Prolific horror movie producer Gabriel Campisi (Little Dead Rotting Hood, Death Pool, The Horde) fills us in on his latest release, The Domicile, including why he thinks the house from the film might actually be haunted.
Where are you in the process for The Domicile?
The movie was released domestically, and now we’re pushing for international distribution with Artist View Entertainment. Foreign audiences don’t always appreciate the same stories or movies American audiences do, so sometimes it’s a wait-and-see game to see how foreign plays out.
Also, movie reviews are always staggered. You can never please everyone, and you’ll always have critics. It’s par for the course. But, so far, the movie is doing good — it’s sold out at every Redbox, and renting and selling strong at all the other outlets.
When do you consider the movie a raging success?
“Raging” is a pretty strong word. I guess when you see me buy a mansion next to Spielberg’s in Pacific Palisades, we can all agree the movie is having that type of success.
We make these movies with a finance model in mind. That means we know what we can shoot a movie for, and what we can reasonably expect to get in returns two or three years down the road. We’re usually pretty accurate in our assessments. So if the movies make returns beyond our expectations, then they’re performing extremely well.
Is this your first ‘haunted house’ movie?
Yes, and I might add the house was probably truly haunted in real life.
The house we filmed in was a real house in Los Angeles, with a great family living in it. We’re so grateful they allowed us to shoot there. They were very accommodating.
Well, on one of the first nights, we shot a scene between two characters that discuss something sinister inside the house. At a certain line in their dialogue, all the power in the part of the house we were shooting in went out!
Being a night shot, and since lighting was minimal, we were pulling power from the existing AC in the house. (Typically, we use power generators.) So when the power went out, our electricians reset the power breakers and we set up for a second take.
And guess what? When the characters repeated the same line, the power cut out again!
This time, the electricians could not reset the power! They had to pull AC from another section of the house to light the scene. The electricians couldn’t explain it, and everyone started nervously joking about how the ghosts didn’t want us shooting this movie in the house.
Well, we set up for a third take. And, can you guess what happened? During the exact line of dialogue, the power cut out yet again! But this time, our Red Dragon camera also lost power! So, it would make sense that the camera also lost power if it was plugged into the same AC in the walls as the lights, right? The problem is the camera was running on BATTERIES! There was no connection.
And even worse, our director of photography could not get the camera to re-initiate. We had to return the camera to the camera house, and learned that the CPU chip had literally burned out.
Explain that one to me.
How much research did you do before tackling the project? Any Googles on haunted houses?
I’ve actually studied the paranormal and haunted houses and other things for most of my life, so I didn’t have to do too much research for this project in particular. I did, of course, double check to make sure things made sense, and any lore with hauntings of dwellings or places was consistent within the screenplay.
Is it hard to ‘ground’ a haunted house movie?
Characters are what make movies work, so the grounding of a haunted movie really begins and ends with the characters. Are they realistic, are they believable? What’s their background? What’s their motivation? Why are they here?
It doesn’t matter if we’re in a haunted house, a haunted island, a haunted ship or haunted spaceship. The setting really is a secondary element, even the location is the subject of the story. If the characters make sense, then the location is easier to set up and ground in reality.
In terms of effects, what can we expect?
We tried to stick to as many practical effects as possible. I’m of the old school mindset, where I much prefer models and creature effects over CGI. But I do embrace CGI, when it’s necessary. It’s just not my first choice, if that makes sense. If there is something that can be done with practical effects, I’ll do it with practical effects. Then, if there’s no way to do something, except with CGI, I’ll do the CGI. Or we’ll even use CGI to “fix” practical effects or enhance them.
Is it hard to ‘switch off’ at the end of the day, being that so many of these movies are, I imagine, quite emotionally and physically grueling projects?
That’s a good question, actually. And you’re right. It’s often difficult for me to switch off. I get to the hotel room wired, even if we just shot a super long day. It doesn’t matter. I’ll have to watch some television or read something, or check emails and Facebook to settle down and get back to the real world.
Making movies is a very involved and time-consuming process.
What’s the best thing about working on indies?
There are pros and cons to working on independent movies. There’s less pressure on the one hand. You don’t have to answer to anyone on the creative side. You get to call the shots on so many things.
But on the other hand, you don’t have as much money or time to do what you’d like to do.
So there’s definitely a give and take to both ends of the spectrum. Studio productions have their pros and cons, and so do independent productions. Depending on who you ask, one process is better than the other.
The other thing is with an independent movie, you can get the ball rolling within a few months, and start production relatively quickly – once the screenplay is vetted and everyone agrees to it. On a studio project, you can expect ten years of development or negotiating, even when everyone seems to agree to make things happen.
I’m currently working with some studios to set up future productions. One project in particular I’m working on involves replacing a show on television that took ten years to greenlight. And I had lunch with a very well-known writer a few weeks ago, whose project may finally be going to production with a very famous director – and that took ten years to get to that point, too!
Not all studio-level projects take this long, but the time factor is definitely something that varies incredibly between both worlds of filmmaking.
Jared Cohn’s The Domicile Synopsis:
Russel Brody, a one-time successful playwright, works diligently on a follow-up play that could land him back in the spotlight he so early craves. With a baby on the way, however, and a strained marriage, stress and frustration take center stage. When his wife accidentally stumbles down the stairs and dies from her injuries, Brody’s mental state goes from bad to one of utter despair. In a bid to help his friend regain his sanity, Brody’s co-writer David Stanley suggests he revisits Lucy, his former mistress. The ghost of Brody’s dead wife awakens to the sordid details of his unfaithfulness, enraging her supernatural spirit to haunt him in every horrifying way imaginable. At first, Brody thinks he’s hallucinating and hearing things in his head, the result of his state of mind and alcohol. But as things intensify, his grip on sanity quickly slips away, and he starts to go mad. Appearing in every shadow, and provoking him relentlessly, the ghost cranks up her onslaught, making his life a living hell. Brody reaches his breaking point when the ghost possesses his former mistress, and he’s forced to confront the scorned entity — resulting in a climax of both psychological and physical terror.
Starring Steve Richard Harris (Evil Nanny), Demetrius Stear (Death Pool), Katherine Flannery (Zombie Pizza) and Sara Malakul Lane (King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table).
Campisi will serve on the upcoming projects Blood Current and Stepmother as Executive Producer, but for now, you can watch The Domicile on DVD and VOD.