By Ted Waddell
LOCH SHELDRAKE October 22, 2002 Last month, a former student at Stagedoor Manor, a summer camp for kids interested in a career in the performing arts, returned to his boyhood alma mater to make a film about a fictionalized theatre summer camp in the Catskills.
The film is titled Camp and is a fictional story about a summer theatre camp in the Catskills.
It was filmed over a 24-day period at Stagedoor Manor and is produced by a triumvirate of film companies: Elise Films, Killer Films and Jersey Films (Danny DeVitos company).
The films primary movers and shakers include Todd Graff (director), Katie Roumel (producer), Allen Bain (co-producer/line producer), Rick Klubeck (executive producer), Dan Levine (co-producer), Cecily Kaston (1st assistant director) and Jason Graham (2nd AD).
At the age of 14, Todd Graff started taking performing arts classes at Stagedoor Manor before the internationally known summer camp for show biz kids relocated to Loch Sheldrake.
A couple of years later, he returned to work at Stagedoor, the camp known for lighting up the next generation of Hollywood film stars.
Stagedoor Manor is owned by Carl Samuelson.
Asked what it was like to go to the summer theatre camp 25-some years ago, the actor/screenwriter replied, It was transformative.
As a kid, I was a little isolated...I lived inside my head a lot, and was getting into trouble, recalled Graff. Here it was like Oz. You got off the bus, and suddenly everybody was exactly like you, whereas at home, nobody was like you.
You worked your butt off learning how to hone your craft, he added.
Coming back is like walking into a haunted mansion, because so many things are based on my real experiences here at Stagedoor...there are ghosts everywhere here for me. Its wild!
As a Stagedoor teenager, Graff started writing plays, authoring screenplays and landed a spot on the television show The Electric Company.
After polishing his theatrical skills, Graff went on to roles in off-Broadway and Broadway productions. His first screenplay was Used People, starring Shirley MacLaine.
He appeared as Allen Hippy Carnes (aka Ratboy) in James Camerons classic sci-fi flick The Abyss by Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Orson Scott Card.
Graffs screen credits also include a role in the film Sweet Lorraine, the story of the last summer of a hotel in the Catskills. It was filmed at the old Heiden Hotel, next to the famous Raleigh Hotel.
About fifteen year ago, Todd told me he was going to write a movie about his experiences at summer theatre camp, said Samuelson. For him, its a total labor of love.
My kids are all over the world, he added.
Along with Graff, Stagedoor Manor has helped the likes of actor Robert Downey, Jr., teen rock star Mandy Moore, superstar Natalie Portman and Josh Charles of Sports Night perfect their chosen craft under the lights.
On the final night of shooting, the stage crew spent hours setting up lighting towers and rigging the lights in preparation for the arrival of the cast.
As the late night air started to chill under a clear Catskills sky, the set warmed up as the kids took to the stage for several rehearsals under the lights in preparation of filming musical numbers. During breaks in the action, make-up artists tweaked the look and Graff ordered last-minute adjustments to fulfill his vision of the film.
Were filming the opening sequence of the film, said First Assistant Director Cecily Kaston. Its a huge performance piece called Gospel of the Colonnes, [featuring] the song How Shall I See You Through My Tears, she added while taking a momentary break during the filming of the films curtain-raising scenes. Its a great opening, its phenomenal.
Asked to define the art of making films, Kaston replied, Its watching the creative process come off the page into visual...its a fascinating experience to watch the characters come to life.
Katie Roumel is partnered with Pam Koffler and Christine Vachon in Killer Films. Some of their films include Boys Dont Cry , I Shot Andy Warhol and most recently Far From Heaven which garnered two awards at the Venice Film Festival.
They also produced Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a film about a man who has a botched sex change thats the angry inch and decides to become a rock star.
According to Roumel, the joy of film is about seeing a directors vision made into reality on a smaller budget and telling stories.
Camp was filmed on high-definition video, and after editing will be released to theaters as an independent production. It will also be entered into film festival competitions. The budget was approximately $1million.
I think the movie is about acceptance, said Graff. As an adolescent, there are a lot of shadows as well as light...not denying the dark places. In a very broad definition, its about self-acceptance...a celebration of the entire experience of the struggle of adolescence...finding out you can be your vision of you.