When he’s not busy doing his daytime job for the television program “Frontline,” filmmaker John Campopiano allows himself to indulge his love for horror films. In 2017, Campopiano co-wrote and co-directed the acclaimed documentary “Unearthed and Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary.” He just released the short film “Georgie,” which he produced and co-wrote with the film’s director, Ryan /Grulich. Next up is his next full length documentary, “Pennywise: The Story of ‘IT’” While gearing up for his next project, John found some spare time to talk with me about his work, past, present and future.
MIKE SMITH: Where did you come up with the idea for “Georgie?”
JOHN CAMPOPIANO: We were in post-production on a documentary about the mini-series “IT.” We interviewed the cast and crew and one of the cast members, Tony Dakota, who played Georgie Dembrough in the mini-series was one of the last actors to find for an interview. I found him in the Pacific Northwest. By this time our production budget was depleted so I was looking for a free-lancer to get this interview with Tony. I met Ryan Grulich, who is based in Seattle and he shot the interview for us. One of the questions we had asked Tony was if he would ever want to get back in show business. He had been a child actor in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Besides “IT” he had also been in “Who ‘s Harry Crumb?” with John Candy and had also done some episodes of “McGyver.” (NOTE: T.V. fans may also remember Dakota for his eight episode arc as Clavo on the very popular “21 Jump Street”), He had been out of the spotlight for some time and had stopped acting around 1993. So when he was asked if he wanted to get back into acting he said “yes” but wasn’t sure how to do it. He had had a rough upbringing and some personal problems which had kept him away from acting. But when he expressed an interest a light bulb went off. I said to Ryan, “what if we wrote a short film for Tony? It could be a win/win.” We would write a short film that would allow him to reprise his role as Georgie, which would put some money in his pocket. And we would give him a positive and creative outlet that could hopefully open some doors for him. And that’s how “Georgie” started.
MS: I know from doing the “Jaws 2” book that trying to find actors that haven’t acted in 30 years is not very easy. Did you have the same problems with some of the lesser known members of the cast?
JC: Oh yes. Even though Tony is billed a Tony Dakota, Dakota was not his birth name. Since he stopped acting he has been living his life under his real last name. He was almost like a ghost who had vanished from the public eye. Also, he hadn’t acted in almost a quarter of a century. It made it challenging for sure.
MS: Thank God for the internet!!
JC: (laughs): I know, right?
MS: Ironically, last week on our Podcast we kind of previewed “Georgie” and talked some about the “IT” documentary and my co-host informed me that Stephen King will allow student filmmakers to license any of his works that have not been sold to Hollywood for $1.00 for a student film. Did you contact him about “Georgie” and, if so, has he seen it?
JC: I think it’s cool that he does that, especially for somebody who has had his level of success. We did not approach him about “Georgie” ahead of time. Obviously we’re dealing with intellectual property that belongs to him and Warner Brothers. But on the same side of that, we are not monetizing this. It’s a short film, which really don’t have much of an afterlife in terms of monetization. We’re giving Georgie a fresh story and kind of a new spin on the character. We will definitely be sending it to him and hoping he watches it.
MS: Can you talk a little about the ‘IT” documentary?
JS: I had done a documentary with Justin White about the film “Pet Sematary” that took us about four and a half years to complete. That got us a little bit of attention from other filmmakers who were doing similar documentary films…retrospectives about other films. I’ve been a die-hard “IT” fan, both the book and the mini-series, forever. Justin was not interested in doing another documentary. Given the scope of the mini-series I knew it wasn’t something I could do alone. So I started writing articles as I was interviewing the cast and crew. A producer in the U.K. named Gary Smart, who runs Dead Mouse Productions, saw the articles and had the idea about doing the documentary about “IT.” He reached out to me and asked if I wanted to come on-board and co-write it or produce it with him. That was 2017. We launched a successful Indiegogo campaign, raised the money and spent three weeks in Los Angeles shooting cast and crew interviews. Now we’re in the final stages of post-production. We dropped an extended trailer back in February of this year and it’s done very well. It received almost 500,000 views on YouTube in the first week. It was also very serendipitous. We had announced a street date before the theatrical version of “IT” was released. People had been talking about remaking “Pet Sematary” and “IT” for years but it wasn’t until the past few years that those projects became reality. We got very lucky in terms of the timing. The mini-series was beloved by its fans but the new movie really introduced the story to new generations. It revitalized the franchise, which worked in our favor. I think in total we’ve interviewed about forty members of the cast and crew. It’s going to be a pretty robust documentary that I think people are going to be excited about. The plan is to release it before the end of 2019.
MS: Do you have any projects planned after the documentary is completed?
JC: I’m working with Gary Smart again on a bio-pic about Robert Englund. That was Gary’s idea. He approached me and said he wanted to do a film about Robert’s life and career. He’s such a legendary character actor. Not just for the “Nightmare on Elm Street” films but all of the other projects that he’s been a part of. Gary asked if I wanted to come on board as a producer and I said, “sure.” We launched an Indiegogo campaign last weekend to help raise funds to make it happen. The plan is to go out to L.A. later this summer to get the interviews and then get working on that one. I’m not writing that one, which is nice because it’s less work for me but I’ll be doing a lot of archive research for Gary and helping produce the interviews. I’m also working with “Georgie” director Ryan Grulich again. We wrote a new short film based on my story, dealing with something I went through as a kid. We have a finished script for that. It’s my attempt at an “Are You Afraid of the Dark” episode or something from “Goosebumps.” I’ve been interested for a long time in horror movies for kids. In my opinion I think it’s a sub-genre that we are seeing less and less of. I feel that the 80s and the 90s were a ripe period for content like that. I want to make a short film that is spooky and scary and has an original monster in it but one that is geared very much towards a teenage audience. We’re looking right now for talent to attach to the project and then we’ll raise some funds and hopefully start shooting it next year.
On a personal note, John and I both had an amazing friend named Lou Pisano. Lou co-wrote the “Jaws 2” book with me and was really looking forward to the release of “Georgie.” John told me, “It’s kind of bittersweet. Lou was so excited about this project. I think he would have loved it. The only disappointing thing is that he isn’t here with us to see it.”
To view the extended trailer for “Pennywise: The Story of ‘IT’” click HERE.
To contribute to the Indiegogo campaign for “ICON: The Robert Englund Story” click HERE.