David Opie sits down with director Alberto Marini to talk about Summer Camp, a Spanish/American collaboration that follows a group of camp counsellors besieged by a zombie-like virus. The film is currently having a successful run at film festivals worldwide and our four star review is available to read here…
David Opie: Summer Camp is an extremely enjoyable horror movie that breaks away from the traditional conventions of the ‘zombie’ genre, particularly in the way that the infection spreads. Where did the idea for this come from?
Alberto Marini: Co-writer Danielle Schleif and I just merged the mythology of our two favourite fantastic creatures: infected people and werewolves. Despite their appearance, in reality, those creatures are actually quite similar. Both of them deal with controlling our natural instincts.
In both cases, we start with “normal” human beings who lose all inhibitions and unleash their inner animals, whether that is due to a virus or the full moon, they let their evil come out. This allowed us to play with the idea of a temporary infection, where people become extremely savage, but then return to their original state (just like werewolves). So we have a movie in which the pursuers and the pursued continuously swap their roles. Each of the actors actually played the role of the victim and the villain in the same movie.
DO: Summer Camp is the first full length feature you’ve directed. What challenges did you face in making a film this long?
AM: SC is my first feature as a director, but in the past, I’ve been involved in several productions as a producer, so I had the opportunity to learn a basic rule: shooting is often hell and the best way to survive this hell is by surrounding yourself with an extremely experienced crew, which I exactly what I did.
Any time I had doubts during the development, preproduction, production or postproduction of the film, there was always somebody very experienced ready to help me, starting from the godfather of this movie, Jaume Balagueró, up to all the heads of crew: Pablo Rosso as DoP, Sylvia Steinbrecht as Art Director, Marc Bech as sound designer, Alex Demolina and Nacho Ruiz Capilla as editors, Arnau Bataller as composer, etc. I’ve never felt alone and all the challenges of this production became manageable.
DO: What is your favourite moment in Summer Camp? What are you most proud of?
AM: You know, SC is a movie basically made to entertain the audience, one with no philosophical pretensions. Despite this, there is a deeper idea beyond the infection, that human beings are naturally evil. We only act good because we inhibit our natural instincts. The thing I like is that in Summer Camp, both the infected and non-infected characters turn evil. The virus is just a pretext for our characters to free their natural instincts. Our protagonists do not need to be infected in order to do evil. The situation at hand pushes them to free their true, natural instincts. The moments I like most are when those free of the virus do really weird things.
DO: Why did you decide to focus the story of Summer Camp around young Americans? How did Diego Boneta, Jocelin Donahue and the rest of the cast join the project?
AM: From the very beginning, we wanted to tell the story of young Americans in jeopardy outside of their home country. This is a good way to create empathy with a worldwide audience. Americans prefer to empathise with Americans, and audiences from the rest of the world are used to doing the same due to the dominance of Hollywood movies.
The casting took place in Los Angeles. I asked for Jocelin Donahue to attend the casting, because I loved her in The House of the Devil. Maiara Walsh and Diego Boneta were surprises to me. I discovered them both due to the casting process and it was a sort of love at first sight, at least from my side. Andrés Velencoso is a top name here in Spain.
DO: The fate of the virus is left ambiguous at the end of Summer Camp. Could this movie ever evolve into a horror franchise?
AM: Honestly, I am not keen to create a franchise, but I’d be really happy about the possibility of a Summer Camp 2, because it would imply that Summer Camp (1) was successful. And of course, we already have a general idea about the possible sequel…
DO: The Rec series is one of the most successful international horror franchises ever created and I count the first film as one of my personal favourites. How did you meet director Jaume Balagueró and begin working as an executive producer on the first three Rec films?
AM: I met Jaume for the first time in the year 2000. I was working in the development department of the Spanish mini studio Filmax (with Brian Yuzna) and Jaume was writing the script for Darkness at the time. We quickly became friends and since then, we have collaborated on several projects together (Darkness, Fragile, the REC saga, Sleep Tight, Summer Camp).
Regarding REC, it was an original idea by Jaume and Paco Plaza: they wanted to shoot a small movie while waiting for their bigger projects to receive financing. And, you see, their “small” project ultimately became their biggest success and possibly the most popular foreign horror franchise produced so far.
DO: What did you learn while working on the Rec franchise? Did that series influence the making of Summer Camp?
AM: Of course REC influenced Summer Camp. Even if the rules and the symptoms of infection are quite different, Summer Camp is sort of REC´s daughter. And several of the crew who worked on the REC saga, worked on Summer Camp as well. What did I learn from REC? I’ve learnt a lot. Every time I had the opportunity to see how Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza solved all their challenges during their shooting, it was sort of like a priceless film school for me.
DO: The screenplay for the Spanish horror Sleep Tight deserved to be a bigger mainstream hit. How do you feel European horror movies differ from Hollywood’s take on the genre?
AM: Frankly, I do not have this feeling. Usually, I don’t read reviews about the movies I’m involved in, but I had the feeling that Spanish critics loved Sleep Tight, and according to Rotten Tomatoes, it looks like critics in America generally liked the movie too!
I guess that Sleep Tight and European horrors and thrillers differ from Hollywood´s movies with the absence of any “self-censure”. I’m not talking about the graphic exposure of violence, I’m talking about concepts. In Europe, we do not think too much about the consequences of our stories. I guess that in America, it’s hard to accept that your protagonist could rape a girl without receiving any punishment for his crime. In America, there is still a sort of necessity for order and justice in their films. In Europe, we are more used to chaos, to the fact that the most of the time there is no justice on earth… and we reflect this in our movies.
DO: You’ve worked as a producer and a writer on some of the most original horror movies of the past decade, so you clearly have an affinity for the genre. Which horror film directors influenced you during the making of Summer Camp?
AM: I started to love this genre when I was a kid and saw “Profondo Rosso” by Dario Argento. I was scared to death but, at the same time, totally fascinated. Dario Argento is always on my mind. I have to say that several movies influenced SC. Although the title of our movie could remind some of slasher movies from the seventies, I guess that the big influences are Sam Raimi, Jaume & Paco, Chicho Ibañez Serrador…
Many thanks to Alberto Marini for taking the time for this interview.