Keith Samples, CEO and founder of Rysher Entertainment, who always had been a reluctant “suit,” has resigned from the 2-1/2-year-old company, having been bitten by the directing bug.
Rysher president Tim Helfet will now be in charge of the struggling film operation, which recently produced “Private Parts,” “The Evening Star” and “Turbulence.” Helfet also will take the CEO title.
Samples, who has aspired to a writing and directing career for many years, made his feature directorial debut on Rysher’s Lauren Holly-Greg Kinnear romantic comedy “A Smile Like Yours,” which he also co-wrote. He is now in the process of choosing an agent at one of the big three tenpercenteries.
“Given where everything is right now, it was the right time to leave,” said Samples. “Rysher’s TV side is doing great. I have a film coming out this summer. We’ve slowed down a lot on the feature film side, and it will continue to operate at the pace that it’s at.”
Rysher, which produced 10 films in its first 2-1/2 years, recently implemented a new strategy to cut back its feature film production schedule from a targeted 12 films a year to three to five films annually.
“In the past, I’ve always taken sort of big steps, and I’m taking another one here because it’s something I really want to do,” said Samples, who optioned and just adapted the David Morell novel “Testament” and is anxious to get that project going.
“A Smile Like Yours” will bow Aug. 15 from Paramount Pictures. “This movie always had the taint that I hired myself, so I want to be able to prove to everyone that I can make movies. I think you make changes in your life when you want the change so bad that you take the risk of failing at it,” Samples said.
Samples founded Rysher in April 1991 when he left his job as a Warner Bros. syndication salesman and secured rights to represent off-network distribution of NBC’s Saturday-morning show “Saved by the Bell.” The following year, Rysher (named after Samples’ two children Ryan and Sheridan) put together international financing for the syndicated “Highlander: The Series.”
Cox Enterprises, the Atlanta-based newspaper and cable giant, bought Rysher in 1993 for just under $15 million, $9 million of which went to pay off Rysher’s debt. Samples signed a six-year contract at that time. Cox has pumped about $500 million into production since 1994, when the company got into the feature production and distribution business. The company has yet to produce a box office hit on its own.
“We are going to miss him and we are going to miss his talent,” said Nick Trigony, president of Cox Broadcasting. “I wish him luck in pursuing his dreams.”
Trigony said it became evident recently that Samples’ interests were leaning to the creative side. “I knew this day would come eventually. I knew this is what he wanted to do,” he said.
The company has entered into a number of distribution and production deals. In 1995, it launched a 50-50 equity partnership with Paramount on four pictures: “Primal Fear,” “Escape From L.A.,” “The Saint” and the upcoming Morgan Freeman starrer “Kiss the Girls.” It also entered into a distribution arrangement with MGM. MGM released Rysher’s “Turbulence,” “Zeus and Roxanne” and “2 Days in the Valley.”
In another agreement, Goldwyn released Rysher’s Stanley Tucci-directed “Big Night,” which debuted at Sundance to critical kudos.
Producer David Kirkpatrick who has a deal with Rysher and produced “The Evening Star,” “Big Night” and is currently in production on the comedy “The Opposite of Sex,” noted: “I think this is great for Keith because it really allows him to pursue his dream of writing and directing.”
Samples had spoken to friends for months about turning in his executive stripes to pursue producing, writing and directing.
“It’s impossible right now to go around pitching projects because I’m an executive,” Samples said. “And it was incredibly hard to go back as an executive after I’ve been working on the creative side.”