Some movies just stick. Pet Sematary, the film adaptation of the Stephen King bestseller, is one of those movies. Yet, while it’s a film almost every horror fan has seen, one that many hold in high esteem and in their classic canon, we don’t always hear about it as much. Yes Pet Sematary did get its Blu-ray release this month (and a beautiful transfer), but it still had the same features from the Special Edition DVD of earlier years. Where was that “something extra” fans had been waiting for?
Documentarians John Campopiano and Justin White are doing more than lifting the veil for fans hungry for all-things Pet Sematary. Their documentary, Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary, is a meticulous lovesong not just to the movie, but to the filmmaking process. So far, they’ve collected interviews from the expected (cast) to the unexpected — crew members and locals in the Maine community who share their stories from what their life was like when the movie filmed back in 1988. They’ve scoured the shooting locations, and got their hands on never before seen photos from the film’s production. And they’re still shooting.
Together, Campopiano (originally from Rhode Island, but now based in Boston) and White (who lives in Rhode Island), bring a mix of technical experience and background in production; including work in camera operations, video editing, and sound, and a knowledge of documentation through archives management. For “first time filmmakers,” they bring their real world experience to the project. Together, they discuss with us how that process has been, and what fans can expect from their documentary.
In a recent interview, you discuss that one of your motivators for making the documentary was that it hadn’t been done (and how disappointing the DVD features were). What were the first steps you two took to turn your idea into a reality?
JUSTIN WHITE: I wouldn’t say the DVD features were disappointing, just left a lot unanswered and more to be desired. As far as our idea going from just that to becoming reality, in the beginning interestingly enough, we were thinking this venture would result in a lengthy article with no clear final destination I.E. horror magazine, blog, newspaper, etc. We never dreamed we would encounter so many incredible never before seen photos and video, so having a background in video production I realized that we could go a step further and incorporate all this media along with the stories we were hearing from Maine locals, and really visually document the making of the film.
JOHN CAMPOPIANO: First, we started establishing contacts in Maine. We knew from the get go that we wanted this documentary to have a lot of local, Maine flavor (because, quite honestly, the film has a lot of local, Maine flavor) and we knew that establishing contacts in the state would be of vital importance. I had also established contact with Brad Greenquist in 2010 and so I emailed him to let him know what we were thinking. When we received an enthusiastic response from Brad and the Maine locals, we were off and running. We’re still running!
As a Pet Sematary fan, I’m especially excited to see Gage (the world’s cutest zombie baby) and Zelda (specter of childhood nightmares) are participating in the doc. Who has been the biggest coup for you to track down as an interview? Was anyone (crew or cast) especially illusive?
JW: I fully agree with John, the attempts to contact people have been incredibly time consuming and challenging, but overall successful. We’ve definitely hit our roadblocks and stumbled a bit in the dark, for example, when you’re trying to contact someone and all you have is a name, it can get interesting. It’s laughable to think there may be a few voicemail boxes out there belonging to people who have never heard of the film asking if they were the same (so and so) that was involved with the production of Pet Sematary.
JC: The answer to this is multi-faceted: As first-time documentary filmmakers, we have a lot to prove. In some cases, this meant we needed to convince the potential interviewee that we weren’t wasting their time. Other challenges with tracking down cast and crew are more of the obvious kind: wading through endless agents, personal assistants, etc. At times we’ve had to get really creative with how we find people. To date, we’ve written hundreds and hundreds of letters, thousands of emails, made countless phone calls, all in an attempt to find people. Aside from the challenge of actually finding them, the reception we’ve ultimately received has generally been overwhelmingly positive. Cast and crewmembers have been beyond generous with their time. To give you a specific example, Susan Blommaert (Missy Dandridge) was a real challenge to track down. We had to make contact with several former co-stars of hers from other productions and hope that one would pull through and pass along our request to her. Thankfully this finally happened and once it did, we met with Susan for a full afternoon at her home in NY. Justin will agree with me when I say that she was one of the kindest and most brilliant people we’ve met throughout this process.
One of your goals in making the documentary was to examine what the making of the film meant, and did, to the local community. Do you think that you’ve answered that question, and what have you found?
JW: I do feel that question has been adequately answered by some of our interviewees. The impact the film had on Maine’s economy as well as it’s lasting effects are two of the concepts that are explored in this documentary. Without getting into specifics, as John mentioned, not everyone was thrilled about the Hollywood mothership landing in their backyards, but many of the locals still embrace it and look back to those few months in 1988 with very fond memories. We are trying to present a good mix of all their stories to really capture in essence what life was like for these folks during production.
JC: I think we have definitely answered that question in the documentary. Through interviews with locals who were involved in the production, conversations with those who were around the production as it unfolded, digging in dozens of Maine libraries and archives for media coverage on the production, we have gotten a true sense of what the film meant to and did for the state of Maine. Of course not all remembrances and local opinions are positive! As one would imagine, not everyone is going to embrace the “invasion” of Hollywood in his or her quiet neighborhood – particularly a horror production. Justin and I feel strongly that we will be showcasing both sides of the coin in the final product. To give you an example, we found a local couple whose son who almost got the role of Gage. They had a fun story to tell…
Are there any questions you’ve always wondered about, as fans, that making this documentary has revealed for you?
JW: One of the first things that was answered for me was a question I didn’t even really know I had. When we first visited the Creed house, one of the things we did was follow the land where the path into the woods was, and thought there might have been a slight chance that we stumbled upon the area that was used for the Pet Sematary. It was quickly realized that the actual shooting location was not on or anywhere near the property. That was one of the first of many surprising revelations that working on this documentary has presented us.
JC: In terms of general curiosities, I’ve always been eager to know where the locations from the film are. Horror fans have a lot of things in common, one of them being a genuine fascination with filming locations and seeing what places look like today. (Have they changed? Do they look the same?) For years, devoted fans have flocked to the Exorcist steps in Georgetown, the JAWS bridge on Martha’s Vineyard, the Amityville Horror house in Amityville, NY, the iconic sidewalks from Halloween in southern California, and so on. That red and yellow “Creed” house is among those locations that fans want to see and visit. Over the last two years we’ve gone above and beyond to find as many of the filming locations in Maine as we can. While there will always be a stone left unturned, we’re confident that, for the first time, fans of Pet Sematary will see more of the original locations than they ever dreamed they would. After all, our primary objective with this documentary is to provide an all-encompassing look at the film – the filming locations being a major part of the journey.
In terms of specific questions that I, as a fan, always wanted to know, I had always been interested in learning about how the filmmakers accomplished the two different shots showing Gage getting killed in the road. (A morbid curiosity, no?) The answers and stories associated with this question have been revealed in the documentary and will undoubtedly peak the interest of anyone who appreciates the film.
In turn, I’m hoping, as Pet Sematary experts, you can answer a question for me. Do you know how the Ramones came about recording “Pet Sematary”? I’m sure it wasn’t too hard to get the Ramones to record spooky punk rock songs, but I always wondered how that came about.
JC: Well, Stephen King writes about the Ramones in the book! It’s interesting because upon arriving in Maine, Mary Lambert had already established a plethora of connections in the music world (she was a music video director prior to Siesta and Pet Sematary.) She was close with Dee Dee Ramone and so the story goes that she asked if they would write a piece for the film and they did. Seems like an oversimplified answer, but that’s how it has been told to us! Pretty cool stuff.
Is the documentary complete?
JW: The documentary is very much in production. We still have a few locations to shoot, and have a few more interviews to do before that process is complete. Once the interviews are done then editing will begin, as it looks right now possibly early 2013 will be when that will happen. We are very excited to begin that chapter even though it will be rather bittersweet. The trips we’ve made to Maine and everywhere else to interview the cast, crew, and locals has been a lot of fun. We’ve had the opportunity to meet and get to know so many wonderful people that it’s almost become a way of life for us, and now that we’re almost finished with principle shooting it’s kind of sad that all of that is coming to an end.
JC: No, the documentary is not complete though we, amazingly, have over two-dozen interviews finished and a big chunk of our filming location footage completed. There are other aspects of the documentary which need completing, but for the sake of surprise I won’t get into those now! The good news is that Justin and I have a very packed interview schedule this fall and winter, and envision starting the editing in early 2013. Things are really moving along nicely.
Any teasers about what we might see in terms of lost Pet Sematary footage or behind-the-scenes stuff?
JC: In terms of behind-the-scenes stuff, we have footage and photos of cast and crew, the shooting of scenes, deleted scenes, etc. For obvious reasons we’re not going to reveal much more than that as we want it to be a surprise for fans! We think fans of the film will be pleased.