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Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia Interview: Producer Carl Samson


Written by: BMZ Staff
Date: May 22, 2007

BMZ talks with producer Carl Samson on his latest film DINOSAURS: GIANTS OF PATAGONIA, a 3D look into the world's largest known dinosaurs.


Category: Interviews

DINOSAURS: GIANTS OF PATAGONIA is the latest film from producer Carl Samson. He and his company, Sky High Entertainment, have been making Large Format films since 1997 which include Adrenaline Rush: The Science of Risk and Vikings: Journey to New Worlds. In his most recent release, the Sky High team traveled with top paleontologists to study the world's largest known dinosaurs.

BMZ: I wanted to ask you first about your background and your introduction into Large Format filmmaking. How did you get involved in the industry?

Carl Samson: I used to be a pro motocrosser, race motocross professionally. When I retired I started being a promoter and doing TV shows or the equivalent of ESPN in Canada. I got stung by the idea of producing TV shows and things like this. So I produced shows for about 5-6 years. And after that I knew the people that owned the IMAX theater in Quebec City. So I approached them to get some news or info about IMAX industry. And finally they were very helpful to me. I just started to put the money together to do my first film.

BMZ: I've seen a couple of Sky High films, Adrenaline Rush and Vikings. What led you to a film about dinosaurs?

CS: Well, it's a worldwide known subject and I haven't seen any one do a 100% realistic documentary about dinosaurs. So it was kind of a first. So that's why I decided to do it in IMAX. It was natural for me to show for the first time the biggest dinosaurs on screen. Because I could have talked about any dinosaurs on Planet Earth. The reason [I chose] Giants of Patagonia is [because] the biggest dinosaurs ever found on Earth were from Patagonia. The only screen we can show it in real size is IMAX.

BMZ: And the dinosaurs that were found in Patagonia, how did you pick and choose from those that were found there?

CS: Yes, the Argentinosaurus and Giganotosaurus were found by Professor Rodolfo Coria who is our paleontologist and his team. And also there's no one that's done a movie that shows the beauties of Patagonia. No IMAX film has been shot there. When we started the project, a lot of people think it's a clothing company. You should see how many people say, "Patagonia, where is that?" So we talk about Patagonia, we introduce Patagonia, the region of Argentina, that was home to these dinosaurs. Everything is like a first in this film, so everything was very natural.

BMZ: And this is your first time studying dinosaurs?

CS: Yes it is. You're probably going to be the first person to know this because we're going to start announcing at GSCA this year, in this film, it's the first movie of a trilogy of dinosaur films. So the next film that I'm funding right now is Dinosaurs 3D: Giants of North America.

BMZ: Making this film, did it change your views on dinosaurs? Did you have some misconceptions about them?

CS: I didn't know much about dinosaurs. I knew more about Vikings personally. I'm 38 years old, and at school we didn't study much these dinosaurs, or any dinosaurs whatsoever. I have 8 and 11-year-old sons, and they know everything about dinosaurs. But myself, we didn't study that, I didn't know anything about it. I was super-open-minded about the idea to educate myself about these creatures. What I did like a lot and what I've heard is about the Big Bang, and the comet hitting Planet Earth in the Yucatan Peninsula, and we show this as well in this film. No one has done that either. We want to show the theory and put it on the big screen in 3D. It's quite amazing to see that comet going to Earth, because we show the impact as well. You see the dust coming [right off the screen] at your face in 3D, so it's pretty good.

BMZ: I know you used a little bit of CGI in Vikings. It seems in this film, looking at the trailers, that it's more sophisticated your use of CGI. Can you talk about how you utilized it?

CS: We learned from Vikings. Vikings is a good film, however, the CGI is not great, the CGI is good, but we learned from this. And you will see that in other films, if you go to GSCA that people that use animation find that it's super, super tough to do great animation on the big screen. So we learned from Vikings and we carry it towards this one. We used the latest technology, the highest resolution possible. The movie has been scanned entirely in 8K resolution. It is the first IMAX film scanned from beginning to the end [to do this], and we downsized to 4K. Any other production that you've heard of, they've been rendered at 2K resolution [and] blown up to 4K resolution. It is what had been done on Vikings as an example. So when you look at a, just an example, a 35mm from Hollywood, it looks good. When you convert it to IMAX, you're like "Whoa, it doesn't look as good." So I did have to question the lab and the animation company we used, asking them, "How can we solve this?" And the way was to scan 8K and downsize to 4K resolution. And we're the first ones [to do this], and no one else has done it so far.

BMZ: I understand you did the aerial photography for the film?

CS: No I did not. I was suppose to and finally it was switched to Bill Reeve who was the DP from beginning to the end.

BMZ: Was that disappointing?

CS: Well yes, because I was stuck on other stuff at the same time. I wanted to do it, but I'm glad Bill was our DP. He did an amazing job. We talked briefly about all the aerials, and we have close to 9 minutes of aerials in the film. It's a big part of the film as well.

BMZ: You didn't go down to Patagonia to film?

CS: Not myself. No, I didn't shoot anything in Patagonia. It was Carl Deschenes and it was Bill Reeve and the rest of the team. And we shot over a period of 2 years. So we shot the first time for like 4 and half months, and the second time was all the aerials which took 6 weeks.

BMZ: I wanted to also ask you about the companion museum exhibition. When the film debuts in a museum, will most museums have the companion exhibit?

CS: Not all of them. What we've done is we looked at all exhibits, because there are many dinosaur exhibits which vary in quality from poor to excellent. There's some that are very good, and there's some that are very awful. And we made a case study of almost a year, and the one we decided to choose was the one made by Dino Don, who a lot of people know in this industry. And we chose him as our presenting exhibit. We sent emails to every theater just to tell them if they want to pair with a good exhibit, this is our recommendation. This is what we believe is best to play alongside the film because he's the only company having an exhibit about giant dinosaurs.

BMZ: What are your views on the future of the Large Format industry, with the increasing footprint of digital theaters and the advancement of digital technology?

CS: Yeah, IMAX is definitely fading away right now. Definitely fading away, IMAX is a great concept, we love documentaries, we love everything [about this business]. The problem is the cost. IMAX tells us it's projecting sales right now, but it seems that theaters are struggling to make profit. And with the new digital system supplied by Christie or either Barco ... In January, for the first time I saw at Nuremberg, a Christie system, which fills up 75% of an IMAX screen, quality unbelievable, clarity unbelievable, no print seam, no nothing. I mean everyone will switch into this, there's no doubt about it, it's a matter of time. It cost $300,000, all under warranty, no servicing fee, no royalty fee. Yeah, definitely the technology is heading there.

There were so many museums we were talking about that wanted to get either an IWERKS or an IMAX projection system, but it's just too much money for them, or it was too big. But now any zoo or aquarium can afford a $300,000 system. In the Large Format industry with already existing museums, there's a little bit of mafia out there, that in the past or even still today, some markets are like, "Well, if I don't have the exclusivity in my theater, well I'm not going to book your film." But even though your film is ready to play, they say, "Well I'm booked til 2008" or "I'm booked til mid-2008." Think about that, you and me, we already invested $10 million three years ago, and we have to wait another 2 and a half years for them to play our film.

It's like we've got a mortgage on a house when we don't pay any capital on it, the interest doubles, triples, or more every year. Everyone will go bankrupt. That's exactly what happened in the past with many producers out there. They did a film, struggled to get the money together, finally got the budget, so happy to do it, produced a very good film. But distribution-wise they didn't do well because of the model of the existing IMAX/Large Format industry.

Right now with the digital, well it's a different thing because now with digital screens, it's just like Hollywood. Whether they are in a museum or not, they're like, "Bring it on." As soon as your product is ready, they want to play it right away. That's why I believe IMAX will definitely decline. It's not going to die, but it's not going to grow either.

BMZ: Would you continue to make movies in both IMAX and digital?

CS: Well, that's the direction we took at Sky High. I don't think there's many producers who have done this yet. With Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia 3D, the movie right now is already available in 8/70, 10/70, 15/70, digital 40-minute, digital 20-minute, and right now we're already starting to do the digital 12 to 13-minute version for theme parks. So almost at the same time. And I anticipate that the digital revenue will be as big as IMAX. I think that a year from now that the 200+ digital theaters [in non-multiplex settings] will grow to 400, and a year or two afterwards will grow to 800. They [IMAX theaters] are going to start feeling the pressure now that every time there's a great film out there. They will need to book it right away. They will have external pressure because [if digital theaters in their market book the film immediately, and if the IMAX theaters wait], the subject will already be dead in their own market.

And this is what I wish. Because I got in this [industry] almost nine years ago, and the b.s. of distribution and the theaters and the pressure not only in pricing, but of "Well, yeah, I'm going to book your film, but not now -- a year, a year and a half from now." That doesn't work. That model right now does not work. This is why Hollywood is not jumping into [the IMAX industry]. That's why Disney recently left the market. They've done some very good films. I mean it's Walt Disney. And they had other 3 films that they shot, but they are sitting in the can, and they don't want to release them right now. That's the reason. The distribution models do not work.

BMZ: I know that you had told me you were doing a trilogy for the Dinosaur film. Is there any other projects that you're working on, Giant Screen or otherwise?

CS: Yes, Adrenaline Rush 2 in 3D.

BMZ: So that will also be about skydiving and basejumping?

CS: We're studying the whole thing. I don't like to call it skydiving and basejumping. I call it more human flight, It's about the studies of human flight and risk-taking.

BMZ: Sounds great. Thank you so much for speaking with me.

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