From Movie-Maker to Horse-Whisperer
By Jayne Thurber-Smith / Photo courtesy of Kathleen Camp.
Joe Camp is best known as the writer, producer and director of the popular Benji movies that families all over America enjoyed from 1974 and 2004. After that, at the age of 68 when most are thinking about retirement, he started a new career working with horses. His movies, which made stars out of shelter dogs, made the world a happier place for animals, and now his horse books continue that endeavor.
The American Humane Association reported that the original Benji's adoption from a shelter caused more than one million people to do the same.
“When we decided to make a fifth Benji movie, I struck out to find the new Benji in a shelter,” Joe recalls. “The media followed us around, generating exposure for homeless animals and the efforts of shelters and rescue groups all across the country. The latest Benji still lives here on my ranch.”
As a young boy, he loved Disney's Song of the South, and knew early on what he wanted to do with his life.
"To be able to bring that kind of happiness to others is very special,” he states. “Dad told me when I was 16 that what I needed to do with my life was to do something I would do if I didn’t need to make money at it. I have been fortunate to be able to do that my whole life.”
When Joe wrote the first Benji movie, he had already been working hard at writing various commercials and scripts, trying to break into Hollywood. He knew finally he had a sure thing but no one else ‘got it.’
“I was consistently being told I was making progress, but then hearing ‘forget it, you're not going to make it,’” Joe recalls. “I tried to sell Benji’s story but there were no takers. No one really grasped the concept of what it was: that the dog was a 3D character. This would only work if you realized the dialogue was in the heart and soul of the dog, speaking through his eyes.”
Out of necessity Joe went from Benji’s writer to producing, directing and also distributing it. The rest is cinematic history. The movie-going public embraced the adorable dog.
After the final Benji movie, Joe crossed paths with Cash, a gorgeous Arab gelding. With no previous horse experience, he began to read a lot of Horse-whisperer Monty Roberts’ work and was a fast learner. He quickly “joined up” with Cash both mentally and emotionally. Since then Joe has helped other horse people do the same through his national best seller “The Soul of a Horse – Life Lessons From the Herd,” along with several other horse-help books.
“I promised Cash he would have the best life I could possibly give him,” Joe remembers. “In the beginning I had no clue what that was but as I cared for him and subsequently our other horses, I determined I would not do the wrong thing.
“So far it’s been a good ride.”