Monday, February 15, 2016

Meet the Denovio Family: Caesar and Otto and Fred’s Eerie Interview

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

They’re creepy and they’re goofy…

Caesar is pissed off, not at any single thing or person specifically, he just always thinking – or let’s say believing – that life should be with him at the center, and in control of it. His older half-brother, Otto, isn’t necessarily running on all motors, but is fueled more on emotions than anything else, and has a lot of loss and failures behind him. Together they spar, but they are each other’s yin and yang. Their shared father, lothario Fred, is a huggable, lovable rascal who doesn’t take crap from anyone, but can charm the wallet out of your pocket and you’d be glad. The only thing he can’t control is his sons, but he is joyfully along for the ride to see both how he can help keep some peace in the family, and what he can get out of it.

Caesar and Otto can now be considered part of a film franchise, with director and writer Dave Campfield at the helm. He also plays the anal and the occasionally somewhat sexually ambiguous Caesar. Otto is faced by the slovenly looking Paul Chomicki, who has a natural talent for comedy timing.  Both of these gents grew up in the Commack/Kings Park area of Long Island, and have been friends since teenhood.  Joining the brothers is real-life Disneyland Nurse Scott Aguilar, who has found a way to medicate his acting bug through Caesar and Otto’s dad, Fred. Scott manages to occasionally steal scenes with his natural charm (hey, he doesn’t work for the Magic Kingdom fer nuthin’).

As I was saying, there have been a series of these films, including shorts, such as Caesar and Otto in the House of Dracula (2009) and Caesar and Otto Meet Dracula’s Lawyer (2010), to some features, including (but not all) Caesar and Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre (2009), Caesar and Otto’s Deadly Xmas (2012), and the most recent Caesar and Otto’s Paranormal Halloween (2015). As the series progresses, we are getting to meet some other wonderful recurring characters and actors, as well. The films are available through Wild Eye Releasing and MVD Visual.

Over time, the three main characters have evolved (unlike, say, the Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers, who’s wondrous personas pretty much remained the same throughout their runs), I believe for the better. For that reason, along with the fact that their films are quite funny while remaining in the genre, that I asked the three main actors in this series some questions I was pondering. For honesty’s sake, I asked Campfield for an interview, and he suggested I should include Chomicki and Aguilar, and he was totally right.

Oh, and Campfield has directed (and acted) in other films beyond the Caesar and Otto timeline, including a hysterical one that is quite relevant now: a short called The Perfect Candidate (can be seen HERE).

Now, here are the humans behind the cinematic Denovio clan.

Otto and Caesar
IndieHorrorFilms.BlogSpot (IHF): Let’s start off with some obvious questions and build. How did Dave and Paul get to know each other, and then become friends? I’m assuming, in part, it’s because you grew up 5 miles from each other in the Kings Park/Commack area on Long Island. And how did Scott, who lives in California, come aboard?
Dave Campfield (Caesar): My older brother had a friend named Dan. He was the filmmaking prodigy of the High School that I went to. Dan could take pots, pans, and construction paper and build the cockpit of an airplane. His big effort was a VHS camcorder feature length thriller named The Highest Fear, about a hijacking. One of the stars of that movie was a twelfth grader named Paul Chomicki. I thought he was great and let him know that during one lunch break. We became good friends. I was thirteen and just starting to make my own movies on a camcorder. Paul became my go-to actor.
Paul Chomicki (Otto): He was two grades below me. We lived about 10 minutes from each other. We became friends as we were both into filmmaking and movies in general.
Scott Aguilar (Fred): I'm in Southern California (born and raised a long, long time ago...). There was a newspaper called Dramalogue. It later changed to Backstage West and Backstage East. Now it's just Backstage. It's a newspaper that one can list casting notices. Dave put an ad in and I sent him my photo and acting resume. I met him and Paul. He had a first draft script for our original Caesar and Otto. We've now made 4. It was a take-off on reality TV which was still pretty new. That was 2005 [released in 2007 – RG].

IHF: Where did the concept of Caesar and Otto come from?
Dave: When Paul lived near me, we’d get together a few days a week and work on sketches. It was in that time that the characters of Caesar and Otto emerged in a short movie we made. Eventually Paul moved to Los Angeles, and I, in time, had the idea of expanding the characters into feature films.
Paul: As Dave [said], Caesar and Otto started as a little sketch we did on video. One big difference though is I played Otto as Mentally Challenged. I then acted in a play with Dave and he was kind of inspired by how I played my character, who was a bit lazy and silly.

Caesar and Fred
IHF: Many seem to compare the series to Abbott and Costello or the Three Stooges (I’m guilty of this, as well). Do you see this as a good thing or a hindrance?
Dave: People gravitate toward what they know, so it’s a good thing. I also happen to be a fan of the above mentioned so I’m quite flattered by the comparison. I don’t set out to copy them, as we’re our own distinct characters, but they were certainly an inspiration.
Scott: I think any comparison to well-known comedy teams is an amazing complement. I've always thought we were closer to the Marx Brothers.
Paul: Yes, we are kind of like the Three Stooges, especially with Scott Aguilar as our dad as the third Stooge. Inspired for sure by the Odd Couple as well. I think of Caesar and Otto like Ren and Stimpy, which I was a fan.

IHF: The characters have undergone some transformations since Caesar and Otto, the first film released in 2007. How would you describe them?
Paul: Dave's character of Caesar is certainly more cartoonish in the earlier movies. Otto's character hasn’t really changed too much.
Dave: I used to simply think the bigger the better in terms of performing Caesar. Paul likewise felt so and would spur me on to be bigger! Louder! But at one point I realized I was annoying about 80 percent of the audience and decided to dial it back some.

IHF: There are a lot of genre actors who appear in the films, such as Debbie Rochon, Felissa Rose, Brinke Stevens, Andre Gower, Vern Wells and the late Robert Z’Dar, to name just a very few. How do manage to wrangle such amazing talent?
Dave: Largely through Felissa Rose, who’s been in the producing department of these movies. In the case of Linnea Quigley and Lloyd Kaufman, that was the work of Joe Randazzo (producer as well).

Lloyd Kaufman as grandpa talking to kid Caesar
IHF: Lloyd Kaufman is known for being such a wild card; what was it like to work with him [Caesar and Otto’s Dead Xmas, as Caesar’s maternal grandfather]?
Dave: Easy going, fun and relaxed. I wish I had something juicy for you, but he was just a normal guy as soon as the cameras stopped rolling. He also gave the cast and crew lots of Troma posters and memorabilia, which was great.
Paul: I never met Lloyd Kaufman as we didn't have a scene together.

Dave Campfield, who plays Caesar (and directs the films)
IHF: While so many pictures that spoof major genre tropes, such as A Haunted House (2013) and most of the Scary Movie franchise seems to fall on its face (no matter how money much they make, in my opinion), how is it that the Caesar and Otto films seem so much more accurately biting, even though not bringing in the big bucks (although ought to be) the same ways?
Dave: Well, thank you for that. Clearly those movies are made by people with major talent but often it’s far from the artists’ best work. Though truth be told I did very much enjoy the first Scary Movie [agreed; they do just keep getting worse, though – RG].  In the case of Caesar and Otto... I think what helps is that it’s really focused on the plot as a whole. And the characters: Caesar, Otto, Jerry, Dad, aren’t spoofs of other characters you see in horror. We have our own history, likes, dislikes... Cindy in Scary Movie [2000] is just an exaggerated version of Sid in Scream [1996]. Whereas Caesar and Otto are their own people. You can get more involved with their stories as such. As far as the style of comedy, I have my feelings about the state of horror and I just let the screenplay reflect that. If I made it for a big studio they’d probably tell me to keep it simple, and in turn, I’d probably lose the satirical edge I hope these movies have.
Scott: Between you and I, I think it was lack of publicity and marketing. None of us were involved in that. Dave oversaw it all.
Paul: Caesar and Otto has a much bigger audience out there. We need to find them any way we can. We simply don't get the publicity of a major studio.
IHF: Dave, how do you go about getting ideas for the gags? Do you see other genre films and write notes about things most people don’t notice? Is it a solo input, or do you have feedback from others, like Paul, other actors, the producers, etc.?
Dave: Paul and many of the actors tend of offer their two cents on set. Pretty much the writing process consists of me locking myself away from the world and committing it to paper. Rich Calderon, however, who provides the practical effects and Production Design, probably has the greatest input. He reads the script, lets me know what can and can’t pull off for the budget, and offers some great gag suggestions as well. For the writing on Paranormal, I broke out every haunted house movie I could get my hands on and tried to find parallels in them all. There were plenty.
Scott: Dave usually has the major bits already in the script, but he's always open to ideas. We would always shoot it his way first but always had a chance to try other things.

Paul Chomicki, who plays Otto
IHF: Otto seems to be searching for a specific someone to make him happy, be it a childhood sweetheart [Deadly Xmas] or his mother [Paranormal Halloween], to no success. Comments?
Paul: Otto has had a lot of people abandon him in his youth. He needs Caesar as Caesar needs him.
Dave: Otto’s just a lost soul looking for love... So, you’re right. All though meeting his mother certainly does make him a more complete person.

IHF: Gratuitous, tongue-in-cheeky question: there is always one topless scene in every film. Is this a social commentary on genre films, or is there another point, such as a sneaky way of getting to see someone topless?
Dave: Actually Summer Camp Massacre didn’t showcase any on screen nudity. I was asked to by its executive producer (then the distributor) to include some nudity, and had a good gag lined up for it, but it fell through. So, I plugged that same joke into Deadly Xmas. When Paranormal came along, a collaborator said he knew an actress he thought would be great for the stripper character and said she’s very comfortable with on screen nudity. I just threw my hands up in the hair and said what the hell. In other words, the only film I wanted to have nudity in didn’t, and the other two did. Go figure.
Scott: To be honest I liked the way it was done in Summer Camp because it made fun of the gratuitous T&A in other movies. He did use a bit in Deadly Xmas, and the gag was her boobs were pixelated. I don't think we really needed it in Paranormal Halloween. Same with language. In the first movies we never used four-letter words and it worked as a joke. That also changed.
Paul: There is nudity in the films because it's in my contract. I refuse to do a Caesar and Otto movie without seeing boobs. In our [forthcoming] Spring Break movie there must be three pairs of tits or I walk. [The full title is planned be Caesar and Otto’s Spring Break of the Living Dead – RG.]

IHF: I hope you don’t mean three pair on the same person… Speaking of which, there is a lot of Troma in your films, including acting talent (such as Rochon and Tiffany Shepis; and, of course, Kaufman). How much of an influence was the Troma films on your childhood, and can you give an example or two of how it changed your life (such as particular films, or scenes)?
Paul: I personally was always a fan of Toxic Avenger since my youth, so it was cool Lloyd got in one of our movies.
Dave: Troma was a later discovery in life. My love of comedy horror was forged by The Simpsons Treehouse of Terror episodes and the Abbott and Costello comedy horror installments. But when I did discover Troma, I found a voice that was completely unique and off the wall... and it was my cup of tea (well, a lot of the times at least).

Scott Aguilar, who play Fred
IHF: Scott, you’ve done a lot of medical/nursing work on some major films. Any anecdotes you’d like to share? And how did you make the transition to the front of the camera? You seem very comfortable in the role of Fred.
Scott: You've been peeking at my IMBD page, I see. Yes, I have a pretty mixed resume. I started on stage as an actor in 1970. It wasn't until 1984 when I was studying Theatre at the University of Southern California that I began directing stage shows. At that time I also was introduced to a USC Film School student (Glenn Burton) who was trying to write a stageplay and needed help. We collaborated and I did do it as a stageplay at the University, but we decided it would be better as a screenplay. We wrote it as a romantic comedy and started making rounds in Hollywood trying to sell it. By 1988 we had written three more romantic comedies. One of the professors at the film school liked our stuff and got us a meeting with Henry Winkler (who had just opened a production company at Paramount Studios [Fair Dinkum Productions – RG]). [Winkler] liked our stuff and things were going to move forward. The next morning the Writers Guild of America went on strike; we were not union members. Our scripts were never seen again. I got into V work in 1983. I was on a research team at the USC School of Medicine, working on AIDS (which was brand new). My boss assigned me to work with Jack Klugman and his production team to work up a Quincy M.E. [television program, 1976-83 – RG] script about AIDS. During that same time I was assigned to help a production company called West 57th [a news-focused television program, 1985-1989 – RG] who had a new news magazine TV show. They were doing a story on AIDS. That lasted about half a season. Anyway that how I first got over being a theatre snob and found it was okay to do other things. I received a random call from a guy at Termite Art Production Company [their programs include “Made in America,” 2003-present – RG]. Someone (and I never found out who) had given him my number because he was looking for a medical advisor. They were a contractor for the newly formed Discovery Channel. On more than one occasion an actor wouldn't show up for a shoot and I would step in and be the doctor or whatever. They finally put me on a show as a co-star when we did More Than Human [2003-present – RG]. During that time I was also acting in a lot of student shorts and independent films. The problem with the consultant job was it wasn't steady. I still needed a day job.

IHF: The two main actors of Caesar and Otto are from New York, and yet it is filmed in LA. Why is that, and will that change over time?
Dave: We’ve shot some shorts in NY together. So, ya never know.
Paul: Our shorts are shot in NY and features here [in LA] pretty much. Easier to get our horror movie cameos being shot in LA.
Scott: Pretty much only Dave and JoJo [Josephine Iannece, who was in Paranormal Halloween, and is Dave’s significant other], are in NY anymore. Everyone else, including Paul, live out here in SoCal.

Avi Garp, who gives the film a hand (or two).
IHF: What’s with Avi Garp’s character and the limb removal-and-replacing cha-cha?
Dave: I really enjoyed how Avi played the scenes of his limbs getting pulled off in Summer Camp; so much that I decided to make it a reoccurring gag.
Scott: That was a one-time gag in Summer Camp that got so many laughs it had to come back.

IHF: I really enjoy the “Ask Caesar and Otto Anything” series on YouTube [Example HERE]. It reminds me of the 2000 Year Old Man recordings. What are some of your favorite questions?
Dave: Let me avoid this question as there are so many I literally can’t remember them well enough. We had about 30 questions in the last edition alone. 
Paul: I like the “Ask Caesar and Otto Anything” shorts because the questions are from real fans and not made up by us.

IHF: I understand that the next film you will be working on, Dave, is a more serious one (check out his acting reel HERE). Yet at the end of Paranormal Halloween there is a hint of Caesar and Otto’s Spring Break of the Living Dead. Is this really an idea (I’m hoping), or just a continuation of putting a “coming next” at the end of every Caesar and Otto film?
Dave: I’d like to make it, but at the moment I need to make a movie that’s very person to me (ironically, it’s a horror movie).
Scott: I was talking about a Caesar and Otto Spring Break Alien Abduction, but I think Dave wants to do a zombie one instead.

IHF: I’ve always told new filmmakers / photographers / writers / musicians the same two things when asking how to start: first, volunteer to work on other people’s films to learn what to do and what not to do, and to follow Lemmy’s advice to a singer I know (Dava She Wolf) who wanted to learn guitar, which is ask everyone in the field to teach one thing. The second piece of advice I have is to just do it, and learn as you go (or do both pieces). What advice do you have to get into the field?
Dave: If you’re willing to spend most of your life being financially destitute, just do it. I’ve been at this for years, glad to have met so many wonderful people along the way, but it’s not for the faint of heart. If it means as much to you as it does for me, just do whatever you can. Find your own unique voice, and get involved with as much as you can. And don’t lead with your ego. Even when you don’t like a colleague’s movie, don’t go badmouth them behind their back. It makes you appear petty and vindictive. We’re all artists, and we’re all in it together.
Paul: Working on other people’s films is a good way to learn. Experimentation is key to figure out your own style.

IHF: Anything you’d like to add, such as what you always wanted say to people asking questions and never got the chance?
Scott:  Don't know if it's interesting, but I studied Theatre at USC and Cal State Los Angeles. But with all the TV and film work I was doing I went to Columbia College/Hollywood after I came back from operation Desert Storm and finished my degree in motion picture production.
Dave: I'm all out of anecdotes!
Paul: I love and appreciate our fans. It makes my day to get a good review or a compliment on the movies. Stick with us folks! We love you!

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