CATEGORIES On the Scene
'Wet Hot American Summer' (2001) had all the ingredients of a cult classic from the beginning: absurd elements, eccentric director, eclectic cast, a camp location and negative reviews by nearly every critic. Sure enough, nine years later, it's a legitimate cult classic, with the actors moving on to mainstream careers, the director, David Wain, doing studio movies and the DVD in every comedy and film nerds' library.

After their TV series 'The State' was canceled in 1995, David Wain and writing/producing partner Michael Showalter set their sights toward film and began writing "the silly little script" that became 'WHAS.' Wain said the inspiration for Camp Firewood came from the Jewish summer camp he attended as a child, Camp Modin, in Belgrade, Maine. He had hoped to shoot the movie there as well, but things didn't work out.

Instead, the producers found Camp Towanda in northeastern Pennsylvania, just outside the rural town of Honesdale. In order to use the location, the filmmakers told the camp's owners that the film would be a family comedy. Understandably, the owners said they were mortified when they saw the finished product.
'Wet Hot American Summer' (2001) had all the ingredients of a cult classic from the beginning: absurd elements, eccentric director, eclectic cast, a camp location and negative reviews by nearly every critic. Sure enough, nine years later, it's a legitimate cult classic, with the actors moving on to mainstream careers, the director, David Wain, doing studio movies and the DVD in every comedy and film nerds' library.

After their TV series 'The State' was canceled in 1995, David Wain and writing/producing partner Michael Showalter set their sights toward film and began writing "the silly little script" that became 'WHAS.' Wain said the inspiration for Camp Firewood came from the Jewish summer camp he attended as a child, Camp Modin, in Belgrade, Maine. He had hoped to shoot the movie there as well, but things didn't work out.

Instead, the producers found Camp Towanda in northeastern Pennsylvania, just outside the rural town of Honesdale. In order to use the location, the filmmakers told the camp's owners that the film would be a family comedy. Understandably, the owners said they were mortified when they saw the finished product.

Location as Character: Nestled in the northeast Pocono Mountains with numerous lakes surrounding it, Honesdale has dozens of children's camps in and around the area. If you grew up in the New York or Philadelphia metropolitan areas, there's a good chance you attended a camp that looked very similar to Camp Firewood. This gives the movie a feeling of authenticity. That's important, since part of the film's overall joke is that the actors are much older than the characters they are playing.

The plot is supposed to take place on the last day of summer in 1981. However, since campers would be there all summer, the filmmakers had to shoot during the end of spring. Pennsylvania isn't exactly none for its warm, dry Aprils. It rained through most of the shooting schedule. You can see the actors' breath in many of the outdoor scenes, which must have been grueling since many of them are wearing ridiculously short shorts. The whole thing actually adds to the absurd comedy. You'll notice in the credits a special thanks to "the extras who bravely survived a cold, wet Pennsylvanian spring."



Historical Significance: Since 'WHAS' spoofs the juvenile camp comedies of the '80s, it's appropriate that the film is set in an area important to many children. Thousands of people associate the location with adolescent summer days. That's probably why Honesdale birthed the children's magazine 'Highlights.' What child of the '80s doesn't have fond memories of 'Highlights'? The magazine has relocated to Ohio, but they maintain their editorial headquarters in Honesdale. It just might be that the dense woods and wildlife there inspires the magazine's hidden picture games and animal comics.

Fun Fact: Wain has said there may be a prequel to 'Wet Hot American Summer.' The story would be earlier in that same summer, with the joke being that the cast is even older than the parts they were too old for in the first place. There is no word if Camp Towanda has forgiven Wain and would let him shoot there again.

Directions: As you head into Honesdale on US-6, look for Main Street. Keep your eyes open for PA-191 and turn right. After four miles, take a sharp left on Niles Pond and look for 700 Niles Pond Road.

Visitor Info: In the winter, call the camp at 845-639-4582 to set up an appointment to see the location. In summer, call 570-253-3266. Also, visit their website at www.camptowanda.com. The camp is a coed, seven-week program with crafts, games, water sports and exercise. Get your video-obsessed kids there, pronto.