Gay of the Dead: Jeremiah Campbell, Part One
Proving you can have a screenwriting career somewhere other than Hollywood, Ohio native Jeremiah Campbell (VAMPIRE BOYS, LIZZIE BORDEN, VIRUS X) has been cranking out exploitation screenplays for almost a decade…
FANGORIA: Tell me about your background. What kind of kid were you?
JEREMIAH CAMPBELL: I was born in Atlanta, GA on June 29th, 1977. I lived there until I was about two. My mom (who is a native of Akron, OH), and I moved back to Ohio after she gave birth to my middle brother. I’ve been in the Cleveland, OH area ever since. My mom remarried in 1982, giving me a stepfather and a stepbrother who is two years my senior. Childhood with my stepfather was less than ideal. He and I never saw eye-to-eye on anything and he was verbally abusive back then. But my Mom was always there. She was and is an amazing woman and even though we drove her crazy at times, she was always there when we needed her. She was outnumbered. One woman in a house full of boys. My brothers and I spent a lot of time together. Playing outside, getting dirty, beating each other up and just being boys. I always liked being the “bad guy” whenever we played Transformers, GI Joe, whatever it was, I was always the bad guy. However, I was never as “boyish” as my brothers. Not saying I played with Barbie dolls or anything like that, but as I got older, I knew something was different about me.
I was more of a creative kid. I started writing poems around eighth grade and exploring more of that creative side. I went through many periods of insecurity because I knew I wasn’t like my brothers, or other boys I was friends with. I was teased and called “fag” before I even knew what that meant. I did have more female friends than I did male. I was just always more comfortable around girls as I got older than I was with guys. Don’t get me wrong; I had a few close male friends. But while they were interested in sneaking around looking at dirty magazines or R-rated movies with lots of boobs, that just didn’t interest me (though I must admit, I do appreciate a nice pair of boobs).
I got into swimming when I was young, and continued on a competitive swim team until I was about 17. Sadly, I let being a too-cool-for-sports teenager ruin what could have been a very lucrative swimming career. Swimming was really the only sport I got involved in. I didn’t like baseball, basketball or football. Those just didn’t float my boat. I was a lifeguard from age 15-17 and those were some of the best summers!
I was immersed in the Grunge movement in the early 90s. Nirvana was and still is one of my favorite bands of all time. I would admit that I really started exploring my creative side a lot more during this time. The music of that period really allowed me to open up, artistically. I went to poetry readings and was the Editor-in-Chief of my high school’s literary magazine.
All in all, my childhood was good. It had a lot of ups and downs. Lots of good times and lots of bad times. Struggling internally with my sexuality was always hard and confusing for me. But in hindsight, I’m not sure how things would have been better if I had come out sooner than I did. And, I wouldn’t have been blessed with my two gorgeous daughters.
FANG: After doing a little research *cough* IMDB *cough* I see that you were married until just three years ago! To a lady! Soooo…. what’s the story there?
CAMPBELL: Guilty as charged! I was married for ten years to a woman I had known since high school. I wouldn’t say we were high school sweethearts of anything like that, but she and I were close through our school years. Actually, she was the first person I came out to the first time. Yes, I said the first time.
I had first come out when I was 19, well before she and I had any type of relationship other than being friends. Though I was “out,” I was still very much in to my family and many others around me. I suppose it was more like I had a leg out of the closet. Two years after, she and I moved to Toledo, OH to attend college. I was still “out” moving to Toledo, but she and I had developed a sexual relationship, which did complicate things. She began to develop feelings for me greater than what I had for her. I knew my family would never approve of the lifestyle I felt was truer to who I really was, and I didn’t really think I could live as a gay man. Don’t get me wrong. I did have feelings for her and still do (she’s the mother of my children), but my feelings were not the same as hers. When I asked her to marry me, I told her I could live as a straight man. I could repress all those feelings and be happy. Like many gay men who have taken that same or a similar path, I was really just lying to myself. I do not regret the decisions I made back then. Especially because I was fortunate enough to father two amazing, beautiful and talented daughters. It was hard and is still hard for her to accept, even though she’s moved on with another man.
FANG: Did you find that your married “straight” life affected your work? Did it change once you came out?
CAMPBELL: It didn’t affect anything I wrote up until I started VAMPIRE BOYS in 2010. Being the first gay-themed script I was commissioned to write, it certainly afforded me an outlet to get out some of my feelings. Honestly, a lot of what I was feeling and going through internally came out in that script. That year (2010) was very bad. Our marriage had many, many problems and it was getting harder to live that life with her. Though she will not admit it, we were both miserable for different reasons.
FANG: I also noticed you posted some photos on your Facebook where you’re considerably heavier – It looks as if these are from the period when you were married. Is there a correlation between your being overweight and having a secret you didn’t feel you could reveal?
CAMPBELL: Oh, so you found those, huh? I was 270 at my heaviest. I do believe there was a correlation between the two: being overweight and harboring my true feelings about who I was. It is hard for people to understand how truly difficult it is to, for lack of better wording, live a lie. I was miserable! I felt guilty all the time because of the feelings I was having. It wasn’t anything new. I had known I was gay as far back as fifth grade. But now I was married. I had children. It was not easy and for a long time, I had just given up on myself and was really just going through the motions.
FANG: You have two daughters – are you raising them right by providing them with nonstop horror movies and copies of FANGORIA?
CAMPBELL: Hell yes! Both my 14 and 8 year old love horror movies and all manner of things that go bump in the night. I never wanted my kids to be afraid of scary movies or haunted houses or anything of the sort. I wanted them to enjoy the feeling of being scared. Have fun with it! Both of my daughters were introduced to haunted houses while they were still in strollers. As they got older, they would go through haunted houses growling and trying to scare the actors. It was adorable!
When I was married, I would put on a Halloween show in the front yard for the trick-or-treaters (zombies, demonic clowns, a graveyard, the works), and my kids were right in the middle of it. They were dressed up and doing whatever they could to scare the Hell out of anyone that came to the house. When I take my youngest to haunted houses now and she sees kids her age, or older freaking out, she looks at me and says, “Dad, what’s wrong with them? Don’t they know it’s just a haunted house?” Adorable!
FANG: You started out as a novelist, but switched to screenwriting at some point. How far into writing novels did you get? Is there one sitting in a drawer somewhere?
CAMPBELL: I didn’t get very far at all. The idea of being a novelist; the next Stephen King, sounded a lot better in my head then it did when it came time to write. I just didn’t have the patience for it at that time. I have a few unfinished manuscripts collecting dust in a box somewhere. I have toyed with the idea of trying my hand at it again. For now, it’s still a pipe dream.
FANG: You live in Ohio, so you’re obviously maintaining long distance relationships with the producers shooting your scripts. Have you ever been on set? Is it strange to be so removed from the action?
CAMPBELL: I was born in Atlanta, GA and moved to Ohio when I was two. So I have called Ohio home for 35 years now. All of the films I have written have been made out in California and sadly, I have never been on any of the sets. Even sadder, I have never been to California. It’s not so much strange being removed from the action as it is disappointing. I’ve been a movie buff since as far back as I can remember. Being on set, and watching the whole process would be amazing and a dream-come-true for me. I’m hopeful one day it’ll happen. And even more hopeful to make an appearance in one of the films I write. Nothing fancy. Just a good, bloody on-screen death scene.
FANG: How did you penetrate the screenwriting market?
CAMPBELL: I have always wanted to be a writer. I grew up reading the works of Stephen King, Clive Barker and Dean Koontz. I loved scary stories. And loved scary movies even more. When the thought of being a novelist didn’t work out for me (primarily because I didn’t seem to have the patience to write a novel), I thought I’d try my luck with screenwriting. I began researching all I could on exactly how to write a script. I looked at what websites were available at that time. I read whatever finished scripts I could get my hands on. I found a few chatrooms for screenwriters and happened upon low-budget filmmaker Tim Ritter and we started chatting back and forth. He was the one that gave me my first opportunity.
That is how URBAN CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST came about. Tim partnered me with another amateur screenwriter he came across in the chatroom, and tasked us with collaborating on the script. There was no pay involved, and no timeframe set for the finished product. The two of us began fleshing out the script. It was not an easy, smooth process. The other writer was hard to work with, and seemed to want to make the script fit into a budget that was well above what Tim told me it would be made for. The writing process took damn near nine months before a finished product surfaced. Both the other writer and I had very different ideas, and our writing styles were very different!
After going through that experience, I was fortunate enough to meet another low-budget screenwriter in a chatroom, Eric Spudic. We exchanged many messages back and forth. He had a few low-budget films under his belt and he is the one who directed me to Dave Sterling.
I emailed Sterling, expressing my interest in writing for him. He knew I had nothing really to show, but that didn’t seem to bother him. He was very open to giving me my break. I wrote my first script for Sterling for $100. The script never made it past the writing phase. Thankful! It was bad. I really had no idea what I was doing, but I really enjoyed writing it. It was about cheerleaders being stalked by an escaped lunatic with a machete. I was fortunate to get a second chance. That led to another. And another and another. From 2003-2012 (roughly), I had written a total of 20 scripts for Dave, as well as some “script-doctoring” on two or three others. Of those I had written, or polished up, 16 were produced and released.
FANG: URBAN CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. Great title! Have you ever seen a cut of the film?
CAMPBELL: Unfortunately, I have not. I mentioned earlier, there was a second writer on the project. He had decided to make the film himself. I believe he ended up raising $3500 to make it in Pittsburgh (don’t quote me on that). I decided to take a step back, as I was writing for Sterling by that time. I had received a few pictures he had taken of the “production” and then he just fell off radar. To this day, I have no idea whatever happened to him or the film. The idea for the film was awesome though! If I could, I would love to tackle it now. It was a twisted tale of cannibalism (but not of the hillbilly in the woods variety).
FANG: After URBAN CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, your first film that was actually released was TOWER OF BLOOD. How did it feel to finally be able to hold a copy of your movie in your hands?
CAMPBELL: TOWER OF BLOOD (written as “High-Rise of Blood”) was the second script I wrote for Sterling. I had finished a “final” draft of the script towards the end of 2003. It just sat around. I kept writing for Dave. Around mid 2004, he contacted me and asked if I would make a few changes to the script. I did as I was asked, submitted the script and didn’t hear anything else until 2005 when I just happened to come across TOWER OF BLOOD in a Blockbuster. I was beyond excited! I made it a point to inform everyone in that store that I was holding a copy of my first ever produced movie. I took it home and watched it over and over again. I had family and friends come over to watch it.
In Part Two of my interview with Jeremiah Campbell we’ll get the scoop on working with low-budget producers Fred Olen Ray and David Sterling, how many boobs are needed in a horror flick, and writing a screenplay in just three days.
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