‘Momentum’ Director Stephen S. Campanelli On Directorial Debut, Working With Clint Eastwood And More

Photo Credit: Stephen S. Campanelli/IMDB
December 1st, 2015

Stephen S. Campanelli is one of the unsung pioneers of the movie business, having started work as a camera operator in the mid 1980s back when there were very few Steadicams to go around. Eventually, Campanelli became one of the most sought after experts in a new trade, and even became the recurring camera operator of his boyhood idol Clint Eastwood. In between Eastwood films, Campanelli has now gone behind the camera with his directorial debut.

The aptly named non-stop action/heist/conspiracy film Momentum is now out on DVD, as Campanelli has master thief Olga Kurylenko race through Cape Town with stolen diamonds, and a flash drive that could reveal a devastating threat to America itself. However, master assassin James Purefoy is determined to get it back, on behalf of a powerful figure played by very special guest star and Campanelli’s long-time friend Morgan Freeman.

Campanelli discussed all this and more with TheMovieNetwork.com’s Robert Dougherty in an interview conducted on Nov. 24.


TMN/Robert Dougherty: Take us through the duties you have as a steadicam operator.

Stephen Campanelli: The thing with a camera operator or a steadicam operator, you're telling the story visually to an audience. So as a camera operator, you're flowing through the shot in terms of telling the story to the audience because they're never gonna get to read the script. The job as a cam operator, through the director, is to tell that story.

So now transitioning into directing, it was even more so my responsibility to get that story on the screen, so having the skills of a steadicam operator allowed me to tell that guy he would have to let go. So I have to translate from myself to him, to say what I wanted visually and then have him use his skill to go, "Oh, okay. I can do this for you. I can do that," Basically being a camera man is the next step, I think, to being a director because you're visually telling the story to an audience and trying to get them to feel what you feel as you read the script.

TMN: From what I read, back when you started out there weren't that many steadicams around.

Campanelli: Yeah, when I bought it, it was very rare. There was only three in the whole country. So I was a very sought after commodity because it was a very new tool and everyone wanted to use it, so I ended up getting flown around the country quite a lot to do a bunch of jobs because it was such an early tool. I loved it.

I fell in love with it when I saw the movie Halloween. I just thought, "Wow, how do they flow that camera through those sets so easily?" and then I found out what it was. They won a technical Oscar that next year, and I went, "Oh, that's what I want to do the rest of my life," so that's how I fell in love with it and started doing it.

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TMN: Then you met Clint Eastwood and started working with him for two decades.

Campanelli: Yes, exactly. And that's a good question because the steadicams allow you to get known, it allows you to get discovered and to really be a specialist in my craft. And cinematographer Jack Green found out about me and asked me to do a movie in China with him. And I thought, well, Clint was my boyhood idol and well, if I work for Jack really, really hard, maybe I'll be impressive enough to him that he will recommend me to Clint, and that's exactly what happened.

I worked so hard and Jack said to Clint, "This guy's amazing. He's incredible. We gotta hire him," and then the next thing I know I'm standing in a cornfield in Iowa on Bridges of Madison County and I'm working with my boyhood idol. So it was a dream come true.

TMN: When it finally became time for you to direct a movie, what made you choose the script for Momentum?

Campanelli: I think it's the other way around, I think Momentum chose me. I've been reading a lot of scripts over the years, of course, and my composer friend of mine, who did the score for my movie, he actually told the producer who he'd worked with before that he would be my favorite director for the script. He loves action movies. It'd be perfect.

So I read the script and I said, "Well, there's a lot of potential here. Needs some work, but you know, it's a great skeleton for a great story," and so I told him my ideas on how to make the script better and make a really good movie out of it and the producer said, "Sure, you got the job." So about a year later, I ended up in South Africa making this movie and just kind of refining it and making it better and working on the dialogue and working on the characters and just kind of making it the best movie I could, with you know, a limited amount of time and money. So that was our biggest obstacle. But I think the film looks good. It's a fun thrill ride. So I'm very proud of all the hard work that we all do.

TMN: And was it your idea for one of the robbers in the beginning to reference Dirty Harry and Gran Torino in the opening sequence?

Campanelli: I actually wrote that myself. That wasn't in the original script, and that day we were shooting it, that guy had nothing to say when he jumped off the counter. I said "Well, that's kind of boring", and I said, "Here", and I really cut the size of the script and I wrote on the back, I said, "Here, say all this," and the guy looked at it and goes, "Wow, that's great." Of course he knew all the lines. He didn't have to memorize it. He did a great job with it, too. So, yeah, that was my tribute to Clint.

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TMN: And I assume your connection with him helped you get the very special cameo from a certain actor.

Campanelli: Yes, yeah. Exactly. That is definitely how I got Morgan in there. We've done a bunch of movies together and he's always very supportive. He said, "When you do your first movie, just let me know if I can help out." So sure enough, there he is. He's a great guy, too. Just a wonderful man. Hopefully in my next one, he'll do another cameo or a bigger role.

We want to make Momentum 2 and my idea is to give him a massively huge role. Make him more evil, because he doesn't really play evil characters very often. So I thought this would be a good chance for him to expand. [chuckle]

TMN: And you know, when I saw the cast list at the end, it said an actor named Michael Douglas was one of the dinner guests. I almost thought you snuck him in there, too.

Campanelli: [laughter] That's funny. That's right, yeah, yeah. No, that just happened.

TMN: So you filmed Momentum in Cape Town, the same as Invictus?

Campanelli: Yes. Exactly. Yeah, yeah. I was there with Clint about six years ago. Great city, great people. South Africa is a great country in general and I had a really good time. So when this came back there, I was like, "I'm in," I love that city. I'm happy it turned out to be that city.

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TMN: It's interesting timing for a movie like this, since there're a lot of other hot properties with females as action leads now, like Hunger Games, Jessica Jones…..

Campanelli: Exactly. I've always been a big fan of it. I had another script on my table for about five years now that I want to get made, that's another female driven action movie and it's really good. So I'm glad we're getting out there because, you know, they're doing well too. People want to see that.

You've seen too many guy movies, let's get some ladies in there that are just smart, intelligent. I think Olga did a great, great job in this movie. She was prepared physically and mentally, and she's just such a great actress and a great person in general. I was very happy with her performance.

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TMN: How did you decide how graphic some of the scenes were? 'There is one scene where the violence happens off-camera, above her, and there's another scene where it's a lot more in-your-face.

Campanelli: Right, right. Well, that scene you're talking about in the bed, I always, always wanted to never show what was going on above the scene. I feel it's like Jaws. Don't show the shark too early. Let the audience imagine it, how horrible it is. It's way better than what I can show them, so that's what I wanted the audience to do is to kind of feel they were under the bed with her and going, "What the hell is going on up there?" but they can hear it, they can feel it, and then with the music it just makes you really really feel it. So my goal was to never go up there and see it.

But then later on, I needed to show how bad these guys are so I needed to actually show the audience that, yeah, these guys are not the nicest people in the world, and to show them some more graphic violence, but never going over the top with it. This film was a smart movie; I didn't want people to think, "Oh, it needs gore to make the movie better." But no, I just have to show just enough of it that people get the idea and then we move on.

TMN: I found it funny that even though the movie is called Momentum, I don't recall seeing that word or hearing that line in the movie itself.

Campanelli: No, [chuckle] it's very funny, but the original, original title of the script... This was before the George Clooney film came out that...well, it was called Gravity.

I don't know why it was called that, but when I read it, it was eight months before Gravity was coming out and I said, "Guys, I don't know if you know this, but there's a big movie coming out at the end of this year." This was two years ago, I guess. Then I said, "You have to change the title." They're like, "What? What the hell?"

So we had to change it, and so we all threw a bunch of names in the hat and that was one of them and I said, "That's a perfect title for this movie," because it's nonstop. So I think it was way better than Gravity.

TMN: And as you noted earlier, there was a fair share of loose ends left. There's a lot of opportunities for a sequel. Has there been any interest in that from the studio so far?

Campanelli: Yeah, there's been a lot of interest from the fans. They're all clamoring, and Olga, she writes to me almost every weekend about doing a sequel, "How's the movie going? I want to do a sequel." It's exciting that there's that potential, we don't know yet. The final numbers aren't in yet, but if the fans want it. I want it.

Like I said, I'd love to give Morgan a bigger role and maybe we'd bring James Purefoy back in some kind of flashback or a prequel, I don't know. It would be fun to get the team back together again, so I know we'd all love to do it. It was a very tough movie to make, but it was also very rewarding at the end. So yeah, I'd love to finish it up and maybe have a bit more closure in the second one so the audience feels fulfilled.

TMN: Well in the meantime, you seem busy with another Clint Eastwood movie, Sully, and directing for the TV series Rio Heat.

Stephen Campanelli: Yeah, exactly; I've been very blessed. And I finished Momentum on a Friday night and Monday morning I was on a plane to Brazil to go to the Rio Heat film. Yeah, very blessed. And then I finished that, and then Clint asked me to come back and do one more movie with him and I said, "Oh gosh of course, anytime."

But yeah, I just want to stay in directing. I just love it so much. Right now I have a few scripts on my tab to direct, all in various stages of financing, so we'll just keep our fingers crossed.

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