An award winning producer and director, Pamela Peak’s passion for life is both inspirational and contagious.

Hailing originally from Detroit, Pamela Peak has been a published author since the age of fourteen.  She began her show business career as an actress, training in New York City at the renowned acting school, The Neighborhood Playhouse.  She soon found herself acting in television daytime soap operas such as CBS’s Love of Life and As The World Turns. She has acted in, produced and directed stage plays in New York, Los Angeles, and dinner theatre in Florida.  

Pamela has appeared in numerous industrial and corporate videos and infomercials.   She was a spokeswoman for the Ford Motor Company and has appeared in a number of films and infomercials.   She has written, produced and directed numerous industrial films in Orange County, CA where she resides with her husband and two children.

In 2010 Peak was awarded the prestigious State History Award for Media by the Historical Society of Michigan, for her exemplary work in documenting Michigan's role in the Northern Russian Expedition in Voices of a Never Ending Dawn. The film also screened at the National WWI Museum and other select theatres.  Also in 2010, Peak and her sound engineer and composer Rick Sherman of Sherman Sound Suite in Irvine, were nominated for an Emmy Award for Voices of a Never Ending Dawn for Best Audio.  Peak and Sherman enjoy working together creatively and they feel Voices of a Never Ending Dawn reflects some of their best work together.

Peak is used to writing from her heart and writing works that move people.  She is an artist that has great passion for the works she selects. This shows in all she does.  Her quest for finding her special grade school classmates culminated into the sensitive story of Colorblind that has grown to touch the hearts of millions.  The positive and emotional response to Colorblind by national PBS audiences was unparalleled.  After the tremendous success of Colorblind, Peak again found herself looking to “her own backyard” for her next project.  It was her cousin, Army Veteran Larry Chase of Troy Michigan, who brought the WWI story of Detroit’s Own Polar Bears to her attention and urged her to look into the dramatic facts and details of this unique American war story.  Peak was aware that her own grandfather, Guy Campus, had fought in this WWI conflict in Northern, Russia.  

“When I looked into the full story of the WWI soldiers known as ‘The Polar Bears’, I was astonished at what I had found.” says Peak. “It was a story of a group of young soldiers, the majority of whom were from the Detroit and Michigan areas.  It became clear to me that what we asked of these young men was more than our country has asked of any men in any conflict.  Their patriotism was tested more than any other American war story I have found.  These young men did the impossible for their country, under horrific circumstances in Northern Russia.”

“They were left to fight in Northern Russia, under complete British command, with not a single American Flag and with little food or medical supplies.  How they longed for home.  They fought to stay alive in 60 degree below zero weather while fighting a savage enemy the world had barely heard of at that time:  The Bolsheviks (an early name for Communists).  When WWI ended on November 11, 1918, these boys waited for their call to return home.  It simply did not come.

”The stories and diary entries left by these soldiers were so moving, and communicated such a human account of war, that Peak felt compelled to share this powerful story.  
“Amazingly”, says Peak, “there are still those in Detroit that know little or nothing of the brave sacrifices of these unusual soldiers.  A solemn promise was made to the men who survived this expedition that ‘they, and their buddies who did not come back, would never be forgotten’. 

I felt that creating a documentary film about their incredible sacrifices and the loyalty they displayed to their country was the least I could do to honor them.”In the film, Peak cast the voices of the soldiers with actors from Irvine’s Del Mar Media Arts.

Editor’s Note:  I first ran across the name Pamela Peak a few years ago from my friends Rick Sherman, Bonnie Erdrich, and Terry Syndergaard who were working with her on the post-production of her documentary Voices of a Never Ending Dawn.  Their praise of her as a professional and a person bordered on reverence.  Subsequently, having seen some of her work I quickly became a fan of her professional acumen as a producer and director and having done this article, I have also joined my friends in appreciating her as a person and am inspired by her journey.  

OCS:    Where were you born and raised?  
Pamela:    I was born and raised in Motown (Detroit, Michigan), I always loved the theater and wanted to act.  When our local university, Wayne State University, said that freshmen could not enter their drama program, I knew I had to pack up and leave for New York City. And I did!

OCS:    When did you first know that the entertainment industry is what you wanted to do with your life?
Pamela:    My grandmother wanted to be an actress but suffered from a serious heart condition as a little girl and couldn't become an actress. Although she died when I was five years old, she had a very positive impact on my life.  She inspired in me a great love of show business. By the time I was two, she literally had me saying lines. By the time I was five I landed my first singing part on our local PBS station (ironically, since my films air on PBS).  My kindergarten teacher saw how much I loved singing in front of the class (that same class in my PBS film Colorblind) and scheduled me to sing a solo on TV!
OCS:    Had you studied to do anything else?
Pamela:    Yes, I grew up in a real estate family.  My mother was a singer, but to help our family she became a top realtor in the Detroit area and suburbs.  Thus, I helped her in her sales office from a very young age and also got my real estate license when I was old enough.  And later, on breaks from studying acting in New York, I'd come home, help my mom and watch her conducting sales.  She was a truly dynamic woman who taught me sales and business. I realized by the time I was 21 that I was learning from the best! And sales and marketing are something very important for any actor, VO actor, producer or director to know and become skilled at!  

OCS:    Please describe your formal education, particularly as it might related to TV, video, and film.
Pamela:    I took every acting class I could and did every play or performance I could in grade school and high school.  I was also a pianist from the Michigan Conservatory of Music and played in recitals from the age of 4 1/2.  That actually gave me a lot of confidence to perform.  My major education in the arts came when I went to New York City when I was 18.  It is there that I found the acting school the Neighborhood Playhouse, created by the great Sanford Meisner.  If you Google this incredibly talented man you will see why he is the "best kept secret" of some of the biggest actors in the business we all know and love.  Well, after looking at all my choices of acting teachers: (Strasburg, Stella Adler and Sanford Meisner, amongst others) I chose Sanford Meisner.  He and his brilliant acting technique made all the difference, not just in my acting but in my life.  And this is the kind of acting I now teach in Orange County at Del Mar Media Arts.  It is based on truthful reality and acting from “moment to unanticipated moment.”  It is grounded in Improv.  That's what we see on the screen and in our favorite, well-done night time TV shows.
In New York, I also got to study ballet and jazz with some of the greatest Broadway dancers who I grew up watching in films like The Music Man and others.  Studying in New York is where it all came together for me.  Standing side-by-side with people I had watched on the big screen or on TV, watching Martha Graham teach a dance class?  Well, that was like heaven.  I also took classes to act in front of the camera with wonderful directors like Art Wolf, a director with many television credits.  This led me to begin to audition for soaps.  And working on soaps were my first television jobs!  I was proud to say that one year I was a senior in high school in Detroit watching soaps and within four years I was on them! (All that sales and marketing I had learned from my mother, helped me get myself out there and become known once I finished Sanford Meisner's two-year acting program).
And when my sister-in-law Darlene (also my best friend,) died of breast cancer in the late 1990s and I suddenly found myself becoming a mother to her children here in Orange County, I found great schools like Del Mar Media Arts (for VO and on-camera work) and also took classes at South Coast Rep.  I felt this was important to "stay in tune" so I could go back to show business when my mommy duties subsided as the children grew older.

Behind the camera, years ago, I started out by volunteering to help fellow actors put their scenes on film in some pretty professional shoots.  And I asked question upon question to the camera men and sound crew.  I did any technical job they needed and watched and learned.  That's how I began to get the confidence that I could bring the whole creative process together as a producer and director.  Then, when my children were still little, I filmed industrial videos for doctors, dentists, etc., both for their internet websites and for their own offices.  That's how I learned to operate behind the camera.

OCS:    When did you know you wanted to direct and produce?
Pamela:    Probably since I was six years old!  I didn't just "play with the kids down the street", I literally "directed them" in the pretend stories we created.  And sometimes those stories involved the entire block of kids!  And when I got onto sets as an actress in New York, I felt so at home.  It oddly felt like I had done this before.  I could see the bigger picture and just always felt at home setting up the scene and helping my fellow actors find their motivation for the scene.
I produced and directed my first play in New York City when I was 21 years old. I cast myself as the leading role, rented a small but nice theatre, and then I used my marketing skills to get several high quality agents and casting directors to come and see me and my fellow actors. And we got work off of that!  I am a true believer in taking responsibility for a bigger sphere than you want to operate in.  And I highly urge actors to take on that responsibility of the "other jobs" that relate to your acting.  It's an "entrepreneurial spirit and attitude" that you take with your own career and it has demanded the most I've had to offer and ultimately gotten my works seen by millions of people.  So I can attest that this approach works.  I'm not saying it isn't a lot of work, but it's fun and creative and it's the way I've been able to touch my audiences profoundly with the stories and messages I, personally, want to communicate.

OCS:    Please describe the most difficult situation you ran into in any of your projects and what you did to overcome it.
Pamela:  One of the more difficult situations I found myself in was finding national distribution for my first full-length documentary Colorblind, even after winning five Best Documentary Film Awards in film festivals.  I just brought to bear all the marketing skills I knew and didn't stop promoting it for six months.  I found a roster of independent film distributors and after so many e-mails and sending the DVD out by mail, I started getting back offers from some smaller distributors.  Based on audience reaction at film festivals, the story already being covered by ABC News (Good Morning America) and the fact that NBC News had wanted to also cover the original news story that led to making the documentary, I felt the story and the film was worth much larger distribution than a small distributor, so I just kept going!
Then suddenly I heard back from the Hallmark Channel!  They were strongly interested in the film and I thought that Hallmark and Colorblind were a great fit!  But sadly, I found out that the cost to license the great Motown music I had used in the film would be over $150,000 if it aired on The Hallmark Channel! That was money I'd have to raise quickly. Did I feel down about that? You bet!  But I still didn't give up.  Amongst many other distributors I had also sent the film to  American Public Television (APT). They are the largest distributor for PBS. And the great news was, because of APT's existing music licensing arrangements - airing a film on PBS did not cost me anything in terms of music licensing fees! They pay the music licensing fees. So shortly after hearing from The Hallmark Channel, I heard American Public Television wanted the film for PBS distribution.
After that, not knowing anything about PBS distribution, I was referred to a woman in North Carolina whose film was the most watched film on PBS that year.  I was told by someone I had made friends with who also worked at a PBS station, that this woman knew how to market to each individual PBS Programming Director so they would air her film.  Well, I asked this very nice and talented filmmaker to help me market Colorblind, and she told me all of her successful actions!  And now, like her, I am one of the top marketers to PBS through their individual programming directors.  And many of them have become my friends over the years.  They all loved Colorblind, felt like they got to know me through the story, and now I can pick up the phone and talk to many of them and have a wonderful conversation. And that sure helps each time I have a new film to market!  
Again, it's all in the marketing and it's also being sincere, enjoying relationships with people, and having passion to get your story out there and told.  

OCS:    Please describe the most enjoyable experience(s) you’ve had to date.
Pamela:    Times on the set with my cast and crew.  I think one of the most fun film shoots I'll ever have was on my film Voices of a Never Ending Dawn.  For months, I was working with a group of rowdy military re-enactors in Michigan who really knew their stuff (They were my military advisors on equipment, uniforms, protocol militarily, and they were also actors in the film.) They were like a bunch of schoolboys on the set.  They would make the funniest jokes - so funny in fact, that when we began a serious scene I'd have to "lay down the law" and say, "Okay, quiet on the set, NO JOKES! ... Action!"  I truly believe in keeping a light attitude on the set, and these guys just automatically did it for me, although I did have to mindful of the fact that we were shooting in 7 degree below zero temperatures and blizzards with a small amount of daylight and time running out fast!  As producer/director I have to be mindful of every technical detail, the quality of the performances, the money and the time, but also be mindful of the camaraderie of the crew and the actors.  The producer and the director set the tone and I believe that has a strong impact on the quality of the entire finished project.  Things can get really tense when shooting a film and the director must keep it light in order to keep it creative.  To me, this is the only way to get the job done.
Another enjoyable experience is watching audiences in movie theatres crying openly when watching my films.  It's very touching knowing I've done something and communicated something to touch their hearts or change their lives.
I remember the night that Colorblind aired in Prime Time on Dr. King's Birthday in 2008.  As the film played on each PBS station from New York to California and rolled across each American time zone, amazing e-mails popped up on my computer from people telling me what the film meant to them personally - hundreds of e-mails poured in and continued to pour in through to the end of February - Black History Month (when many more stations aired and re-aired the film). And I still get e-mails and phone calls, year after year, as the film keeps airing each January and February since 2008.  I cannot tell you what it feels like as a filmmaker when you know you've touched that many people.  

OCS:    Do you think you will act again, either in your own film or others.
Pamela:    Absolutely!  I even have a one-woman show ready to produce for television when I am about ten years older than I am now - a work I've always wanted to do.  And I am still acting!  I decided to do one short monologue on August 19-20 2011 at Del Mar Media Arts in Irvine right along with my acting students in their showcase.  I just couldn't resist all the fun they were having and had to jump in and join them!

OCS:    What are the most difficult hurdles and independent producer faces and how have you overcome them?  
Pamela:    The biggest hurdle is finding funding for your first project. On the first one, no one knows your work yet in that arena.  Make sure it's a great story and don't be afraid to approach people that "love you" and ask for funding!  And if you do a great job with the project and get it seen or win some awards in film festivals and you make that known, the funding for your next project and your next will become easier and easier.  The more success you have, the easier your next funding will be to procure.  And my biggest advice is:  A. When you are looking for funding: Have passion for your project or don't do it at all.  That passion is what gets people to believe in you, buy into your work and gives them the confidence that you will come through for them. B. Have thick skin and let all the rejection roll off your back.  If someone says "no" don't dwell on it, move on to the next prospect and the next and do it quickly.  C. Don't stop!  That funding you need may be right around the corner. Make your list of potential funders a long list and just keep going!  Find a way to get that project done and don't give up.  Life is short, go for broke, make your dream happen! You will be a lot more unhappy if you don't!  So go for it!

OCS:    Please give us a sense of the future of independent filmmaking as you see it.
Pamela:    I'm hoping that independent filmmaking will keep on the same trajectory it has been on over the past five years.  The fact that a filmmaker can pick up a camera (they are so high-quality now), and then edit his own works with great pieces of software like Final Cut Pro. And the fact that he can get onto a website like "Without A Box" and enter his/her films into film festivals, well, that is just fabulous.  
The fact that stations like PBS exist and so many cable channels exist that will consider airing independent films is phenomenal.  But the biggest thing I've learned is this: Make your film's audio and visual quality top-notch right from the get-go.  If you don't, your films will definitely not be considered for broadcast or distribution.  If you do, then you've got a big portion of the job already conquered as long as you tell a good story.  And I strongly advise all filmmakers to know how to write great screenplays!  Know the formula and structure of a winning film.  Take a good writing class.  If you have a strong story, know film structure (be it a documentary or feature film), cast some great believable actors, and deliver a top-notch technical project, then you will have "a winner" that can gain distribution.  

OCS:    Please share what you think are the most important traits someone must have in order to be successful as a producer.
Pamela:    Passion and belief in your own project and the ability to inspire people.  And be sincere.  Be responsible.  Don't promise your funders things you do not think you can deliver. As a producer and a director, personal discipline and time management is everything. Stay in great communication with everyone on your project - everyone! And do not take up a project that doesn't touch your heart and soul.  If you believe in your project, that will translate all the way to your funders as well as your crew, your actors and then finally your audience - and that, and that alone, is what it's all about.

For more information about Pamela Peak's Projects, click below


Thursday, July 18, 2024