Diablo Cody’s letter from ”movie camp”
I am writing this at a hotel in Vancouver that’s completely infested with showbiz types. (The term showbiz is due for a renaissance, don’t you think? It has a certain ’40s charm, as if it should chiefly refer to productions that involve Judy Garland and/or a trolley.) When multiple ‘Couv-based shoots are under way, this particular hotel is not unlike a tony summer camp for movie people. All the classic camp archetypes come into play: the Cool Kids (actors), the Rich Kids (producers), the Laptop-Toting Geeks (writers), and the Sick, Exhausted Kid With a Rash Who Just Wants to Go Home (most directors). The hotel bar is akin to a mess hall, except the bug juice is a little more potent and no one’s singing ”On Top of Spaghetti.” Even the wardrobe is appropriately matchy, with crew jackets standing in for teepee T-shirts. One almost expects each shoot to conclude with a raucous game of capture the flag in which the second AD gets pantsed by a grip.
The best part about bunking here at Camp Per Diem is all the random free-range celebrities roaming the hotel. Where else are you going to see Hayden Panettiere, Gillian Anderson, and Mini-Me all just existing? It’s not like spotting famous people at an awards gala or a benefit for Tanzania — a celeb in a formal setting might as well be a hologram. They’re obviously on their best behavior, and in some cases, they’ve literally been airbrushed to resemble their own magazine spreads. But at a hotel, over a series of weeks, you can actually observe the person behind the brand. I tell people I choose to write in the lobby and common areas because I like the ambient noise. In reality, I just want to gawk at famous people and track their movements. ”Day 6: Will Smith still supernice. Adam Brody wearing the black pants (refer to Day 2).”
This is my second time in a year doing a movie in this misty, blossom-strewn city. I’m stoked to be back, since Vancouver is truly a cornucopia of wonders: Mountain ranges! Lush arboreal vistas! Ketchup-flavored Pringles! My God, they put gravy on their French fries. Also, I keep hearing about this thing called ”B.C. Bud,” which must be a friendship outreach program or something. Perhaps it’s the Canuck equivalent of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, since I’m told it’s more prevalent in blighted areas. Either way, you can see why so many productions have been mounted here in recent years. It’s arguably cheaper than Los Angeles, the traffic is lighter, and you don’t have to worry about a palm tree sneaking into your establishing shot of ”Cleveland.”
NEXT PAGE: ”I can’t wait until the effects guys start dousing the place in Argento-red goo. That’s every little girl’s dream, right?”
We’re up here shooting a horror movie, which is the kind of scenario I dreamed about as a gore-obsessed youth. I was reared on Creepshow and Halloween, and I lived in a Freddy Krueger T-shirt that I’d artfully slashed with Dad’s hedge clippers. Behind-the-scenes featurettes were scarce in the dark ages of VHS, so I often wondered how the special effects in my favorite films were executed. I had a dog-eared book called Movie Monsters with instructions on how to make realistic warts out of toilet paper, scars out of latex glue, and fake blood out of Karo syrup. (Every week I’d ask my mom to pick up some Karo syrup at the grocery store; I’m not sure if I came off as a budding sociopath or just a huge fan of corn-based sweeteners.) So for me, hanging out on the set of a slasher flick is a fantasy of CinemaScope proportions. We haven’t filmed anything explicitly horrific yet, but I can’t wait until the effects guys start dousing the place in Argento-red goo. That’s every little girl’s dream, right?
Based on what I’ve observed, I’m not the only one to rediscover her inner child at ”movie camp.” People do tend to regress when they’ve taken a leave of absence from reality. Yeah, making a film is a stressful, harrowing, life-sucking event, but it’s still weirdly liberating to shack up at a hotel for 40 days in a strange city. You leave your towels on the floor. You play Guitar Hero every night. You eat poorly. You establish mock rivalries with other productions. (Suck it, I Love You, Beth Cooper! Just kidding.)
Apparently, this feeling of displacement-induced whimsy isn’t exclusive to the entertainment industry: Last month I took a trip to New Orleans and met a group of Chicago-based beer salesmen on a business trip. They were all well into their 30s, but you’d think they were Boy Scouts reppin’ for Iroquois Cabin based on their joyfully rowdy behavior. ”Usually we only get to go to Buffalo Wild Wings!” one of them shouted in my ear. ”This is the best!” Couldn’t have said it better myself.