Campbell brothers shoot for big screens

Peter (left) and Thomas (right) Campbell sit to discuss their travel plans to the Filmapooloza Film festival in New Orleans that started this weekend and ends Monday.
Patrick Higgins
Peter (left) and Thomas (right) Campbell sit to discuss their travel plans to the Filmapooloza Film festival in New Orleans that started this weekend and ends Monday.

Posted on March 10, 2014 in Arts & Culture
By Francis Flisiuk

Siblings Thomas and Peter Campbell, emerging filmmakers and theatre and music majors at USM, are ready to see their work on national and international screens, after winning several awards, including “Best Film,” during Portland’s 48 Hour Film Project last year
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The brothers made their winning eight-minute film as part of the 48 Hour Film Project, a nationwide event that requires fledgling filmmakers to write, produce and shoot a short film in just two days. After winning several awards in Portland with their short film Crá Croí, they’ve moved on to the next phase of the competition, the Filmapalooza Film Festival in New Orleans, where the film competed for a chance to be featured at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France to an audience of film critics and industry professionals.

For Thomas and Peter Campbell, travelling to New Orleans first meant completing a successful Indiegogo campaign, a crowdfunding website which helped the brothers raise over $100 dollars more than their goal of $3,000. They are both excited with the successes of their campaign and the opportunity to network with film aficionados and see the reaction to their creative work.

“This is a big opportunity for us,” said Peter Campbell. “I’m curious to see how people will respond to our film nationally.”

According to Thomas Campbell, there was no better place for them to travel with their work than New Orleans. Filled with actors, writers and a thriving live music scene, New Orleans is a southern hub of performing arts culture.

“For a pair of music and theatre students, New Orleans is a playground,” said Thomas Campbell. “We’re so grateful to have the opportunity to travel there and see what other creatives think of Crá Croí.”

Their short comedy Crá Croí won six awards at Portland’s 48 Film Project last year including: best use of genre, best emerging filmmaker, best actor, best writing, best directing and most importantly best film. The brothers thought the competition was too good to be beaten, leaving them surprised to find that they had won so many of the festival’s awards.

“There were so many other talented films artists there that when we won it kind of felt like the luck of the draw,” said Thomas Campbell. “But we also felt like Crá Croí was a polished product worthy to compete against.”

Crá Croí is a whimsical tale of an unnamed man who’s plagued by a miniature dancing Irishmen every time he tries to sleep at night, that is, according to the siblings, an homage to their Celtic heritage. Fittingly enough, the Gaelic phrase “crá croí” means “torment of the heart” and, during a comical allusion to J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy, it’s also a “plague with a persistence as infinite as the void.”

The plague comes in the form of the Irishman, played by Peter Campbell, who dances a perpetual riverdance. The film revolves around the resolution of this unusual conflict. It also features an uncanny Gandalf impression from a voiceover provided by Patrick Molloy a theatre alumnus from USM. According to Thomas Campbell, bizarre is what they were going for, in response to a challenging genre restriction set by the 48 Film Project. Every year the festival requires that the film submissions adhere to a specific genre.

“We were dealt an odd hand at the film festival being a two-man sibling group and given the romance genre to work with,” said Thomas Campbell. “So we said, ‘Let’s just make it as strange as possible.’”

Other elements of the contest required them to use a trash can as a prop, create a scene featuring a motivational speaker and use the line: “Come on. You can tell me.” But bringing these elements together, they said, came relatively easy for them because they work so well as a team.

“It’s hard to find other people to work with that click as well as Peter and I do,” said Thomas Campbell. “We’re like two halves of the same person, and our films almost always come out exactly the way they’re envisioned in our heads.”

Both Tom and Peter Campbell draw inspiration for their films from the Coen Brothers, the critically acclaimed directors of many well-known films, including Fargo and No Country for Old Men. Like the Coen Brothers often do, the Campbells try to blend strictly situational comedy with dramatic elements.

“Peter and I try to make our films funny without telling jokes,” said Thomas Campbell. “We try to make comedy arise purely on the plot and the situation itself.”
The brothers started filmmaking early. At the ages of 11 and 12, they dipped their toes into the industry by experimenting with their mother’s camcorder, making what they now consider “silly videos” as a way to have fun and pass the time.

“Filmmaking started for me as just a hobby,” said Peter Campbell. “Then it just grew on its own––we didn’t plan on becoming filmmakers in advance.”
Progress in the film world included getting more involved with the community by participating in local film festivals like the 48 Hour Film Project. Tom and Peter Campbell’s short films have been featured three times in the festival since 2011. Positive reactions from Youtube viewers of their first film Ye Apprenteth was what originally inspired and motivated the brothers to share their filmmaking talents with the community through the internet.

Commenting on YouTube, Cory Schnaible, a local Portlander, writes about the Campbell brothers first film submission, “Loved this when I first saw it, and even more now.”
Another YouTuber Phil Cormier writes, “Now this is my idea of a good 48 hour project, I love it.”

According to both of the brothers, skills gained through classroom experiences at USM have also helped in producing quality video content, and ensuring that their view count on YouTube continues to climb. Thomas Campbell is a senior theatre major at USM, who believes that his acting has seen an improvement because of some of the courses he’s taken in college. However, he stresses that there is a major difference between theatre acting and film acting.

“They are completely different experiences,” said Thomas Campbell. “In theatre it’s one continuous line, you don’t stop until the scene is done. But when you’re working on films, you’re stopping all the time and taking the scene to different places. You’re forced to build up emotions as soon as you press record, as opposed to in theatre when you build up emotion gradually and naturally.”

For Peter Campbell, a sophomore now, the pursuit of his music major at USM has also led to some improvements in his personal videography skills.

“Classes at USM have helped immensely with the editing process,” said Peter Campbell. “With video editing it’s all about arranging and organizing the clips to create the perfect comedic timing. I think that studying music really helped me develop those skills. Music is all about timing, as well as developing an ear for what sounds good and has fluidity.”

Future goals for the brothers, besides attending the Filmapalooza festival in New Orleans, includes furthering their video and acting skills by the best way they know how: hands on experience. And they certainly plan on producing more submissions for future local film contests.

“We learn the best by just going out and shooting,” said Thomas Campbell.

All of the brothers shorts films and animations can be viewed by searching their YouTube page “8mufnz” or by going to their Facebook or Twitter pages. The brothers urge viewers to laugh, leave feedback and help spread the word of their professional endeavours.

“Your support helps us represent local Maine films on a national level,” said Thomas Campbell.

View the Campbell brother’s winning film, Crá Croí, here.