I first encountered Producer Elie Samaha in the 2000 comedy 20 Dates. Elie is the foul-mouthed financier of the film who keeps pushing the director Myles Berkowitz to cast his wife Tia Carrera and include nudity and sex.
Born in Beirut, Lebanon on 5/10/56, Samaha dropped out of highschool. He moved to the United States in 1975. He worked as a bouncer at New York's Studio 54 nightclub until moving to LA in 1982. He started a dry cleaning chain called Celebrity Cleaners.
Samaha invested in real estate. He became a partner in the Roxbury nightclub. It opened in 1990 and became a celebrity hangout satirized in the Saturday Night Live skit about two disco dogs repeatedly shot down. At the Roxbury, Samaha found tables for such stars as Sylvester Stallone, Eddie Murphy and Rod Stewart.
Journalist Ross Johnson writes in the May, 2001 issue of Premiere magazine: "Since 1999, Franchise has independently produced and financed 26 films, ranging from shoot-’em-ups like the Kevin Costner–propelled 3000 Miles to Graceland to comedies such as the Bruce Willis vehicle The Whole Nine Yards. More forgettable were Get Carter (starring Samaha’s buddy Sylvester Stallone), The Art of War (a labor of love for Wesley Snipes), and the John Travolta Scientology–cum–Star Wars fiasco, Battlefield Earth—which The New York Times pre dicted “may well turn out to be the worst movie of this century.”"
Samaha became known for his strategy of funding the projects of stars like Bruce Willis and John Travolta that no one else would finance.
In the year 2001, Intertainment CEO Rüdiger “Barry” Baeres filed a federal lawsuit filed against Samaha and Franchise president Andrew Stevens for fraud, breach of contract, and violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The suit claims Franchise and Samaha defrauded Intertainment in excess of $75 million by padding the production budgets of its films, and inflating the license fee that Intertainment paid to Franchise.
Premiere writes that foreign financing is often a nod-and-a-wink business, and this lawsuit threatens to uncover and damage a shady business.
Elie makes deals more than films. He rarely shows up to the sets of his movies and he rarely reads his scripts. He can't read the gossip about himself on the internet because he can't work a computer.
Samaha was married to actress Tia Carrera from 1992 - 2000.
"Barry Baeres, the man suing Samaha, is a 41-year-old Teutonic fashion plate. Through a trust, he owns a 750-acre island—complete with airstrip—in the Bahamas, and is known to enjoy the company of movie stars. “Barry wants the cigars, the girls, the convertibles,” says a producer who travels in his crowd. “He’s just like Elie Samaha—only with more money.”" (Ross Johnson, Premiere)
In his 2002 book What Just Happened? Bitter Hollywood Tales From The Front Line, producer Art Linson writes: "Elie doesn't give you script notes, doesn't hand out his opinions on the final cut, and doesn't tamper much with the casting choices of the additional roles. He might not even read the script. He leaves the 'making' of the movie to those who can. After years of wading through the silly litany of comments from studio executives whose only film credentials are a leased BMW and a studio job, there's something irresistible about a guy who simply plays it as a businessman. He's gonna f--- you if he can, but it will be just about the money." (pg. 177)
Eliefan writes Luke 8/3/02: "Your A fucking bustard i swear to God, i hope u go to hell, u need to get all your facts straight before you write such cruel things about Elie Samaha that I personally know and have working with him for 1 years, He does read scripts because he went on a vacation with me and all he did was read fucking scripts all day, and he visits the set when ever he can, and he does own a computer and he knows what your saying about him because he has a I. Mac computer that he uses everyday, he doesn't respond what asshole like you say because he has better things to do then jack off gay porn like you do. So if I was you I would shut the fuck up because you know nothing better then to."
In a 9/26/02 interview, Premiere journalist Ross Johnson remembers Samaha as an interesting person. "I think he was hurt by the story I wrote [for Premiere magazine, May 2001]. I tried to be honest. It was the end of a cycle about stories and it was the one people remember. Elie understood well who he was. He has a hellacious lawsuit going on.
"I wrote a 5000-word story [for Premiere that was edited down]. I got into what Barry Baeres was about. In some ways, Barry Baeres was not nearly as straight as Elie. Elie's thing was, 'Yeah, I took money, but hey, I am who I am.' Elie had his own cross to bear and his own game going on. That's the way the game is played at his level. Elie is an international player. When he says he's going to do something, he tries to do it.
"During the whole litigation, Elie was not badmouthing Barry Baeres. Barry Baeres hired a PR firm to spread all kinds of dirt on Elie Samaha. Kim Masters broke the story. Elie said, this is all bullshit. It was a garden variety fraud lawsuit. This stuff goes on all the time. Barry Baeres saw that he might be able to put a lot of pressure on Elie's bank that was going through a merger (Imperial Bank was supposed to merge with Co-America). Barry wanted Imperial Bank to make him whole. He didn't give a sh-- about Elie. Barry wanted his money from that bank. The merger went through faster than anyone suspected. Imperial Bank was not going to pay Barry Baeres a cent. They hired the toughest lawyers in the world. Barry Baeres made a tremendous tactical error. His stock plunged. You don't sue banks unless you have it locked down.
"Elie had a tremendous advantage because Elie knew who he was. Elie knew what his game was. Elie told me, 'Look, if I lose every dime to Barry Baeres, I will go out and get these deals and sell them myself at these film festivals. I'll do the foreign deals without a domestic [American] distributor. Because my game is that I know how to get movie stars at low prices. Elie's still making a lot of movies though the lawsuit's sucked a lot of money out of his pocket.
"I wrote a lot more about the legal stuff but all people read was about Elie. Premiere can only put so much stuff about a producer."