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Benicia is real ‘jewel’ of town for Dilanchian film

‘Pride Jewel’ set to be released later this summer by local filmmaker


When one thinks of great heist films of the past, the movies “Heat”, “The Usual Suspects”, “Dog Day Afternoon”, “Set it Off” and “Inception” come to mind.

However, the biggest heist of 2020 may have been that a film on the subject was made at all.

Despite many obstacles created by the COVID-19 pandemic, 4D Legacy Studios writer and producer Armen Dilanchian was still able to complete the process of making his film, “Pride Jewel” in just two weeks in his hometown of Benicia.

The film was his first feature-length picture after previously making a series of short films. The movie was originally slated to begin shooting in May of last year, but was delayed all the way until July due to the pandemic.

“This project was over two years in the making prior to 2020 and I was going to do my darndest to make sure we finished it. Nothing was going to stop me,” Dilanchian said. “Yes, there was a lot of challenges and I was nervous having to do this with a skeleton crew, but I still thought we could pull this off even with just six people behind the scenes.”

The skeleton crew consisted of director Doug Thomsen, a couple of production assistants, a cinematographer and someone involved with lighting.

PIctured are Jonathan Salazar (behind the camera) and Jon Boo (white shirt) while Doug Thomsen and Rafat Hweih are also shown while making the film ‘Pride Jewel’ last summer in Benicia. (Courtesy photo Megan Louise Thill)

“We had just two and a half weeks to do it and they were full of 12-hour days,” Dilanchian

Thomsen said the number of takes usually ranged anywhere from 3 to 6.

“I mean, we still wanted to get it right, but at the same time, before we started I told all the actors, ‘Don’t hold back on the first take,'” Thomsen said. “You don’t have to ease into it. But most times on a film the actors are preparing ahead of time with their lines so it wasn’t too difficult.”

Another difficulty in making the film was making sure to take the right safety precautions.

“Each day safety was very important to us,” Dilanchian said. “We would have 10 to 15 people on the set every day and every single day we took everyone’s temperature to make sure nobody was sick.”

Halfway through the shooting a lot of the film’s biggest nightmares began to take place as Thomsen himself became sick with a cold.

“Usually if you cough one or two times in the morning you think it’s nothing, but I couldn’t stop coughing one morning,” Thomsen said. “I was 99.9 percent sure it wasn’t COVID-19 related but we wanted to make sure and production was delayed a few days.”

While the pandemic made filming a movie tougher than usual, the setting for the film was picture perfect. Thompsen and Dilanchian drove around for a few days in Benicia for location scouting and Dilanchian knew he had to make the film there with a certain amount of places in mind to be in the background.

“We were very involved with the community and we have a few nice locations, especially the location scene for the wedding, which is a big part of the movie,” 4D Legacy Studios Marketing Manager Antonia Miran said. “It’s the perfect town for this movie. Very scenic, very beautiful and the city was easy to work with concerning permits.”

“We wanted to get a lot of areas of Benicia in the movie,” Dilanchian said. “The Jeffererson Street Mansion is where the wedding takes place and it was just perfect. Robin Reeds helped out a great deal with this film and opened up the mansion for us. The Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns, the library and a lot of First Street is used in the film. The city itself was also so helpful.”

Actors Jake Vincent and Sebastian Godina are shown during a scene in ‘Pride Jewel’ during filming last summer in Benicia. (Courtesy Photo — Megan Louise Thill)

The story itself for “Pride Jewel” came to Dilanchian about 10 years ago when he was at an Armenian wedding.

“I thought there was so many valuables around given to the bride, but nobody was paying any attention to them,” Dilanchian said. “Everyone was either drunk or the music was too loud. So if there was to be a heist, who was going to know?”

Although the movie takes place in 2008, Thomsen had to do a lot of research to make sure the background settings were just perfect.

“We had to make sure no vehicles that came out after 2008 were on the road,” Thomsen said. “The iPhone had come out just a year later and theoretically people could have had them at that point but we made sure to take the safer route and have everyone use flip phones.”

One of the producers, Megan LouiseThill, is also an actress in the movie, as she plays a camera woman.

“It was a challenge to make this movie because we had a short time frame and we had people flying in from other states to be part of it,” Louise-Thill said. “Actors and actresses always prepare for their lines, but when you only have a few takes to pull it off there can be a little added extra pressure. We had to manage time wisely and not spend a whole lot of time rehearsing. But I’ve seen a rough cut of the film and even though I’m bias, I think it’s fantastic. The story is wonderful and Benicia is such a wonderful setting for it. You get a lot of great scenes in the downtown marina area.”

Dilanchian saw the final cut of the film just last week and loved it.

“I think it looks pretty good especially given the circumstances while making it,” Dilanchian said. “It has a lot of suspense and a lot of drama and I thought the actors did a great job.It’s a great story that a lot of people can relate to, especially if you’re an immigrant.”

“There was a lot of nostalgia that hit me when I saw the final cut,” Thomsen said. “Nostalgia for the people involved and then a feeling of exhaustion hit me because you can feel exhausted when making a film, but you can’t let it out until it’s over. There was also this great feeling of ‘We did it!'”

The film, rated R, is in the distributors’ hands now and is set to be released sometime in August.

People can register their email to get up to date information about the movie, few giveaways and be the first to know where they can catch the movie by visiting or going to to instagram at following the film at at @4d_legacy. They can also subscribe to the YouTube channel at @4d_legacy.

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