Catching up with Peter Riegert of "Animal House"
He called us and we all started a campaign to convince the distribution people at United Artists to give the picture a little bit more of a chance to find an audience than the three days they were looking at, but not telling us about. Peter came along, in fact, it may have been his idea, when Amy, Griffin and I stood on street corners handing out flyers telling people to go see this great little movie that had been well reviewed, but was barely being advertised. It was more like an off-off Broadway play than a big glamorous Hollywood movie. We were all out there for several days and we managed to get enough people into the theatre that they stayed with it for awhile but it was doomed from the beginning with that bunch at UA.
What was happening was that the creative people at UA and the distribution people at UA did not really communicate well at all. The distribution people were determined to teach the creative people that they shouldn't, indeed couldn't, make nice, thoughtful little movies about people and relationships; that they should be making more movies like "Moonraker" or "Rocky III," or whatever they were also making at the time.
The creative people thought they were running the studio and the distribution people knew that they held the keys to the bank and that the money would always talk louder and faster. In two years time, UA opened UA Classics, a division that was designed to handle nice, little films and "Head Over Heels" became "Chilly Scenes of Winter" again and was nicely successful in that less heady atmosphere. Now, of course, each studio has a classics division and independent films are plentiful.
This is supposed to be about Peter.
A few years ago Peter did the same thing on an even larger scale with a movie that he wrote and directed called "The King of the Corner." He had trouble finding a distributor that would handle it the way he knew it needed to be handled, so he took it on the road himself. Using his own money, he went to college towns all over the country to show the movie and talk about it and try to build a following.
It's a nice little movie, but he wasn't what we would call successful in launching it. But, he was successful in following through on his effort. He stayed with his film through to the end as he did with "Chilly Scenes." It was more than just a job to him. He really made a commitment, and stayed with it. He's like that. He does that with things.
I've worked on a couple of different films with Peter and hung out with him in bars in New York and he always has a big, hardcover book under his arm. He reads. He really reads. If you start a conversation with him, you better be prepared to go all the way. He will talk and he tells great stories. I am having trouble remembering them, because they are complicated and lengthy. There is something old school about Peter. He is a hipster, a beatnik; or at least you can see him sitting in those bars having those conversations.
In the Double Secret Probation Edition of "Animal House," that was released five years ago, there is a mockumentary where they interview all the characters as they are now. John Landis put it together and directed it. He went to New York and asked Peter and Karen Allen to meet him, I think it's at the cutting room that Peter was using for the film he was making at the time. When they both got there John just told them to start talking to each other and improvise their relationship as it might be today after the circus of the movie.
I think that what they came up with should be developed into a television series. Their chemistry and the subsequent banter that they came up with is like the dialogue in the early "Thin Man" movies with William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. They are still like that today. Peter brings that with him because he is such a generous actor and a great listener.
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peter is in one of my favorite movies called Local Hero. I did see the independent movie he made and it wasn't bad.
Mark, great article! After reading this and researching CHILLY SCENES of WINTER, I hope the opportunity to view it presents itself soon. Any chance of this being released on DVD?
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