Paul Sampson is not only acting but also writing, producing, directing and even stunt coordinating in his latest film “Night of the Templar”. This is Paul’s directorial debut and is packed with one amazing cast, including David Carradine, in one of his last roles, as well as Udo Kier, Norman Reedus and Billy Drago. Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Paul about “Night of the Templar” and reflected on working with such a great cast.
Mike Gencarelli: Did you find it difficult to direct since it was your first feature, and also while acting in the film?
Paul Sampson: No, Directing came very natural to me on set. I don’t know why, but it was second nature. I’m an Actor, and I found it easy to relate to the other Actors. In knowing the craft, I allowed the Actors to do their thing. However, I could easily tell when they weren’t ‘honest’ in their performance, and needed guidance or another take. All the seasoned actors really trusted my Direction and confided in me. And when I acted in a scene it just put me that one step closer, so it actually made it even easier to Direct when I was Acting. Only problem was that I couldn’t see the camera work when I was in the scene and we had some problems with that in post. I could have used another one of me to make sure the framing was correct, and more so the continuity and strange things like people being in the shot…I’m serious…there were a lot of shots that I was in as an actor that had crew members in the shots or like a sandbag or coffee cup. But the creative decision making came very easy for me. Producing… now that’s a pain in the neck…especially when all the money’s not in place.
MG: Can you reflect on working with David Carradine?
PS: That question is two-fold or perhaps three. First, working with him in the capacity of Actor-Actor; Second, Director-Actor; and then third, well…it’s David Carradine. David loved the script, he accepted the role within 24 hours and told his manager to tell me immediately that he wanted to do the movie. If you don’t know how it works, a lot of time when you deal with someone’s ‘representation’ they’ll make you wait until the last minute to let you know if they will ‘pass’ or take the role. Anyway, we’re on set and the Production Manager, Jack, approaches me and tells me that David Carradine has arrived (it was David’s first day), and he’s in his trailer and he wants to see me. I was running through some stuff with the D.P. and told Jack to get David through make up and that I’ll see him when he’s out and I’m finished what I’m doing. Jack moved closer to me and said, very seriously… and almost worried, “Paul, the last movie he did, he demanded a fruit basket in his trailer every day.” I looked at Jack, put my hand on his shoulder and told him that I appreciated the insight. A half an hour or so later I stopped by David’s trailer. I walked in and we just looked at each other for a moment. Kind of like two guys in a bar sizing each other up… and then he recognized it was me, who he thought it’ll be (we had met before on a movie). On cue, we shook hands and he told me he admired my writing and didn’t want to play games with me, and that he told his manager to call me right away to tell me that he was in. I told him I appreciated that. Also, he said he ‘asked around about me with a few people’ and he didn’t want to jerk me around. I thanked him again, and then the conversation got funny. Jokingly, I told him that I had also asked around about him. He gave me an inquisitive look, and then said, “And…” I got really close to him, earshot away, and I said, ‘You’re not going to try to muscle me for a daily fruit basket, are you” There was a beat and then he started laughing. He said, “No, not you, as a matter of fact, I have something for you.” He reached over to the table, moved his sides (scenes for the day) and uncovered a coin that was in a plastic package. He gave me a gift, a 1922 Liberty Silver Dollar. He went on about why he picked that gift (for me), but I was so into the coin I didn’t catch all of it, my mind was somewhere else. See, I use to collect coins when I was a kid, in as much as a poor kid could collect coins, and it was like ‘wow’, this is cool. I don’t know who enjoyed the gift more, me, or him watching me study the coin. He asked me if I liked the gift and I said something funny like, “A dollar, that’s it, you’re giving me a dollar?” He laughed, patted me on the back and we ran our scene. We got along really well the entire time he worked on the movie. He lost his cool one night and yelled for about a minute or two. I just stood there and let him rant. We were both holding swords so it’s probably better I didn’t take it personally and react. I was pretty calm the whole time… I just let him get it off his chest. It was a long day, and now it was 3 in the morning. I let everyone clear out and had a talk with David a couple of minutes later, alone. He apologized several times, and trust me, David isn’t the apologizing type. He was very honest, always, he said what he felt. No holds barred type of guy. I asked him what was wrong and he told me straight out, “It’s your crew, they’re going to fuck up your movie, don’t let them fuck up your movie, you have a great script, you’re doing great as an actor and director, but don’t let the crew fuck up your movie.” I smiled, and said to him, if it’s the crew, then why were you yelling ‘around’ me. He said because I had big shoulders and I could handle it. He apologized again and said that it was bothering him because he thought the movie (script) had potential, and that if he’s vested in something, then he’s a perfectionist. I told him, I was a perfectionist, too. He said, “No, you’re more of a lunatic.” I was like, “You’re calling me a lunatic, isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?”, and he laughed and again said I was more of a lunatic… but that it worked for me. We talked for close to an hour or so. If I told you the entire conversation you wouldn’t believe it, so I’ll save it. Some of it was very personal, some just really bizarre. It was as if we bonded in levels on the shoot. And that was another one. After we wrapped, he’d call me from time to time to check in on me, see how I was doing, and ask if I needed any help. He’d always bring up the yelling moment and apologize. He told me if I needed another day out of him he’s do it for free. And he’d always ask to see the work in progress of the movie and I’d be like soon, give me a little more time David, and then we’ll watch it. The last time we spoke was the week before he left for Thailand. He wanted to check in on me and see what I cut so far. I was almost about to run by his house and show him the rough cut and then I was like, you know what, David, when you get back I’ll show you, let me fix a couple more things. And he was like, fair enough, but when I get back, we’re watching it. He didn’t come back. I kind of regret not showing him, I wanted to wait til’ I had it a little better. I should have showed him. If not for anything else, it would have been cool to hang out with him just one more time. But you know what, I believe there’s more to all this, here, in this ‘world’ we live in. David was very spiritual in his own way. He’s around. He sees the movie. I’m positive about that. It’s funny in a way, the more we were around each other, the better we liked each other. We spoke a lot privately. We laughed a lot. We got along really well, and it shows in the movie. Some things you can fake on a movie set, some you can’t. When you watch the movie, you can tell that we’re real friends, old soul mates so to speak. It reads through when you watch the film.
MG: How did you go about getting the rest of the great cast of my favorites, including Udo Kier, Norman Reedus and Billy Drago?
PS: I shot the Medieval part of the movie first, in which I played Lord Gregoire. I used more ‘repertory’ actors because I wanted that aspect of the film to have more of a storybook theatrical feel to it. And then when the time came time for me to cast the Modern day shoot of the movie, well, I wanted more ‘contemporary’ actors. I have a lot of friends that are actors, so it wasn’t easy… decisions… decisions. Now Norman (Reedus) and I are very good friends. He knows and trusts me as an artist. I’ve heard him brag about me and speak highly (of me) to others. It’s incredibly fulfilling when not just a friend, but a pier like Norman Reedus respects you as a man and as an artist. We have a mutual respect in that way. He had complete faith in me and the project from the start. And that was prior to him seeing the footage from the medieval shoot, which he later saw and thought was cool. Before I even finished asking him to be a part of the project he told me he was on board. I was honoured to have my friend with me for my directorial debut.
So basically, for the Modern Day part of the movie, the cast began with Norman (and me). From there, we brained stormed and Udo Kier’s name came up in conversation. Norman called Udo for me and told him I was going to have a script dropped off for him to read. He was out of town in Palm Springs. A few days later I got from him (Udo) and he told me he wanted to talk to me about the script, but it needed to be in person. He then invited me to his home for lunch. We had our first meeting. He made me a sandwich. It was very tasty. I had noted on the script that was dropped off for Udo that I wanted him to play a certain role in the movie. And at his home, I learned that was what he wanted to talk to me about in person. He wanted to play the Priest instead, and asked if I was open to calling the Priest character “Father Paul” and that it was a good German Priest name. He then left the room and came back with a Priest outfit, and kind of ‘modeled’ it for me. It was stunning as I chewed my sandwich and drank my glass of milk. I responded, “So what you’re saying is that you’d rather play the Priest.” And then Udo, referring to his outfit, said in his German accent, “Why, yes, why do you think I have this here, Paul Sampson, for my health.” So now it was Norman, Udo and me. The next person on board was Max Perlich. I know you didn’t ask about Maxy in your question, but I’m going to mention him anyway. I went over a couple of names with Norman and he agreed with me on my choice of using Max. We both know Max and I knew he was perfect for the role. When I called him, I changed my voice for a goof, and asked for Mr. Max Perlich, he didn’t know it was me and said in a fake accent that I had the wrong number, gave me a bogus name, and then quickly hung up. I think he owed money to someone and thought I was a collector on the other line, it was hysterical. I mean, it was so obvious that it was him. So I waited a day or two and called him back and told him it was me. And then we were four. Now Billy (Drago) was one of those gifts from God situations. Up to a month before shooting, the role of “Shauna the Chef” was meant to be played by a stout, middle aged, Irish woman. And then something made me change it last minute to a cross dresser. It just seemed wrong enough to be right for the movie. Surprisingly, I got a lot of submissions for the role. I never realized how many actors wanted to do a role in drag…and I’m talking recognizable names. I filled the slot right away with another somewhat known actor, but I’ll cut a lot of the story out… he was a no-show on his first day of shooting because he was strung out on Heroine. No name needs to be mentioned, I’m just surprised that up to this point he still hasn’t manned up and called me to talk about it. I know we all have problems at times, I’ve been around it my whole life, but it kind of bothers me more that he still hasn’t come to me and had a conversation, even more so than the fact that he didn’t show up. Anyway, it really screwed up the schedule because he was demanding on what days he could work and I was already juggling the schedule around. Cutting to the chase, it really messed me up and cost me time and money. In the middle of the chaos, I called Michael Greenwald at Buchwald Agency on his cell and told him I wanted Billy Drago to be in my movie. Michael was like okay, send a script, make an offer, and give us a couple of weeks to get back to you. I was like, Mike, you don’t understand, I need Billy here tomorrow… in wardrobe … at 11 am. You have to understand, it doesn’t work like this in Hollywood. You don’t call in the middle of the afternoon and get someone like Billy Drago to show up the next day on set. There is a protocol, the agent has to receive the script and offer, they have to run it through the process, and then – if they deem it worthy – they pass it along to the actor, who needs his time alone with the material, and then there’s a truck load of things that happen from there. It takes time…well, it’s supposed to take time. Luckily, Michael’s a buddy of mine. So I tell Michael quickly what the film’s about, and tell him that Billy might know who I am, that we had met before – we were both doing (different) movies in Bulgaria and I was with Norman and we saw Billy at an establishment in Sofia while we were on the shoot, blah blah, and so on… And also I told Michael to tell Billy who was playing what roles so he could visualize it when he read the script… and oh, yeah, I told Michael to also tell Billy he wears a dress in the movie. Michael laughed at that, and then I told him I was being serious. I remember there was that awkward moment of silence on the phone after I told Michael that Billy had to wear a dress in the movie. Anyway, Michael just let me know he’ll pass it along immediately but he said it’s up to Billy ultimately. I was fine with that. Billy got the script, read it and got back to his agent right away…within hours. I look at the film and watch Billy and I can’t imagine anybody else playing that role. He was flawless. If he went past one take it wasn’t because he was off, it was because of another actor or a technical problem. He was on every take! I really got lucky with Billy, the “other guy” would have been a problem, and then there would have been more problems… because as work begets work… problems on set, beget more problems on set. In the end, besides it screwing up the shoot a bit, the initial misfortune of the other actor being strung out on heroine was a blessing in disguise. Again, I’m disappointed that he still hasn’t contacted me. It’s not manly. I thought much higher of him. I guess I was wrong. I have to end this particular answer by reiterating that Norman was intricate in the modern day casting of the movie as far as the main potatoes. If he wasn’t on board initially, there probably would have been no Udo, and so on. The casting would have went down in an entirely different direction. It still would have been good, but what I ended up with was great! I just can’t imagine it being better than what it was in the end. Everyone in the movie is who they should be … if that makes any sense whatsoever.
MG: Since the project what independently financed what would you say was your biggest challenge?
PS: Well, you kind of answered that question in the question. Yes, it was independently financed, and because of the magnitude of the film, it was a much larger budget than most Indy films. Horses, Costumes, Chain Mail, Weaponry, Action, extensive Props and Automobiles, Classic Songs, et cetera, start to add up very quickly. And even though I negotiated well, I still raised every penny myself. That was challenging. A lot of the financing was hand to mouth as the project went along. If the money had been in place prior to production, it would have made things a lot easier. As I mentioned before, the Creative stuff was second nature, even if I hadn’t done it before. Producing without having all the money in place was the biggest challenge.
MG: Now that you have directing under your belt, what do you have planned next?
PS: Once I have the movie in place to sell, I think I’ll see what’s offered to me as an actor and take a role or two in something I want to be a part of… that’ll be like a vacation to me … to just act in a movie and have to do nothing else.