By Christopher Evans
I first met James Campbell when he launched a crowd funding campaign for the Elvis-Bruceploitation proof of concept movie Tiger Man (2020) starring American Wrestler and all-round badass Paul London A Bird in The Shadow (2017), Please Don`t Die (2018). I had just been made redundant from my job from a well-known North-East based Stockbrokers and so being both an avid fan of Elvis, Bruce Lee and Martial arts movies, the project ticked all the right boxes. A major draw was also that French Vietnamese action star Jean-Paul Ly Jailbreak (2017), Night Shooters(2018) was attached to the project as well. I decided to support British regional action film making and invested part of my redundancy money for the Associate Producer incentive. Whilst the project suffered from a touch of financial cramp and time constraints, little did I know that meeting James and being part of the film making experience would re-kindled my interest in everything movie related and gave me confidence to meet like mind people who were also just as passionate about film and film making as I was. For that I will always be grateful.
Fast forward three years later to May 2023, I meet up again with James as he prepares to give a talk on behalf of the Newcastle Film Club at the glorious Old George Pub, at the heart of Newcastle’s "Bigg Market". Since we last met, the bearded man mountain has produced three further short movies through his Eighties Doubt Film Production Imprint: the pandemic lockdown shot isolationist suspense thriller Stay Safe(2020), D.C. Universe fan featurette Batman :1986 (2021) starring Gangs Of London actor Lee Charles as Batman , Action Man star Mark Griffin as The Punisher aka Frank Castle and horror luvvie Laurence R Harvey as The Penguin aka Mr Cobblepot.
Batman :1986 (2021) blows Robert Pattinson`s The Batman (2022) completely out of the water and is a faithful homage to the comic book universe. The film is full of suspense, action and humour which was sadly lacking from the sullen Pattinson vehicle. It would be interesting to see what James would be able to create if given the official backing of D.C.and a sizeable budget. James` most recent film being Bushwhacker Blues (2022), a hairy handed lupin werewolf western mashup.
James` sights are now set firmly on producing his feature length debut Moon-Shine Gang Of Cheyenne (TBA) which aims to continue the theme of Bushwhacker Blues (2022) incorporating elements of western action, horror and suspense.
A potential second full feature, Jumper (TBA) which is an LSD drenched Christmas inspired horror which is akin to Roger Corman`s The Trip (1968) mixed with Sam Raimi`s The Evil Dead (1982) is also on the cards. Jumper (TBA) promises to be more of a “Slay Ride” rather than a “Sleigh Ride. Both films are being optioned at the forthcoming Cannes film festival 2023.
Campbell encourages all film makers to take advantage of the wealth of local talent the North-East has to offer for it`s stunning cost-effective shooting locations and top notch acting talent. For example, taking a que from the famous quote by movie mogul Sam Goldwyn,“ ..a tree is a tree.. shoot it in Griffith Park”, James shot the entirety of Bushwhacker Blues (2022) in the local woodland hedgerow area in his hometown of Darlington and Batman :1986 (2021) was shot entirely shot in an abandoned retail outlet.
Campbells’ film making style is placed somewhere between art-house and grind-house, but it would be wrong to dismiss him merely as a Poundland Stanley Kubrick or a Micro Budget Roger Corman, due to the eclectic range of influences that he filters into his projects. These influences range from horror, gritty northern kitchen sink gangster potboilers, suspense and a soupçon of East Asian heroic bloodshed and everything else in-between. His meticulous focus on detail that he assigns to each film that he is involved and his strong work ethic, sets him apart from his contemporaries.
Coming to filmmaking later in life, after sailing through a succession of jobs that he hated, James‘obsession with the behind-the-scenes documentaries for genre classics such as Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) and Full Tilt Boogie (1997) which documented the making of Robert Rodriguez`s From Dusk Til Dawn (1996), was the catalyst for him to take up filmmaking.
After graduating from Hartlepool’s Northern School Of Arts, he used a bursary grant awarded by Director Kevin Smith Clerks (1994) Chasing Amy (1996) to help fund his first foray into the D.C. Universe, the Gotham by Gaslight inspired Ripper (2016). The film pits Batman against Victorian “serial killer” Jack the Ripper.
Shot mainly in Hartlepool’s historic Quayside, which perfectly doubles for Victorian era Whitechapel, the film is a faithful rendering of the cult D.C story.Ripper (2016) is a ground-breaking fan film, and punches above it`s weight in all aspects
In 2018 James returned with the slacker wrestling comedy Please Don`t Die (2018) which features several improvised comedic vignettes, with the post wrestling match debrief with Paul London being a highlight of the film.
James is a salt of the earth film director, who has an aura of silent modesty and humbleness. With his feet placed firmly on the ground, James actively balances his artistic endeavours, whilst being a full-time carer for his partner, hence the reason why he has not pursued projects that would take him away from his family for large periods of time.
A main stayer throughout all of James` productions is North-East based actor Jacob Alderton, who is most famous to action fans for his scene stealing bad guy role in Ross Boyask`s I am Vengeance (2017) starring wrestler Stu Bennet and hardman actor Vinnie Jones. Jacob contributed to the talk from an actor’s perspective, on what it is like to collaborate with James and working on regional and micro-budget productions. Jacob professes that it is sometimes difficult juggling roles that are low paid, or done free as a favour, when a higher fee paid role is also in contention but has had a lot more experience and opportunities to learn and to hone his craft on small scale regional projects compared to larger international projects.
The main obstacle that James faces as a micro-budget genre director, is getting adequate projects funded due to the specific niche subject matter and content. As with most films, practical and financial setbacks in production frequently occur.
A proposed sequel to Batman:1986 (2021) - Batman:1987 (TBA) hadto be abandoned during the pre-production stage, and Moon Shine Gang Of Cheyenne (TBA), WW1 set Predator fan short Predator: Shellshock (TBA) and Mike Hodges inspired paternal revenge thriller A Father`s Debt (TBA) have allending up languishing in development hell for several years. Despite these obstacles, James` focus and determination has never wavered, and if anything, he has comeout of the other side of these setbacks stronger, wiser and even more determined to fulfil his vision as a filmmaker.
At the time of writing it was announced James` upcoming short feature Seeing (TBA) starring veteran character actor Bill Fellows star of Scott Mann`s The Tournament (2009),Ted Lasso, and Downton Abbey which is currently in pre-production, has been funded in it`s entirety by the Tee`s Valley International Film Festival which mission statement is to promote film making within the Teesside Valley region. The film aims to explore the fine line between psychological and physical suspense that James` straddled in his previous movies and aims to distil vibes of Kubrick, Raimi, Jonnie To and Ken Loach.
Another passion project that James hopes to get off the ground in the near future is a potential sequel to Tiger Man (2020), Tiger Man: Sound Of Fury (TBA) which he hopes to get American wrestler Paul London to return as the King Of Rock `N` Roll and Afghan Bruce Lee impersonator Abbas Alizada to take on the mantle of the Little Dragon to combat international espionage in 1970`s Las Vegas.
James` passion for film making and more importantly making films within the North-East of England is infectious, and everyone who attended the Newcastle Film Club talk were equal parts impressed and inspired.
It will be interesting to see how these future projects come to fruition and whether James finally gets to complete his full-length magnum opus feature, which has so far eluded him.
James Campbell Newcastle Cinema Club – Talk May 2023
James Campbell - Writer/Director SHOWREEL (2022)
1 9 8 6 | BATMAN & PUNISHER FAN FILM (2021)