Interview With Michael Simpson (2007)
When Michael A. Simpson, producer/director of Sleepaway Camp 2 & 3 recently wrote a new script for the saga, fans went wild. If you've read the Script Review you'll know that the project is not the norm you'd expect. With this in mind, we quizzed Michael all about it, what he's been up to outside of camp, and brought in the fans to contribute some questions of their own.
John: Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. We haven't officially interviewed you since 2002, so can you begin by telling us what you've been up to?
Michael: It’s been a very busy period for me. I traveled last year a good bit. I was in India three times, which I thought was an amazing place. I also went to Dubai in the UAE twice, the United Kingdom six times and France last year for the Cannes Film Festival.
John: All that travel in the last twelve months?
John: Was this business or pleasure?
Michael: Some of both, but mostly business.
John: I noticed you’ve had two TV movies produced in the last two years that you wrote, both holiday themed.
Michael: Yes, “Crazy For Christmas” and “All She Wants For Christmas.” The ratings were very good for Crazy so they invited us back to the dance. I enjoy writing a variety of things. It keeps life interesting.
John: In All She Wants For Christmas you had a reference to an Athens music group you called Raven On A Rock. Nice touch.
Michael: It was a little homage to the Athens music scene and of course a wink and a nod to the Ravesters.
John: I bet a few of your fans picked up on that.
Michael: I did get some emails.
John: What is Ravenstone up to these days?
Michael: Our CD BACK ON THE ROCK did well for us. It’s available on iTunes and a number of other sites. One of my favorites was Amazon. The band got a big kick out of reading some of the fan comments and reviews of the CD that are online there.
John: The editor’s review at Music.download.com was solid. It read in part: “The hottest new band from Athens, GA, is actually one of the oldest…70 roots rockers Ravenstone have reconvened, and their sound illuminates that of younger Athens stars…”
Michael: The band was pleased with the reviews and the reception by our fans to our returning to live performance. When the Ravesters performed live in Athens, GA for the first time in more than 30 years we had about three hundred people show up in the club. It was a mix of college students and older people who remembered us from the early 70s. It was a great night. We have a video of the performance that night that will be out soon.
John: Any plans for another CD or more live performances?
Michael: The band was begun to write songs for our next release and we are looking at more live performances as our schedules permit.
Click here to download an exclusive mp3 of the Ravenstone track "Dance Of Life",
at the Roxy Club in Athens, GA, andfrom the forthcoming music video One Night Only
John: What other writing are you doing these days?
Michael: I’m finishing up a novel that I have written off and on for some time. It traces my family’s history in the south during the American Civil War and Vietnam. It deals with people six generations apart and how certain events and experiences in the Civil War echoed through the family one hundred years later.
John: That sounds intriguing.
Michael: My friend, author William Diehl, who passed away recently, had really encouraged me to finish it.
John: I read your eulogy of Diehl. It was very moving.
Michael: Thanks. It came from the heart. He was a very unique man.
John: I learned a lot about him that I’m sure most people didn’t know. Besides being a best selling author of novels like Primal Fear & Sharky’s Machine, he was also involved in the Civil Rights movement in America.
Michael: Yes. He knew Dr. Martin Luther King. He photographed King and was with him in places like Alabama and Mississippi during the 60s.
I think the funniest thing I know about Bill was that Mae West was his baby sitter when he was a kid.
John: Let’s talk about Berserk. What made you consider coming back to the series after all this time?
Michael: I’ve always had a soft spot for all the happy campers. Many of them have asked me over the years what I would do with the series. It just seemed like it would be fun to say “what if…”
I wrote the script with a good friend, author Fred Willard, who wrote one of my favorite novels, DOWN ON PONCE. The book is a must read campers.
John: What attracted you to the different type of story in Berserk?
Michael: So much of what is out there seems so stall. No one has been able to really come up with anything new for Angela.
John: The tone in the Berserk script is starkly different to that of SC2 & 3. You once said straight horror didn't interest you, which is what Berserk is, so what lead to the change of heart?
Michael: At the time I did SC2&3, so-called straight slasher movies had been done to death. I was bored watching them so I couldn’t imagine directing one. But then as the years went by so much humor was mixed into the horror that it felt overdone also. So both of those types of horror have really been done to death.
Right now in the market place, the trend is solidly toward straight horror in the vein of “Saw.”
I looked at the SC franchise and said what could be done that would break some new ground, at least for SC? What had not been done before with the franchise? I don’t think anyone really wants to see Angela as some middle aged broad hacking up people. That would end up being unintentionally silly I think.
So I asked myself what is missing from the story? What is the underlying mythology? I thought of two things, one that is about the horror genre and one that is specific to the SC mythos.
One element of horror that is missing from all the SC films up to now is supernatural. That’s never been explored in this series.
The second element that is specific to the franchise that is missing is any reasonable explanation or motivation for why Angela is the way she is. The question is, what really makes Angela tick?
After all, there are many people in the world who were forced to cross dress as a child or are abused as a child or are some fat little kid who doesn’t fit in or is a mommy’s boy or whatever and none of those people suddenly flip out and become a serial killer. So why did Angela?
We took those two things and meshed them together and cooked it until it was well done and properly seasoned. Now all you need is a nice Chianti.
John: Can you talk about Angela's role in the script and her importance?
Michael: Angela is the mythology center of the series and we deal with that. Rather than have a movie where everyone remembers the last shot, this story is one where you will never forget the first three minutes.
The other thing I wanted to do with the story is to incorporate all the previous incarnations and permutations of Angela so that a coherent story line could be drawn that would incorporate all the SC films. Berserk does that. All of the previous Angela story lines are embraced.
I think one of the saddest parts of the SC franchise is the silly bickering about the original film versus the two sequels I did. It sounds like high school with cigarettes.
The truth is that the SC universe is small and the campers -- and the camp counselors -- should all learn to play well with others. I think that if everyone started from the point of what is best for the franchise, what is best for the fans, it would be a lot saner experience for everyone involved and then perhaps the SC franchise wouldn’t be stumbling along like it is at the moment.
John: What is the likelihood of the project moving into production status?
Michael: I have no idea at this point. I want to approach this from a “what if” point of view. Just start with the story and then figure out the best way to express it and share it with the fans.
I’m first and foremost interested in exploring story telling opportunities that are afforded us by new media, like web graphic novels, etc. I also thought it would be fun to design a story in such a way that we could get feedback from the fans as we are creating the story. That’s one thing I want to encourage campers to do with this creative project.
John: If filmed, would you consider a low-budget production that goes straight to DVD and into fans' hands, or would you seek a big budget, mainstream-appealing theatrical format?
Michael: That would be up to the market place. That’s where art intersects with commerce.
John: You have a history of working with cross-platform multimedia (i.e. your filming of segments for CD-Rom games), in what ways can you extend this project into other formats, like the web?
Michael: I’ve always enjoyed exploring cutting edge media. I really think the potential with Berserk is limited only by our collective imagination. I see this as an active collaboration between us and the campers. I look forward to your graphic designs and the input from the fans. We’ll walk into the woods together and see where the path leads.
The above is a preview of the graphic designs Michael mentioned - coming in the future to this site, exclusive storyboards adapting the first few pages of the script into a digital graphic style format. And now, some selected fan questions ahead:
Blondgod asks "Do you think fans of the original and the sequels will be pleased with this?"
Michael: Good question. I have no idea. I guess we’ll know shortly.
Stikky asks "Is this film going to ignore the upcoming entry Return To Sleepaway Camp?"
Michael: Berserk incorporates all other SC story lines.
SnowBoy asks "My question for Mr. Simpson is if he has any current interests in actresses to play Angela?"
Michael: This is written in a way that one of the previous actresses who played Angela could play her again or a new face could.
Zee Deveel asks "Hi Michael, I'm not sure if you're at liberty to give these facts away, [John] mentioned that characters from previous films make brief apperances in this one. Could you mention who they are at this point, or at least give us a few hints if possible?
Michael: One of the fun things we did is give the fans a chance to glimpse what happened to some of the survivors of the previous films. It shows how the trauma from the experience is still affecting them all these years later. I got a real kick out of the idea and hope the fans do also.
Ripper asks "What pop-culture references are you writing into the script: e.g. character names based on real people, current political stuff, etc."
Michael: As John mentioned, the tone of and approach to Berserk is a stark departure from the sequels. Having said that, I imagine a few pop references may slip in here and there.
HorrorFan111 asks "Hey Michael, I think your an awesome filmmaker and a cool person, love the Sleepaway Camp films. Will this be the goriest entry between this and parts 2 and 3? Thanks again Michael, you rock!"
Michael: Thanks dude. This story does dial up the meter on gore to bring it on par with horror fans expectations these days.
Angel Of Death asks "will the film be a two parter?"
Michael: The story does set up sequels that are limited only by our collective imaginations.
Vitacus asks "Will there be any Ravenstone music in the film?"
Scavenger of Human Sorrow asks "Any chance for the fans to play a part in the production? (extras, crew, ect.)?"
Michael: If the film happens, that would certainly be great fun.