May 9, 2016 Interview – Gabriel Campisi
Browse the new release pages of Amazon.com and chances are Horror fans will spot a few titles with a credit to American Filmmaker Gabriel Campisi. Inspired to make films from a young age, Campisi has since gone on to create some interesting Horror films that are creating some buzz. Now in 2016, Campisi has quite a few films on tap, including Wishing for a Dream, The Horde, The Valley Drowner, and Little Dead Rotting Hood. Recently we had the chance to sit down with the writer/producer to peak into the beginning stages of his career, his passion for creating, and future plans in movie-making.
CrypticRock.com – You began making movies at the young age of eight and had success at the age of sixteen for your short film The Lost Creature. First, tell us, how does one become a screenwriter?
Gabriel Campisi – I sincerely believe there has to be some sort of inherent instinct inside a person to want to become a screenwriter, and then actually succeed at doing it. It is something that has to thrive inside the person from a very young age – the desire, I mean. It has to be a passion that rises above most things in a person’s life, because it’s not an easy thing to do. This is not to say you can’t start writing at a later time in life – it’s never too late to start anything. Most successful screenwriters that I know have been “creating” since a very young age, and basically just decided to never grow up. They’ve been playing make-believe since they were kids and continued doing the same into adulthood. When you stop and think about it, that’s really all that screenwriting and filmmaking is: playing make-believe.
CrypticRock.com – That is an excellent way to look at it. Was that always your intended vocation?
Gabriel Campisi – I started shooting short films on Super 8mm film when I was 8 years old. I didn’t know at the time screenwriting is what I wanted to do. I just knew that I wanted to make movies. This continued into my teenage years, and then into young adulthood.
I was winning national (teenage) film competitions with my short films and getting in the newspaper when I was 15. I was always writing from a young age, too; short stories and movie ideas. I learned to write screenplays in proper format before I graduated high school. I read all the great books of the time, and eventually studied with Professor Richard Walter of the UCLA Screenwriting Program. It’s not fair to say I always wanted to be a screenwriter. It’s more accurate to say I always wanted to make movies, and screenwriting just happened to be one of the career paths that helped make things a reality.
CrypticRock.com – That is amazing to have figured that out so early on in life. Do you remember the first thing you wrote and were paid for?
Gabriel Campisi – I really wish I did, but I don’t. I’ve been writing for many years, and in different capacities, so it all gets kind of fuzzy. I wrote for the UNLV campus newspaper for three or four years while I was a student there, and was also the editor of the Opinion Page for two of those years. I’m going to guess that is probably where I first got paid for my writing. I also had several short stories published in small press during that time, for which I got paid on several, but not all of them. I’ve recently written a couple of books on independent filmmaking and film financing. I did a lot of ghost-writing over the years for other screenwriters, and got paid for projects that never got the full green light to go into production.
CrypticRock.com – Sometime experience is payment enough. Above all, writing should be done for the love first. When did you know things were working, meaning that you had chosen a good career path?
Gabriel Campisi – Any person who pursues a literary career learns soon enough if things are working out or not by virtue of the acceptance or rejection of their work. As a writer, you have to get some form of positive response from agents, managers, producers, or fellow screenwriters. Of course, it’s very difficult to make a sale, which would be the ultimate form of acceptance. As long as you hear encouraging comments from people who truly matter, professionals who recognize good work, then you should feel comfortable that you have at least a basic grasp of writing and you might be on the right path in life.
I was fortunate enough to be accepted at the university for my writing right away. Then my short stories were accepted in some of the largest fiction anthologies of the time. When I proposed my first book on independent filmmaking and film financing, I had six publishers that wanted me to sign with them. Couple all of this with the filmmaking awards I was getting for my short films across the nation as a writer, director, and producer. Believe me, positive responses and encouragement will make you think you can move mountains and make you to reach for the stars! I say this because I also received a lot of rejection in my early years, which made me want to throw all my dreams away. I heard some very nasty things from some very nasty agents and producers, and there were times I really wanted to quit.
CrypticRock.com – Rejection does put a damper on one’s wiliness to succeed. It is great you persevered though. Is it fair to say the Horror genre has been good to you?
Gabriel Campisi – It is very fair to say this, and there are several more movies I have coming out soon and in the pipeline for the future that are also of the Horror genre. But Horror is only one genre I’ve been fortunate enough to work in. There are several others I’m working on now, projects that are in development for the future that have nothing to do with Horror.
CrypticRock.com – That will be interesting for audiences to look forward to. Why do you think Horror has that power to make careers? Is it that it is an easy sell?
Gabriel Campisi – I think Horror is a very visual genre, a very visceral theme that tends to provide an experience of emotions that audiences can easily relate with. So a good Horror movie, even if done on a low-budget level, will get the audience’s attention. This is not to say that just any Horror movie will work. There are some terrible Horror movies out there that have never been released because they’re so bad. A lot of filmmakers think if you just add a lot of blood and gore, you automatically have a good Horror movie. That’s complete nonsense, and couldn’t be farther from the truth. So I think it’s an easy sell if it’s done right. If it’s a terrible movie, you wouldn’t be able to give it away.
CrypticRock.com – Horror does have to include a strong story as well as the gore. When did you begin writing the film Little Red Rotting Hood?
Gabriel Campisi – I began writing it about a year before it went into production. It had to go through the entire development process, with checks and balances, before it was ready for production. I remember it was a very anxious moment, as I had already known it was green-lit for production. Waiting for the first day of production, for cameras to roll, was very nerve-wracking.
CrypticRock.com – That has to be a very nerve-wracking feeling, as well as exciting. Were there a lot of cooks in the kitchen injecting their ideas and thoughts into the screenplay, or were you pretty much left alone to do it yourself?
Gabriel Campisi – There were different suggestions from the development and executive offices along the way, yes. But most were very creative additions and ideas that ultimately made it a better project. Luckily, I didn’t have to do any major changes. Everyone at Asylum and Cinedigm really loved the original idea, and the original draft of the screenplay.
CrypticRock.com – It is great that the suggestions were helpful. Did it change much between draft and shooting script?
Gabriel Campisi – I wrote the final shooting script, and it was very close to the original drafts I wrote. During the actual shooting, however, some changes had to be made due to budget and time restrictions. We used real wolves in the movie, and they were difficult to work with – and dangerous. A lot of the wolf-attack scenes and fight scenes with Little Dead Rotting Hood had to be shortened to accommodate. But the overall result in the movie works. All the plot-points were there, all the necessary beats to carry the story forward were all there. Everyone on the crew, from the actors to the technicians and the artisans, put together the most amazing little motion picture, and I couldn’t be happier!
CrypticRock.com – It is great that your story was able to stay consistent through the process. You also produce as well. Did you work as a producer in anyway for Little Dead Rotting Hood?
Gabriel Campisi – I wrote the screenplay and was involved in every phase of the production, but, officially, I wasn’t hired to produce it, so didn’t get a producer credit on this one.
CrypticRock.com – At least you got to see it through, fully. Being there have been a slew of new Horror movies released, what do you think was 2015’s best Horror movie?
Gabriel Campisi – There were several good ones, but I think It Follows by David Robert Mitchell was probably the most convincing. I also liked The Hallow by Corin Hardy and Felipe Marino. I was seriously let down by the Poltergeist remake. I was hoping it would at least be on par with the original 1982 movie by Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg, but it didn’t even come close. I should mention the original Poltergeist is one of my all-time favorite Horror movies.