Wednesday 28 June 2017

Interview with Gabriel Campisi - Producer of Death Pool

Gabriel Campisi is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who shot his first movies on Super-8mm and 16mm as a kid, the more elaborate ones going on to win national competitions. Proficient in creating practical and optical special effects at a time when computer-generated imagery was not yet prominent, he was recognized early on by national film festivals and magazines for his stop-motion animation and split-beam cinematic techniques.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Campisi spent many years dealing in the high-stakes world of motion picture finance, subsequently writing the bestselling The Independent Filmmaker's Guide to Writing a Business Plan for Investors (McFarland Publishers) presently in its second edition.

Campisi studied with UCLA's screenwriting professor Richard Walter, and has written for industry publications and genre magazines, including Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and Fangoria Magazine. He is a partner at Traplight Pictures and a member of the Producers Guild of America (P.G.A.).

Gabriel joins us today to talk about Death Pool

This is yet another collaboration between yourself and Jared Cohn.  How far does that working relationship date back?

I’ve known Jared for several years now, and we’ve worked on many projects together.  I think the fact we work so well together is that it’s a true partnership with mutual respect.  We both bring different assets to the table which complement each other, and recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
While we own Traplight Pictures, LLC with our other partner Demtreus Stear, we also do our own projects independent of one another.  There is no set rule on how we collaborate, but we definitely have the same interests and will be producing movies together well into the future.

And how do you think this project differed from previous films you’ve done together?

While we’ve worked together on other projects in the past, and some in collaboration with our company, Traplight Pictures, this was the first project that was 100% completely financed and produced by our company.  We had no one to answer to but ourselves.

This brought a double-edged sword to the equation.  While on the one hand we had complete autonomy to produce the film as we desired, we also were aware we had no safety net – no studio or executive to turn to if we went over budget, and no one to blame but ourselves if the movie fails.

Would you say this is almost ‘swimming’ in a different genre to the other movies?  It’s part horror film, part art film, almost.

I think the movie still stays within the same body of work we’ve been doing until now, but definitely the movie has a twist.  I can’t think of a movie where the killer used water as his primary tool for killing his victims before.

Who knows, maybe we’re inventing a new genre.

Randy Wayne is someone new to the Traplight Media family, I believe?  How did he come to play the role?

Jared directed him in the movie Hold Your Breath (2012), so they were friends from before.  When it came time to cast Johnny Taylor, his name was one of the first to come up as a possible actor to portray him.  We needed someone who could play a normal person on the outside, but with deep trauma on the inside that he tries to hide, but eventually surfaces.

Randy liked the screenplay, and loved the part right away.  He brought some great insight to how he would play the role, and he seriously brought the character to life.  He did an incredible job.

Did he find some of those ‘drowning’ scenes difficult to film?

You’d have to ask him that question, but I don’t think he did.  I think he had a lot of fun, actually.  Randy was a trooper from the start.  He’s a great guy and he brought 110% to the production.  He was never afraid to try things, no matter how crazy or bizarre.  He was also always very careful to not really hurt anyone, and considerate of the other actors.

Was everyone a little freaked out by him on the set – especially those damsels in distress?

No, not at all.  Randy’s a very kind and funny person, and everyone actually had a lot of fun on set at all times – even during the death scenes.

The film’s title changed -- why was that?

We originally called the movie The Valley Drowner, which was the name the media gives Randy’s character in the movie. When we signed the movie with Artist View Entertainment, they discovered the title did not translate correctly in foreign languages, and it could potentially be a problem with foreign sales.  In fact, the word “drowner” is not a real word, as I found out after my own research.  It’s only listed in fringe dictionaries, but it’s not in any of the respectable ones – Oxford, Cambridge, Merriam-Webster, etc.
So we had to toss around different title ideas, and Death Pool is the one we eventually went with.

How much say do producers and filmmakers get in a film once it’s been sold to a distributor? Do you have to just let it go and wish it luck?

A movie is typically not sold to distributors -- it’s licensed.  Once you let it go, it will play out on its own as per the deal you have with that sales agent or distributor.  This is why it is so crucial to make sure you have a good deal in place.

I know too many filmmakers who are so eager to get a “deal,” they will sign the first deal to come along, or they won’t really consider the distributor’s strengths and weaknesses.  Then when things go wrong, they can’t figure out why.

There are many variables that can make the difference between a good deal and a bad deal.  Making sure those variables are present, and knowing how to gauge them is crucial.  That part is my responsibility as executive producer.

Death Pool is out now on DVD and you can order it from Amazon at the following link.
Death Pool DVD (Opens in a new window)