organizing Silvester Stallone's participation in a commercial for a Russian company.

KP: Is it profitable working with Russia?

Artyunyan: Yes. And this isn't a secret to anyone. For me, Moscow is the heart and center of Eastern Europe. Russian businessmen actively invite celebrities to their events.

KP: Especially on New Year's...

Artyunyan: Everyone wants celebrities on New Year's — in Russia, the U.S. and everywhere else around the world. Moscow is no exception. But Russians really do place a lot of orders. I had 6 orders already in August. That's quite a lot. Everyone who has money wants to invite celebrities to their events. In the U.S., we also organize private concerts for companies regularly. Another issue, though, is that Russians pay a lot. But this is easily explainable. The celebrities have to fly 12 hours, get acclimated and hook up their equipment. This is always expensive.

KP: To be honest, though, they don't really care where they're flying, right? Just so long as they get paid...?

Artyunyan: Well, no. In the past, celebrities were actually afraid to fly to Russia. The post-Communist regime, the aloofness, the unknown... Today, it's an entirely different story. Everyone flies to Russia with pleasure.

KP: And they probably faced a certain amount of boorishness from the clients...

Artyunyan: Well, there's such a thing as a contract, which outlines everything. For example, if a celebrity sings, then no one can climb on stage, and so on... But honestly, Russian clients are mostly very well-mannered. There is no: "Hey, come and drink with us! Hey, have some more vodka!" Russians always welcome the celebrities much warmer than initially agreed upon in our contracts. They're very wealthy clients.

KP: And do they fulfill the crazy contractual obligations without any hiccups?

Artyunyan: There are people who count money and people who don't. The client mostly doesn't care. He just pays. On the other hand, though, these allegedly crazy contractual obligations are usually just drivel and make-believe... What haven't I read in the papers over all these years? So-and-so could only be served a particular wine of a particular year at a particular temperature... And for the receptionist had to wear a certain cologne... These are just fairy tales thought up by the "yellow" press. But the biggest celebrities do have some unusual requests. Let's say, their room has to smell like a certain perfume. But this is understandable. They're constantly on the move, on tour. It's tough. They need some sentiment of stability, maybe.

KP: Celebrity concerts for one or two clients... Does this really happen?

Artyunyan: No. We had a concert where 17-18 people performed on stage, and there were only 20 or so people in the audience. But honestly, it looks very strange. And it's awful for the celebrities. The artists need a public, and their energy. If they don't have that, then it's really tiresome for them. On this note, though, Russian audiences are far more conservative than in other countries. The celebrities can run all over the stage, scream and jump around, and wait for a similar reaction from the audience. But it doesn't happen in Russia. This isn't a big deal, though. The talent performs and then leaves the stage.

KP: The talent?

Artyunyan: Yes. I don't like the word "celebrity.”

KP: Russian "talents" are also quite peculiar. They really love lip-syncing... And we're still talking about how Christina Aguilera sang during her visit to Moscow!

Artyunyan: Yes, we took her to the Muz TV awards ceremony. She has a marvelous voice. In the U.S., first and foremost, an artist is a voice. Everything else follows. In any case, we do have some minimal demands. Lip-syncing isn't looked upon highly here. But in Russia, many artists just don't sing at all! It's simply a show. Someone sings and someone else dances... But that's impossible in the U.S. Things can't be done if the artist doesn't at least have the minimal vocal ability.

KP: It's probably not profitable to bring celebrities over for just one event?

Artyunyan: We have a contract. The talent either goes to a concrete person or organization, or several concerts. But we agents obviously have an interest in involving the talent in as many events as possible. Let's say, photo sessions for a certain brand, or going to a specific club or casino. We receive a percent each step of the way. So we try to find additional options when we prepare the trips. But everything is negotiated beforehand and outlined in the contract. When someone offers cash on the spot to take the celebrity somewhere, to a restaurant, for example, it's impossible.

KP: Do they offer money often?

Artyunyan: Constantly! For us, though, it's our golden rule. Even when we're in a restaurant and someone offers to pay the bill, we refuse. If it's not in the contract, we don't take any money.

KP: Do the paparazzi keep on your tail?

Artyunyan: Oh! There is simply no hiding from those guys. They follow celebrities all over the world. The business isn't too developed in Russia yet. But in Moscow and Los Angeles, I see the same faces all the time. They're Belgians and Italians. Sixty percent are Europeans. For example, they just don't leave Madonna alone. They follow her around “on business trips” all over the world.

KP: Maybe it's best to negotiate with them — take as many photos as you'd like?!

Artyunyan: But that's impossible. No one will ever reach an arrangement with a celebrity to take his/her photo. It's just not interesting to see a talent eat. It's interesting to see him/her downing vodka glass after glass. That's what sells. But those kinds of photos really damage a celebrity's reputation.

KP: Are there celebrities who simply refuse to go to Russia?

Artyunyan: No. I don't remember that ever happening. But politically correct celebrities may refuse to go to a particular company. One major international company invited a celebrity to perform in Russia. But the celebrity didn't like how the management treated their employees. She ended up going anyway, but the royalties from her concert were transferred to the company's trade union. This, by the way, is normal practice — charity. Even on wedding invitations, the majority of the talents write: "Don't give us any presents. Please transfer money to the account of such and such a fund." I'm going to do the same when I get married.

KP: Is it true Paris Hilton filed a lawsuit against "Prozhektorparishilton" for the use of her name?

Artyunyan: Well, yes. Paris takes these things very seriously. If someone is earning money on her name — the situation has to be dealt with. But I'm not an artist. I don't know all the details.

KP: Does it seem strange to you that the Russian public values their own, homegrown celebrities more than many U.S. talents?

Artyunyan: Yes, it's true that tickets to see Russian celebrities perform sell better. But there are several reasons for this. Local artists don't need to fly anywhere or transport their equipment. As a result, the cost of tickets to their concerts is much lower. English isn't very well-known in Russia, and that's why not all U.S. celebrities are well-known there. They attract audiences of 12-15,000 people all across the world, and only 2-3,000 in Moscow. But Russia is a unique place. You love everything old. Celebrities who have been forgotten the world over are warmly welcomed. But if you bring Madonna over, you certainly won't have any problems.

KP: Is it hard speaking with celebrities?

Artyunyan: That depends. You make friends with someone and maintain a business relationship with someone else. I don't make my goal to become friends with the talent, or have them love me. But many artists do speak with me openly. Honestly, it's hard talking with them — especially with the ones who don't work much. They have a sea of untapped energy. And they direct that all that energy on you... Everything that doesn't get used up while they're out there the stage... They're real vampires!

KP: Do they often throw conniptions?

Artyunyan: Conniptions, crying and tears... They're also people. So-and-so may have had an argument with her boyfriend. Someone else may just be in a bad mood. So-and-so is getting a divorce. Of course, most of the problems are affairs of the heart. Artists suffer. They are deep personalities, and they take life's catastrophes seriously. They need a lot of help. So-and-so asks you to find a boyfriend for her, someone else asks you to hold their hand for the entire flight... KP: But celebrities probably have an entire staff of assistants — a psychologist, a home doctor, a crisis manager of some kind...

Artyunyan: It's hard for everyone. Some people have them and some don't. Everyone is learning to cope with their problems. More often than not, they don't read newspapers to avoid seeing stupid things about themselves. But at the same time, they sue over each and every scandalous publication.

KP: You're making a point not to name names...

Artyunyan: I need to keep working! One Belgian publishing house offered me good money to write a tell-all book about celebrities. But that would mean putting an end on my career. I know a lot. So-and-so once wanted to jump out the window. So-and-so threw up in the airplane. So-and-so is pregnant, and so-and-so abuses drugs and drinks too much. Everyone has a personal life. Everyone has crises. But we have something like patient confidentiality. I sign confidentiality agreements and promise not to say a word to anyone even if I see the artist in a horrible state. And as a result, I'm able to build up certain relationships with people, and I have a certain level of responsibility. Although, maybe one day I'll retire and tell all.

KP: Do the papers also lie about the royalties that celebrities receive?

Artyunyan: Almost always. It's considered bad form to ask about money in the U.S. But what the papers write about is complete bull. More often than not, the royalties cited in the press are several times higher than the actual amount. Hey, if we only made that much! We don't even dream about earning those kinds of numbers. Up to $300 million per concert!

KP: Is Russia still considered "third world?"

Artyunyan: Of course not. It's an attractive market — and one of the most important markets in Europe. Celebrities come here with pleasure. No, honestly... Moscow can stand up to the very best of them when it comes to the quality of service in 5-star hotels. And in terms of the wealth of the people who invite celebrities to Russia, well, they're only topped by Arab sheiks. Those guys can order a concert for one person. There have been such cases. This is of course very expensive. And even quite funny. But they aren't doing that in Russia yet.

KP Dossier

Sam Artyunyan was born in Baku in 1976. He moved to Moscow with his parents at the age of 5. He moved to Los Angeles with his family at 10. He initially worked as a producer on television. Today he is the director of Eastern European operations at Platinum Rye.

Читать русскую версию: Голливудский продюсер Сэм АРУТЮНЯН: «Круче русских олигархов - только арабские шейхи»

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