Nearly three months ago, Netflix held a massive event in Los Angeles for the press to meet with select stars, writers and various talent behind their upcoming slate of original programming. A number of interviews have been published that were conducted that day, but few shows had less information available leading up to that day than “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp.” The first photos weren’t even released until late May, so to say reporters had a fair share of questions when speaking to the creators — David Wain and Michael Showalter — would be an understatement.
While reporters got their first shot at press conference, Indiewire was also able to land a sit-down with Wain and Showalter. The externally laid back but internally quick-witted duo casually discussed the process of getting such a celebrity-laden series off the ground, why it was important to revisit a celebrated part of their past, the reasons for making a prequel instead of a sequel and, of course, cracked some jokes about Auschwitz between questions.
Thanks for making the time. The first thing I really wanted to touch on is something that we mentioned in the round table—
David Wain: By the way, just to save time, if you just wanna say, “the RT.”
[laughs] Okay, the RT. You guys said that it wasn’t so much the scheduling or getting people together that was the hard part, it was getting it up and running.
Michael Showalter: Oh, getting the machine [up and running]. That was just a matter of contracts. There’s a lot of infrastructure around mounting a production, that has to do with legal stuff. A lot of it is getting contracts and clearing rights.
DW: Especially when you’re dealing with a previous movie that has been distributed. But, truthfully, it’s the time between the network saying, “Yes, let’s do it,” and it actually starting. And then once it’s actually starting, then it’s just sort of normal puzzle-making.
MS: They’re not available this week, but they are available this week. Oh, well, it’s looking like the most beneficial thing is to push the whole shoot one week forward. It’s that kind of stuff. But the bigger thing is, there are some big hurdles that go into green-lighting it. That in our case, had to do with getting to a place where the ducks were in a row in terms of the ownership and the rights and all that kind of stuff.
DW: We’ll fax you all the contracts.
Perfect. That would be very helpful.
MS: That’s what we meant, when I said that.
What I was curious about—
MS: It’s about the contracts, Ben!
It’s all about the contracts. I just wanna talk about contracts.
DW: I love that song “It’s All About the Contracts.”
Did you have to change anything because of scheduling? Did you have to change any of the story elements — not the shooting days, but anything within scenes?
Was that something that you considered before you wrote it?
MS: A little bit, I mean we knew we weren’t going to have everybody the whole time. We knew that—
DW: You’re always changing stuff for realities in little ways. Sometimes you’re supposed to shoot this in a basketball court, but we couldn’t find a basketball court. Could you do it in a baseball diamond? So you tweak it that way. But nothing that was essential to the story that we wanted to tell had to get changed. You’re always making little micro-changes.
One of the biggest concerns I saw online from people when this came up, was the “Arrested Development” concern — negative reaction to how they constructed that season to get everybody back, but they didn’t have everybody interacting, they didn’t have them all on set at the same time. It completely changed the show. Did you think about that at all when you were putting the show together?
DW: It’s an apples-and-oranges thing, I think, because for so many reasons. One of which is “Arrested Development” was already a TV show, and it’s doing another season of the same show. Also it was much more recent, and more than that, the format and feel and set up of “Wet Hot American Summer” — the original movie — was not, like 30 characters in a room the entire time.
MS: I mean “Wet Hot,” you’ve got Molly Shannon’s story over here, Janeane Garofalo’s story over there, Ken Marino’s story over here. We don’t believe that you’ll feel, watching this—
DW: We did our job. You’re not gonna watch it and be like, “That looks like they might not have had access to that actor.”
MS: I don’t think anyone’s gonna notice that Amy Poehler is sitting on a couch the whole time. Like, in all eight episodes, it’s just Amy Poehler sitting on a couch.
Just her head.
MS: Just her head, yes.
DW: And that Paul Rudd only appears in a voice over.
So, you guys have really kept a lot of the same people in a lot of your movies, and now in the show. Is that something you really want to do when you set out to write a project? Or is it just something that comes together because you know them, and you think they fit? How do you keep adding to the collection? How do you keep getting more and more great people?
DW: To me there’s a shorthand you have with people you’ve worked with before, who get it and share your sensibility. And then there’s also, they are many of the best people I’m aware of. The funniest people I’m aware of. So for both of those reasons, why wouldn’t you continue to keep working with the best people that are also your friends? It’s a win-win-win.
I spoke with Ken Marino, about a year and a half ago. It really struck me how he said that when he started out, that was the goal: to work with your friends, to have fun, and to keep doing that for as long as he could. And that’s why he keeps doing it. I just thought that was one of the most relatable and admirable efforts I could think of. I’ve always kind of been drawn to it. That seems like something that comes up in the comedy world more and more.
DW: I came to a realization, and have over and over, over the years, just that: You could be making so much money, and your bank statement gets bigger and bigger, but if you’re not psyched to go to work in the morning, it doesn’t matter. It sucks. So you wanna just be psyched to see the people that you work with, and have fun with. Then you’ve won.
Getting back to “Wet Hot” a little bit, in the movie, you had it set up perfectly for a sequel to take place ten years later. Why go the other way with it?
DW: We just thought the actors in the movie were too old to play teenagers at the time, so now that it’s 15 years later, just double down on that issue, and just go backwards. Why not?
MS: Who’s to say that we one day may not see that?
DW: It’s true. Just like in the movie, we gave ourselves the parameters of it’s all in one day on the last day, just creating certain boundaries to which we could color in and say, “Okay this is the first day,” so everything has to somehow be consistent to setting up what happens on the last day. It gave us a lot of fun areas to, “Okay how do we make this come to that?” It was really fun to do that, and I think it’ll be really fun for the audience to watch that.
What is it about 1984 that made it an ideal time period for this project? Was it just personal memories?
MS: I think the early 80s is just a very specific snapshot moment. It’s when David and I were on the cusp of being teenagers. It’s just like when we were at camp.
DW: To me, it’s the end of the ’70s, and it’s the beginning of the ’80s, both happening at the same time. And the look and feel and the aesthetic of that time, the music, there’s a specificity to it, that, at least, especially when we made the first movie, hadn’t been mined as much. And, yeah, it’s just a particular moment that we like, it felt organic to the story that we were telling.
Another huge factor of the original movie was the idea that everyone wanted to hook up before camp ended. Is that going to factor into the series? Or is there a new twist on it, since they’re on the first day?
DW: It’s a different theme because the first day is less about, “Oh my God. I only have one day left. I have these summer-long goals, and now there’s only one day left.” That was the first movie. The series is about the first day of camp and it’s, “Oh my God, it’s the first day, and there’s only one chance to make a first impression.” That’s one of the elements of what a first day is. And so, it’s your chance to define who you are for the summer.
MS: It’s like, never let them see you sweat. You know what I mean?
DW: It’s like, I’d rather light than fight.
MS: It’s like ,you can lead a horse to water, [but] you can’t make him drink.
DW: You can’t make him think.
MS: Can you put that on your little list of inspirational quotes? Next to your Marino quote? David wanted to know if it was Edgar Poe. “Never more quoth the raven.”
If I ever talk to anyone else that’s involved, I’ll bring it up. I wanted to ask about summer camps in general. Obviously you guys have a very strong memory of it. I grew up in the middle of Illinois, and it was a strange kind of idea that I knew people went to it, but not a lot of people. And nowadays, I almost never hear about anyone going to camp, unless it’s like a purposeful camp; like, we want you to do something, or accomplish something. Do you feel like camps have changed?
DW: Camp has changed. I think when we went to camp, for a lot of us, camp was not that. It was a place where middle class or upper middle class kids were sent, who were from the midwest or the north east, into the north east, to go and hangout. And, do a few sports maybe, but it was very unorganized and loose. And you tried to make out with girls, and go canoeing once in a while. My camp, and Mike’s too, was just very shaggy and scrappy.
MS: But camps change. In World War II, camp had a whole other connotation.
DW: That’s true. Those were very different kinds of camps.
MS: There was no canoeing in those kinds of camps.
Your camp seems more fun.
DW: If you look at the camps — examples being Auschwitz and so on — there was no canoeing. There was no row boating.
MS: There was no water activity of any kind.
DW: There was no lake front.
MS: No lake front. There was no dances, no barn dances.
DW: They might’ve had a talent show, but it was much less organized, it was more spontaneous.
Why would anyone go to that camp?
DW: A lot of people didn’t have a choice. It was a genocide situation. And today, though, the camps here in the USA are much more structured, and the culture has just changed about what summer camp needs to be.
MS: David is kind of an expert on what camps are like today.
DW: I am.
MS: David knows all about the metrics of summer camps.
DW: When I was 19, I did a tour of summer camps around the country with a band, designed for that purpose. And I went to 25 camps around New England. The band was called the Rocking Knights of Summer. And the name of that band makes an appearance in our TV series.
Well, I don’t wanna take up too much of your time.
DW: The truth is that you’re not even allowed to.
I know. I try to be polite about it. It’s the midwestern part of me, but really I just have to leave.
DW: By the way, you’re okay that my sister’s here, just sleeping in the bed here? [to sister] Were you sleeping?
David Wain’s Sister: No, I listened to your whole thing about Auschwitz. There was no water there either.