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Scary Movies ’15: Q&A With “SUMMER CAMP” Director Alberto Marini

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After many years of working with the greatest Spanish directors in horror as an executive, producer and screenwriter, Alberto Marini decided to step behind the camera for the engaging and original horror/thriller SUMMER CAMP. FANGORIA spoke to Marini about the film, which makes its North American premiere tonight as part of the Scary Movies festival at New York City’s Lincoln Center and will be released next year by Pantelion Films.

During the 12 years Marini worked for Spanish outfit Filmax, he had the opportunity to collaborate with the likes of Jaume Balagueró (as a co-executive producer on the first two [REC] movies and scripter of SLEEP TIGHT), Daniel Monzon, Paco Plaza, Nacho Cerdá and Brian Yuzna. After the success of SLEEP TIGHT, he decided to strike out on his own, and in 2011 set up his own production company, Rebelion Terrestre, whose first project was THE LAST DAYS, from directors Àlex and David Pastor. Then he tackled SUMMER CAMP, which he scripted with Danielle Schleif.

“I was lucky to be on many sets during my career,” he says, “so while this was my directorial debut, I had some experience in the field. Mindful of all I learned over the years, I tried to predict and prevent the problems and unexpected events that often occur with young directors. I decided to surround myself with high-level professionals, which helped not only from a professional point of view but also from a human one, as I already knew them and that they would support me. It was new and exciting, but I also felt very protected.

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“Danielle is an American girl living in Barcelona whom I often work with,” he continues. “We were looking for a horror concept that had an element of originality; we both liked the theme of infection, and started from there. Once we developed the idea, we presented it to Filmax and Jaume Balagueró, who fully supported us. Once the project got underway and the script was finished, we presented it to Peter Safran and Lionsgate, who immediately came on board.”

In the film, Americans Darren, Michelle, Will and Christy travel to Spain to work as counselors at a camp set up in an old mansion. As they and their co-workers get to know each other, one of them comes down with a virulent, rage-inducing sickness—but there’s a twist to the nature of this madness. Standing apart from past infection chillers (including those Marini himself has worked on), SUMMER CAMP’s creative and original source for the sickness not only makes for strong character moments, but keeps the audience guessing where the story is going to go.

Marini reveals that he actually intended to make SLEEP TIGHT his directing debut, but coincidentally, Balagueró told him that he was next looking to helm a thriller rather than a straight-up horror film. “He read the [SLEEP TIGHT] script,” Marini recalls, “and said that if I wanted to direct it, he would support and help me, but he was also interested in doing it. In the end, it was clear that having Jaume on board as director was the right move for that film, and it worked out very well. It’s a movie I’m enormously proud of, and one that opened new doors for me in terms of screenwriting. Moreover, after giving up directing, I tested myself with an interesting idea that would have otherwise remained a unrealized wish: to write a book inspired by the same story.”

On SUMMER CAMP, the roles were reversed, with Balagueró an executive producer for the first time in his career. “He helped us with the concept and also the various drafts of the script,” Marini recalls, “offering ideas or the best solutions to filming certain sequences. He wasn’t always able to be on set, as he was working on [REC] 4: APOCALYPSE at the same time. For me, Jaume is a friend first and foremost, and very respectful. He didn’t want to end up becoming a second director on this project, or to hold me back in any way. Nonetheless, he has been an essential element of SUMMER CAMP, not only with his feedback but also because he was the first person to believe in this project, which led to us getting the funding.”

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One of SUMMER CAMP’s selling points is the fact that the roles of the hunter and hunted, the protagonist and antagonist, are constantly changing. “We wanted to keep surprising the audience by using a very familiar setting that brings to mind films like FRIDAY THE 13TH and SLEEPAWAY CAMP,” Marini notes, “but at the same time use a unique take that has nothing to do with slashers. In fact, the reference points are more along the lines of THE EVIL DEAD or [REC].” The movie is also visually striking, capturing the beauty of the Spanish locations—even when it’s contrasted with plentiful gore and violence—and Marini reveals that the key location was not originally designated for the function it serves on screen. “In Spain, especially Catalonia, there is a common practice of restructuring colonial homes or farms and using them for summer camps. The house we found was disused and abandoned, so we renovated it for the shoot. It has never been used as a summer camp, but we made it one for the movie.

“Of course we got permission, and the town of Sant Cugat del Vallès supported us totally. We didn’t renovate the entire house, because it was huge, but only a few spaces that our designers and art department adapted and reused. For example, the children’s dormitory was the same space we used for the dining room, while the entryway is the same space as the cellar. All of this optimized the time we had. While we were shooting in one part of the house, our team dismantled, repainted and rebuilt another space for the next scenes.”

The focus on just four key characters made the director’s job easier than it would have been wrangling a larger cast, but the choice of the actors thus became even more important: “We carefully considered our choices,” Marini says. “The casting took a long time; we organized several interviews with the actors and then had Skype conversations to see if there was a good feeling between us. We also asked them to do some rehearsals on set before shooting; they arrived two weeks before. That’s not a very common thing in the U.S., and they were very surprised but also very happy with that experience. For me, it was important to talk over and explain every single scene a few days before filming them, so the actors had everything clear in their mind.

“When we were casting in Los Angeles, I asked personally about Jocelin Donahue, because I liked her so much in HOUSE OF THE DEVIL,” he continues. “At first, we thought she was ideal for Michelle; then we did the tests and talked, she read the script and suggested she play Christy instead. Maiara Walsh, who wound up playing Michelle, was proposed by Peter Safran, who had worked with her before. Diego Boneta [Will] was very much supported by Lionsgate; I didn’t know him, and then I saw ROCK OF AGES and his other movies, and after some conversations we decided to hire him. Among the Spanish cast, we had found an actor who had to drop out at the last minute, but fortunately we were able to replace him with Andrés Velencoso, who was a big surprise. He arrived after all the others, but he brought great enthusiasm.”

While SUMMER CAMP is not an outright horror/comedy, its creators aimed to ensure there were touches of dark humor scattered through it, and wanted the appearance and evolution of the infection to differ from past movies. “I’m very satisfied with the special effects,” Marini says, “both the makeup and the digital work. The CGI is inconspicuous, because it’s very well-integrated; Onirikal Studio did a great job. I wanted the infected to have a realistic look, not too fantastic. This movie plays with suspense and tension rather than relying on explicit violence, but there are certainly some explosive moments of that in there too.”

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