Artist Gabriel Campisi has worked in numerous areas of the entertainment industry and has a plethora of helpful tips to share with anyone who is interested in this business. I was compelled to reach out and ask if he would be willing to share some of his knowledge after attending the premier of “Little Dead Rotting Hood”, a fantastic film on which Gabriel recently worked with “The Asylum” production company and director Jared Cohn. Gabriel graciously agreed to an interview, and it’s an honor to introduce him to you, reader friends!
Admittedly, it was difficult to choose one “title” for Gabriel for this interview, as he has worn many hats in the entertainment business. Through all of his work as a creative individual, he has acquired a tremendous amount of experience in our industry. In fact, Gabriel has been interested in film and the entertainment industry from a young age. He explains:
“I watched ‘Star Wars’ for the first time when I was 8 years old in 1977, and that movie literally sparked something magical within me to want to take off on great adventures like what I had just seen up on the screen. Coincidentally, I found my father's Super8mm film camera around the same time, so I remember shooting my first films around that age. I certainly had no idea what I was doing at that time, but that's truly where it all began. My father was always my biggest supporter, and he taught me how to use the camera properly, and even taught me how to do stop-motion animation.
By the time I was in high school, I was shooting elaborate short films and winning national film festivals. My first win came from Chicago's Photographic Society of America's Teenage Film Festival, and this was definitely something that inspired me to continue filmmaking on a professional level.
I continued to shoot short films after high school, but I also started worked professionally on national commercials, music videos, industrials and independent as well as studio films. I started on the ground level as a production assistant, but quickly moved through the ranks to learn as much as possible. I did grip work and lighting, special effects, props and pyrotechnics/stunts, then moved onto script supervision, production supervision and cinematography. Soon enough I was producing, writing and directing.
I spent about ten years in motion picture finance, working with hedge funds and private equity investors, and got to meet some of the biggest players in the industry as a result. I wrote a book (which is now in its second edition from McFarland Publishers) on film finance and business plans for independent filmmakers during this time.
Several years ago I decided to go back to my passion, which is actual hands-on filmmaking. My partner Jared Cohn and I created Traplight Pictures, and I've been producing full-time ever since.”
I, too, had the pleasure of working with Jared Cohn when he directed “Bikini Spring Break” several years ago. I portrayed the character of “Craig” in the film and loved every minute of it! Networking is extremely important in the entertainment industry, and it always amazes me how people are connected to one another! I asked Gabriel if he plans to work with The Asylum and with Jared Cohn again soon - possibly for a “Bikini Spring Break 2”?! Gabriel replied:
“Well, there's a fun coincidence! Jared Cohn is my partner-in-crime. We're business partners at Traplight Pictures. So the answer to part of your question is yes, Jared and I will be working together on many more projects in the future. We're actually in pre-production on a ghost movie at this very moment. And we're overseeing the final post-production details on ‘The Valley Drowner,’ a movie we shot last year with actor Randy Wayne.
I'll definitely be working with The Asylum again as well. I've known those guys for many years - from my days working in film finance, actually. They're very close friends, and all their production people are amazing in every way. The three partners are some of the coolest producers in the industry.
‘[Bikini] Spring Break 2’? I'll have to ask them about that. If they do it, we'll definitely have to get you back in front of the cameras for that one! I do know for certain that ‘Jailbait 2’ is in development, so keep your eyes out for that one.”
Filmmaking, Writing, Producing, Directing: Different Ways of Making Magic
As we can see, Gabriel is a “jack of all trades” in the entertainment industry! I asked him if there is a particular area of the business that interests him the most. He said:
“I find all aspects of filmmaking fascinating, but I'd have to say writing is my first passion. That's where you find creativity at its purest and rawest form, where you get to play God with the world you create out of your imagination.
I also enjoy producing, because it's the next step in taking that screenplay and making it come to life. There is so much involved in the production of any motion picture, that it can be very intimidating to someone who's not fully prepared and experienced. But I've been doing this for a long time, so I enjoy the challenge and want to make sure the movie gets handled properly from start to finish.
I love directing, too -- the ultimate form of creative expression. I've been busy working on a number of projects that have been overlapping, so I have not had the opportunity to get back into that particular saddle lately. But it's coming.
At the end of the day, all these disciplines are just different ways of playing "make-believe" like we did as children. They allow us to explore our imaginations, and try to make magic happen. From that perspective, I'm happy wearing any one of those hats.”
Each individual whom I have had the pleasure of interviewing for acting.about.com has had to overcome numerous challenges in order to become successful. Gabriel Campisi – who has become very successful in many areas of entertainment – shares some of the challenges that he has faced, and how he has overcome them. Gabriel said:
“Making movies is a challenge at every level; from writing to acting, to producing, directing and financing -- and everything in-between. I think getting a project green-lit is always an interesting adventure. Whether you're trying to convince a production company or an investor to give the go-ahead, you have to go out of your way to provide what is necessary to make your project get approved or funded. And it's definitely a lot easier said than done.
What's always helped me overcome these challenges is my approach to the matter. I think of the projects I want to get funded as one giant jigsaw puzzle. There are endless pieces to the puzzle, and it's my job to find all the pieces and bring them to the table, then put them together and make sure they fit.
The problem is that not all investors are the same, and not all production companies are the same, so not all "jigsaw puzzles" will work. Different companies or investors will employ different finance and production strategies, which means you have to be very flexible and adjust to their requisites.
Knowing how investors and production companies work is the key to overcoming these challenges, and it's helped me immensely over the years. Having a sense of humor has also helped, as well as knowing to not take rejection personally.”
The constant rejection that comes with a career in entertainment is one of the most challenging aspects of working in this industry. As I often point out on my page, learning how to handle and deal with rejection as an actor is very important. “Knowing to not take rejection personally” as Gabriel said is extremely important, and it’s something that new actors should understand in order to avoid becoming discouraged. Gabriel shares more advice for actors who are starting out, and specifically in the area of independent film.
“I've produced SAG movies, as well as independent non-union features. One of the things I've noticed with some actors over the years is - they're so eager to get into SAG - once they get in they find it difficult to work on smaller non-union features. SAG, of course, won't let them.
I think actors should take advantage of the smaller movies before trying to join SAG, especially if they're just starting out. They'll gain real-world experience working in front of cameras with other actors. This will help them build a resume and allow them to put together a cool demo reel. And this in turn will contribute greatly to finding a good agent or manager."
Booking Work as an Actor
Gabriel goes on to explain three wonderful pieces of advice in order to book more work:
“As for getting cast in any movie, my first piece of advice goes without saying: study hard, and practice hard. Find the best drama teachers and acting coaches. Commit to going to their classes. Surround yourself with other ambitious and serious actors who share the same passions and goals as you. Support one another, and keep honing your craft. Allow the teachers, coaches and movie directors to give you creative criticism, so that you can become the best that you can possibly be. You should always allow yourself to ‘learn.’"
The second piece of advice is to go to as many auditions as possible and network. Make it a habit of going to a few auditions every week - without fail (kind of like going to the gym -- just do it!). This will allow you to meet other actors, as well as casting agents and directors. And this leads to networking.
I can't stress this enough: network, network, network! Get out there and meet people. If your friend is acting in a movie, ask if the production will allow you to come along to visit for a few hours. Sometimes you'll get to meet the casting people, or the producers or directors.
With independent films especially, the more people you network with, the better chance you'll have of getting in the inner circle, landing an audition and getting cast.
And my third piece of advice is: never give up. Succeeding in Hollywood is often a war of attrition.”
“Dust Yourself Off and Keep Going”
Gabriel points out that success in Hollywood requires that we never give up. This is certainly true, and although it’s not easy to always keep moving forward, it is completely necessary to do so. I often mention in my column that Hollywood is an intense city. It’s an incredible place, but living here and working here can be tough. Gabriel shares his take on Hollywood, including a motivational piece of advice involving not giving up.
Gabriel said, “You need to understand that Hollywood is set up to make you fail. This means if you do everything right, you'll never make it in this town. That's because doing everything right is simply not enough.
What makes the difference is your attitude, your dedication, and your resolve to keep going every time you get knocked down. And believe me, you will get knocked down in this town -- a lot.
Dust yourself off and keep going. Wipe away the tears. Hold your head high and go to that next audition. Write that next screenplay. Put together that next business plan. Keep going. Don't allow your dreams to slip away from you, even when life gets in the way.
If it's truly in your heart to pursue a career in Hollywood, I encourage you to follow your dreams with unbridled passion, but be smart about it. Be prepared! Study, learn from your mistakes, practice, rehearse, and then study some more! Keep honing your craft.
If you want to make it, you're going to have to be willing to sacrifice. No one is going to make it happen for you. Only you can do that for yourself.”
Thank you, Gabriel, for your insight and for reminding all of us to never give up!
Learn more about Gabriel and his projects here:
Jesse Daley is an actor and a writer who lives and works in Hollywood, California.