“I think (USC) really gives me the understanding that I can be true to myself and true to our principles as journalists.”

Master’s graduate eyes career in documentary filmmaking

USC Annenberg Masters student, Shushan Minasian, photographed sitting near a computer, and looking back into the camera.
Shushan Minasian (Photo courtesy of Olivia Mowry)

Before Shushan Minasian came to Los Angeles two years ago from her native Russia, her concept of the city was based on, well, Hollywood. 

“All over the world, Los Angeles is known as a city of dreams,” she said. “It’s a glamorous place everybody dreams of living in, it’s this iconic city, one of the best in the world.”

After moving here to begin a year of intensive English study to prepare for her TOEFL and GRE exams and eventual application to USC Annenberg, Minasian learned that there was a lot more to the story of Los Angeles. While she said she was impressed with how “cosmopolitan” L.A. is, the scope of the homelessness crisis came as a surprise.

“When you see all these people on the street, knowing that California is the richest state in one of the richest countries in the world, yeah, it’s a shock, especially for someone coming from another country,” she said. 

Now that’s she’s set to earn her Master of Arts in Specialized Journalism from USC Annenberg at Friday’s commencement ceremony, she says her studies here — including reporting on homelessness last summer on a project with Associate Professor of Professional Practice Alan Mittelstaedt and adjunct professors Sandra Hughes Kazarian and Eric Pape — have deepened her understanding of both the wonder and challenges of L.A. Minasian also said she has developed the skills and confidence to tell complex, nuanced stories in a variety of media, especially in her favorite format, documentary films.

Born in Armenia, Minasian grew up in Russia and worked as a television reporter for seven years in Moscow, where she was doing mostly local news reporting. “I wanted to get some international experience,” she said. “I knew I wanted to grow as a journalist and do some serious projects, not only in Russia but also worldwide. So, that’s what brought me to the United States: The journalism here sets the standard around the world.”

During her studies, Minasian pursued numerous reporting projects, including an ongoing effort to film a documentary about Russian immigrants to the United States. She wants to continue pursuing stories about human rights, social justice, and international affairs. Among the classes that best prepared her to do that work were Professor Michael Parks’ class, where she reported on international institutions in Los Angeles, and Professor Dan Birman’s documentary filmmaking class.

“I’ve had total freedom here: It’s up to me to tell the story that I think, as a journalist, is appropriate,” she said. “I think this school really gives me the understanding that I can be true to myself and true to our principles as journalists. This is very important to me.”

As an international student, Minasian wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the learning environment at USC Annenberg, but she found her professors to be very supportive “This whole experience has been so rewarding because the professors are with you every step of your journey here,” she said. “They try to help you understand that you can do even more than you thought you could. The support from the professors and the students at Annenberg made the experience much easier for me. I never thought I could shoot video, but I’ve become a good shooter. I can do audio, I can code — the skills I’ve gained are incredible.”

After graduation, Minasian said she will continue to perfect her English and look for her next job. She said she’s researching media companies in the United States, trying to find a good fit for her skills and sensibilities.

“I would love to be in documentary filmmaking,” she said. “That’s why I came here: to do documentaries and be a long-form storyteller. I want to build my network, build my skills and grow in my profession.”

By Ted B. Kissell

>Read the original story on USC Annenberg School’s website.