I ate breakfast at Nate & Al's Beverly Hills deli June 4, 2002, with producer Peter Samuelson.
The fourth of five generations of Samuelsons employed in the film industry, Peter received his Masters Degree in English Literature from Cambridge. After serving as a production manager on 1974's The Return of the Pink Panther, he emigrated to Los Angeles and produced 1984's The Revenge of the Nerds, 1994's Tom & Viv, 1997's Wilde, and 1999's Arlington Road.
Peter: "When you tell people that you are going to the film festival in Cannes, they think you'll spend your time walking up the red carpet wearing a tuxedo, surrounded by girls, hobnobbing with the rich and famous.
"This was my 20th year in Cannes. And it was this year, and is always, a different experience if you are an independent producer. I arrived early Thursday with my brother and business partner Marc Samuelson. He's based in London. I'm based in Los Angeles.
"We've made this $20 million film The Gathering starring Christina Ricci. We didn't yet have an American distributor. We had a big screening planned for Friday night. The RSVPs went so high that we added a second screening at midnight.
"We were in Cannes eight days and we had 103 meetings. We had meetings every hour on the hour. Cannes is an amazing opportunity to do business. All the territorial [rights to distribute films in different countries] buyers, and all the producers who sell territorially, go in and it is like an enormous bazaar. Over 20 years, we've gotten many films off the ground because of Cannes.
"We have all our people there - our lawyers, accountants, partners... The various soft money sources [tax breaks and subsidies] in Europe, sale-lease-back, the Isle of Man fund... Everyone is there and you can make projects happen. It is pure entrepreneurial producing.
"In between all our meetings, I'm phoning the cinema. 'Monsieur, we must come to rehearse the print for Friday night.' And the cinema is saying, 'Monsieur, it is not necessary. We are professionals. You will not need to rehearse. And furthermore, you can't come rehearse your print because we have screenings all afternoon and evening.'
"And I'm saying, 'This print is fresh from the lab. The film is still in post production. It is a double system print, meaning that the sound is separate from the picture. And as you know, from our exchange of faxes, it is a flat 2.35 scope ratio print.' 'Yes, yes, it is not a problem. Don't worry about a thing.'
"Eventually I find out the last screening ends at 2AM Friday. We arrive and test the sound. It's gorgeous. Then they throw the picture up. If the screen is 40 feet wide, our film is about 25 feet wide. And if the screen is 15 feet tall, our film is 30 feet tall. It shows not only on the ceiling but on the floor. And what's showing on the ceiling has all the microphones in, and what's showing on the floor has the dolly track in. Because, contrary to the exchange of faxes, they do not have the right lens nor the right projector aperture.
"So, after a lot of experimenting, it emerges that they do have a lens which is not really the right lens, but it makes the picture almost as wide as the screen. We're still missing about 5% on the left and right, which is significant. When the credit of Brian Gilbert comes up, the screen says 'Directed by Ian Gilbert.' The 'Br' got cut off.
"But we still have a tremendous problem with the spill of the picture top and bottom. This cinema has no curtains and no masking on the screen.
"Marc and I have a war council and decide to cancel the screening. It then emerges that names were not taken for the RSVPs. We don't know who's coming. We just know there are 600 of them.
"Marc and I fear that this will be a career killer. We will have to stand outside the cinema and send 600 people away at 10PM tonight. I say we must try something else. Maybe we can mask it on the window of the projection booth. Maybe we can use tape or cardboard and cut off the top and the bottom.
"I say that we need black tape. They have none. I say we need cardboard. They say they have no cardboard. What about your calendar on the wall? The projectionist has a 2001 Cannes Festival calendar.
"At 4AM, we're kneeling on the floor of the projection booth with a razor blade, a metal ruler and the back of a 2001 calendar, cutting a rectangular hole. To avoid reflections, we tear up five yards of some 30-year old black tape from the carpet in the projection booth and it works perfectly.
"As a result of our screening, Mark Gill, the head of distribution for Miramax, comes out and gives me the Vulcan death grip, and says, 'Don't sell this film until I can get Harvey Weinstein in to see it.'
"Harvey Weinstein shows up the next night to our rehearsal screening for a different theatre, accompanied by eight people wearing little earplugs. He not only made us an offer for the United States and Canada, but he also buys Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Italy. Their model for the release of The Gathering is The Others, which they released a year ago. They plan a high P&A spend [prints and advertising].
"As we stood there drinking our champagne after closing the deal, I was thinking to myself, 'I'm going to get an enlargement of the photo being taken right now with the champagne, and I'm framing it in the piece of the cardboard that is the back of the calendar. And indeed, I went back to the cinema, and the projectionist had written diagonally across the black carpet tape, 'Mr. Samuelson, thank you so much for having me in your team on The Gathering. Your projectionist, Albain. Cannes, 2002.'
"So I've now got my champagne pictured framed in the back of the calendar with the carpet tape. There you have the true arc of a producer, which goes from kneeling on the floor at 3AM to drinking champagne after a huge sale to a studio.
"We developed The Gathering at Paramount in 1989. The executive, Ileen Maisel, left the studio and the picture was put into turnaround. We then set the picture up at Fine Line (sister company to New Line). Mark Ordesky was our executive. They fired our writer Anthony Horowitz and hired two lots of new writers before putting the project in turnaround. We then set the project up with Lauren Lloyd at Hollywood Pictures in the mid '90s. They brought in a new writer. Then Lauren Lloyd left Hollywood Pictures and went to Touchstone. Our project went with her. Then she left and Touchstone put the project in turnaround. We briefly set it up with Savoy Pictures. That company imploded. We then got all the rights back and threw away all the versions of the script except the original.
"A couple of years ago, we partnered with Granada, a big British TV and film company, to make the film. It has the great central premise that when Christ was crucified, people gawked. And those gawkers were fated to be reincarnated in every generation. They roam the earth and feed on human catastrophe and misery. And they choreograph and orchestrate it.
"We may be the only people to benefit from last year's threatened strike by the Screen Actors Guild. We were able to finance the film out of foreign sales. Under ordinary circumstances, the foreign buyers might've said, 'Where is the American deal?' We were able to say, 'We can't do an American deal now because if we do, and there's a strike, [American actress] Christina Ricci wouldn't be able to work.'
"We'd sold 1994's Tom & Viv to Miramax. We had a morning screening in Milan for foreigner buyers but all the American buyers showed up anyway. Marc and I were disappointed all afternoon because nobody had made an offer. But when we got back to the hotel, we had dozens of envelopes stuffed in the boxes behind the concierge with offers for Tom & Viv. And the best one was from Harvey Weinstein. Everyone else's letter was three pages long and had terms and conditions. Harvey's letter said, 'Dear Marc and Peter, Miramax Pictures will pay you $500,000 more than anyone else. Best regards, Harvey Weinstein.' And indeed they did."
Luke: "How did you come to make Tom & Viv [about T.S. Eliot and his crazy wife Vivian]?"
Peter: "Marc saw it as a stage play in London. We thought it was the great untold story of T.S. Eliot's first wife, who, like a quarter of a million other English women between the Wars, too uppity to satisfy their men. And who were therefore committed to mental asylums forever, diagnosed with an hysterical mental illness. And that is what T.S. Eliot had done to his wife. She lived for years in an institution. He never visited her. And she's been largely written out of the story of his life. And she had been his muse for years. She'd given him the title for The Waste Land [famous Eliot poem], edited The Waste Land, and made as big a contribution to it as Ezra Pound. So the film set out to put that to rights.
"That led to making the film Wilde three years later about Oscar Wilde. It was our first film where we put up a website (www.oscarwilde.com). And on the site, you can send emails to the producer. And they come out on my laptop. And I can see that the film played on latenight cable in Finland because I will get 21 Finnish emails. And I can see when school goes back and people get assigned reading in Oscar Wilde. It was the first time that Marc and I had direct interaction with thousands of audience members.
"The US release of Arlington Road was harmed by the tragedy at Columbine High School. That happened a couple of weeks before we were supposed to be released and it just wasn't the responsible thing to do, to release a film about domestic terrorism and people building bombs in their suburban garage. So Sony pulled the film and it eventually went out in the teeth of the summer, which was a mistake.
"Sony got the movie by osmosis. We were originally to be distributed by Paramount but we could not agree on casting. So we then went to Polygram. I'm on location in Houston shooting the film. My wife calls with the news that Polygram has been bought by Universal.
"The Polygram executives said they'd been given guarantees of autonomy and security. And they kept saying that up to the day near Christmas that they all got fired.
"Universal didn't like the film. The executive, who will remain nameless, watched it during the daytime on a videocassette, and according to his secretary, he didn't watch the second half. And during the first half, he took phone calls.
"Much to our amazement, Universal agreed to sell the movie back and Sony bought it. It was the first release of Clint Culpepper's Screen Gems division."
Luke: "How did you come to Arlington Road in the first place?"
Peter: "I am a final stage judge of the Nicholl Fellowship of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I read this amazing script by Ehren Kruger. I couldn't put it down. I read it twice in one night. Because of the ethics of being a judge, I had to wait until the results of the competition were published in Variety. And then it was open season. With the permission of the Academy, I then bought the rights.
"Then Marc and I went on a search for a director. We wanted someone who could sell the paranoia of Jeff Bridges' character. And our thoughts went to an MTV kind of a director. But the trouble with those guys is that they often can't span a 100-minute narrative. They are used to telling a story in four minutes.
"We saw Director Mark Pellington's show reel. It was brilliant. We saw his one feature film, Going all the Way. And while the script was flawed, the execution was good. What really did it for us was a documentary he made, Father's Daze, about how the terrible scourge of Alzheimer's Disease took over the life of his father. He made it over many months. His father was a vibrant football player who was devastated by the disease.
"We met Mark. He's about nine feet tall, a gentle giant. And we hired him. My phone rings and it is John Matoian, who was then running HBO. John says he's read the script and he will immediately greenlight it. I go in to see him and he says 'I am greenlighting this film.' I say, 'That is kind of you. What are the contingencies?' And he says, 'None. But you have to say yes now.'
"He lays out an appropriate high-end HBO deal. I say, 'I have to talk to my partner.' I call Marc on my cell phone and we agree that it is mad for us to say yes now. We haven't even tried to sell it as a feature [rather than a made for cablemovie]. We will give ourselves the ten days of Cannes to set it up as a feature. And if not, we will take the HBO deal.
"We went to Cannes. We met with Tom Rosenberg, the head of Lakeshore Entertainment. He committed to making it as a feature using his Paramount output deal. Lakeshore would sell the foreign rights. 'But if you leave the room, the deal is off.' We said we had to talk to our lawyer. He asked us to come back at 3PM.
"We couldn't find a lawyer in Cannes. Our lawyer, Libby Savill, was leaving for London that day. Her partner, David Bouchier, was due to land at 2PM at Nice airport. We drove to the airport, found David's limo driver and sent him away. And when Bouchier came out of customs, we said, 'Hi, we're your limousine. And by the way, you're negotiating a deal for us with Lakeshore in 50 minutes.'
"We then drove at 100 mph to Rosenberg's hotel with Marc driving and me briefing Bouchier, who threw himself into it with gusto. We were on time for our appointment and made our deal. And four months later, we were in pre-production."
Luke: "I found Arlington Road terribly disturbing."
Peter: "It was intended to be. We had terrible fights over the ending with the studios. You can only name a couple of American films where the hero dies in the end. We thought it was an article of faith that the Jeff Bridges character Michael Faraday [an anti-terrorism expert] had to die. The film is a horror story with domestic terrorism as the monster and it would be completely specious and morally bankrupt to do a classic American studio film where you paper it all over at the end and everything is sweetness and light.
"We've learned in the three years since the film was made that it was prescient. We've learned that terrorism is infinitely powerful and infinitely difficult to stop. It empowers extremists who have always been marginalized and treated as the crackpots they are. It gives them a bully pulpit. And the forces of civilized society are ill-equipped to stop it.
"It wouldn't have been worth making the film if Jeff Bridges had saved the day, put it all in a neat box, and sent the Tim Robbins character to jail. We were forced by the studio to shoot two endings. In one, Jeff Bridges did not die. The DVD shows this alternate ending. We had the FBI guys dragging him away from the explosion site to a cell.
"When we tested the film, the scene that was most liked by the audience was the cathartic, grim but realistic ending of the movie. And that was the last we heard from anybody telling us that we had to be the millionth American film where the hero saves the day.
"I don't know why it is in the American studio system that catharsis is unacceptable in a motion picture other than in horror films. Drama began in ancient Greece where they had comedy, drama and tragedy. And catharsis, making the audience experience something that frightens them, was always an integral part of Aristotle's Poetics. And that has remained true throughout the generations. Where's the happy ending in King Lear or Hamlet?
"There is only one exception in modern culture - the last 60 years of American studio filmmaking. I think it has more to do with the can-do frontiers optimism of the early immigrant studio heads than the tastes of the audience. I don't think American audiences are any less open to all Aristotle's different forms of drama and I believe they can be touched and made to cry and made to feel a cathartic release. And people in studios don't seem to agree with that."
Luke: "The producers of Sum of all Fear came under pressure from Arab-Islamic groups not to cast the bad guys as Arabs or Muslims."
Peter: "We were specifically focused on right-wing domestic terrorism.
"I have a European Community passport and an American passport. I grew up in the UK. I lived in France for a year and now I live in Los Angeles. I really do see both sides of the Atlantic ocean clearly. There is a perverse cultural hegemony and even an imperialistic arrogance to the way that America portrays its worldview through film. I don't justify the fomenting of anger against America in the Third world and the Islamic world, and major parts of Europe, but I think I partly understand it. It partly feeds on jealousy because so much of the world's wealth is here. But it is also that America is perceived as a cultural fortress that pays little attention to the cultures of the rest of the world, let alone to their religions. While tolerance within the United States is part of the Constitution, understanding and outreach to other foreign beliefs and ways of living are not historically core values of the American way. There are exceptions like the Peace Corps and the famous American tradition of a Junior [college] year abroad, backpacking through Europe....
"That only one American citizen in ten even owns a passport is not a statistic that goes without notice in the rest of the world. I believe there is an opportunity and a responsibility for the American entertainment industry to build some cultural bridges into the rest of the world. Or at least to stop building mine fields.
"It's an amazing thing that a recent Gallup poll in Saudi Arabia had about 75% of young educated Saudis agreeing with the anti-Americanism of Al Quaida if not with its methods. On the other hand, American video cassettes and DVDs are the staples of entertainment across the Middle East and the world. I don't think there's been any period of history since the Roman Empire where there's been such cultural hegemony. I do believe that the frustration in certain parts of the Middle East is partly fueled by realizing that in virtually every piece of American entertainment where they need bad guys, they historically have been Arabs. That we almost never see positive Arab images is not unrelated to the anger and frustration in certain parts of the world of Islam.
"We are working with producer Debra Hill on a project called Blood and Sand about a young American and a young Saudi who meet at an American postgraduate college and then run into each later in the Middle East as enemies and what then brings some minor but crucial understanding between them. I think we need to do a lot of that. We need to stop the stereotyping of who the enemy are - three guys with rags on their head who look like they haven't had a bath in a year building a bomb in the back of a cafe. This is not how to make friends and influence people."
Luke: "Did you consider boycotting Cannes this year because of all the anti-Semitic incidents there?"
Peter: "Absolutely not. That was a wrongheaded, dangerous and stupid suggestion. I have a number of French friends who are Jewish and I had several conversations in Cannes about the situation. I spoke to the head of a French studio who is Jewish, who told me that if LePen, in the second vote, got six million votes, his wife and he agreed to emigrate to America. LePen got 5.5 million. And yet he and his wife thought the boycott was ill-advised. What you don't do when you have trouble with rabble-rousing, Hitlerian, bigoted racists is to pull up the draw bridge and say, 'Fuck you.' What you ought to do is reach out to the people who don't agree with them and empower them and make sure there are more of them then there are of the bad guys. That's not the same as appeasement. One can only face off with bigots and racists."
Luke: "Is it true you are a fifth generation British filmmaker?"
Peter: "My grandfather's (Bertie) mother (Bertha) was his office manager in 1906 in his British distribution company. Bertie Samuelson was a major producer of silent movies in the first part of the 20th Century until 1929 and the flood of talkies. My father Sydney and his brothers founded and ran Samuelson Film Service, which was and remains the largest film equipment rental company in the world. It is now part of Panavision. After my father retired, he became the first British Film Commissioner (1991-98). He was knighted in 1995. My brother and I are the fourth generation. My cousin Adam is one of the leading operators of camera cranes in Europe. My daughter Pamela has had bit parts in a couple of our films. She's just graduated from Sarah Lawrence College on the East Coast.
"There are American dynastic families who can say that three of their generations have been employed in the film industry. I'm still waiting for someone to say five generations.
"My grandfather went bankrupt when talkies came in. He prohibited my father's generation from being producers because it was too risky. He said, 'Do something where they hire you, it's safer.' But my father never passed on this advice to me. I asked him why not. He said because I never asked. So, because I didn't know any better, I became a producer.
"In the English system in the 1970s, you weren't supposed to be promoted if you were young. You weren't supposed to be a production manager unless you were 53 and had been an apprentice for 30 years. I contrasted that with the American way. I came out originally in 1975 on a one-year contract. Studio people would look at me and think, 'Aha, smart young man. Get him in here.'
"When I couldn't get into the Directors Guild as a production manager because my work experience had been overseas, I promoted myself to producer.
"After I'd been out here three years, it dawned on me that I had moved. In the early 1980s, I became an American citizen. It was a very moving ceremony.
"In sheer entrepreneurial accomplishment, there can be nothing bigger than making a movie. You start with nothing and you take a three-year bet on what the audience will find cathartic, dramatic or amusing, and then you have to persuade a whole lot of other people to agree with you. Attempts have been made in America to marginalize the producer. I think that's a mistake because the only person on a film who can balance art and commerce, commerciality and creativity is the producer. The director, quite rightly, fights from the point of view of the filmmaker. The studio or financier, quite rightly, fights from the point of view of profits. There needs to be someone in the middle who has the helicopter view.
"That's why you need a partner. My hat is off to those who are sole practitioners. I don't know how to do that. I have to have my brother Marc so that when we come out of a meeting with someone completely appalling... And this industry has more than its share of appalling people - completely amoral people, terrible liars, self aggrandizing twerps, people with no talent who have somehow amassed power... One has to deal with all these strange people and put them together. Then I can complain to someone!
"They say that you can tell a Samuelson production because the inter-party agreement that is signed needs two pages for all the signatures [of the various financing entities]. Pulling all that together is like being the man at the circus with all the plates on sticks. You have to find that one blissful moment where all the plates are on top of the bamboo sticks.
"Marc and I equally partnered. Our two companies are autonomous. He owns the British one and I own the American one. We just work together. We've never made a film apart since 1990. We both work on all the projects and we always take joint credit. I once said in a meeting that we are two bodies with one brain. He kicked me under the table because it sounded like I'd said we had half-a-brain each."
Luke: "What are your strengths as a producer?"
Peter: "I learned at Cambridge the analysis of story. When you study comparative literature, you hone your analytic skills. We are good at developing scripts. People regularly say to me that that is the best script that could be developed from that story. Second, we are experienced physical producers. I've hired the Teamsters. I've negotiated with a sheik to put a camera on the top of his palace. No one working for me on a film could pull the wool over my eyes. When the cinematographer talks to me about lenses, I know almost as much about lenses as he does.
"We've become adept at putting together soft money [subsidies and tax breaks] and pre-sales from Europe. Soft money means lottery money, sale-lease-back, Isle of Man subsidies, Anglo-Canadian, Anglo-French, Anglo-German co-production money, subsidy money. Money, which if has to be paid back, is paid back last.
"When you make a film for a studio, you get a high upfront fee but you never see any meaningful back-end [percentage of the profits]. The only thing that ever forces a studio to pay a back-end is embarrassment because the film is so successful or the studio wishes to be in business with you on another project. Other than that, I think they could just save a lot of trees by saying, 'Profits: you can't have any.'
"The reason for that is that everything is cross collateralized [meaning every expense conceivable, including studio-upkeep and any territorial losses are subtracted from profits so the studio doesn't have to pay out any profit-sharing]. But when you do split-rights [meaning if a territory, say Australia, turns a profit, than profit-participants get their share, even if the film loses money in other territories], you pre-sell territories and divide everything up. So if there are profits in Germany, they don't get diminished by losses elsewhere. We gives points [percentages of profit] to people who work for us. That they then earn money from those points, and know that we will have accurate profit statements, means that on their next project with us, they know they don't need to get all their money upfront.
"Because nobody invests more than a modest percentage, we're in charge of our own films. On the first day of principle photography, Marc looks at me and then we look at the director and we realize that we're it. We're making our film our way. To the extent that we've made anything worth watching, it's because we had a single vision.
"Committee filmmaking is not a happy thing. A committee's job is to satisfy everyone on the committee. You start off with a wonderful idea. Think of it as a great big jagged lump of granite with fissures and facets and rough bits. It's memorable. Then, little by little through most studio development, you burnish off everything that bothered anyone. And if the committee is big enough, there will be someone who is bothered by everything. You often end up with a pebble. And then, either they make it and it isn't any good, or they don't make it because it is a pebble. You say, 'Yeah, it is a pebble because all the good stuff got cut off.'
"There is a downside to split-rights. Only the pressure of the oncoming train of principle photography causes the deals to close. It's difficult when you have eleven parties to a financing to get everyone signed. I remember once, while we were in pre-production on Wilde, arriving at the studio in London, and there was the biggest pile of wood outside the door of the studio that I had ever seen. It was higher than a house. My brother said it was the wood for our sets. I said that's great. He said, 'I'm glad you like that wood because you own that wood.' And the film had not yet closed its financing.
"Split-rights means that the producer develops the package. A package means a finished script, a director and the lead actors. You then take that package to Cannes or Mifed [Milan Film Festival] or the American Film Market in Santa Monica and you assemble a financing package. On The Gathering, for instance, a $20 million film, a quarter of the financing came from the government on the Isle of Man, 12% from a British sale-lease-back tax incentive scheme. We also pre-sold the German territory, the United Kingdom territory, as well as Scandinavia and Spain. There were a couple of equity investments, including Granada, and that all equaled 80% of the cost of making the film. You then take your contracts to a bank and the bank puts up what's called the gap. Gap financing is the difference between what you've pre-sold, which is a demonstration of good faith and viability, and your total cost.
"There are 30 significant territories in the world and they are never all down or all up at once. The hegemony of the American studios is waning. When I started out doing split-rights, the American studio put up 50% of the budget in return for North America distribution, because at that time, the United States and Canada were worth 50% of the revenue. Then it went 60-40%, with foreign being the 60%. Now it is 75-25%. I've seen deals where the American studio is only 15% of the budget. This is partly the result of the growth of secondary and tertiary media such as DVDs and pay-TV which have been more rapid in foreign countries than in the US. Another reason is that the American studios have sought to lay off risk by engaging in split-rights. The pioneer was Jonathan Dolgen at Paramount. He preferred to have three times as many films with as third as much exposure on each. And that's the way most US studios do it now.
"In the American market, there are too many titles chasing too few slots. There aren't enough screens. This will change when VOD (View On Demand) comes in. For independent producers VOD and a six-foot diagonal plasma screen hanging on the wall at home are the future. There will always be kinds of films that will be shown in a cinema with 500 people sitting there. There will always be date movies where the motivation is to get out of the house and hold hands in the back row. Epic films, like Lawrence of Arabia, are made for the big screen..... but for everything else, there will be VOD.
"Last year I bought a TIVO box [allows for easy recording of TV programs] for the house, which is a crude and early form of VOD. Since we bought that box, we haven't watched any television commercials. We zap through them. We watch about half as much television in real time. The rest is time-shifted. I would define VOD as 14,000 film titles. What do you want to watch and when do you want to watch it? With adjuncts to that system such as, 'We've noticed that you like films with Jude Law in them. There's a new one. Would you like to see it now?' And it will charge you $3 on your Master Card. This will sweep the planet. Amazon.com already does this with book suggestions.
"This will completely change the paradigm for the filmmaker. Think of how high the hurdle is to get a film off the ground. You have to persuade financiers and distributors that on one weekend several million people will get in the car and simultaneously pay $8 each to simultaneously see the film. No wonder so many studio films are lowest common denominator entertainment. Compare that to books, which have a shelf life. A studio film has none. If it doesn't open properly, it's a disaster by Saturday morning. They phone you on Saturday morning and tell you whether you have a career or not based on what the film did on Friday. There are people in studios who, within 5%, can predict the global box office of a film by what it does on Friday.
"A book store has New York Times bestsellers but they also have books that have been there for three years and can develop an audience over time. Furthermore, the books are filed by sections. All the books about how to succeed in business are on one shelf. All the books about pulp romance are on one shelf. VOD coupled with artificial intelligence is the future. My ten-year old loves robots. He has downloaded through TIVO several programs with titles like Robot Wars. TIVO now reaches out to the Sci-Fi channel at 3AM, without being told by us, and pulls any film with 'robot' in the description or title. It does the same thing with actors and directors.
"VOD titles will have to be made for an economical price. We know how to do that. We just made The Gathering, which is of the quality, scope and canvas size of a studio movie. It has a studio star in Christina Ricci. The average price for a studio film last year was $55 million. We made The Gathering for $20 million.
"My grandfather's dire warning notwithstanding, I still think producing is the highest and best combination of art, science and commerce for me. In The Gathering, I obviously know when the shock moments are. I got to watch the backs of that Cannes audience's heads and to see them repeatedly jump out of their seats. On Revenge of the Nerds at the first Phoenix sneak, I got to hear the film's first audience laugh..... maybe there are better professional moments if you do something that really matters like a brain surgeon or a fireman, but these made me very happy."
A resident of Holmby Hills, Samuelson's married to the former Saryl Hirsch. They have four kids. Peter founded three large children's charities - the Starlight Foundation, which grants wishes and provides entertainment to seriously ill children, its sister charity Starbright, which creates software for ill children and First Star, a public policy initiative in Washington to support civil rights for abused and neglected children.
Born October 16, 1951, Peter, the eldest of three sons, grew up in the London suburb of Hampstead. Before going to college, Peter worked as a French-English interpreter on "Le Mans," starring Steve McQueen.
After university, Samuelson teamed up with actor Donald Sutherland on several Canadian movies. On A Man, a Woman, and a Bank, the financing fell apart due to a change in Canadian tax-shelter laws. So Peter wrote to Ted Field, 25 years old at the time and the inheritor of several hundred million dollars from Marshall Field.
Ted ate lunch with Peter and agreed to put up the missing half of the budget. The experience of working with Peter turned out so well that Field proposed that the two of them go into business together. From 1980-84, Samuelson headed the film division of Field's company, Interscope Communications. In 1984, Peter helped Field's $40-million buyout of Panavision. Four years later, Field sold it for $100 million.
In the Los Angeles Times in May, 1999, Peter Samuelson wrote this letter to the editor: "Your April 28 article on the Littleton tragedy references the film I produced with Ted Field in 1984, "Revenge of the Nerds," but your writer cannot have actually seen our film. After fraternity jocks trash the house of the nerds, our nerds' "revenge" is inspired by Gandhi: The two leading nerds descend on a football pep rally, seize the microphone and appeal to all those students, faculty and alumni who ever felt victimized by the school's caste system to join them in passive resistance. As the films ends, slowly but surely most of the hundreds of kids and adults present join the nerds' cause and nerds become the tolerant majority.
"We fought hard to retain this ending and miraculously won the point when others wanted the nerds to blow up the jock fraternity. It is inaccurate to lump all filmmakers into the category of "violence sells, so damn the social consequences." Many of us care a great deal and find that positive messages are also very commercial."
Sources: LA Times, 8/11/98, Claudia Eller, "Literary Producer Opens a Chapter."