Peter Carlos: To Los Angeles and Back

Peter Carlos has spent his life in the media, balancing paying work with artistic pursuits, and along the way has found time to impart some of his wisdom and experience to a few lucky students at local universities.

Currently the director of programming for Lindenwood University’s cable access channel LU26, Carlos continues to teach writing, production, and film analysis classes to students in the Master’s of Fine Arts program. However, Carlos is more than an ivory tower teacher; he brings years of actual working experience to his classes. Carlos caught the movie bug at 12. “Most kids want to read Playboy; I would read my mother’s movie magazines.”

This early interest led him to look for film schools after high school, but the fates conspired to send him to the University of Missouri – St. Louis, a school without a film production program. Undaunted, Carlos took all of the film theory classes he could and secured a job at Warner Amex Cable after college. During the days of linear editing and three-fourths-inch tape, Carlos worked as an assistant director for Bernie Carnoe, famous for his Slyman Brothers commercials. Toiling on such highbrow fare as “Wrestling at the Arena” Carlos proved himself, eventually writing and producing commercials locally. A desire to work on bigger projects took him to Los Angeles.

“I had a friend who worked on Lethal Weapon; he said, ‘Hey they’re looking for a production manager.’” “They” turned out to be a group shooting a feature with a young actor named Jim Carrey. “It’s not a lot of money, a month’s work,” said Carlos, but “it wasn’t bad.” The film High Strung went on the festival circuit and was a stepping-stone for not only Carlos and Carrey, but writer Steve Oedekerk and actors Fred Willard and Kirsten Dunst. Carlos continued to work art department and production on television and movies, but after a year he returned to St. Louis and his pregnant wife. “I didn’t want to raise kids out there,” Carlos remembers, “I decided to come back here and do all that soccer stuff…I like hanging out with my kids.”

Carlos built a life in St. Louis freelance producing and writing. He shot commercials, television specials, and corporate videos, balancing his home life with his work. In 1997, he met producer Joe Beck and cinematographer Chris Benson. “I wanted to make movies,” Carlos continues. He had a story and a star in Elvis impersonator Steve Davis. Davis and Carlos had been friends for years, and Carlos saw the potential for comedy and drama in Davis’s relationship with his children. His unusual vocation put additional strains on the normal family relations. That premise turned into Carlos’s award winning short “Dad’s Day.” At 40 minutes, “Dad’s Day” is not the most festival-friendly film, but it has found an audience, winning awards at both the Valencia and New Jersey Film Festivals, and a showing on local television.

His success with “Dad’s Day” led Carlos to continue shooting projects. Embracing digital video, Carlos is currently finishing two more shorts and also contributed to The Gathering, a feature consisting of three separate stories all taking place at one funeral. Working with local directors Jay Kelly and Wyatt Weed, Carlos’s piece opens the film and sets the tone. In Carlos’s portion, a professor returns home for the funeral to find himself mired in the same dysfunction that originally drove him away.

Carlos’s shorts “Sonny Boy” and “Atta Boy” also deal with family dynamics. It is evident that family is important to Carlos; not only does the theme dominate his work, but his conversations constantly return to his wife and kids. Whether gently bragging on his son claiming a role in an upcoming production of A Christmas Carol, or glowing when he recalls the opportunities he has had to use his sons in his work, Carlos is never at a loss when talking about his home life.

It is that home life that lured Carlos back from the bright lights of Los Angeles. It is that home life that has pushed Carlos to give up the grind on production work to concentrate on teaching. And it is that home life that informs Carlos’s decisions for the future. “I’ll make films here,” he’s decided. “I want more control over what I do. I also like the people I work with here…I just want to make features and sleep in my own bed at night.”

Taking a break from the rigors of production life, Carlos has used the opportunity to pass on his knowledge to a younger generation. Teaching has not only allowed Carlos to spend time with his family and work on his own projects, but it is fulfilling in itself. “Teaching grounds me,” Carlos observes. “If you’re always in the film mode, it’s kind of tough. It’s long hours, it’s hard work. Sometimes you need to break away. Teaching does that for me. I can study films; I can talk to students; I can listen to their ideas.”

Carlos tells his students, “If you don’t have a story, you don’t have much. It’s always got to be about story. A good story is always going to keep people interested.” Carlos is a storyteller. He sees himself continuing in the tradition of traveling minstrels, entertaining as he moves through life. Luckily for Carlos, he has had an interesting enough life to keep his stories entertaining.

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