Wednesday, December 17, 2008

MY NAME IS BRUCE—Jesse Miller's Evening Class Interview With Bruce Campbell & Joshua Grannell

There were two questions I purposely avoided asking Bruce Campbell: the first was the status—if any—of Evil Dead 4; a question which Bruce indicated in his Ain't It Cool News interview as the one question "guaranteed" to be asked in nearly every Q&A on his two-month 22-city My Name Is Bruce ("MNIB") tour. The second was why he was replaced by Ron Perlman to play Elvis in the Bubba-ho-Tep sequel; a question again answered in the AICN interview. Instead—in anticipation of this evening's Midnight Mass screening of MNIB and on-stage chat with Peaches Christ—I invited Joshua Grannell to join us for an informal discussion of the MNIB tour.

* * *

Jesse Miller: So, Bruce, what day is this on your 22-city tour of My Name Is Bruce?

Bruce Campbell: City number 20! I just have Berkeley and Los Angeles. We're near the end. Staying strong!

Miller: I appreciate your allowing me to invite Joshua Grannell (aka Peaches Christ) to sit in with us today because you are the ultimate fan icon and Peaches is the ultimate fan, which I felt was the perfect set-up. Aware that you've been talking to lots of people on this tour about the film proper, I'm intrigued by your experience of the tour itself. You've scaled it down from your previous PR ventures….

Campbell: Yeah, my record is 55 cities with the first book that I wrote.

Miller: Which nearly killed you?

Campbell: Yeah, there's a piece of me left back in some city somewhere. There's a piece of my soul on that jagged trail. But I don't know any other way. Because if you're not Warner Brothers or one of the other big studios and you're making little stuff, you have to figure out some way to do it. I figured, "Let's just go there!" On the next tour I actually want to do the B-city tour. No big cities. It will all be towns like Albuquerque. I've had some of my best signings in Albuquerque because people go, "Thank God! Thanks for coming to Albuquerque!" We had the whole roller derby team showing up one day because there's nothing else to do in those towns. I've enjoyed that aspect on this tour. Also, we're driving. When you drive to every city, you leave when you want to leave, you take the route you want to take, you stop where you want to stop, you eat where you want to eat—none of that Godawful airplane food or nightmare traffic delays—so the tour's been really good. We've been able to take strange days off. When we were finished up around the Washington D.C.-Baltimore area, we realized Gettysburg was really close so—because we had three days to get to Columbus, Ohio—we spent a day in Gettysburg and walked the whole battlefield. I had only heard stories and seen the pictures but never been there, not even as a kid. The point is we could just do weird stuff like that because we were on our own schedule. No one really knew where we were between cities and no one cared how we got there.

Miller: What's your sense? How have your audiences been?

Campbell: Good! They're fine. The response has come in three tiers. The critics want to take the negative and shove it up my ass.

Miller: Those bitches!

Campbell: There's been a big disconnect with the critics. The bloggers have been giving more of the underhanded compliment: "For a stupid piece of shit, I laughed my ass off." And then the fans—who actually pay money—are fine.

Miller: And, after all is said and done, they're the important ones.

Campbell: Yeah, the important ones are fine. I don't wake up in the morning trying to come up with something that the fans will like or not like—that's not really the game—but MNIB is fan-friendly.

Miller: Among the critical response, I did like Roger Ebert's review.

Campbell: I just read it a couple of days ago and, I have to say, it's a very rational approach and I was thankful that yet another great critic didn't rip a new asshole in the film.

Miller: I admired it for being such a fair review. He took on Nick Schager's comment at Slant that MNIB "is just one-note insider navel-gazing with no aspirations except to excite its adoring base" by countering that "if the navel has been there, done that and had unspeakable horrors wreaked onto it, the navel has paid its dues." You have paid your dues. You're 50 years old. You've made many films.

Campbell: I appreciate what he said very much. It's going on the DVD box. We wanted to make the crappy review list; but, only pick the biggest papers—the New York Times, the Village Voice (which was the most dismissive review I've ever read)….

Miller: Aaron Hillis, I believe.

Campbell: Could be. But I think we could get some great zingers and compile the anti-review!

Miller: Didn't John Waters use that strategy, Joshua?

Joshua Grannell: Yes, it makes people want to see it more!

Campbell: Especially if you pull the real zingers that make you go, "Wow! What the hell was that?!" We'll see what happens. If you're swimming with the big dogs…. I directed a film a few years ago called The Man With the Screaming Brain and we only did selected screenings, so I only had a smattering of reviews. MNIB is an official—albeit teeny teeny—release. So the New York Times says, "All right, send Joe to go review it" because now they have to review it; it's an official release. I've never seen more reviews of anything I've ever done only because—jeez—between the internet now and all that crap, there are so many reviewers out there!

Miller: What intrigues me—and I admire you for this—is how the whole landscape is changing with regard to movie distribution and you're somewhat ahead of the curve—having learned from your own mistakes—about self-distribution and self-promotion.

Campbell: I hear this from filmmakers all the time. They go, "I've got this movie. It's a great movie but no one will show my movie!" Then get your ass on the road! In every other theatre now you've got your projector here, your projector there, and inbetween a digital projector where you can take your DVD and pop it in there and they can play it. Filmmakers need to take advantage of the fact that—through your website and on the internet—you can get some basic information out there, that's your shingle you can put up, and through the advances in technology you don't have to carry a big print around with you anymore, just a DVD you can shove in your pocket. I'm just doing what I always encourage filmmakers to do: if you don't have an avenue for your film, you have to create an avenue. I've found that if I show up sometimes, I can jumpstart a run of my film.

Miller: I likewise appreciate that you're centered and know what you want to do. You're not being misled by Hollywood ambitions.

Campbell: No, I'm misleading myself. [Laughs.] I am! It's my own poor career management; but, at least my own. The good news about MNIB—again, the movie is what it is—but, I had one guy as a partner, Mike Richardson who owns Dark Horse Comics and he was my studio. One guy. No marketing team. I remember when I first went in to pitch my first book, they had the PR person sitting in the room. I had to tell them that I'd been on Jay Leno and every major news outlet. I had to send them a follow-up list of literally the media I had done that they would recognize in order for them to go, "Okay, you could probably sell this book." That was the criteria. Not the subject matter of the book or who's the author; it was, "Can we sell it?" Before they even made the deal. It was bizarre. That happens a bit in movies too because I'm sure a lot of executives will sit around and say, "Hey, I'm thinking of greenlighting this movie. Okay, who's in it?" They'll go through all that and decide whether it's worth the risk; but, the lower the budget, the lower the risk. So your movies can get weirder, stranger, you can kill your lead actor, you can do anything, your lead actor can be any kind of character. He can be an idiot like this guy. He can mess around more. There's plenty of bad B-movies. We all know that. No shortage of bad B-movies. But there's some really cool ones too.

Miller: I grew up on cool B-movies.

Campbell: And a movie that you like is a cool B-movie, even if it's Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Miller: What's it like directing yourself? How do you do that? Do you just set up shots and then run into them?

Campbell: I have a guy who's my stand-in and blocks the scene for me so I can still sit back with the monitor. I usually carry a little monitor around the set. You block it normally, set all your movement, set up your shot however you're going to do it, then he gets out of there at the last second. I'll run through the scene once maybe to see if I'd do anything differently than the stand-in would.

Miller: Do you practice in front of a mirror?

Campbell: No. My Jim Carrey days are over.

Miller: You're not mugging all the time to try to get the right look?

Campbell: No, no, no. Other than for that, it's not that difficult to direct yourself. It's just more homework because you show up on set and you think, "Well, I know what I'm shooting today. Aw crap! I don't know my lines!"

Miller: This is the second film you've directed?

Campbell: Yes.

Miller: What would you say you have gained in experience from your first directorial effort?

Campbell: Where to shoot and who to partner with.

Miller: It sounds like your partnership with Mike Richardson really worked for you this time.

Campbell: It did for me and, again, the movie will be what it is; but, the situation for me was much better. The first time I directed I was told, "You are shooting the movie in Bulgaria." I was like, "You're shitting me? This movie takes place in East L.A. There are no people of color in Eastern Europe. None. They're gypsies. And they have no written language. Where's the call sheet going to go up? On their caravan? It might not be there the next morning." That's how absurd it was. So I had to beg them to let me restage it for Bulgaria. I said, "Look down the street, guys. No cars look like American cars! It's all in Cyrillic. All that language is Russian-looking; it's upside-down and backwards! We don't have the budget to change all these street signs and move all these cars and bring in a bunch of Chevys. These are ex-Soviet SUBs and German cars that are two-cylinder with a paper shell on them. It doesn't look like America! If you looked out this window here in Bulgaria, you'd see one new building and the other ones are left over from 1989 and the fall of Communism and they're half-built with rebar sticking up and a giant tree! What are we trying to do here?" And it was all because the average Bulgarian makes $110 a month. I don't want to disparage Bulgaria, they have their own issues, I'd be happy to go back there one day to not make a movie. Very lovely people. But if you have packs of wild dogs chasing you around, it's not a good place to make a movie. But I was so eager and so happy that someone was going to give me the money to make this stupid movie that I'd been trying to make for too long for no good reason. I really learned from that. Fans hate stuff as much as they love stuff. If there's something of mine that they hate, they hate it and go after it! And that's fair game. But I learned from that. Don't put yourself in a situation where you have to explain why the movie blew. Why do that? Mike Richardson's from Oregon. I live in Oregon now. Mark Verheiden, who wrote it, is from Oregon. We went, "Let's make this stupid movie in Oregon. Let's set it in Oregon and let's shoot it here."

Miller: You built MNIB's town Gold Lick on your own property?

Campbell: Yeah. Now I have a Western town I can't get rid of. [Chuckles.]

Miller: You should turn it into an amusement park.

Campbell: I guess. Right now it's a great party conversation piece. "Hey, shall we go out to the tavern? Hang out at the livery stable?"

Miller: Having now nearly completed your national tour with only a couple of gigs left, has your audience response been such that you have greenlit the sequel My Name Is Still Bruce?

Campbell: We're going to wait. We're not going to be that snotty and jump right into it. We have to see if people want to buy the DVD when it comes out. We have the money for it but I don't think it's right right now. I don't want to keep playing myself. I want to play some other idiot.

Miller: You're not really playing yourself.

Campbell: Of course. But there's always going to be one person, I'm sure, in every audience who thinks I actually drink whiskey out of dog bowls.

Miller: I did when I first saw it. I was shocked.

Campbell: There you go. You're the one. So I have to be a little careful.

Miller: Regarding the movie itself then, I liked a comment you made that you like to act with Ted Raimi—who plays three roles in MNIB—because he makes you look better.

Campbell: Exactly. I'm more subtle.

Miller: [Laughs.] Yes, you are! You're much more subtle than Ted. Has there been any negative reaction to his over-the-top portrayal of the Asian character Wing?

Campbell: Here I go. I was just thinking, I woke up this morning and thought, "Here I am in San Francisco. I got two gay ranchers in the movie and a horrible Asian stereotype." I thought, "Thank God this is a jackass comedy." Because look, I wouldn't go near that stuff if this was a serious drama. The whole gay rancher thing we made up on the first day of shooting. I got these two grizzled friends of mine, they're actors, one was in Evil Dead 2 [Dan Hicks] and one was from Army of Darkness [Timothy Patrick Quill]. We had them do this scene where they were both in the dark watching a slide show, and they're such grizzled guys, and I said, "You should just hold hands at some point." We did it as a tossaway gag and then we realized after the first day that they were just going to be gay now for the rest of the movie. We weren't trying to do anything other than make a stupid movie with as many gags as we could come up with.

Miller: What I found of interest with regard to Raimi's Asian stereotype in the script was that, by contrast, you yourself have been very respectful of the historic Asian populations in Oregon.

Campbell: They got screwed. I mean, c'mon. They were the manual labor group of that whole mining area, which includes Northern California and Southern Oregon, which were big on gold. The Chinese did everything. The funny thing about the Chinese is that they saved the railroads because the Irish were coming in and they would have what they called "Blue Monday" where they would drink all weekend long. The Irish would come in on Monday with liquor reeking out of their pores. Monday's were worthless. They were getting sick because they wouldn't boil the water. They would only eat meat and potatoes. The Chinese were brought in because they didn't really drink; they boiled all their water to make tea; they were told to get their own food—nobody supplied them with any—and so they caught fish, grew vegetables, and they could weave baskets to take away dirt from the holes they put dynamite in. That's what saved the railroads.

Miller: So you and Ted were just playing around?

Campbell: C'mon….

Miller: Thinking back, you grew up with Ted and Sam [Raimi] in Detroit? I'm trying to get a picture of you guys running around as kids. Have the three of you really changed much since then?

Campbell: Sam was incorrigible. Sam was a massive troublemaker. The first day of high school he comes in, he's in Modern European History before me, I come in the following class and—the second I come in—we sit down to take roll, the teacher comes to my name, and he goes, "Oh, Mr. Campbell? See me after class." I'd never met the teacher before in my life. I'm like, "Whoa. What happened? I know Sam's up to something." I stay after the class. The teacher goes, "Well, Mr. Sam Raimi tells me that you do an excellent impersonation of me. I'd like to hear that." [Laughs.] The son of a bitch. He would do that kind of shit constantly. I'd be answering a question in class and he'd make a point of sitting directly behind me and stick a sharp pencil into the back of my neck and start applying pressure. The longer I answered the question, the more the pressure would be applied. It became a test of wills. I was thinking, "Huh-uh. I'm going to make him snap that thing off in the back of my neck" versus could he make me break. So we've had a contest of wills from the start. After the question I'd turn back around and he'd say, "I was trying to help you." That was his reasoning. It was his version of trying to help me.

Miller: I was reviewing some of your earlier films and you're just a kid in them. What's that like for you and your childhood friends to look back at this body of work in which you've all grown up together?

Campbell: Yeah! I think it's fun. Of course, this is our job now. But, you know, when Sam and I were working on Spider-Man 3, we were laughing together because here he is this massive A-list director now and we both think it's hilarious.

Miller: Did you guys have a sense when you were younger of where you'd end up? Did he always want to do the really big stuff? Did you always want to do creative low-budget films?

Campbell: Sam always had a huge imagination and we could never afford his ideas. I always felt bad as a producing partner because we couldn't help him out. He'd go, "How are we going to do that?" There's some crazy stuff in those Evil Dead movies, visually, mostly because of him. But now I think he realizes that he's finally in a spot where now he can do all this stuff. He can now get the toys that he needs. If he wants a shot to go around and come up underneath and spin around 86 times, they'll figure out a way to do it. I think it's great. It's been really fun to watch him. He's wanted that. He's been ready for that. He's a bigger-than-life kind of character.

Miller: But your dream was more to create movies on a lower budget?

Campbell: No, more just to get back to the basics. Don't have big meetings with 10 people in a room about what a movie's going to be like. I'm not interested in that. I want one boss, if that. The lower the budget, I've got as much experience now as most people on the set. I can do two or three jobs on a film set. I don't care about the budget; it's the working situation: how creative is it? How fun is it? What leeway do you have to make up lines of dialogue, to do whatever you want to do at any time? That's what it's all about.

Miller: Speaking of fun, I'm really looking forward to this evening and your on-stage appearance with Peaches Christ. Joshua, how did you get involved in inviting Bruce out to the Bridge Theatre?

Grannell: Over the years of doing Midnight Mass, it's always been a dream of ours to have Mr. Campbell come and be one of our featured guests.

Miller: You mean Bruce? [Laughs.]

Grannell: Over the 11+ years that we've been doing Midnight Mass, finally we got successful enough that we could invite people like Mink Stole and John Waters and Tura Satana and it's just been a total joy ride meeting these icons and putting them up on a pedestal. I think San Francisco, in general, has the best audiences in the world. There's nothing like presenting someone beloved to San Francisco.

Miller: In terms of your fan base, Bruce, I think you're going to see your fans tonight like you've never seen them because Joshua has allowed us to be geeky and worshipful.

Campbell: Conventions have a lot of people who do that too. I would venture to say that people like to make fun of geeks and fanboys; but, I'll bet that at the average convention in Cherry Hill, New Jersey there are more people getting laid than at some sporting event because—when you show up there—you instantly have 500 friends and something in common. I've had people say that specifically. They show up there and they look around and they say, "I can instantly talk to you guys about anything right now because we're all here for the same reason." At conventions there's a lot of hooking up and connecting. It's amazing. So I'm not surprised that people really get into it. They want to feel like they can be a geek. I use that term lovingly. With regard to tonight, this isn't my show; this is your's. Whatever you want me to do, I'll do. I have no preconceptions. I don't have to do anything. I'll just try to stay out of your way.

Grannell: It'll be easy. That's the nice thing. All we do is set the stage for you and I to sit down and have a conversation, much like this, only with me as Peaches. And Peaches is the biggest fan dork there is! Girl, boy, whatever. It's the one drag territory, midnight movies, that hasn't really been mined.

Miller: To wrap things up here, Bruce, my final question: you really skewer yourself in MNIB and you also skewer your fans. How have your fans reacted to that?

Campbell: I think they're okay because they're mentioned. I'm pandering to them. I'm slapping them in the face a little bit….

Miller: You're offering them a lot of in-jokes….

Campbell: Yeah, which pisses off all the critics; but, I think for the fan they love the mentioning of movies that probably only they have ever seen. Fangoria magazine put it best. They said MNIB is a love letter to my fans dipped in poison.

Miller: My favorite description is your own: it's Bob Hope with decapitations.

Campbell: There you go.

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