Being raised in a family of natural born cinephiles and having spent endless hours as a child in his grandmother’s video rental club, Spyros Yiassemides inevitably developed an unconditional love for film. He currently spends his days as Senior Manager in accounting services at First Names Group but he satisfies his cinematic passion in the evenings when working as associate producer on the new Hollywood TV series, Sangre Negra.
Spyros Yiassemides has managed to fulfil what many others would consider an unattainable dream – to overcome all the barriers to entry and break into the Hollywood film industry. Explaining how a Cypriot ‘outsider’ joined the inner circle of Hollywood players, he outlines how it all began.
“In a nutshell, I pursued my PhD in Film Studies back in 2013 and then, in 2014, I got my hands on two VIP tickets for the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, which is held each year in New York City and co-hosted by Robert De Niro,” he tells Gold. “My wife and I, apart from mingling with celebrities and pinching ourselves to see if we were dreaming, made a number of ‘strategic’ acquaintances, some of which progressed into friendships during the months following the festival and, little by little, I got my foot on the door of that grand edifice called Hollywood!”
Through one his new connections, Michelle Cross, Chief Film Critic and owner of the REVIEWlution film review website, he was introduced to Frank Pinnock, the director of Sangre Negra, and Tony McKay, creator/main protagonist of the show. “After talking them into involving me in the production by exhibiting my love of film, they offered me the slot of the Associate Producer on the show, giving me my first Hollywood gig!”
As to what the role of Associate Producer entails, Yiassemides clarifies that his contribution, apart from financing certain episodes with the possibility of a hefty return on his investment, involves helping the production with decision-making pertinent to scene content. He reveals enthusiastically, “My lovely wife and I will be even making cameo appearances in a particular episode and I’m hoping that she doesn’t get to kill me onscreen!”
He admits that working long-distance for a US production is not easy but technology is a great aid in cancelling the distance between Nicosia and Los Angeles, through extensive use of Skype, Viber and e-mail in carrying out his production duties. “My wife and I are planning to fly out to LA next year to shoot our scenes and meet the cast and crew in person,” he says. “Fingers crossed, the series will be nominated for an Emmy and we will get to walk the red carpet at the ‘TV Oscars’ and then get hold of the coveted golden statuette of the winged woman holding the atom.”
Asked to share the secret behind an engaging TV series, he hesitates: “As a TV series aficionado, I can tell you that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to creating a successful show. What may be appealing to one viewer may be repulsive to the next.” That said, he mentions that there are certain key ingredients which can increase the chances of a TV series being embraced by audiences, such as having an intriguing plot, garnished with multiple twists, persuading the viewer to be invested emotionally in the characters , choosing the cast carefully so that the actors have the right chemistry between them and ending each episode on a suspenseful note, making you crave the next one – an ingredient which, he says, has indeed cost him “several sleepless nights.”
Discussing his all-time favourite film, Yiassemides confesses that it is none other than the classic trilogy ‘The Godfather’. “Everybody should see all three instalments in one go, at least once in his life, to get the full effect of the saga. I love it for so many reasons – the acting, the family values, the soundtrack, the juxtaposition between good and evil and the chilling transformation of Michael Corleone out of love for his father.” On another note, his favourite TV series would be ‘The Sopranos’, which he considers to be a “modern-day Godfather” and finds the antithesis of heading a mob family alongside a conventional one, while trying to strike a balance between the two, exhilarating.
Similarly, Spyros Yiassemides also exerts a superhuman effort as he tries to maintain a balance when it comes to aspects of his own life. “I somehow manage to balance all my responsibilities and be on top of my game every day in every aspect, be it family (which always comes first), work or play – I guess my energy genes are supercharged!” he jokes.
He likes to compare his ‘split personality’ of being an accountant and an associate producer to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde but is quick to point out that, with good time management, everything is feasible. “I divide my day into time blocks (like Hugh Grant in About a Boy), with my day job eating up most of them, then in the afternoon I spend time with my family until everybody is asleep, and then I burn the midnight oil working on Sangre Negra, alongside my other vices.” Sleep? That, he says, is a luxury which has been sacrificed.
Despite the daily struggles of a heavy schedule, Yiassemides dismisses the idea of giving up his job in the Cypriot financial sector to become a full time TV producer in the US. “The truth is that my day job provides me with the financial means to indulge my passion, that is investing in films and being part of their productions. If you flip the coin to the other side,” he explains, “this involvement of mine with film productions gives me such great pleasure that I give 110% of myself in my main profession so as to keep the loop going, as the one feeds into the other – quid pro quo.”
Spyros Yiassemides’ family has undeniably influenced and reinforced his love for anything filmic. Thinking back to the ‘80s and ‘90s, he says, “Going to the movies during this period carried an inherent romanticism, which is absent in the modern cineplex. I am very grateful to my dad for sharing his love for films with me during those two beautiful decades, a love which eventually made its way into my own heart and fixed itself there permanently.”
Besides his father, other members of the family share the very same passion, proving that his cinematic enthusiasm is, indeed, hereditary. His grandmother owned one ‘Galaxy VC’, one of the first video rental clubs in Nicosia, where he vividly remembers people discussing movies for hours, while his aunt’s godfather owned the legendary ‘Othellos’ cinemas, where he enjoyed ‘carte blanche’ for all screenings. His younger brother, a professional musician, is also following in his footsteps as he is currently undertaking his Master's in Film Scoring with a view to ‘going Hollywood’ someday.
Finally, replying to a question on whether his future plans might entail a possible collaboration in a Cypriot production, he proudly reveals that, “As a matter of fact, I am in talks with director Demetris Tokaris of Sigma TV with a view to producing a documentary about the life of my grandfather, Michalakis Yiassemides, a renowned musician and jazz legend, who is still an active musician at the age of 94.”