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Meet Jacopo Campaiola of SmashWerks Films in Highland Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jacopo Campaiola.

Jacopo, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I was born in Milano, Italy on February 26th, 1983 to Italian twenty years old hairstylists trying to make ends meet. My mother, Serena, affectionately still to this day jokingly calls me her “beautiful mistake” in her unmistakable thick Italian accent. I was, in fact, not planned – which probably accelerated my parents’ drive and tenacious hustle. In 1983 at the ripe age of 22, my father, Rino, leased his hairstyling salon in the center of Milano, which he still owns to this day. My mother became a world-renowned celebrity hairstylist working with the likes of Cindy Crawford and Cher. I get a lot of my drive, hustle and spirit from my mother and father, who have always been the hardest working humans I have ever met.

By 1986, my parents had split up and my mother brought us two to live in Los Angeles with high hopes of taking her career to the next level. She was very fortunate in that there was a beautiful Italian community in the LA fashion and commercial industry during the 80’s and 90’s – many Italians in Milano’s fashion and Rome’s film industry migrated to LA and NYC during that period. My mother, who didn’t speak a word of English for the first five years of living in LA, started working on some of Hollywood’s biggest projects on mere talent.

It didn’t take long to find her soul mate in a young, Italian fashion photographer named Carlo. This man became my second father and is, to this day, one of the most beautiful lights in my life. Throughout the 90’s and 2000’s our house was home to a parade of colorful people. The Italian dinner parties my parents would host in what seemed like every night, brought a vast army of creative eclectics through our doors. -I studied many of my parent’s friends and resonated with much of the free-spirited, loud, colorful ways that embodied the artist’s way of the 90’s. Photography was the medium of choice in our household. Carlo had his office behind the house, so when his negatives and contact sheets came back from the photo lab, he would call me in to grab a loop and select my favorites. Here I was in my early teens, rummaging through raw stills of some of the biggest celebrities in the business photographed beautifully by my father… From that point on, I had a curious eye for photography.

During this time, I listened to the adults speaking of an industry that I hoped to one day be part of. My parents were always working so I was either at school or on sets with them. It is here where I was first introduced to photography. Carlo brought me on as a second assistant by the time I was 13. He trusted me enough to handle all the shot rolls and label them on massive commercial campaigns, this undoubtedly primed me at a very young age to work in the fast-paced, high-stress environment of the commercial industry. I started watching and listening to the many talented individuals on these sets. I learned how to move my feet, I learned how to communicate with adults, I learned set etiquette.

During all this time, I never lost contact with my father, who I spoke to every Sunday growing up and would go visit during the summers back in Italy where the rest of my massive family lives (I have more cousins than I can count). It was very difficult for me going back to Italy to interact with kids because my Italian grammar had become terrible. I had never had any schooling in Italy so I was forced to learn how to read and write with the help of Mickey Mouse comics. More importantly, if I wanted to communicate with my father, who still to this day does not speak more than three words of English, I would have to learn how to speak and write my native language properly. We were also in a time frame where there were no emails or social media so maintaining friendships and tracking down people became difficult after not seeing them for an extended period of time. I became lonely and probably a bit depressed as all my friends were in America and I was “stuck” trying to figure things out as a lonely teenager being regarded as an outsider in the land I was born in.

I started freestyle rapping when I was 11 years old. I did it as a necessity from boredom and loneliness. I was not allowed TV during the week in the USA and we didn’t have a computer in our house in the 90’s. My poor Italian mother, off of a friend’s recommendation, bought me my first four albums – Dr. Dre “The Chronic”, N.W.A. “Straight Outta Compton”, Eazy-E “It’s on Dre 187um Killa” and Snoop Doggs “Doggystyle”… She had absolutely no clue what she had just bought her 11 years old son. By the time I was 15, my LA crew and I were kicking freestyle battles at house parties all over the city. I fell in love with writing rhymes and telling my truth; it was a way for me to express my frustrations as an adolescent. It liberated me and made me tune into a level of focus that was hard for me to achieve any other way and thus started my long-standing partnership with STORYTELLING.

By the time I was 22, I was fortunate enough to land a record deal under the legendary blues label Chess Records. From that deal came a distribution deal with Warner Brothers Europe and Atlantic Records worldwide. It was an exciting time for me that made me serendipitously move back out to Italy and record a full-length album. What made me stand out from the rest of the talent was that I was rhyming half in English and half in Italian and speaking the stories of my truth. I thought for a brief moment that music would be my calling until it all came to a crashing halt when Napster hit European households. This was a moment in time that the music industry did not have knowledge on how to handle online piracy which brought to the closure of many labels and the firing of many individuals in the industry, leaving projects on the table in limbo all over the world. My project was shelved and I was sent back to Hollywood broke with a heavily bruised ego.

I was welcomed back in Los Angeles with open arms by the 2008 recession. I quit music because the whole experience stung me very hard. I had been working passionately on my album for three years and in a matter of a days everything came crashing down. So me and hip hop broke up. I was 25 Living back at home and working as an expeditor in a kitchen buried under the floors of a club in DTLA. I was at my lowest of lows and definitely not at my healthiest – I needed an outlet.

During this time I had run into a journalist buddy of mine from college named Ryan, who remembered I used to be a passionate photographer in college and asked if I wanted to team up with him to shoot a few events he was writing about for an online LA-based events and nightlife website called LA2Day. In a matter of weeks, I had quit my job, started shooting stills and video on a nightly basis and started also working as an editor and cinematographer for ADC Digital, a boutique commercial production house in Hollywood.

The next few years, Ryan, another associate and myself started our own LA-based lifestyle website named Sinning in LA. My role was Creative Director/Media Guru. Every night, we covered events of all different genres, all over Los Angeles. During this time, I also completely dove deep into filmmaking. It was a wonderful era that let me fully experience and document all that LA had to offer. Between a daytime job of shooting and editing commercials and fashion films and my nighttime business of documenting the LA narrative, I was finally engulfed in the creative storytelling world I had always craved. I had come a long way from working that shitty kitchen job and even though I had thrown up my white flag with the music career, I felt that the storytelling aspect of the hip hop music and short films I was creating in my early stages of adult life were always closely tied to my development as the filmmaker I am today. It’s almost like the universe planned the obstacles I faced to thicken my skin, shape me up and solidify my foundation as a human being.

A few years into the grind and hustle, I decided to start my own film production company with my wife Sara called SmashWerks Films. We have been in business for a decade now and have produced content we are extremely proud of all across the globe.

The proudest moments I have is when I find myself on set with my mother, Carlo, my wife, and that beautiful circle of individuals that I have always called my peers. The things I’ve learned from their craft in all these years is impossible to put into words. I am proud of the mountains I have climbed and the broken bones and bruises I have accumulated. Without these moments of struggle, I would have never seen this beautifully shaped light.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I have been very lucky along my way. I had a loving and very supportive family who encouraged my creativity. My family did not come from money, they came from small Italian towns. It’s a very different mentality than the LA lifestyle. I was lucky enough to live in both authentic Italian and American cultures. I had the best of both worlds. I count my blessings every single day. Living in LA for 32 years, I know what a bumpy road looks like through friends and acquaintances. This being said, I worked extremely hard to do what I do at the caliber that I do it and has taken many years of conditioning and learning from mistakes.

My struggles came from my family narrative…how we were split up…how I climbed mountains to fall flat on my face, but then getting up and doing it again.

Smooth road? Let’s call it a paved road, but as Los Angelenos know all too well, those paved roads can turn bumpy and dangerous at the drop of a dime.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about SmashWerks Films – what should we know?
SmashWerks Films is a boutique full-service production company that specializes in content creation for commercial, documentary, music, art, travel and freedom films.

I’ve been most proud of the overall tone and color of the content we have developed throughout the years. We have been so lucky to align ourselves with incredibly talented creatives in our community and sharing space with these individuals that I admire makes work turn into passion.

In the past few years, we have been working heavily in the documentary world. I truly love the raw nature of documentary filmmaking – the time it takes to investigate and construct a storyline, the trust and comfort that needs to develop between you and your subject, those powerful moments in which you’re shedding a tear behind the lens – knowing that what you are capturing is raw unscripted emotion.

One of the latest releases I have DP’ed on is a Showtime Original series called The Trade Season 2. This documentary series from Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning director Matthew Heineman offers a visceral look at illicit industries, and tells the stories of those most affected by them. Season 2 centers on human trafficking and smuggling, following Central Americans on a perilous odyssey to the US, the shadow industries that prey on them, and law enforcement agents who try to stop them. My film beat on the project was mostly shadowing law enforcement agencies with a very small crew of just myself and a field producer. Being an immigrant myself, the storylines we were able to capture resonated with me in a very deep and personal way. The series is incredible and I highly recommend watching it to get a true glimpse of the immigration crisis that is going on throughout Central America.

What sets us apart from many is that we can structure a project as a one man band or a full-scale team. It takes time to learn the skill of properly conducting a one man band because that person has to take on the job of many talented individuals. There are two reasons that a production goes one man band: The first is budget and that’s obvious. The second is to keep a small footprint when you are dealing with a delicate subject matter. Many people in documentaries are not actors and having extra crew around often times will hinder a scene. Lastly, with the advent of Covid-19, having a one man band will solve many logistical problems and keep filming environments contained and safe.

I am a Producer, Director, Cinematographer and an Editor and can take on any and all roles depending on the project. That being said, we have a big network of professionals that we bring on when the project calls. My favorite projects have been the ones that I’m able to share creative space with the people I look up to.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Respect, empathy, love and passion.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Sara Kaye

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