An alum in Hollywood shares his perspective on where movies and television are headed
Kaveh Veyssi was raised on movies. He spent his childhood watching films with his family and seeing his parents go to the movies once a week. And his father has an encyclopedic knowledge of film history that he loves sharing.
In addition, each Persian New Year, Veyssi traveled with his parents and siblings from their home in Brookline, Massachusetts, to Los Angeles, where they visited family—and took trips to Universal Studios. “That got my imagination going,” said Veyssi, A14.
Still, Veyssi didn’t plan on a career in film; he entered Tufts thinking his future might lie in psychology or business. But in the summer before sophomore year, he did an internship with Warner Bros. in Madrid, and that changed everything.
“At that time, the main thing Warner Bros. in Madrid did was market American movies to Spanish audiences,” he explained. “That opened my eyes to a side of the film industry that I hadn’t ever thought about: the business side.”
At the time, Tufts didn’t offer a film major, so he enrolled in every ExCollege film class. Eventually, he majored in economics and minored in film. After Tufts, he earned an MFA in producing from the Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern California before landing a job at Sony Pictures.
Now a vice president of film and television at Sugar23, a media and entertainment company based in Los Angeles, Veyssi oversees his company’s partnership with TIME Studios, specifically the growing scripted television and film branch of the iconic TIME brand.
“TIME has 100 years of journalism and storytelling under its belt,” Veyssi explained. “They were looking for a way to use their archive in building their scripted film and TV department. There are so many ways to tell stories now, and, in this industry, you have to have a forward-thinking, progressive mindset. The big question driving a lot of production now—and a lot of the work I do—is how, in this ever-changing environment, do we take advantage of the many new possibilities for telling stories to continue making exciting, high-quality movies and TV shows?”
Now, as we enter the Oscar awards season, Veyssi offered some answers to that question, drawing upon the perspective he’s gained through his work experience and his lifelong love of storytelling to shed light on where the industry is headed.
More—and better—representation of marginalized groups
“What I’ve been most excited about in recent years, and it’s something I think will only keep improving, is the range of stories out there.” Veyssi said. “Stories by previously underrepresented or misrepresented groups, whether it’s women, people of color, or LGBTQ-plus folks, among others, are starting to be told—and told well.”
There’s still a lot of work to be done in this area, Veyssi acknowledged. “For example, as an Iranian American, I’d love to see more stories about Iranian Americans—but stories that don’t center on the challenges of being Iranian American,” he said. “We can move beyond the focus on sad and dramatic tales of immigrant struggle and infuse all stories with a sense of normalization. My mantra is: normalize, don’t victimize. I think that’s the key going forward, and I think the industry is starting to understand that.”
Ascendancy of streaming services
As somebody who loves the moviegoing experience more than anything, I’ve learned to embrace the fact that fewer and fewer people are going to the movies,” said Veyssi. “In this industry, you have to understand that there’s no point in pushing back on what audiences want—and what a lot of people want is to stay at home. That was already a trend, and the pandemic only amplified it.”
Changes in storytelling formats
There’s a lot of experimentation with storytelling formats right now and Veyssi predicts it will continue. Kaleidoscope, a recent Netflix release, is a good example. It consists of eight episodes that can be watched in any order (except for the last one, which must be watched last). Netflix shuffles the order for different viewers, so two people might have completely different experiences of the narrative. “That’s a creative way to take the limited tv series format and give it a twist,” said Veyssi.
Such approaches, however, are unlikely to become the norm. “If we keep coming up with new formats and choose-your-own-adventure types of experiences, it might start to feel gimmicky,” he conceded. “But we’ll see more of it, and it’s a sign that both the industry and audiences are receptive to new ideas.”
Incorporation of augmented reality
Veyssi imagines that we’ll find ourselves watching stories unfold on the screen (big or small) while wearing special glasses or sitting in immersive environments that engage all our senses. “From a technological standpoint, I’d say augmented reality is going to become a bigger part of storytelling,” Veyssi predicted. “We’ve learned that virtual reality headsets are still cumbersome and expensive for large audiences, but perhaps augmented reality is a more natural experience.”
Changes to awards shows
This brings us back to Oscar season: Veyssi sees changes on the horizon. “What’s been talked about a lot in this regard is inclusivity,” he said. “This isn’t news to anyone, and certainly not to the Academy, but what the Academy needs to think about is how to include a more diverse voter pool, how to continue making the awards shows themselves more diverse, and how to select and nominate films by people of all different backgrounds.”
Veyssi thinks the Oscars will remain a cultural phenomenon. “Everybody loves checking out the memes the next morning or looking up the dramatic moments from the show, even if they didn’t watch the night before,” he noted. “While that doesn’t speak to viewership, it does show that it still matters, that what happens in film—and in television—is still important.”