If you were to search out Midwest indie film makers, you couldn’t truly cover the whole spectrum of things without knowing who Andy and Luke Campbell are and their company, Compound Pictures. Originally based out of the Akron/Cleveland Ohio area, these brothers took their love of low budget splatter films, as well as their hometown area, and created their own horror stories that would appeal to a lover of horror, as well as the Midwesterner mindset. As a resident of Ohio myself, everything about their films is familiar to me: The way people speak, the scenery, and the dreary demeanor and plight of all the characters involved.
The first of their films to garner attention was 2002’s “Midnight Skater”, in which a college campus is being tortured by a rash of students ending up dead with little evidence to work off of. This was followed by “Demon Summer” (2003) which was an urban legend that was one part Evil Dead and one part 80’s R-rated teen comedy. Lots of blood and lots of laughs! For people like myself, this was the solidification of their great storytelling ability.
In 2006, The Campbell Brothers hit a high point with their film, “The Red Skulls”. TRS covers all things cool. It’s the story of a street gang who have been double crossed by a traitor amongst the ranks and a bloodbath ensues. If ever there was a film that captures the epitome of hip, it’s TRS. With a messy combination of classic sleaze like Street Trash, Tenement, and The Warriors, the film doesn’t let up, all the way to its monstrous conclusion. The 2 films that would follow, Poison Sweethearts and Cordoba Nights, showed an ability to venture outside of the horror realm, but still maintain a sense of darkness and misery to their work. While PS has plenty of blood, it’s more of an ode to the grindhouse, as was lovingly explained in a review on this website. Cordoba Nights would be there horse of a different color in their filmography, being a character-driven, gritty, tale of the miserable. It plays out as a bit of a love letter to a city and it’s underbelly. The film made a run on the festival circuit and has become a favorite of the film making siblings. They were able to lock down some name actors and really show people what they were made of.
Since then, it seemed as though things were quiet in the Campbell Bros. camp. So, in true geek-stalker fashion, I hit them up on a social media site and bothered them to do an interview with me. Fortunately, they obliged in the most gracious manner. Now living in Austin, the guys have no intention on stopping what they’re doing. As there films have progressed, they’ve tended to pull away from conventional, splatter/gore horror and decided to tackle more horrific concepts like human character (one of the scariest things of all), but still acknowledge that those early films were rooted in a love for the greats. The duo is currently in production on it’s next flick, “T82 Super Sonic Tonemaker”, which will prove to be a truly original filmgoing experience (the film is being shot in Super 8). The guys not only filled me on their past films, but what’s going on for them currently. They’re talented fellas who love what they do and don’t give a damn about trying to take over the world. They just want to create and enjoy doing it. The upside for the audience is getting to watch their hilarious, bloody, rock and roll indie films. They’re fantastic dudes who were willing to talk openly about their craft. Oh, and we talked about the other important things in life, like The Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Cavs shot at the finals. You know, the stuff that’s important to Ohioans.
BS: Obviously, you guys enjoy film and enjoy making films together. But how did you decide that you wanted to make films as a team? There have been pairings of brother teams in the past, some are wildly successful, some end in weird tragedy (See Mitchell Bros.). That being said, what is it that made you decide to work on films as a team rather than working on separate projects?
Andy: Luke and I have always been pretty tight… we shared a room as kids, had the same friends in high school, played in the same bands… working on movies together just seems natural. We’ve butted heads at times and have also worked on short projects individually, but for the most part we prefer making films together.
BS: The first of your films that I saw were The Midnight Skater and Demon Summer. As low budget pictures go, both films have a very genuine and realistic portrayal of how folks in the Midwest speak and act. Being an Ohioan myself, it all felt very real to me, despite the fantastic elements of the story. You really take advantage of your surroundings and make them a big part of the story. How much of your background is an affect on the writing and ideas behind each film? Does Ohio kind of create characters of it’s own that are ripe for writing?
Andy: Definitely. The Rustbelt- Ohio specifically- has helped shape me and it trickles down into our films. It’s a depressed part of the country which in my opinion builds a lot of character. The people here are the best and the cities might be jobless, but they have so much personality. We’ve tried to take advantage of the visuals Ohio provides- Youngstown and Cleveland are an untapped backdrop in big budget films. MS and DS had more of the ‘small town’ vibe… that’s where we were in 2001-02, so we combined buckets of blood with characters who dreamed of getting out of their tiny town.
BS: Like a lot of indie troops, you guys have incorporated a lot of your friends as regulars in the flicks. Over time, some of the people have become pretty great at what they do (Ashleigh Holeman and Chuck Cieslik come to mind) and really seem to tackle their characters head on. Did any of these people have aspirations to be actors or is it strictly a Compound Pictures acting career for them? On the same topic, how do you know your regulars? We’re they old friends or people you specifically sought out for the films?
Andy: We wouldn’t be answering these questions if it weren’t for the fact that Luke and I have befriended some of the best young folks in Ohio. The majority of the actors are good friends who we met in high school and college – including Ashleigh and Chuck. Everyone you see in the movies is still one of my best friends. We’re just a tight group. None of them had real acting ambitions. It was just a great group of individuals who were really fun and had a lot of personality that translated to the screen.
BS: I loved The Red Skulls. How you were able to combine a gang story with movies like Street Trash, is something of wonder. While I’m certain you guys have had everyone and their brother make some sort of comparison to The Warriors, I saw more of that Tenement vibe, but still had a human side where you’d empathize with certain characters. So, what was the actual influence for The Red Skulls? How did the original concept come about for that movie?
Andy: Our influences were all over the place… we obviously loved Walter Hill’s “The Warriors”, but the stories really get shaped around what we had access to… Ashleigh Holeman’s dad knew a dude in Youngstown that got us a condemned house… at the time, we had a large group of pals that were anxious to be apart of the movies… it all just came together. We also came across a photographer, Karl-Heinz Weinberger… his photos of 1960’s street gangs in Zurich were a visual inspiration.
BS: Seeing that Compound Pictures is a bit of a family affair, what does the rest of your family think of your films? Do any of them help out behind the scenes with some of the technical stuff? And while I know you have a younger brother (who looks to have a promising basketball career ahead of him), does he have any aspirations to get into the family business?
Luke: Our family has always been very supportive of our adventures in filmmaking. Our youngest brother, Stuart, has appeared in most of our films in a cameo role- he’s always shown a little bit of interest in movies, but I’m not sure that he will study that in college. And he is awesome at basketball.
BS: After watching your film Poison Sweethearts, it seemed pretty clear to me that you guys are fans of Italian cinema from the Grindhouse era. I loved the anthology aspect of the film, breaking up into different stories, etc. Along with that, the film also has so many signature elements that were trademark to that era-soft lighting, AM Gold pseudo-psychedelic music, the costumes, the dialogue. I particularly liked how brightly colored the blood was. Was that era of film an influence on not only Poison Sweethearts, but any of your other films? How did PS develop into the film it was, based on it’s original inception?
Luke: 70’s and 80’s horror has always been one of my favorite genre’s of film. It has probably been an influence in most of our movies- the grit, the grain, style- it’s all great. We actually started filming PS right after Midnight Skater, but it fizzled out and never materialized. We took some of the original concepts about female characters fighting back and mixed that with the homage to the genre.
BS: Raymond Turturro is a pimp. I love that guy’s acting and his demeanor, in general. Where did you guys find him at? Was he a friend or did he have an acting background?
Luke: We met Raymond when we were looking for a lead actor for Cordoba Nights. He is an actor that lives in New York and has appeared in a handful of indie films. We loved his audition and became good friends during the filming of CN. When it came time for the pimp from PS, we knew Ray would nail that as well. Ray is the best- he really adds a lot to our movies.
BS: Considering that there are two of you who work on these films, I’m sure there are probably differences in your taste in film. Who are the directors that influenced you into wanting to be film makers? Who makes you want to continue to better your craft? And what films have been the biggest inspirations on what your doing?
Luke: I’m not sure there is a certain director who inspired me to make films. I’m not really a fan of most directors making big budget films today- I usually enjoy a director’s first films- they tend to be low budget, honest, and uncorrupted by Hollywood. if i had to mention a couple of names, Brian De Palma, Alexander Jodorowsky, and Sergio Corbucci are a few of my favorite that come to mind.
BS: There is a pretty close watch paid to the music in your films. While you do include original music from different bands, I’ve noticed you guys do a lot of the music in house. Who is in charge of writing and recording for the films and who chooses the outside tracks for the flicks? Tell us a little bit about some of the artists who do contribute to the movies. Are they people you’re friends with already or do you reach out to artists you like?
Luke: I write a lot of the score for the films. We also have been involved in the Ohio local music scene where we have met some of the greatest bands ever- we utilized many of them in Midnight Skater and Red Skulls. Kill the Hippies, Lords of the Highway, and Radar Secret Service are three of my favorites. For Cordoba Nights, we had a grainy, 70’s film style going, and we looked to the local Akron/Cleveland bands of that time for the soundtrack. It was great because I discovered a lot of great bands during the post production of that film.
BS: Tell us a little bit about your film Cordoba Nights. While it is every bit a Campbell Bros. film in both feel and style, it seems story-wise, it’s a bit of a departure from previous movies. There are also a handful of familiar faces in Cordoba Nights that aren’t from your usual stable. How did these actors (Duane Whitaker, Joe Estevez, Toby Radloff) end up a part of your film? Is this film a sign of things to come from Compound Pictures?
Luke: Cordoba is my personal favorite. It was the greatest filmmaking experience we’ve ever had, and we learned a lot about movies from the process. It was our first non-horror film. Our interest in different genre’s was growing and we wanted to try something else. We did reach out to a larger group of actors to help create the cast. Duane and Joe liked the script, so we flew them out for the shoot. Toby is a resident of Ohio and we met him through a mutual friend. I think this movie definitely influenced our projects since, and is something we would like to build on in our future projects.
BS: Something that happens with indie film makers is they start out in the horror genre, then bail as soon as they can. Your films have always been an amalgamation of different genres but you always included horror and exploitation themes to your stories. Do you plan on sticking around or are you looking to move away from horror themes? Is there still some blood and guts left in your story vault?
Andy: Hmm ……. my interests and ideas change on a weekly basis. I loved making blood and guts movies 5 years ago… we had a crew of kids who were into it and made it fun. Our current ideas are still very true to our interest, but they aren’t limited to one genre. We’re not trying to make a name for ourselves in ‘horror’, or trying to breakout into the “indie scene”…. we’re just making films that feel in tune with our lives.
BS: If I’m seeing things right, you guys have relocated to Austin, TX. What lead to the change of homebase? Are you finding new inspiration in Texas that wasn’t there in Ohio? I know you spent quite a bit of time at the SXSW Festival as well. Catch any good bands we should be on the lookout for or any films that we should be watching (sidenote: I know I would’ve killed to have seen Small Stone Records showcase this year)?
Luke: Andy hopped in his car and moved to Austin a couple of years ago, after visiting him a couple times, I got a really good vibe. I was ready for a change of scenery and I wanted to work on a new project. Austin is a great city. Although I probably won’t be here forever, it does have a thriving music/film scene. I didn’t catch any films during the fest, but I did catch some good shows. Chuck Cieslik’s band, Puffy Areolas, was one of my favorites- an Ohio band.
BS: As Netflix sort of corners film rental markets, we see a lot of rental retailers going down. Being indie film makers, do you view this as a good or bad thing? How, if at all, has this affected sales for Compound Pictures? Is it putting more pressure on the film makers to be creative with how they are getting their movies seen or is it just a matter of small distributors not funding as many as they used to?
Andy: I actually work for an independent rental store in Austin, so I get into this Netflix debate frequently. First off, I think Netflix provides a great service to small towns that no longer have video stores… but it’s a real shame the ma and pa video stores are dying. The internet kinda ruins a lot, in my opinion. Sure, it’s convenient to go to a website and push a button to get a movie, but what’s wrong with driving down the street to your LOCAL video store and browsing for a film to take home??? As far as sales on our films, we never really saw profit before or after Netflix. I think the digital camera era (which we are apart of) is what has over-saturated the film industry and killed the ability for filmmakers to achieve financial gain…
BS: I’m certain you’re busy. What coming around the bend from Compound Pictures? If you could, give us a rundown of what kind of projects you have coming up.
Luke: We are in post- production on a 30 minute short film shot on Super 8 called “T 82 Super Sonic Tone Maker”. Raymond Turturro plays the lead again. This was our first time working completely in Super 8 and it has been great. They showed raw footage of it at a seminar for SXSW, which was exciting. We hope to have it finished sometime this year where we will premiere it and try to get some screenings around the country.
BS: Being that we’re a horror film website, I have to ask this of you. What is the all time, favorite horror flicks of the Campbell Bros.? Which are the horror films that you will take to the grave?
Andy: Argh… to be honest, I haven’t been much of a horror fan recently. “Let the Right One In” was the last horror film I really dug. I’ll always cherish the Evil Dead films. Typical answer, but Sam Raimi was one of my earliest inspirations. Any H.G. Lewis… I can always re-watch “Blood Feast” or “Two Thousand Maniacs”. My new loves are Abel Ferrara and Brian De Palma… not quite horror, but almost. I try to watch “Ms. 45” and “Body Double” once a month.
BS: One last important question: Browns and Cavs. Are you excited about Mike Holmgren being a part of the organization and do you think we will be making the jump to the playoffs this year? And is LeBron staying or going? It’s something Ohioans don’t want to talk about, but we’re all worried. What do you think?
Luke: Browns win the super bowl this year, and Lebron finishes his career in Cleveland. Go Browns! Go Cavs!
Andy: Lebron isn’t going anywhere! New York and New Jersey are joke franchises… no way Lebron is dumb enough to start over from scratch. Ferry and Gilbert have proven they are committed to winning more than any other gm/owner tandem… and beyond all that, Lebron LOVES Ohio… he plays with the national media, but he isn’t going anywhere.
The Brownies are another story. I’m not excited about Holmgren… they have a long way to go before I get excited again. Delholme at QB, isn’t helping. That said, I’ll still tune in every Sunday to see my fellow Kent Stater, Josh Cribbs, working his ass off! Fuck Pittsburgh! Go Brownies!