I’M WITH PHIL DOCUMENTARY
I had lunch with Sam Lipsyte yesterday to talk about writing and writers and – sigh — my as-yet-unpublished novel Memphis Del Mar. Sam is not only a brilliant writer, he’s a professor of the creative writing program at Columbia University (He’s also got a book of short stories coming out in March; you can pre-order The Fun Parts: Stories here). I was inspired by Sam some years ago because his hilarious book Home Land, amazingly, just couldn’t find a publisher in the United States. Instead of giving up, Sam found a book deal in the UK, where the book met with such success that the publishing industry in New York was forced to take notice and give him a deal on this side of the Atlantic.
While I’m at it, I also had lunch a week or so ago with my editor Carl Bromley at Nation Books. Carl was the first person in the industry to see the value in Zioncheck For President (linked here with original cover!), long before Hollywood director Stephen Gyllenhaal turned it into Grassroots. A very funny British guy with an eccentric set of interests (Bollywood, Caravaggio, English football), Carl is a pretty fine writer himself and is working to get his own debut novel published. I read an early draft and cannot wait to see the finished results of all his efforts.
In any case, both lunches were lovely and I got some wise, practical advice from both Sam and Carl. My morale was boosted if nothing else. It still feel like the publishing industry is a horrible, pustulence-filled cesspool where more and more are fighting over tinier and tinier scraps of advances and H-List fame, but I’ve got no complaints about anyone in particular in the industry, and anyway my goal in life is not to care about any of that. My goal in life is to tell good stories. I will do everything within my power to promote the books I write (only so that I might be able to tell more good stories to more people), but thinking too deeply about anything related to the process of publishing is an anxiety-inducing waste of time.
It’s a tough few months ahead because I still have to help produce Andrew Reed’s documentary I’m with Phil, which is reaching a critical point in its life as a film (Andrew is nearing completion of his final cut). I’m going to be very, very busy. But I feel invigorated by everything that’s been happening lately, and I am looking forward to what lies ahead.
December’s been a rough month. I’ve got a backlog of posts I want to write, but I was slammed with illness mid-month, and have yet to fully recover. On Friday I learned I had pneumonia — who knows how long I’ve been suffering from that? I’ve had to cancel nights out with two very good friends, and have spent more time than I care to think in bed sleeping, or just being miserable.
Blech. Who likes to complain so much? In any case, I think 2013 will be a big year. I hope to blog a lot more in 2013. I want to see my novel Memphis Del Mar finally get published. And I want to see the “I’m with Phil” documentary see the light of day, get talked about, get distribution.
Skip the last month, and it was a pretty good year. I got to see myself get impersonated on the big screen. Jason Biggs did a fantastic job, even though the film adaptation Grassroots was hardly a true adaptation of my book (completely different in tone and ending). I’ve kept busy, with a good day job, a wonderful son, good friends, and an endless itch to keep writing.
Happy New Year, with all sincerity.
Phil Sherrill Campbell Jr.
City/State/Country: Franklin, TN, USA
Profession: I sell medical products for 3M Health Care.
Hobbies: I love playing golf but don’t have the opportunity to play often. Lately, I have been spending more time with my teenage girls doing things like fishing and hiking. What a great way to enjoy them and I love the outdoors anyway.
When did you first hear about the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama? My father (Phil Sr. –died in 2007) told me about the town when I was a teenager.
Were you able to attend the Phil Campbell Hoedown of June 2011? YES and have been back several times since. The 2011 Phil Campbell Hoedown was unique and rewarding. It gave me and my family a chance to go help a tornado stuck town and build relationships (residents)with people that I might have never met. We all need help at times and being able to share my time with the residents of PC was priceless. Meeting my fellow Phil’s was life-touching too. What a great way to meet them. I believe that we were all there for the right reasons.
You are a Phil Campbell. What do you think of that name? Love it, and it has more meaning with the relationship now that I have with some of the Phil Campbell residents.
Tell us a little about yourself, as many words as you would like. I am married to Juanita and have two wonderful girls: Kathryn, who is 15, and Anna Leigh, who is 12. Juanita and I will be blessed with a 20-year-wedding anniversary this spring! Juanita and I met while attending Middle TN State University. Kathryn loves art, ballet and dancing, while also enjoying the outdoors like fishing. Anna Leigh loves tap dancing and dance team. She too enjoys the outdoors. Both girls have great attitudes and are just a pleasure to be around.
At home all this past week, on “staycation.” I’ve Been working on bureaucratic issues related to the I’m with Phil documentary, I’ve been tweaking my novel while I wait for feedback from writer-peer-friends of mine, and I’ve been doing some errands that I haven’t been able to get done otherwise. But I’m not so sure I’ve been relaxing.
Next up, I’m going to read this interview by James Fallows with time-management expert David Allen. Or maybe I’ll just go rent the last Batman movie (haven’t seen it yet), and chill out on the couch the rest of the afternoon. Because it’s back to the day job on Monday.
I just pitched the story of I’m with Phil to the highly competitive Moth storytelling series. If it’s accepted, and I get to tell the full story of the campaign, it’s my hope it’ll raise awareness for filmmaker Andrew Reed’s documentary.
I love the idea of Moth. Some stories are just meant for video and just plain old spoken word rather than on paper. I’m with Phil is one such story. I’ve never felt the urge to write about I’m with Phil, at least in the straightforward sense, but to tell it on the radio or to a live audience makes perfect sense.
I also have a much more ironic and adult-oriented story about giving a sperm sample at the top of the Empire State Building, but I think I’ll wait to see how this G-rated story of the Phil Campbells goes before I try submitting that. But that one is heeee-larious.
Phillip Michael Campbell
- Hometown: Louisville, KentuckyAge: 18 years old
What are you studying in school? I will be a freshman at the University of Louisville studying Mechanical Engineering.
Favorite hobbies or pastimes? I was an avid soccer player throughout my childhood and throughout high school. I also enjoy kayaking.
When did you first hear about the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama? A friend of mine mentioned the town of Phil Campbell, AL my senior year of high school, and I thought he was joking. But there it was, right there on the map.
Were you able to attend the Phil Campbell Hoedown of June 2011? Yes, I was, although I only made it for the second day of activities.
If you did go to the hoedown, what did you think of the experience? It was wonderful to see the people of such a small town come together and still celebrate after having such a terrible thing happen to them. It was very refreshing to see.
You are a Phil Campbell. What do you think of that name? I love my name. Although my name is Phillip, most everyone calls me Phil.
Tell us a little about yourself. As stated above, I will be studying mechanical engineering at the University of Louisville. I plan to serve in our military after graduating, but I can’t say which branch yet. I love boating and any activity involving water.
I have been trying for some time now to get a handle on all the projects I have going on, and one that I keep coming back to, and putting off, is my project to talk about some of the other Phil Campbells I’ve met in the past couple years, leading up to (and going far beyond) the 2011 Phil Campbell Convention that was turned into a tornado relief effort. Having a hard time pursuing this project, but fortunately, because this is part of the “I’m with Phil” documentary, I’m getting some help from some Phil Campbell, Alabama residents.
The below is the Q&A that is being sent out to some of the Phil Campbells I know. If I had the resources, I would have Phil Campbells the world over fill this out.
Questions for the Phils
Dear Phil Campbell,
Please fill this out to give us a better sense of who you are.
What is your full name?
In what city/state (or) province/country do you live?
How old are you?
What is your profession/job? If you’re in school, what are you studying or wish to become?
What are your favorite hobbies or pastimes? Why do you enjoy them?
When did you first hear about the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama?
Were you able to attend the Phil Campbell Hoedown of June 2011?
If you did go to the hoedown, what did you think of the experience?
You are a Phil Campbell. What do you think of that name?
Tell us a little about yourself, as many words as you would like.
This is a portion of an email I sent to Mayor Jerry Mays of Phil Campbell. I wanted to propose to him a way the town can keep the Phil Campbells coming back to Phil Campbell every year (does that sound too much like the swallows returning to Capistrano?). Anyway, the idea was accepted by folks in the town, including the Hoedown organizer Rita Barton, so it looks like I’ve helped start a brand-new tradition in the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama!
WHAT HAPPENS LATER?
After the “I”m with Phil” documentary coverage is over, it’ll be hard to keep attention on Phil Campbell, AL in the same way as before. That’s to be expected. But it brings me to another idea I had, have had for quite some time. I am proposing that the town of Phil Campbell begin a new tradition during its Hoedown.
Seventeen years ago, when I organized the first Phil Campbell Convention, the mayor at that time approached me and asked me to keep organizing PC Conventions every year. I told him I wasn’t interested, mostly because I didn’t think it would work. You just wouldn’t be able to convince two dozen Phil Campbells to return to Phil Campbell every single year. For one, people are busy, and Phil Campbell isn’t the easiest place in the world to get to if you live outside the South. For another, there just aren’t enough Phil Campbells in America (much less the world) to guarantee that you could attract ‘new’ Phil Campbells to your town every year for a big local event. But the mayor at that time ignored my advice and went ahead anyway; he tried to keep inviting Phil Campbells back. And some came, but not many. And after a few years, the idea died, for the reasons I just stated, and the town decided instead to throw a town festival for itself every year, without the Phil Campbells. Thus the town’s Hoedown was born.
OK, so we’re now in the year 2012. And clearly there are more Phil Campbells to invite for another Phil Campbell Convention, but by my estimation there are still not enough to hold an annual Phil Campbell Convention of a decent size. The PCs who came in 2011 can’t all come back — not even I can come back this year! And yet – the town has formed some solid bonds with Phil Campbells around the world. And unlike back in the ‘90s, the town has an annual Hoedown to celebrate. It would be good to keep getting Phil Campbells to come back to Phil Campbell — but how?
Here’s my idea. Starting for the 2013 Hoedown, a year after the “I’m with Phil” documentary is done and two years after the tornado, the town begins a new tradition. In this tradition, one, and only ONE, Phil Campbell is specially invited to Phil Campbell, Alabama. This Phil Campbell is picked by lottery, or some other relatively fair or random system. This Phil Campbell becomes THE Phil Campbell for the Hoedown. He is “Mayor Phil” or “King Phil” or something. He (or she, as I don’t think you should exclude Phyllises or Fils or what-not) is put at the head of the Hoedown Parade, placed in importance above everyone else. This Phil Campbell is treated well, with all kinds of additional, even silly, traditions and rituals added to make this Phil Campbell feel like a king. If the Phil you’ve invited can’t afford to make the trip, you buy his/her plane ticket. You offer him/her a place to stay in town. There should be an over-the-top feel to the whole thing, because this is a tradition that will help people remember the town. It’s a tradition that would end up in tourism guidebooks, which would write, “If you’re in NW Alabama in June, be sure to stop by Phil Campbell, Alabama during their Hoedown, where a visiting person named Phil Campbell is treated like Southern royalty…” The event itself gains the kind of funny legitimacy as the Corn Palace Festival in Mitchell, South Dakota or – dare I say?—Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pa (Matter of fact, why not have that random Phil always be quoted in the local papers to give a competing prediction as Punxsutawney Phil? Why not? We Phil Campbells are smarter than a groundhog!).
The thing is, this kind of event would have to be taken with a lot of silly seriousness. You have to repeat the same rites and traditions to turn them into real annual traditions. Make sure the local and state papers always cover who this new Phil Campbell is, where he/she hails from, along with a Groundhog-Day like question. I can help with the media attention after the documentary is all done (committed to DVD, etc.).
It would be a LOT of fun for everyone in town, who will help make up the rituals and traditions that surrounded the event, to give Phil Campbell Day its own Alabama flavor.
This isn’t to exclude other Phil Campbells on that day. Any and all Phil Campbells are invited. The ones who come on their own to see what the fuss is all about would get special hats or sashes or something, to separate them out from the townspeople, and maybe they would get special consideration in the lottery for the following few years of Hoedowns. But THE Phil Campbell who is really chosen would get all the extra perks that the town can imagine (a small gift from every participating resident? I’m just throwing out ideas!).
OK. That’s my idea. I hope I’m not coming across as arrogant or presumptuous by “telling everyone what to do,” but at this point I can’t really help myself – people in town have made me feel most welcome, as if I have a say like a voting resident. And I really do want to see the town of Phil Campbell prosper like it never has before. And I think a tradition like the one I’ve outlined about, while silly, could be one of those civic events that would help the town’s morale as well as bring it some lasting attention, all of which are positive things in these times.
My podcast with Shannon Gee for the Seattle Channel is now up. Listen to it here. Gee’s description here: “What’s it like to have your life turned into a feature film? Shannon Gee talks with Phil Campbell, author of the memoir Zioncheck for President—a book about Phil’s experience as the campaign manager for Grant Cogswell’s 2001 Seattle City Council bid. Zioncheckwas optioned and made into the movie Grassroots, which was the Closing Night film of the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival and will come to movie theaters this summer.
Phil talks about the differences between fact and fiction, and what it’s like to have Jason Biggs play you in a movie. He also discusses the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama where Phil gathered as many Phil Campbells as he could for a convention and, after a tornado hit the town, a charitable effort that became the subject of an upcoming documentary I’m with Phil.”
While I was in Seattle suffering a sore throat and cold and trying to enjoy myself at the Grassroots premiere, Alabama filmmaker Andrew Reed was on the other side of the country screening the documentary I’m with Phil that he and I are co-producing.
The screening is taking place in Phil Campbell, Alabama. It’s only a rough cut, of course, as there is still much to be done before we’re ready to hit the film-fest circuit, but Andrew wanted to do the screening because mid-June marked the anniversary when the Phil Campbells came to Phil Campbell, Alabama. What better way to rally local support for the film before taking it on the road?
More significantly, Andrew did a very decent, very great thing at the screening: He turned it into a fundraiser. Not for the town and its tornado-recovery projects, but for Phil Campbell of La Farge, Wisconsin, AKA Big Phil.
Big Phil’s connection to the town of Phil Campbell is almost as long as my own, though it is admittedly more emotional and poignant. His first wife Betsy died of cancer after their family vacationed at the 1995 Phil Campbell Convention; that was Big Phil’s last great experience with his family together. So when the tornado hit the town in 2011, he called me wanting to help. He wanted to know if we were still going to the town, which we were. Though he had no money, Big Phil came to Phil Campbell, Alabama anyway, sleeping in his van until someone offered him a place to stay. And he worked harder than any of the other Phil Campbells on the day of the clean-up, myself included. There was a joyful zeal in his eyes to try to help the town on that day in June of 2011.
As we later found out, poor Big Phil’s second wife was now suffering from cancer. So Andrew stepped in to help with this screening. He and the town raised almost $2,000 to help Big Phil’s and to show community support for him.
The implications of this are unmistakable. We Phil Campbells helped the town of Phil Campbell one year. The very next year Andrew and others in the town are helping one of the Phils. It’s hard to not feel an unadulterated joy about that story. It gives you a real sense of faith in the common decency of one’s fellow human beings.
It’s been a real experience to work with Andrew, particularly because in many ways he and I couldn’t be more different. I’m agnostic, an unapologetic drinker, and frequently sarcastic and foul-mouthed; Andrew is a Southern Baptist and a teetotaler, a pleasant fellow who never swears. I’m only comfortable living in big cities these days, while Andrew was happily raised in Phil Campbell. Andrew obsesses about the technical side of filmmaking when all I really care about is a good story told well. That all said, I couldn’t admire Andrew more. He’s an honest guy who is passionate about turning I’m with Phil into a good documentary. I couldn’t be happier to be partnering up with him to make a good film and to find new, innovative ways to help the town of Phil Campbell.
Leaving Seattle today for New York. It’s been a long few days of relentless book self-promotion and indie-film propaganda. Nonetheless I’m pleased how most things went, but there is much to chew over and I don’t think I’ll be able to do that properly until I’m back in Brooklyn living the kind of routine that would put a cinematographer to sleep.
Things are picking up, though, so now that I mull it over I wonder how much routine I’m going to be allowed in the next several weeks. Grassroots is coming to theaters in New York in less than a month. My phone will soon be ringing off the hook to do that promotional work.
Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, the town of Phil Campbell is screening the latest cut of I’m with Phil tonight. I’m curious to hear how that went. I’m also curious to see director Andrew Reed’s latest cut. My only hope right now is that we don’t get too far ahead of ourselves on the documentary, that the necessary time is taken to make this film as good as it can be. Because I know, in the end, if patience is taken, it will be an awesome film.
Gotta go pack now. See you soon.
If you live in the Phil Campbell area, please make it out to the screening of I’m with Phil. The screening of this latest cut of this film is to benefit Phil Campbell of La Farge, Wisconsin. AKA Big Phil.
Big Phil is a hell of a guy. He gave to the folks of Phil Campbell when he himself had no money — he just got in his van and came after he called me up after the tornado hit the town. Yet he had no money to get a hotel room for himself. Eventually someone in town put him up at their house.
Now, Phil Campbell’s second wife is battling cancer, a situation made all the more tragic when you know that Phil Campbell’s second wife died of cancer in 1997, two years after the first Phil Campbell Convention that I organized.
The town of Phil Campbell, Alabama is a special place for Big Phil. It’s so cool to know that the town will try to give back to him this week.
Here is my lame-ass attempt to have Jason Biggs say “I’m with Phil” and encourage people to go to the “I’m with Phil” screening in Phil Campbell, AL on Thursday. No need to mock my camera skills. I know already, thanks!
I only had just a few minutes to get the video in the midst of the Seattle International Film Festival’s premiere screening of “Grassroots.” The screening went really well. Really well received.The after party was a mad house and now I have a sore throat, but whatever.
It was the third time I have seen the movie, and the surrealness of all of it is wearing off, even if I have found myself clowning around with Jason Biggs on a monorail platform and on the streets of downtown Seattle.
Replacing the surrealness is a contemplation of all the things that are different from the book and the film — the thematic differences, which I think are significant and, if examined closely, pretty weighty. Tonight that will get explored more at my book reading at Hugo House. Please make it out if you can!
Like I said, Hollywood gutted my book, but that’s OK. The director Stephen Gyllenhaal is doing everything he can to help promote my book along with his movie,
This “Ripley’s — Believe it Or Not!” comic appeared in my parent’s newspaper in Toledo in 1995, the year I organized the first Phil Campbell Convention. For a 22-year-old just out of college, I was thrilled speechless to receive it from my mom in the mail. Ripley’s! I used to consume their compilation books of oddities as a kid in the empty Ohio afternoons, and then tune in to Jack Palance’s rambling, growly TV presentation of the same oddities at night. To get into Ripley’s was the bizarre kind of honor nobody else I knew could claim. I still don’t know anybody else who’s mentioned in Ripley’s, in fact.
I was also a little terrified by the implications of the Ripley’s notation. Good Lord, what if this is all I ever achieved in life? How do I top this? It’s probably fair to say that those sleepy Ohio afternoons helped mold an overactive imagination, one that favored the overwrought and the melodramatic like a computer software default setting.
Further reflection of the Ripley’s entry, however, led me toward skepticism of the entire Ripley’s brand (I guess it had to happen sometime). Read the actual citation: “In Phil Campbell, Alabama, there is an annual get-together of people from across the U.S. who are named Phil Campbell!” At that point I had only organized one Phil Campbell Convention. I declined to organize the 1996 convention; the town did, however, and I attended, but mostly because at that time I lived in Memphis, just a few hours’ drive from Alabama. Anyway, it was obvious to me at the ’96 convention that it would be impossible to keep organizing these events year after year, because there just weren’t enough Phil Campbells in America to keep the convention going, and the same Phil Campbells wouldn’t keep coming back, year after year.
So Ripley’s got it wrong, because they filed their entry way too early. The ’95 Phil Campbell Convention boasted 22 Phils and a Phyllis. The ’96 Convention boasted just eight. The town tried to organize a couple more conventions, but by the late ’90s the idea had died…
…until 2011, that is. What happened in 2011 in Phil Campbell, Alabama was what Robert L. Ripley would have called strange, bizarre, and unexpected. Watch the “I’m with Phil” documentary to learn what happened next!
One of the projects I’m most passionate about right now is “I’m with Phil.” I’m a producer for this documentary. I’m also a main character.
The film summary we’re using is this: “Phil Campbell [in this case, me] learned about the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama one Saturday night in 1993 while watching an episode of “Hee Haw.” The revelation changed his life. I’m With Phil documents the first Phil Campbell Convention in Phil Campbell, Alabama in 1995, and how plans for the 2011 International Phil Campbell Convention – in time for the town’s 100th anniversary – turned serious when a devastating tornado destroyed half the town and killed twenty-seven residents. A personal, universal story about how we define community, and how we react when confronted by tragedy.”
If there’s a challenge presented by the documentary, it’s getting people to understand that the documentary, when completed, is going to be much more complex than the story described above. But I guess that’s the challenge of all film marketing.
The director Andrew Reed and I are both committed to using whatever net profits made off the film to continue to help the town’s tornado-recovery projects. A screening of the latest cut is taking place next Tuesday in Phil Campbell, Alabama. I wish I could be there.