Bob Peterson earns new stripes as a film producer
A film playing at the Magic Lantern Cinema in Ketchum this week owes its success in part to local film producer Bob Peterson, who grew up in the Wood River Valley before following his dreams to Hollywood.
The film, “The Last Full Measure,” is a dramatic retelling of the true story of Air Force medic William H. Pitsenbarger Jr., who was awarded the nation’s highest military honor for his actions on the battlefield in Vietnam.
“I always wanted to be a filmmaker,” Peterson said during an interview from Los Angeles. “I was that kid who always had the video camera. My friends joke that I have so much incriminating footage of them all throughout the years that no one will be running for political office anytime soon.”
“The Last Full Measure,” directed by Todd Robinson, stars William Hurt, Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson, Diane Ladd and Christopher Plummer in a story about Pitsenbarger’s heroic drop from a helicopter into battle, where he saved lives before losing his own; and the 34-year battle to have his bravery honored by the military.
Robert Reed Peterson, 33, was born and raised in Sun Valley. The son of local jeweler Barry Peterson, he spent kindergarten through 12th grade at The Community School and attended the New York Film Academy for a summer while in high school. He earned a degree in cinema/ television, and a B.S. in business at Southern Methodist University and went to work at his grandfather’s car dealership in Washington, D.C. There, he put his film skills to use making advertising videos, building a YouTube channel with tens of millions of views and almost 100,000 subscribers.
“We were Google’s poster child for videos in the sector,” he said.
Peterson eventually moved to L.A. and networked, teaming up with a screenwriter and a producer friend. The three of them founded Provocator, a production company. His cousin Nick Cafritz moved out from New York City and joined them. In fall 2015, Peterson produced “Camera Store,” starring another Sun Valley local, actor John Larroquette.
“His son Ben and I are good friends, no coincidence, and went to The Community School together,” Peterson said.
The film premiered at the Palm Springs Film Festival and the Sun Valley Film Festival and was bought by Netflix.
Peterson and Cafritz, the current owners of Provocator, originally got involved with “The Last Full Measure” by both raising money and putting some in themselves. Several other producers are listed in the film’s credits.
“In most independent films these days the credit ‘producer’ is simply a negotiated term, something that people will barter for if they happen to have something valuable to bring to a film like money, a relationship to an actor, the rights to a story, a location, etc. As long as it’s important enough, or the film is desperate enough for it, you can usually get a producer credit,” Peterson said.
Peterson and Cafritz joined the team when the project was at risk of being canceled. He said the lead producer wanted to take the little money left for production and spend it on shooting the war scenes in Bulgaria, using computer-generated imagery to create the look of the Vietnam jungle.
“We all looked at each other, and after working so hard to raise enough money to shoot a high-quality prestige film using real locations, we just couldn’t for the life of us let this happen,” Peterson said.
The two partners then entered a jungle of their own—of financing challenges, close calls, meetings with lawyers, calls to investors and eventually travel to Thailand where the crucial scenes were filmed.
“We really called everyone we could think of to help keep the project going. Timing was everything,” Peterson said. “Most importantly, we needed somewhere we could either get or bring a Huey helicopter, the main iconic image of the film, and a key prop in the story. It was the most intense, stressful and exhilarating few weeks of my life.
Peterson said he had a “half-shot movie, and millions of dollars at stake,” not to mention the possibility of letting down a crew that had worked “very hard and honestly on a great movie and story.”
“Sometimes you gotta’ just jump off the cliff and build the plane on the way down,” he said.
After a year in post-production, “The Last Full Measure,” is out in theaters and received a positive review in The New York Times.
“We’ve had dozens of other projects that haven’t gotten off the ground,” he said, but Provocator recently finished its third film, “Bit,” about a transgender vampire, which has premiered in about a dozen LGBTQ festivals all over and will be released in about a month.
“I ultimately want to take what I have learned and apply it to directing in the future,” Peterson said.