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Gay of the Dead: Jeremiah Campbell, Part Two

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In Part One of my interview with out exploitation screenwriter Jeremiah (VIRUS X) Campbell we talked about forging a career in Ohio, coming out twice, and how he’s warping his two daughters. In this second of two parts, 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.

FANGORIA: Tell us about what it’s like to work for the legendary Sterling, aka a guy who can make a dime look like a dollar.

JEREMIAH CAMPBELL: Dave is great to work with. He gives you a very basic idea of what he wants and lets you run with it. Like with WITCH’S SABBATH, he simply told me he wanted a movie about a coven of witches and they cut people’s heads off. I fleshed out a story for him. Gave him a breakdown of what it would be like, he approved and I started writing. Dave really does know how make a low-budget film. He uses any and all resources available and makes the money stretch as far as he can. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard much from him in over a year.

FANG: There are a lot of boobs in WITCH’S SABBATH! Do indie exploitation producers truly have a formula – there must be this many female nude scenes, this many gore scenes, etc.?

CAMPBELL: Tons of boobs! But that is what was asked of me. The money behind the movie wanted to see what I like to call “TAB” – Tits, Ass and Blood. But to answer your question, I would say yes, there is a formula; at least for many of the ones I have written. A good, bloody kill to start the movie off. Then either a sex scene or a death scene every 8-10 pages. However, depending on how many characters are in the script, I might have to kill a few off a bit sooner.

FANG: Tell me about VIRUS X, which stars other “Gay of the Dead” interviewees Dylan Vox and Joe Zaso (and Sybil Danning!)

CAMPBELL:Dave called me and said he wanted to make a film about H1N1. This was during the time the virus was a big scare around the world. I had seen a lot about H1N1 on the news, but didn’t know much about it. I did some research on the disease before fleshing out the treatment. I focused a lot of my research on the side effects of the disease — primarily, so I knew how gruesome to write the death scenes.

Virus X Zaso

Joe Zaso in “VIRUS X”

The only info Dave provided was that he wanted the movie to be filmed in an isolated location with six-eight characters. The villain was to be a female and she had a group of scientists developing a much more deadly strain of the H1N1 virus… and it had to have a cyborg in it. I got to work on a treatment. Got some feedback from Dave. Resubmitted the treatment and when I got the approval, I got to writing. During the writing process, Dave had called me, telling me the film may be released through Lionsgate. That sent me back into a “fanboy” geek out moment. Something I was writing would be distributed through Lionsgate!! Dave started calling me his “Lionsgate guy.” And saying things like “Who’s writing a movie for Lionsgate?  My number one writer, that’s who!” I must admit, it was exhilarating. I finished up a draft of the script and sent it out. I hadn’t heard anything for months. I got a call from Dave telling me the film was done and it started Sybil Danning and Joe Zaso and Ryan Steven Harris had directed. Somehow, I don’t recall, but Ryan contacted me and told me he really liked my script and he had done some rewrites and wanted me to read the updated script they used for filming. It was great! He added some elements I hadn’t thought of, while keeping the main concept and plot of the script I had written.

The movie was released on DVD by Lionsgate. Needless to say… I told everyone!!!

FANG: You also worked with Fred Olen Ray on REPTISAURUS. How did that come about?

CAMPBELL: I had been working on a script at the time REPTISAURUS came about. Dave contacted me and said he had some folks that wanted to make a sci-fi type movie with a big flying monster. He told me he had a bit more of a budget behind it for the CGI. It would be filmed on or around a beach in California – but he wanted me to write it, keeping in mind his criteria for making a low-budget movie. This was new territory for me, so I was excited at the opportunity to write something a bit outside of my scope. He proceeded to tell me that Fred Olen Ray would be contacting me about the project. He then asked if I had heard of Fred Olen Ray…Well, duh! Of course I had and was even more excited to be writing for him.

Fred contacted me, via email, with the concept and idea for the film. I was having a total “fanboy” moment. I was discussing making a film for Fred Olen Ray! How much cooler could this get? Fred proceeded to tell me they were looking to have the film shown on the Sci-Fi Channel (before the name change)…the Sci-Fi Channel! Now I was really geeking out. Something I would write would end up on TV!

So, Fred and I exchanged a few emails. He sent me the “requirements” that Sci-Fi channel had at that time for the movies they showed. I quickly fleshed out a treatment and sent it to Dave and Fred. I got the green light to start writing and got right to work. I was so excited about the idea of one of my scripts ending up on the Sci-Fi Channel, I just wrote and wrote and wrote.

The first draft of the script was completed in just under three days. I had never written a script that quickly. I couldn’t help but to write. I was digging the script – exploring a genre that I had never written for, and a genre that I wasn’t too familiar with. And, did I mention it was going to be on TV? The first draft was sent out and Fred quickly got back to me with some notes. My original script was a little too violent for TV and consisted of R-rated dialog. I did the necessary rewrites within a day and sent it back to Fred. Again, he quickly looked it over, shot me back some more notes and I made the changes. I think, in total, I worked on that script about a week or two. From first draft to the final approved draft.

Fred was awesome through the process. Sending me pictures of the creature they were considering using – which helped me imagine the creature while I was writing. He had informed me his son, Chris Ray would be directing. Unfortunately, the film never made it to the Sci-Fi Channel. But it was still an amazing experience writing the script and seeing the trailer of the finished product. A few months later – Dave sent me a screener copy of the completed film. I was very, very pleased with the end result. To be honest, I am not sure if it ever had a release here in the United States. But I know it did find a home in Japan as “Sky Fighter.”

FANG: You’ve written two films that have been sequelized – VAMPIRE BOYS and VP2: THE NEW BROOD; and THE CURSE OF LIZZE BORDEN and TCOLB2: PROM NIGHT. At this budget and distribution level, how well does a film have to do to earn a sequel?

CAMPBELL: I wish I could answer this for you. I really don’t have any insight. I know Dave initially discussed the LIZZIE BORDEN movies as being a trilogy. I was excited at the idea of writing a trilogy. I was only asked to write the first two. As for VAMPIRE BOYS, I know that did well and was received very well. Charlie Vaughn, the director of the film was amazing to work with (even with our distance apart). He really enjoyed the script and always kept me in the loop about what was going on with the production. At that point in my career, I had never worked with a director like that on any of the scripts I had written. Charlie called me a few times to discuss the script. He sent me pictures from set. Having Charlie at the helm was a terrific choice for that film.

FANG: VAMPIRE BOYS and VB2: THE NEW BROOD are both gay horror flicks. I keep saying that gay horror as a genre is dead (ha ha), but am I wrong?

CAMPBELL: To be honest with you, I have only seen a few gay-themed horror movies. HELLBENT is sort of a guilty pleasure of mine.  I hope the genre is not dead. I would love to contribute more to it. Since coming out, I have really wanted to focus my writing on more gay-themed projects. Especially in the horror genre. I think there are still stories to be told, without recycling what has already been done to death.

By the way, VAMPIRE BOYS was presented to LOGO, but was rejected by the channel. I’m not sure the reasons behind their decision – but how awesome would that have been?

FANG: You basically have the resume I’d love to have – I’m dying to have my IMDB profile include titles like DEADLY LITTLE CHRISTMAS. Are you an exploitation fan? Did you set out to write this kind of film? Or do you have “higher aspirations” for you scripts? (I put “higher aspirations” in quotes because I think writing exploitation films is a perfectly acceptable gig.)

CAMPBELL: I love exploitation films! I love the idea of pushing the envelope and thriving on shock value. Filmmaking and screenwriting should not be “safe.”  A filmmaker or a writer should push the limits of their imagination to deliver a truly amazing finished product. I really didn’t have any aspirations for my scripts. I just wanted to write horror movies and was hopeful people, fans of the genre would enjoy them. Exploitation films have been around for decades and will be for years to come, and I look forward to what is yet to come. And hopefully I can continue to contribute to them. I mean, where would we be without people like John Waters?

FANG: I think people believe screenwriters like you, who have a long list of produced credits, must be rolling in dough. Care to lay down some hard truths of writing for low budget films?

CAMPBELL: If only that were true! The truth of the matter is, I have only made a few hundred bucks for each script I have written. I do not get any residuals or anything of the sort. I am paid a flat fee. Sadly, there is no swimming pool full of money in my backyard. Hell, I don’t even have a swimming pool! I would love to be able to live comfortably doing what I love. Until that day comes, I am a working stiff just like the majority of us out there.

FANG: You have a “Special Thanks” credit on FILTHY MCNASTIER: MAXIMUM DOUSCHE. What on earth did you do for them that garnered thanks?

CAMPBELL: [Laughs] The director, Chris Seaver and I had been in contact back and forth a few years back. The films of his I had seen to that point were sick, twisted and hilarious. Maybe not everyone’s taste, but I really enjoyed them. He had sent me an email about the movie, asking if I’d like to come to Rochester, NY to be an extra and maybe film some behind the scenes footage. Two hours later, my ex-wife and I were in the car headed to Rochester. Some of the photos I took on set were used on the DVD cover. And I ended up having a death scene in the movie. It was my first, and to date, only death scene on film.

FANG: What’s next?

CAMPBELL: After VAMPIRE BOYS 2, I sort of took a hiatus. It’s been over two years since I’ve written anything. I’m starting to get the itch again. I have been toying around with some of my own ideas for the last few months. I just have not sat down long enough to put all my ideas down on paper. They are all still safely looked away in my brain.

I miss screenwriting, though. It would be nice to be involved in more gay-themed projects, as I have only two under my belt. I would like to be more of a contributor to gay cinema. However, I am not opposed to any type of project. I enjoy a challenge.  If anyone reading this needs a screenwriter….

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About the author
Sean Abley
Sean Abley is a playwright, screenwriter, columnist and editor of OUT IN THE DARK: INTERVIEWS WITH GAY HORROR FILMMAKERS, ACTORS AND AUTHORS. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, Unzipped, and Fangoria. His microbudget, gay, sci-fi thriller, Socket, which he describes as “medium good,” was released in 2007. His two dozen published plays, which include Horror High: The Musical and The End of the World (With Prom To Follow), have been produced hundreds of times around the world. He lives in Los Angeles with his husband, Matt, and their two cats.
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