By Jonathan Marlow
September 27, 2005 - 7:34 AM PDT
There are the books, the latest being Make Love... the Bruce Campbell Way, the comic books, and of course, the movies, and Bruce Campbell's movie of the moment is Man with the Screaming Brain, which he's directed and stars in. Campbell writes (Phase I), directs, produces and acts (II) and, with equal vigor, promotes (III). As Jonathan Marlow discovers, he does it all with a healthy sense of humor.
Your film, Man with the Screaming Brain, reminds me of a contemporary retelling of the Ray Milland/Rosey Grier vehicle The Thing with Two Heads, except with only one head. In a sense, that makes it more of a challenge for you as an actor, and as the director and as the writer. How did the Screaming Brain comic books come about?
It was a logical movie to do a comic book about. Anytime you have that extreme weirdo, dark twisted story, it makes for a comic. In this case, we used the comic as the directors cut because it's more what the movie should have been. At night, atmospheric, you're not limited by anything. Wind and rain don't cost anything in a comic, so it's a way to make it look and feel more like it should. I've had a good relationship with Dark Horse. They did the Army of Darkness comic way back before the new Army of Darkness comics.
Your directorial debut also reminded me of another film that you starred in, Crimewave (aka The XYZ Murders), perhaps because of your slapstick use of Ted Raimi. How was it, now, to direct Ted...
Ted's great! I've directed him before, on television. Ted's just a part of my repertory company. I use Ted to make me look subtle!
You've directed episodes of Xena, obviously Hercules and you also did an episode of V.I.P. How did V.I.P. happen?
Once you get in the director's club, you know. You've done some TV with action and stunts and special effects and other syndicated shows, you're in the syndicated club. You can do syndicated TV shows. I couldn't go on and do network shows, like ER. That's a different club. So I got in the syndicated club. That was a logical progression. I did two of those and that was plenty.
The folks that control the purse strings, do they tend to think of you more as an actor and not as a director in that case?
I don't know. In that case, they hired me just as a director. They didn't care about my acting background. They seem to be separate worlds. In the low budget movie world, I can get a directing gig if I put myself in it. They care more about who's in it than who directs them.
And that's how you put the money together for Screaming Brain?
Well, the money, I'm embarrassed to say, took nineteen years to get it all together. Finally, Jeff Franklin, who's one of the Executive Producers, put me together with the Sci-Fi Channel and the German Tax Fund. Next thing you know, we got the money.
What was the association with Anchor Bay?
Anchor Bay is going to be jumping in to do the DVD release. They're promoting the theatrical screenings as a way to get the word out about the impending DVD. The money that we actually make from the theatrical is all gravy.
Was the timing of the theatrical always supposed to connect with the release of the book?
My plan is to tie in as many things as you possibly can. I don't mind touring, but I don't want to tour twice. Earlier this year, it looked like the book was going to be finished up, because you never know with novels, whether it's ready or not - that's between you and the publisher. We made a joint decision that it looks like it's good enough to go. Put that into motion and they set start dates. The theatrical distribution piggy-backed off of the book tour. They had to set the dates early so we told the distribution guys, "I'm coming to the city, so try and find a theater." I told the publishers, "Let's try to find a theater and get books there." I remember sending a memo out saying, "Everyone meet everyone," to get these three, four, five entities together. You've got comic books that are being sold. You've got merchandising. How is that supposed to work? That type of crap.
That sort of orchestration is very similar to producing a film.
It's producing. That's been a big deal. So the ComiCon is a classic example. In San Diego, they've got this massive comic convention. I'm there for Sky High for Disney, The Woods for MGM, THQ's new video game, the Screaming Brain movie, the Screaming Brain comic book, several book signings and we'll have screenings in theaters at night, so it's a massive dog-and-pony show for everything coming out. So I'm going every day, I'm at three or four different events for different companies, signing in their booth. It's crazy. It's sales time. To me, it comes in thirds. The first third is coming up with an idea and creating it and writing in whatever format, whether it's a book or a movie. Then you have to make the thing. You've got to either write the book or make the movie, and then you've got to sell it. I'm in Phase III right now. All summer is Phase III. In the fall, it's Phase I again.
Start all over again and find ways to find new synergies...
I'm doing a movie with Dark Horse in the fall. It's an untitled Bruce Campbell movie that will be out either spring or summer of next year.
This is an acting/producing/directing gig?
Same thing, just like this. Just like Screaming Brain; almost exactly the same.
Would you consider doing a sequel to Screaming Brain?
I would just consider doing another movie each year. People like fresh stuff. Sequels are fine.
So a movie a year, with Dark Horse involved in some capacity. You enjoyed your experience doing Man with Screaming Brain?
Where did you shoot it?
The whole thing was shot there?
The whole thing. We went there for the fact that Bulgarians make $110 bucks a month. It was not to help the movie.
Who was the DP on the film?
David Worth, who shot a couple of Clint Eastwood movies [such as Bronco Billy and Any Which Way You Can]. It's mostly Jeff Franklin's team. He puts the money together, he controls the money, so he goes, "We're shooting in Bulgaria. Here are some of the crew members." I brought in whoever I could; he brought in a lot of people. We jointly picked a few cast members and all that.
For the last decade or more, you've been the go-to guy for cameos [Spider-Man, The Ladykillers]. You're also doing a lot of video game voice-over work. It's all different capacities of the same talent pool, if you want to call it that. Is there any particular aspect that you like more than others?
It's all just job rotation. I'm from Detroit, the land of automated manufacturing. You don't want to screw bolts on all day, you want to work on grills and fenders and doors. There are lots of metaphors, but I like the whole tint of entertainment. I think there's a lot of stuff going on and I think that any rational person in the entertainment business shouldn't limit themselves to one thing. In Detroit, it was a one-horse town. They only made cars and when the cars went down the shitter, the city went down the shitter. It's barely clawing it's way back now, however many years later since early imports in the late 1970s. I don't want to be a one-trick horse. If movies go bust, I'll write. If writing goes bust, I'll make a video game. To me, it's trying to stay abreast of the changing times, too. The industry is changing like crazy. Technology is changing everything. I just don't want to be left behind in a rest home. I want to just stay up there with it. You have to get involved. You have to be proactive.
Was it clear from the time when you were doing Within the Woods with Sam Raimi that you wanted to do this for a career, for a lifetime?
I've wanted to act since I was eight years old. It was just a matter of making it all happen. At first it was just to get experience; you could get in anything, any movies. Early on I took any movie that came along - Maniac Cop, Mindwarp, Moontrap, it didn't matter.
I suspect that I'm one of the few people that has seen Going Back.
So that, to me, was a great opportunity. I didn't care. I didn't ask the questions in 1983 that I ask today. Now I ask a bag full of questions. I have a whole list of criteria that I didn't have then.
In order to even get interested in the project?
Yeah. "Who's directing, where are we shooting, when are we shooting, how long is the shoot, who's distributing, is there a distributor?"
"You have to be proactive.""Now let's get back to the reality of the industry!"
back to past articles
In addition to his persistence in acquiring obscure films for GreenCine, Marlow is a writer, filmmaker, curator and occasional critic. Not necessarily in that order. He is also a dedicated skeptic.
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