Bruce Campbell on playing Bruce Campbell in MY NAME IS BRUCE

Thanks to his role as Ash in the EVIL DEAD films, actor Bruce Campbell has earned a place in horror movie history as the as an undefeatable monster-killing uber-warrior, capable of dispatching hordes of Deadites with nothing more than a sawed-off shotgun and a chainsaw attached to the stump of his arm. The aura of invincibility that surrounds him is so powerful that it renders some of his other films – as disparate as CONGO and MANIAC COP II – utterly incredible, because as all his fans know, you just can’t kill off Bruce Campbell. Now, along comes MY NAME IS BRUCE, a movie that takes Campbell’s image as an invincible monster-fighter and spins it to comic effect. In the story written by Mark Verheiden, real-life actor Bruce Campbell plays on-screen actor “Bruce Campbell” – who is kidnapped by a fan and involuntarily drafted into a small town’s battle against an ancient monster. Convinced that it’s all a joke sponsored by his agent (Ted Raimi), Campbell goes along – until he realizes that he is fighting not an actor in a rubber suit or an optical effect but an actual Chinese god of war, Guan-di (Jamie Peck), out to avenge the desecration of the graves of Chinese miners smothered in a cave-in decades ago.
Can the actor rise to the occasion and recreate his on-screen exploits in “real” life? Audiences can now find out, as Campbell today starts a tour of Landmark Theatres, appearing in person to open the film for special engagements across the country. As part of the promotional push, Campbell took time to talk with Cinefantastique by phone last week.
STEVE BIODORWSKI: I’ll start with the obvious. How is this different from films like THREE AMIGOES or GALAXY QUEST, which feature actors suddenly thrust into real-life situations?
BRUCE CAMPBELL: This is the horror version of those.
Was that the concept – to do a horror version of those films?
No, the concept was never to copy anybody else’s movie, but it’s got similar elements – no question about it. It’s for a very specific crowd – for the neglected horror crowd.
How was this conceived? You didn’t write it, yet the concept is obviously built around you.
The concept was pitched to me by Mike Richardson from Dark Horse Comics. He had a long association with Mark Verheiden. Those guys pitched an idea that was really based on a comic from the ‘40s about Alan Ladd, who was kidnapped to fight pirates. That’s how that formulated. They pitched it to me and I said, “Let’s do it,” because I was looking for something to direct. Mark did a couple of drafts, and then I made it my own from there.
When the project was offered to you was it was not just as an actor?
No, Mark Richardson and I had been talking about making movies before, and this was something he thought might fit the bill, as partners and with me as director.
Tell me about the challenges of being on both sides of the camera.
I’ve done it since ’96, I think, so it’s not real new to me; I’ve done it on HERCULES and XENA. I got used to dealing with special effects and how you manage being in front of the camera and behind. I find it to be no big deal. I block everything with a stand in, so I can watch it objectively as a director. Then I jump in at the last minute.
How do you find it, as a director, having to evaluate your performance as an actor?
I’ve had to go on auto-pilot many times, when my director blows, so it’s no big deal. If I have to, I can always push the auto-pilot button. You get the gut feeling of whether something is printable or not.
You use video assist?
Absolutely, because if there’s technical issues involved, I want to see those before we move on. I might do something that I’m happy with, but if there’s focus issues or the framing is wrong, then you got to go again. It’s a useful tool.
You have several EVIL DEAD alumni on the crew.
As many as possible. My director of photography, Curt Roth, was a P.A. on EVIL DEAD. Ellen Sandweiss was in it, who played Sheryl; she plays my ex-wife in this. I got Danny Hicks from EVIL DEAD 2; he plays a horrible, toothless hick. I brought Tim Quill in from ARMY OF DARKNESS; he plays a blacksmith. I tried to get as many as I could, as many as would say yes.
Are you trying to recapture that hand-made style of filmmaking from the good old EVIL DEAD days?
Absolutely. I shot it on my property. You can’t get anymore hand-made than that. I built a Western town on my property. My local town of Jacksonville, Oregon was having a big music festival. The town would have been perfect to shoot in, but they didn’t want to block streets and all that, so I went, “All right, we’ll build the town.” We found local ranchers, and we rent, borrowed, and stole whatever we could. I got to sleep in my own bed for the first time while working on a movie!
Obviously you’re working on limited resources. What was the biggest challenge in terms of taking the script and getting it up on the screen?
Well, I had to do a draft just to get it into the right production reality, based on where we could shoot or couldn’t shoot or what was available. You always have to do one of those drafts, just to adjust it to the reality of what’s happening. You try to do as much on paper first before you go in. It’s all about planning as far as I’m concerned. We had a lot of planning because on a low-budget you can’t shoot for 100 days like ARMY OF DARKNESS; you’ve got to get it done. But coming from a television directing background, shooting six pages a day is not intimidating at all; it just means you have to be ready to do it. You can’t sit around on the set going, “Gee, what should we shoot today? Maybe I’ll shoot it this way – no, maybe that way.” You don’t get to do that; you’ve got to be ready. I come with a shot list and say, “Here’s our marching orders for the day.”
We try to keep it to 12-hour days, too, because I don’t want to work more than 12 hours. You hear all this crap about independent filmmakers: “We shot 18-hour days.” I’m like, “Then, sir, you don’t know what you’re doing.” I’m serious. I hear that and go, “Include me out!”
That must affect the level of performance.
It makes it dangerous for the crew to drive home. You’re not getting the best out of anybody, particularly the actors, because they’re going to get all bleary eyed and tired. It’s stupid. Whenever I hear that, I feel sorry for everyone involved, because obviously the people at the top don’t know what’s happening. If the people at the top don’t know what’s going on, the people at the bottom are screwed, because they’re the ones who have to bear the brunt of the bad decisions. So we pull the plug at 12 hours.
Technology has advanced a long way since the EVIL DEAD films. There must be advantages now for low-budget filmmakers.
Tons of advantages, mostly advantages. We shot in HD, which is still clunky. I call it “H-Delay.” It’s not as fast as film, but it’s very cool. It’s a neat format. The finished product looks terrific. So I’m happy with that, but it’s not that fast. Digital editing – non-linear editing – has been massive. You can save eighteen versions. You can save a director’s cut, a producer’s cut, a studio cut. Before, you had to physically make a print and cut it. Now you’re not losing two frames at the bottom of a trim bin that you want to splice back on. So you can try stuff; you can experiment. “Oh, that didn’t work – speed that up.” Creatively, it’s terrific.
Digital sound editing has been unbelievable. You can take someone – if they said a word and it took too long, you can speed up that one word and make it fit. If someone has sibilance on their S’s, you can shave the S’s off. You can pitch someone up or down – make them sound scary or like a little girl. It’s just gotten better and better, and the quality is crisp and clean now; it doesn’t have any analog hiss.
And the digital effects are getting easier to do and cheaper. So, it’s all good. I love the technology. And look, between email and all that stuff, the technology has allowed me to not live in L.A. Because the gear isn’t as expensive now, more people can have it. So it empowers the little guy. I think it’s good to get HD cameras all over this country in the hands of film-makers. Let ‘em make movies in Gerry, Indiana. Why do they have to go to L.A.?
It seems easier to get a finished result that looks polished. If you look at low-budget movies from the past, they had that stun-gun look to the lighting.
And the sounds like crap! The two things that give a movie away right away: if it looks bad and if it sounds bad, just turn it off; they don’t know what they’re doing.
You’re going on tour to promote the film at screenings around the country. Have you had the opportunity to see the film with an audience yet?
I have, at a couple of sneaks. The response has been good, so I’m feeling good about getting it out to the world.
This gives you an opportunity to see you audience face-to-face.
I feel it’s very necessary to go out. Aside from the fun road trip, I get to see who shows up: Who’s watching these things? Is anybody watching these things? And gauging the reaction. The only way to know if your movie really sucks or not is to sit in front of fifty audiences and watch it.
You always gage it to see if it starts strong but you lose ‘em. It’s all about: Do you hold their attention? What parts do they like? After awhile, you can predict. It becomes like a performance: it will always work in this area; it will always be a little slow here.
Last question: A year or so ago, you were quoted in regards to a proposed reboot of the EVIL DEAD franchise. Is anything happening with that?
No really. Not because we don’t respond to it. The desire is there because Sam and I still like working with each other and still have a lot of fun. We want to, but Sam just signed up for Part IV [of SPIDER-MAN]. I’m on BURN NOTICE, which is a hit show on cable; I got to go back there for the third season, so we’re kind of busy. So until we become old men, I guess, I don’t know what’s going to happen. And Sam’s raising a family now, so I don’t know. The EVIL DEAD movies are really a pain in the ass and take a long time to make, so you’ve got to commit a year, and neither of us are able to do that right now.

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