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Profile: Filmmaker Paul Sampson
The Misunderstood, Psychotic Bad Guy
By Garrett Riggs
Filmmaker Paul Sampson is “that guy”—each of us has one in our lives—the guy who leaps into the swimming hole without checking the depth and temperature of the water, the guy who does crazy things, but somehow comes out unscathed and grinning and ready to cajole the rest of the group into joining the fun.
That impulsiveness drove Sampson’s film, Night of the Templar, from its writing to the casting and filming. Night of the Templar is a genre-blending mix of action, suspense, horror, mystery, and dark comedy starring Sampson and David Carradine (Kung-Fu and the Kill Bill series) as well as Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead), Billy Drago (Untouchables), and Udo Kier (Blade).
Sampson wrote, directed, and starred in the film which, at its core, is a revenge story. Sampson got the idea for a time-shifting vengeance story featuring the Knights Templar after doing research on Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel Murders of London. Sampson was reading up on the unsolved murders and was intrigued by all the conspiracy theories about the true identity of Jack the Ripper. One theory—that the murder’s identity was covered up by the Masons—caught Sampson’s imagination.
As he read more about the Free Masons, Sampson says, he kept running across discussions of the Knights Templar and their rise and fall and possible connection to the secret society.
“Those guys [Knights Templar] had power... incredible power! I wrote this detailed historical documentation—almost a docudrama and I said, ‘I don’t want to shoot this, it’s a history lesson!’” He thought about other ways to approach the story and came up with the plot for Night of the Templar. “I thought ‘I’ll bring a medieval knight to the modern day. But for what purpose? Revenge! Best served chilled.’”
After continuing his research of the Knights Templar he developed the fictitious character of Lord Gregoire, a knight who fights corruption in the order and pays with his life.
When I asked Sampson if wearing all those hats made filming stressful for him, he responded, “Only the money part of it was stressful; everything creative—last second re-writes, directing, acting, on the spot changes and decisions—was all easy for me. I felt no pressure or stress with any of that. But dealing with the money was a pain.”
Once Sampson was ready to start filming, he called David Carradine’s manager and asked that he give Carradine the script.
“He said, ‘We’ll get back to you in two weeks.’ I told him, ‘I need to know tomorrow.’”
And the legend (Carradine) was on board.
Sampson had worked with Carradine on Final Move (2006) and the two actors built a friendship that contributed to their mutual respect on the set—an attitude he carried onto the set every day.
“I respect the extras as much as I respect David. You treat everybody like you want to be treated. You should always respect people, whether it’s a lawyer or the guy who cuts meat at the deli. Life really is that simple. Treat everyone like you want to be treated—unless you’re into S&M—then you better ask permission first.”
Professionalism is something Sampson demands of everyone on set. As a director, Sampson has little patience for off-camera drama and expects all of the actors—seasoned professionals and newcomers alike—to show up ready to work.
“When your foot hits that set, you should be in character,” he says.
Sampson says he slept very little during the filming because he was trying to direct and act during the day, reviewing the reels at night and preparing for the next day’s shoot, and continuing to drum up financing throughout the production. He decided to be more demanding of himself in order to get the film finished on time.
“I gave myself less attention as an actor than I should have. I was kind of mean to myself. One take. Everyone else, I gave them six takes if they needed it. Billy [Drago] did everything perfectly every single time. Flawless!”
Sampson says he and the cast spent a lot of the time laughing.
“We had fun together. We were like little kids.” During a fight scene with Norman Reedus the fake broad sword Sampson was using broke, so he started using a real one.
“I’m swinging it at Norman who’s lying on the ground beneath me and he asked, ‘Can you see through that thing [the helmet]?’ I told him, ‘Nope, not at all!’”
When asked what he learned during the process, Sampson laughs and says, “Use someone else’ money! Really, I’m an artist, an actor, so the artistic end of it, I want to do; the financing end of it, I don’t want to do.”
Sampson has written three more screenplays since delivering Night of the Templar and two of them are already slated to shoot in 2015. While he is interested in performing in both of them as an actor, he would rather not direct the coming year. He says, “I just want to act in 2015. I don’t want to be tied down with one project because I have to direct.”
Each of the scripts he’s written recently have been in a different genre. Sampson says he writes about life and doesn’t try to pigeon-hole the story.
“I’ve written comedy, action, family, murder mystery, period pieces, thrillers…even a sci-fi,” he says, but what they all have in common is Sampson’s drive to tell a story that he finds compelling. “It may sound selfish, but I don’t write for them [an imagined audience], I write for myself. But I’m like that with everything creatively. To me, it’s all about capturing the human condition, no matter what the backdrop is.”
Sampson’s writing and acting experiences cross genres. Sampson began his acting career with training in Voice and Movement led by Bernard Rheele of the New England Vaudeville. Sampson’s credits include over three dozen stage performances, television appearances, and films ranging back and forth between the studio and indie level.
He often gets cast as the complex or disturbed characters whose presence is going to be a problem for everyone in a film, but Sampson has a quick wit and excellent comedic timing as well. When asked about getting cast so often as the psychotic bad guy, Sampson laughs and says, “I’m misunderstood, I just want to be hugged and snuggled.”
Sampson’s chiseled features and athletic build have also opened doors in the gaming industry; according to IMDB, he was the prototype of Thor in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2.
Even though he looks intimidating and often plays tough guys, Sampson has a nurturing side that he reveals by teaching acting classes for children with autism and doing other projects to help his community, whether that is in Los Angeles or his other part-time home, New York City.
Sampson holds an MBA in Finance and is a member of the Actor's Equity Association (AEA), SAG-AFTRA, and the Writer's Guild of America (WGA). He says he used common sense and his aptitude for wheeling and dealing to fund the film more than anything he picked up while earning his MBA.
He says, laughing, “I’m a street kid with an MBA in finance. So basically, I can use big college words as I beat the crap out of you.”
“And I’m an artist, who draws from a truckload of bizarre life experience. At the end of the day, I have an MBA for no apparent reason,” Sampson says jokingly before riffing on what he would be like in different jobs. “What was I thinking, did I really think I would get a job in corporate America?! I’m like a beast. Imagine Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan sitting in their cage-like cubicles doing the ol’ 9 to 5.”
Sampson gets serious again as he talks about the film industry’s struggle with pirating, made possible in large part by the internet and continuously changing technology that allows pirates to copy and distribute digital data.
“Without doubt, the internet has made the film industry worse because of pirating. It’s like what happened with the music industry 15 years ago. People in the film industry thought it would never happen because people didn’t have the technology they have now; they didn’t think it would be physically possible to download a film. Now it’s child’s play.”
Sampson says everyone—actors and directors—make less money due to pirating.
“For the viewer it’s ‘Yay!’, but for artists, it hurts, and because of it, many decisions are made on the creative level that limit what is made for lot of reasons. The result is there is more cookie-cutter content and less fresh innovative thought in film being made,” he says.
And then his serious side once again changes back to levity, and he yells out, “’Pirating is illegal …and ‘Soylent green is people.’”
To see Night of the Templar, visit iTunes or purchase the DVD on-line at Wal-Mart.
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