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Vancouver Island man realizes childhood dream alongside Hollywood icon

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NANOOSE BAY, B.C. -

To appreciate the two posters hanging in Stephen Campanelli’s laundry room, which he’s had for more than 40 years, you need to know he’s been a Clint Eastwood fan for even longer.

“Look at this guy,” Stephen says pointing to the first poster showing the young actor lounging in his trailer on a film set. “I just love how cool he is.”

Before we get to the second poster, Stephen says he idolized Eastwood so much he watched all his movies, named his childhood dog Clint, and dressed up as one of the star’s most iconic characters.

“I put a Radio Shack cassette recorder underneath the poncho and played ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’ theme song really loud,” Stephen laughs. “I was kind of a hit at a few Hallowe'en parties back then.”

At the same time, Stephen was regularly making amateur movies with his friends and dreaming of being Clint’s cameraman when he grew up.

While one was surprised when Stephen attended film school and made an award-winning student movie, no one could believe that when the young filmmaker earned a chance to meet Eastwood at a movie gala being staged in is hometown, he declined.

“Everybody said, ‘You should go and meet your idol’ and I said, ‘No.’”

Stephen says he had just got hired to do an entry level job on his first professional film production. “I was going to show I’m dedicated to this industry and this craft.”

Thanks to that work ethic and innate talent, Stephen became one of Canada’s most in-demand steady-cam operators, which eventually led to him being hired to shoot 'The Bridges of Madison County,' starring and directed by Eastwood.

“I’m saying, ‘Mr. Eastwood, thank you for having me. Thank you!’ And he just stops me midsentence and goes, 'Call me Clint,’” Stephen recalls his first day on set with a smile.

“It was the coolest moment of my life.”

The shoot went so well that Eastwood gifted Stephen his director's chair, which Stephen has set up in his office.

While Stephen has worked on more than 100 diverse productions throughout his career, including ‘Twister,’ ‘50 First Dates,’ and ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ Eastwood went on to hire him for 24 more movies over the past 30 years, including ‘Million Dollar Baby,’ ‘Mystic River,’ and ‘American Sniper.’

Stephen has captured six Oscar-winner performances with his camera.

“I was studying Clint. I was watching him work with actors,” Stephen recalls. “And I think, I can do this.”

But Stephen never expected he’d get his first job directing his own movie halfway through shooting one of Eastwood’s.

“He just said, ‘You’re going to be a great director. You go do it and we’ll see you soon,” Stephen recalled how Clint agreed to let him leave the production to pursue his own project and hired him to do other movies after. “I was like, ‘Oh wow!’”

Stephen has directed four features so far — including the acclaimed drama ‘Indian Horse’ and Canadian comedy ‘Drinkwater.’ While they’ve earned him shelves full of awards, Stephen says no trophy can compare to hearing an audience member call your movie meaningful.

“That’s the greatest gift,” Stephen says of meeting people who’ve turned to his films to find solace, escape, and inspiration. “That you can affect somebody and change their life for a few hours.”

Just as Eastwood once captured young Stephen’s imagination. Which brings us back to those two posters hanging in his laundry room.

“You cut to 20 years later,” Stephen moves from that first poster of Eastwood to the poster beside it, showing Stephen on set with Eastwood and Angelina Jolie. “It’s insane.”

While Eastwood helped Stephen achieve his boyhood dream of working together, their work together inspired Stephen to dream even bigger.

“Somehow I’ve done that. By some miracle I’m here today,” Stephen smiles. “And I just want to keep telling great stories.”

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