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2009, 103m, biography, comedy, romance
Remember summer camp? Not like this you don’t. It’s the last innocent summer before romance infects the free minds of children—and the delinquent boys of Cabin B have pledged their hearts to mayhem in efforts to become camp legends. But when their tiny ten-year-old-leader, FETUS, stumbles into an early mid-life crises—his untimely crush on the local pre-teen beauty sparks a civil war among campers. With marvelous narration by John Cusack and a wild 80’s rock & roll soundtrack, this serrated sendoff on summer camp will charm you.
Produced by: Jacob Medjuck Paul McNeill
Cast: John Cusack (Narrator), Christopher McDonald, Jesse Comacho, Schott Beaudin, Lucian Maisel, Jacob Medjuck, Reva Timbers, Raquel Alessi, Joe Flaherty
10 questions with Summerhood director, Jacob Medjuck at the half-way mark.
Wednesday, August 24th, 2016
1Jacob, it's a real pleasure to be interviewing you as Summerhood was a very fun experience. Summer camp is such a novel setting for a feature length narrative that no one really considers. What was the inspiration for this film? When I was 10 years old, I had a crush on a girl—and it profoundly changed my life. So I dug around, and found my little Pink Panther diary from when I was a young camper—and the memories included were so embarrassing, I had to make this movie. Everything on screen actually happened. Everything. I have been haunted by the joys and traumas of this special time in my life. Watching the film means a great deal to me, making was even more special, we filmed at the summer camp where it all happened.
2Ok. Obvious question coming up: it's well known in the film industry that working with kids creates unique complications on it's own. Adding that on top of being the writer, director, producer, and one of the starring characters on a debut feature sounds like an insurmountable task. How did you do it? I won't lie, it was like flying a kite in a tornado. We had little money, limited time with the young actors, and I was rewriting and storyboarding at night, while acting and directing during the day, And fundraising at lunchtime. (Not to mention, the set flooded, and the local paper thought we were shooting a perverse adult film). But everyone brought their A-game. I had a producer who disagreed creatively with me at times, and still supported every decision I made. Saying "teamwork" fails to describe the incredible weave of activity that came together. We even bunked at the camp while filming—cast and crew. It was epic. But since you ask—the secret to making Summerhood boiled down to one steadfast conviction - I had an unwavering belief that it was possible. And that got us over every obstacle that arose. The idea that a solution existed. Because in my head—the completed movie was merely a reality that we were simply enroute to.
3What was the most difficult scene to shoot? Are there any war stories you can share? Most difficult scene...I honestly can't recall... but I can say that we filmed on 35mm and there was a constant concern we would run out. Some performances had to be timed to length of filmstrip we had remaining in the camera. And on the last day on the last shot of the movie, the last frame of film strip we had ran through the camera. And we were truly done.
And seconds before the camera rolled out of film—our cinematographer spun it around and captured the whole crew cheering. It's a clip I won't ever forget.
re: war stories... I suppose there was that one brief mutiny.
4The characters in this film are so memorable (my personal favorite is Raincoat). Did these characters come from your own experience in camp or were they created out of the blue as you were writing the story? Each of these incredible kids represented someone I went to camp with. (And Fetus was me).
With the exception of the sleepwalking bed pisser. We actually had 11 kids written—including a sleepwalker, and also a bed pisser, but to save time and money we combined the characters into one: the sleep walking bed pisser. Became a most dangerous and entertaining hybrid.
PS. It surprises me every time I hear that someone has actually seen this movie. So hearing you reference the actual characters by name absolutely touches me. I love the Raincoat kid also. He's got a great arc that moves people.
5The tone of this movie is both edgy and wholesome same time. In one moment you have kids cursing like sailors and then the next moment not having a clue what a hand job is (which is refreshing since it's honest about how kids behave). How did you go about capturing that sort of innocence? I was an animator for DreamWorks, Fox and Disney for some time—and I got tired of the neutered representations of youth that the industry was putting out. So I rebelled from my heart and made this movie. It was the truth of my experience. But in the end—it was not without its penalties. The movie was too honest/raunchy for any kids network but not dirty enough for an R-style release. And even after winning a dozen festivals—there was no studio that had any idea how to market us. And we got orphaned. That will always be tough. But the film still represents the heart of what I remember. And is my soul.
From a technical perspective, if that's what you're asking, we kept the performances natural by following a trick I heard about from how Clint Eastwood directs. I never called action, never loudly interrupted the emotional space our young actors we're nested in, I simply waved the cameras rolling and bowed to let the actors know to begin. And even when I called "cut", the camera crew knew to keep rolling and in those extra moments we captured a great deal of the film. When the pressure performance had past, and our actors presented naturally..
6From the looks of it, everyone had a really fun time on set. Was there anything that made it into the movie that was spawned simply from the chemistry of the actors? If you can get actors to own their characters, then the filmmaking aspect disappears and you are simply recording a charming documentary. I had the boys make up their own fancy handshakes, the kids decorated their own beds. Jesse (GRANDPA) Comacho - on his last day of filming had a special segment playing poker where I just let the camera roll and had him improvise the game, it's outcome, playing for candy - all of it. He even snuck in a John Candy monologue. A brilliant mind.
There's another great moment in the spin the bottle scene where one of the girls sneezes during the game and her nose pours out with snot. We kept that in the movie and let the cameras continue rolling.
7Furthermore, is there anything that got left on the cutting room floor or any part you wish you could go back and do differently? This one is tough. There is an entire camp section of older kids that was cut from the movie. Including Reckless's sister, and the camp bully, Lethal. We probably cut 45 minutes and had to change the entire end of the film as a result, all of this was filmed: at the end of Act II, Fetus follows the older kids into the woods and gets caught with alcohol by the Chris MacDonald the Assistant Camp Director. But Careless take the rap and gets sent home in the white van so that none of the kids will be kicked out - and so Lethal won't go home to his abusive family in the city. Cutting "Lethal" from the movie was a very difficult solution to come to. Solving that in the writing stage would have saved us a great deal of money, time, while improving the narrative that remained—but the lesson for me will be far more valuable moving forward. In all my current projects we always ask ourselves what character here is Lethal, and does he need to be in the movie?
8What is your favorite part of the film? Hands down—Fetus discovering foresight. I had to fight to keep that in. I wanted to capture the ethereal moment of maturity. And in an insecure moment of the attic, my producer suggested it would be best if we presented the dream sequence when Reckless betrays Fetus, as reality—surely that would sting as and teach Fetus a lesson. But I wanted it so badly to be the mind of a child projecting an outcome. There was concern as to whether or not that would read. But we stuck with it. And it will forever give me confidence as a filmmaker to know that we accomplish that. The film is of course a first for me, and subject to a great deal of learning. It's loose at times and not slick. But I am so proud of that moment and it's enough to keep me moving forward.
Of course I love when Fetus pours out his heart - and when Raincoats makes a stand. Great stuff.
9What advice would you give other independent filmmakers inspired to follow in your foot steps? 1) It can be done.
2) The business kicks hard. Better artists quit all the time. But if you just stay in the ring—you have a great advantage!
10What's next? I've got a project I'm developing with Amblin Digital, an idea I've had since I was 11. And I've got two animated films I'm hoping to set up this year. (Plus my first baby coming in November!)
And of course—there's http://www.FilmRaiser.com
I started the program to help market Summerhood. Now we're in 10,000 schools across the US supporting school programs using upcoming Hollywood films as school fundraisers. (The studios that wouldn't release Summerhood - now pay us to market their films. There's your irony...)
About the Interviewer: Ericson Just
Ericson is just another straight, white male with delusions of grandeur and an above average god-complex trying to carve out a space for himself in the tough world of show business. His debut feature 'The Burden of My Company' won third place in the Fandependent Films Spring 2016 circuit.
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