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Heather Anne Campbell on Fortnite, Anime Adaptations, and That Rick and Morty Spaghetti Episode

Heather Anne Campbell is a TV and Film writer with credits on the Twilight Zone reboot, Rick and Morty, and The Eric Andre Show. She is also a co-host on Get Played and Get Animed, two weekly podcasts where she and her co-hosts Matt Apodaca and Nick Wiger discuss what they’ve been playing and watching. She is currently working on the rewrite for the upcoming live-action adaptation of popular manga and anime One Punch Man. Heather sat down with Minus World recently to discuss her Fortnite chops, her work on Rick and Morty, the state of games journalism and Hollywood, and what separates the good adaptations from Dragon Ball Evolution.

 

Minus World: I watched you in Whose Line is it Anyway? years ago and didn’t realize you were the same Heather. There’s a scene that sticks out in my mind. You were playing Props with Ryan Stiles and you have these two large tabs placed behind you like tails. You make this insane face as Ryan calls you a rare double-tailed beaver and then you let out this guttural screech. 

Heather Anne Campbell: Yep, that’s me.

MW: That double-tailed beaver face lives rent free in my mind now. So, later I saw your Rick and Morty episodes. I was like, oh that’s beaver Heather. And then a few months later I started looking for some new video game podcasts and stumbled upon Get Played. And again, I didn’t realize it was you. And I was like, “Shit, that’s the same, Heather? She’s everywhere.”

Campbell: I’m trying to build a pentagram in a career, you know, like a Full Metal Alchemist style. I’m going to put a point here, put a point here, and put a point here and then once all the lines cross from Whose Line? to Rick and Morty to Get Played. Then I can rule the world or something. 

MW: I wanted to start by asking you (Awful RE4 Merchant Impression) What are you playing? 

Campbell: Well, right now we just recorded an episode about Hades. So, I’ve been playing Hades again, which has been really nice. I forgot how good it was. And the truth is I bounced off it not because of the quality or because I disliked it. I feel like I just didn’t have time for it when we played it last time, and this time I’m thoroughly enjoying it and sort of prepping for Hades II, which just went into early access.  I also have a nearly criminal addiction to Fortnite.

MW: It’s a mutual addiction.

Campbell: They’ve really mastered a perfect dopamine cycle in that game. It’s just the perfect length of time, like 25 to 30 minutes per round. So, it still feels meaty, but it leaves you wanting more every single time, win or lose. It’s brilliant. And even though I’ve dabbled in PubG and Final Fantasy VII: First Soldier, I feel like the thing that Fortnite has over them is motion and movement. It’s just very liquid to play and that helps get you into a flow state with the game. It’s great.

MW: Anything else outside of Fortnite?

Campbell: I’m dabbling in Dragon’s Dogma 2 which is not good, but somehow compelling. It’s like a trashy fantasy novel you buy at an airport and don’t put it down during the plane ride, cause you wouldn’t read this under any other circumstances. So, I’ve really enjoyed that. And then I’ve also been playing Stellar Blade. In part because I wanted to see what the discourse was all about and be like, “What is it? Is it bad? Is it good? Is it just tits and ass?” But the truth is, it just feels like an action game that’s just been transported from 2007. It’s not egregious in a way that Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball was. It kind of just feels forgettable. If it wasn’t for everybody losing their minds about her outfits, I don’t think anybody would care about it that much. 

MW: You’re madder about it being a bad B-game than the “censorship.” 

Campbell: Oh yeah. I’m not mad about the censorship, but also, I have no opinion on the censorship. If she was completely naked through the whole game, it wouldn’t make it. I don’t care. She’s not real and I know that. I guess I’m a bit of a cultural nihilist when it comes to that stuff. It’s not the worst thing in the world. It’s not the best thing in the world. Nobody would be claiming that it should be at the Getty Museum or the Guggenheim, it’s just a piece of culture. I’m not pro or anti-censorship. It’s just a thing. It’s like people getting mad about a vase. It’s furniture, it’s a game. Nobody should be upset either way. 

MW: It kind of feels like it’s going to come and go. Back to Fortnite — congrats on your recent Elite ranking. It’s Elite, right?

Campbell: I’ve made it to Elite, and this is the first time I’ve ever played a ranked season. I started pretty late, and I feel like next season I’m going to start on day one and I’m going to see where that gets me. I don’t think I can get Unreal, but I bet I can definitely get into Champion. Which would be awesome. 

MW: Jumping from the social to the ranked games, is there something that you changed in that process that you felt really upped your game?

Campbell: There are two things that I think happen. One is there are no bots in ranked games, so you have to start treating encounters with intention. As soon as you start treating all encounters with intention, it reframes the game for you. It becomes a lot more like survival horror. You have to be on edge and negotiate positions in space that you normally wouldn’t, because there’s a moment in social matches where you’re wondering if someone is a bot or not, and that delay will get you killed in ranked.

MW: Right.

Campbell: The other thing is, I think the intensity of the matches increased my personal dexterity. I wasn’t being forced into corners as often in social and with ranked I had to get good if I wanted to live. In social, I was a sniper main. I played at a distance and always kept that space in order to relax in a game. With ranked games, I’ve switched entirely to a shotgun meta with no long-range weapons at all, because by the time I see somebody, I don’t have time to pull out a sniper rifle. And because everybody else is negotiating space so well, you don’t have the same luxury with sniper shots. Nobody is standing still in an elite ranked game. Even if you’re using a vending machine, you’re on top of the vending machine or you’re constantly moving. Spatial awareness. That would be the thing that changed. It is so much more fun to play ranked. Social kind of feels like a letdown now. I lost the dopamine rush of social games, not even chasing crowns can bring that back. But placing top two in a ranked match will shoot me up 2% in Elite and send me on my way towards a goal I’ll never accomplish. [Unreal Rank]

MW: Are you playing solos or are you more of a Duos player? 

Campbell: I’m doing a lot of duos. Though it was a solo match which pushed me over the edge into Elite. I know that there are probably readers who are, like, “Who gives a shit?” But for me it was a big deal, especially for starting in the middle of the season. And everybody is a child and I’m not a child. They have neural pathways that I don’t have access to anymore because of the rust. But yeah, it’s such a good game. I bet I’ll play after this because we’re talking about it. 

MW: I might just do the same. So Heather, you made a name for yourself in television, and did some time in video game journalism as well. And as you know, both of those industries are in the middle of a contraction. So, I just wanted to ask, do you have another –

Campbell: I want to stop you and say I didn’t make a name for myself. Nobody knows my fucking name. I had jobs and that was great. But there are people who are in this space who are so talented and so exceptional and so well-known and they’re the real deal. I’ve been very lucky. 

MW: I stumbled upon a One Punch Man message board earlier and they seemed to know your name. It of course was all positive as most message boards are. So, games journalism and TV are contracting at the moment. Do you have another volatile career field that you’d like to get into after games journalism and TV collapse?

Campbell: AI, right? Weapons manufacturing. 

MW: Weapons manufacturing isn’t going anywhere for a long time.

Campbell: I don’t know. Film and TV have been here since I was a kid, and since the people before me were kids and the people before that were kids. And then before that, there was no TV. But I’ll be surprised if the mismanagement is so great that they managed to kill television before it’s time for me to retire. I do think that this is my home. I really like writing movies too, like film and television as a package. It’s why I went to school. It’s always been my dream and if it goes, maybe I’ll be a Twitch streamer. I don’t know, man. 

MW: On games journalism, prior to Get Played, you wrote for Play Magazine. You also did some freelance stuff for EGM amongst other publications. What’s been lost in the years between magazines and websites and this transition we’ve been moving toward with individual streamers and the podcast format? 

Campbell: I still subscribe to tangible magazines. They’re all from Japan and I don’t think these are nostalgia goggles. I think that there is something so nice about a heavy book that you flip through, and you can put down without having to log out of anything or turn something off. It’s so immediate and present and tactile. I know that there is artisanal press that is still publishing magazines, but I do think that the thing that’s been lost is when you’re looking at a magazine the layout isn’t being corrupted. Yes, there are ads in a magazine, but those ads are placed and are locked in as part of the experience. And when I open up a fucking Kotaku article or whatever on my phone, it’s three lines of text and a floating ad and another and another. None of that has been curated or designed for a pleasurable experience for the participant and I think that that’s one of the things that got lost when print media sort of dried up. It’s intention in authorship and reception of that authorship. If you are watching an independent “Let’s Play” personality, you’re also in a space where notifications are happening on the side of your screen, and you’re also in a space where that chat bubble is happening, and that chat bubble isn’t an experience being curated by the performer or the reviewer. And all of those things are chaotic agents in an experience that could be streamlined, presentational, performative and theatrical, and that, I feel, is a loss. It’s the lights going down in a movie theater and telling people to turn off their phones, which isn’t even a thing that people do anymore. 

MW: They don’t. I watched Annihilation in theaters next to a group of people who spent the entire movie on TikTok. I remember feeling like a grumpy old man.

Campbell:  It’s a shame because I don’t think it needs to be like that. I love cell phones. I’m the most excited person on Earth for whatever comes after Apple Vision Pro. I love all the tech. I’m not a Luddite, but I wish that the experience of reading a magazine online could be intentional, it could be something where if you’re going to read an article, your phone automatically shuts off the notifications while you’re reading the article. There are philosophical elements that aren’t art being experimented with that could give us back our attention spans. But I don’t want tech to go away. I just want somebody to design something that’s nice. 

MW: I recently got into comic books, and I think one of my favorite things about them is getting to the fan mail at the end. I also remember looking forward to reading the emails at the beginning of a Game Informer issue. These things feel like communities forever captured in a moment. 

Campbell: Yep. 

MW: And it feels like those community moments can be had with a smaller streamer or a podcast. But the bigger those things get, the less access an individual has, unlike the magazine or comic space. 

Campbell: There’s a lottery chance that you’ll be singled out and put forward as a point of discussion. 

MW: Right. On physical media, any time I start to see some good aspects of digital media, I’m immediately bombarded by an hour-long ad in my son’s Bluey video on YouTube, and it drives me right back to physical media. 

Campbell: Don’t trust the media companies, as is, to be compensating the creators in a fair way. I don’t believe they’re being transparent with digital media. With physical media, the sale of a CD is happening, and so the artist is getting a cut even though it’s a pea in the porridge. They’re still getting a tangible cut of a tangible good that has been exchanged. I don’t know that I fucking buy that, Spotify, YouTube and certainly not X, are being forthcoming about what their actual engagement is, or what those numbers are like. We just have to take it at face value when Disney says a show only got so many hits and so it’s being canceled. So, the writers and the actors aren’t getting any residuals for it. All of that feels easily falsified and whereas with a magazine, nobody was pirating magazines. You bought a magazine. Maybe you gave it to a friend, but that magazine company is tracking issue sales and reporting those numbers to its advertisers. Which means that the company has this much more money to be able to pay its writers. And all of that was an elastic experience. So, I don’t believe whatever IGN or whoever is reporting about their page views. I don’t believe any of those numbers are real. 

MW: You spent the last two seasons on Rick and Morty. You wrote two amazing episodes, “That’s Amorte” and “Fear No Mort,” which were both just gut punches.

Campbell: Yep. 

MW: You’ve posted openly about your battle with cancer. Having that knowledge, those episodes hit just a bit harder. They feel like they were written by someone coming face-to-face with their mortality. I bring all this up to ask about your third credited episode of the show. You were credited on “Final DeSmithation”. What the fuck was going on when you dreamed up that one? 

Campbell: First off. It’s funny. That was my first season and “Final DeSmithation” was a preexisting idea. The ideas that I contributed to that season were already in the pitch phase. The room had this idea kicking around for a while, that Jerry gets a fortune cookie that says he’s going to fuck his mom. I thought it was funny.  And then they were like, “Do you wanna write it?” And I was like, “OK.” Because, you know, it was my first season. I’m going to take whatever is handed to me. And there’s always an on ramp to a show. With a show as big as Rick and Morty, they’re not just going to put you in front of a canon episode. They’re going to give you this goofy idea and you write the goofy idea. 

MW: Right.

Campbell: Both the spaghetti episode and the fear hole episode were ideas I came in with. With the spaghetti episode, I was like, anything could be an episode we could write, it could be anything. That’s the spirit of Rick and Morty. It could be the dumbest idea in the world and as long as you investigate it with sincerity and earnestness, then it can reveal truths to us in some dumb, cartoon way. Dan and Scott Marder were like, “If you really want to write about somebody who kills himself and becomes spaghetti, we’re not going to stop you. But are you sure?” And I was like, “Please, please let me take a crack at it.” And Harmon still cites it as the episode where we’ve proven there are no bad ideas. And I’m like, “No, it was a good idea, man. It was a good idea from the beginning.” We have just started writing season 10. So, there are two more seasons that I am mostly finished with. Three of the four episodes that are coming up were pitches that I brought in. And, yeah, I’m thrilled. It was my dream job before I started working on it. It’s also funny. So, there’s another writer on the show, Jess Lacher. Jess and I have been friends since college and she went off and wrote for Animaniacs and Pixar, and I went off and wrote for Corporate and Saturday Night Live. We were watching Rick and Morty, early seasons and I was like, “Dude, we should write for this show. This is the best show on television.” 

MW: Oh wow.

Campbell: And then seasons go by, and Dan reached out to ask me if I wanted to write for Rick and Morty. And I was like, “You have no fucking idea how long I’ve waited for this call. Yes. Absolutely, one hundred percent.”  I couldn’t take the job though, because I was contracted at Twilight Zone. So, I finished that and then I went to Rick and Morty and after I’d been there for two seasons, they were looking for a writer, so I told them I know this girl from Pixar and Animaniacs, and she’s incredible. They looked at her stuff. And they’re like, “Holy shit, she’s brilliant. We’re gonna hire her.” That moment felt like time travel. From us watching the show on an iPad and saying that we should write for this show, to high fiving in the office. I’ve never worked with Jess, and I’ve known her for so long. It’s like everything is so small. But it also demonstrates the sort of importance in this industry of relationships. If they’d read her scripts and they’d sucked she wouldn’t have gotten the job no matter how highly I recommended her. She had developed her own career and had these great projects under her belt. I think it’s so important to treat people with dignity and respect and kindness in this industry because you can only fail upwards for so long and then the rest of the stuff is going to be real people with real relationships and real pathos and real concern for one another that will eventually end up in the jobs that they want, that’s my belief. I know that sounds stupid. Maybe don’t print that.

MW: It’s not stupid. No, we need a little earnestness and positivity on Hard Drive. There’s a lot of snark on the site. 

Campbell: Well, it’s funny shit, man. 

MW: Thank you. Were you and Jess part of an improv troupe at Northwestern?

Campbell: Yeah. She joined after I’d been in the show for a couple of years and that’s how we met. And then I moved to LA, and she moved to New York. And it’s one of those friendships where there are phases where we’re really good friends. And there are phases where we don’t talk for a year and a half or something, you know, like that kind of, snaking through the story of your life. 

MW: Back on “Final DeSmithation” really quick. Were you worried about how the episode would be perceived? Incest seems to be the one spot where Rick and Morty fans kind of teeter. The incest related episodes just kind of seem like an uphill battle to make work. Was that in your mind going into that episode? Were you worried about the perception or that your loved ones would see the episode? 

Campbell: The whole reason incest makes people squeamish is because it’s supposed to. Not to be, oh God, I don’t want to say this, but it’s mythic, it’s like Oedipus is mythic and Lot’s daughters are mythic. These are things that are supposed to make us uncomfortable. Nobody should watch “Final DeSmithation” and be like, “Yeah, I hope he fucks his mom!” They should be hoping it doesn’t happen. There’s no moment where he is hot for his mom. It is a propulsion of fate that is driving him towards a thing that we don’t want as much as he doesn’t want. If anything, it’s an echo. It’s a mirror to the earlier season episodes where the comedy was a little bit more early twenty-tens, “edgy” for lack of a better word. I wasn’t worried about it. And I don’t know if that means I’m dumb, but it’s also not a story about incest. It’s a story specifically about not wanting incest. If you hate the incest episodes, that should be your favorite. 

MW: Congrats on the One Punch Man rewrite job. You and Dan are rewriting the script for the upcoming adaptation of the anime. 

Campbell: Thank you.

MW: I have a very touch and go knowledge of One Punch Man. My understanding of One Punch Man is that his power is that he can take anyone out with one punch. And a lot of it is waiting for the guy to get there to save the day. Kind of like Goku, in early DBZ, right?

Campbell: Yeah, I think the author, One, speaks to that actually in early interviews. He wondered, “What if you told the story of Goku? What if you tell the story of Superman?  What would it be like to train so much that you became God? And what would that do to your drive? What would it cause? What does it do to him?” And I think that’s what initially was extremely attractive to me about the show and then the manga. When he fights, he’s miserable afterwards because if you got into being a superhero so that you could fight people and you became good enough to really do it, and as a result everything was easy, I think you’d be depressed. That is what he’s experiencing is depression and disconnection. There are moments in the manga where he is asking other characters, “How do you keep going?” This isn’t in the movie, so I think I can speak to this idea that I love about One Punch Man, which is that capitalism has gotten so good. We have everything we could want. The idea that anybody can eat meat whenever they want is the triumph of industry and commerce. You could go to a place and buy meat and eat it. That wasn’t the case for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. And I don’t want to sound like a capitalist apologist because all of us can eat meat and it doesn’t make any of us happy, but everybody is fucking miserable. And so then it’s like, “Well, what if you could go really far, honey?” You invent a train and then you invent a car, and you could go anywhere. If you’re a hobo or in your first class, you can go anywhere. No, it still didn’t make anybody happy. Capitalism is like Shitala. We have all of this stuff. Almost everybody has a cell phone and 25 years ago nobody had a cell phone. If anything, the cell phones made us more miserable. I feel like there’s something gestating in all of us right now, and it’s like, “Well, if it’s not this, then what would it be? What could it be that would make us all feel better?” And I think that lightly reflected in what Saitama was going through. He’s got everything he ever wanted. Then it sucks. 

MW: When you’re looking at adaptations of anime into live action, what do you like? And what do you see in adaptations that they get wrong? Is there a through line in what adaptations are getting wrong? 

Campbell: I think the through line is that anime is like whiskey. And people keep trying to pour milk into it and try to microwave it. It is one hundred percent the thing it already is, and I feel like the dilution of that thing is the series of compromises that you make in order to turn it into something else. The truth is, I’m a speed racer, I think Speed Racer is good. And I think that if it hadn’t had kids and a monkey in it, it would be great, it would be legendary. It was one hundred percent what it was supposed to be as an anime adaptation. A live action adaptation of Speed Racer couldn’t be anything else. It was perfect. Maybe you don’t like Speed Racer? I also think that The Matrix is an excellent anime adaptation, even though it cribbed from all these different animes, you can still see the influence from things like Ghost in the Shell.  There are ways to do it without diluting that authenticity, without pouring fucking milk in your whiskey. I think that’s the difference between a successful anime adaptation and a failure. Just make it. Like, Dragon Ball Evolution. If you look at the poster, it’s not the dudes. It should be the strongest looking dudes you’ve ever seen. Dudes who were that big, who were also excellent actors, and then you should be able to look at the poster. Be like, “Oh fuck they did it!” 

MW: If I remember correctly, Piccolo wasn’t Namek at the beginning of the movie, but then he became Namek by the end of the movie. I just…How is Cobra Kai a better Dragon Ball Z adaptation than Dragon Ball Evolution? There’s a scene with Daniel and Johnny in a chop shop and they’re supposed to be working together. Out of nowhere, they start fighting each other. And that’s when it clicked for me. I was like, “This is Goku and Vegeta. These guys respect each other, but they will fucking fight each other at the drop of a pin.” 

Campbell: I think if you look at One Piece, it has been a huge success for Netflix and they’re getting another season. And you look at the poster and you’re like, “Oh, that’s One Piece.” It’s as you said, It’s the relationships that have to be unchanged and it’s the iconography of the show that also needs to remain. Everybody is celebrating the fact that Wolverine is in yellow and blue or whatever in the Deadpool trailer and it’s like, yeah, cause he spent a decade in black. People already know the thing they love, and it’s a success because it has some element in it that is connecting with people. So why put your foot down and stop the thing that everybody already loves about the property? I’m sure people are going to be so fucking angry at me. Dan and I are going to get death threats. It’s going to be a nightmare. 

MW: Speaking of superheroes, it seems they are kind of on their way out and games and anime adaptations seem to be on the rise in TV and film. Do you have a dream adaptation project, be it an anime or a video game? 

Campbell: I’ve always said that I want to become so reliable with the handling of anime IP that they give me the rights to Evangelion and then I stop it in its tracks and never make it. That would be my dream project, would be to get the rights and then never let it happen because, Eva is my favorite anime of all time and it’s already perfect and untranslatable and doesn’t need to be a movie. 

MW: You’re just squatting on the rights for the rest of your life. 

Campbell: For the rest of my life. 

MW: And then pass it on to your estate and threaten to haunt their asses if they ever adapt it.

Campbell: Yeah. 

Campbell: That would be my dream adaptation is to get the rights to Eva and make sure it never happens. You know, I love Star Wars. I would love to work on a Star Wars. I know that’s not anime or video games, but it’s an existing IP that I would love to be able to dabble in those colors. I think Chainsaw Man could work as a live action property. That would be awesome. What else is on my shelf? Uh. I don’t know that Akira could work, and I know that they’ve been trying to make it for forever. I don’t think Akira can work. I think part of the pleasure of watching Akira is the animation. 

MW: The animation style, yeah. 

Campbell: Oh, I know what my answer is. It’s Gundam. I think Gundam can be adapted because you could make it like Saving Private Ryan. You could make it like Fury if it was a very intense war movie that just happened to have mechs in it. It would be awesome. Gundam is the Saving Private Ryan of Saturday morning cartoons because, like, they’re both animated with the same sort of quality, but people are dying in Gundam and kids are like, “Oh my God, I accidentally set that lady on fire. How can I live with myself?” It’s got that sort of emotional lightness but also has the depths of a war story. So, if it was a live action film, it could just be like Come and See but with mechs. Like how crazy. 

MW: You’re selling me on it. As soon as you said Saving Private Ryan, but with mechs.

Campbell: Yeah. Yeah, I think just a straight hard, serious, horrifying war movie, but with mechs would be awesome. 

MW: War is hell, but at least we have mechs. One more question. Going back to the podcast, would you like to say anything nice about your co-hosts Matt Apodaca and Nick Wiger to see if they actually read this article? It also doesn’t have to be nice.  

Campbell: I couldn’t be luckier with my co-hosts. You know, the last year was pretty tough for me medically and they absorbed that and made space for it and kept the ship afloat, barely. And I am so happy to have a home to come back to. In addition, I do think that they are learning how to tell jokes and that has been excellent. It’s been wild to watch them grow. 

MW: I was worried you were going to end on something mean, but then you brought it back. That is great, Heather. Thank you so much for chatting with me tonight. 

Campbell: Thank you!

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