History is chock-full of extraordinary people whose stories were never told. From Nils Bohlin, inventor of the seat belt, to Henry Dunant, winner of the first Nobel Peace Prize, countless people with noteworthy feats have been lost to time because there was no one to tell their stories. We took a moment to reflect on this and interview Shant Tutunjian, executive producer and co creator of HBO’s top series, Legendary.
Shant Tutunjian has made it his mission to correct this. He is an executive producer with over 20 years of experience in the film industry, and he has worked with entertainment companies such as The Gameshow network, Lionsgate, and E! Entertainment. His goal is to “create unique and undiscovered formats,” His first attempt at this— Legendary — has been critically acclaimed and nominated for several awards. I sat down with Shant Tuntunjian to talk about “Legendary” and his passion for telling stories.
What is “Legendary”
Legendary is a competition series hosted on HBO max that tells the story of the underground ballroom community.
For the uninitiated, underground balls are competitions in which competitors “walk” a runway showing off their outfits, persona, and vogueing prowess. Initially, it developed as a community for members of the LGBTQ community but has since transformed into a thriving subculture that anyone can find almost anywhere around the world.
The competitors are separated into groups called houses, who battle for a grand prize of $100,000. Deshaun Wesley hosts the show, and it features celebrity judges like Jameela Jamil and Megan Thee Stallion. The show was recently renewed for a 3rd season.
How it all started for Shant Tutunjian
“My career began at 21 years of age when I started as an assistant to the head of programming at HBO films,” Shant tells me. “After completing my seasonal internship, I was hired full-time to assist with projects for HBO film. After three years, I started working at different entertainment companies and on other consulting projects.”
The First Spark
Shant first got the idea for “Legendary” while at an underground ball in the middle of a night out with friends.
While watching the competitors, the idea for a show hit him. His goal was to tell the stories of real-life people in all genres, including competition shows, lifestyle, and documentaries, and what better way to start than with a ball competition.
Since they do not conform to the norm, ball competitors are often underrepresented and unacknowledged by society. They are often marginalized by society and cannot be themselves without fear, and ball developed as a way to counter that.
Here was a unique and rich culture with its own rules and intricacies, but no one was telling it. It was exactly the sort of story Shant hoped to present to the world.
Shant didn’t just want to tell a story, he wanted to tell it right, and that meant learning everything he could about ball culture. “It’s all about learning and experiences,” he said to me. “My work habits are to immerse myself into experiences that are new to me.” He spent a lot of time exploring the ball scene and getting a deep understanding of the competitors, their backgrounds and motivations, the terminology, and the rise and fall of ball culture. He got to understand the deep ties and the “families” that, a lot of the time, replace the real biological families of competitors. All this was so that he could deliver an accurate depiction of the story.
Shant Tutunjian on Staying Tenacious
Just because he’d found his story didn’t mean telling it was going to be easy. Despite discovering the stories of the ball competitors in 2008, “Legendary” did not air until 2020.
One of the reasons was that “Legendary” still needed a lot of work. Yes, the initial idea was brilliant, but Tuntunjian still needed to make it into a masterpiece that captured the essence of the ball.
Another factor to consider is COVID-19. The pandemic made it incredibly difficult to shoot safely and stay within budget, but eventually, after a lot of hard work and thanks to his tenacious nature, Legendary premiered on HBO MAX on may 27,2020
“Talk to everyone and listen more than speaking” is one of the golden rules that Shant lives by, and for a good reason. He’s discovered that people have so much to offer, and there is often value in listening to what others have to say.
Before Legendary commenced, Shant listened to just about anyone willing to talk to him and got their opinion on the project. Using the wisdom he gathered from them, he streamlined his idea and created Legendary, which has been turning heads since its premiere.
Conclusions with Shant Tutunjian
The Culmination of a 12-year dream still feels surreal to Shant Tutunjian. After Legendary’s success, he’s confident that he can achieve his goals. At the moment, he is very excited about a large deal he is working on with a global production company, but he hasn’t lost sight of his goal to tell good stories and enrich the world with fun and exciting content.